Do you believe in free choice or do you think everything is pre-determined?
I watched and really enjoyed the film Sliding Doors last night starring Gwyneth Paltrow, John Hannah and co-starring John Lynch. It’s made me terribly confused though as I’ve always been a big believer in free choice and it suggests that everything is pre-determined. I’ve generally been a little dismissive of people’s arguments that 'it was destined to be’. Now I don’t know what to think!
In the film we see two completely different versions of how the life of the main character Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow), unfolds. In one version Helen drops her earrings in a lift, thus delaying her and making her miss a train connection. In the other version she doesn’t drop the earring, makes her train connection and arrives home unexpectedly early to discover her boyfriend, Gerry, (John Lynch) cheating. In the first version Helen remains ignorant of her boyfriend’s infidelity for some time, and on a later train connection meets James, who had initially picked up the dropped earring for her (John Hannah). A tight plot ensues, that I won’t spoil, but did enjoy.
The film made me reflect on how one event can massively impact on our lives. For example, back in the day, I didn't get in my first choice of university and ended up in, what the kids call now, their insurance choice. For me that was the University of Essex where I went on to meet the lovely Saint Mick of Thana. I had no idea back then how pleased I would be 30 years on to have not done well in my Economics A Level! This question about how free we are to make choices, in turn, brought to mind Robert Frost’s poem 'The Road Not Taken'. This happens to be one of my all time favourites so I’ll include it in full. (As an aside The Poetry Foundation have lovely audio versions of their poems, well worth a visit if that is your kind of thing.)
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
On a first read the poem can seem a bit didactic, but I prefer to read it positively and take from it a helpful reminder that it is important to make active choices (rather than live passively) and to keep in mind that going for the easy option isn’t always the best thing to do.
I think I’ve always felt pretty in control and together about the choices I’ve made and I’ve certainly thought that I’ve had free choice to make them. My stance tends to be that if a choice is hurting myself or hurting anyone else and if it is going to prevent me achieving my long term goals and aims then it is a BAD choice and has to go! If a choice has short term disadvantages but long term benefits and if it can be tenable with support then it is a good short term choice. Finally, if a choice is for the long haul and is going to be in line with my moral code and impact positively on friendship and family relationships then it is a good choice.
It is pretty straightforward really isn’t it, except back to the film… at the end the two different storylines come together and suggest that what will be will be, regardless of individual choice. The film has an interesting and clever structure which is intended to show how events outside of our control can completely change our destiny. Therefore our ‘free choice’ is not very free at all!
Oh blimey I’m getting flummoxed, but I don’t think I buy that. Although we can’t dictate and predict life circumstances and there is lots that we can’t control, we do have free will to form our thoughts, create our moral compass and act according to our beliefs. The fact that ‘chance’ or ‘coincidence’ can affect outcomes doesn’t negate free will and therefore it cannot be used as an excuse for not making good choices. The poem reminds us that the choices we make are signficant and we should choose carefully. It is surely then supporing free choice. Having said that though, what was it that made the speaker go down the ‘one that wanted wear’?
My head hurts with all this thinking so there is only one thing for it. I’m going to use my free will to go find a nice healthy snack in the fridge, I know that is a good choice that I can make of my own free-will. If though a chocolate bar should inadvertently fall into my hand then … Ok, I know I don’t have to eat it!
Nervous Kids or Nervous Parents
I’ve seen lots of photos on Facebook this week of exceptionally smart and smiley kids, decked out in new uniforms and shiny shoes. (I was even reading in this blog called Techie Mamma about one little guy's very first day at pre-school.) It’s been, of course, lots of kids first day back at school and it’s unlikely they will be this smart again for another year. These ‘first day back at school’ pictures range from cute nursery snaps to collages of kids sporting gappy toothless smiles, replaced by braces, replaced by ‘to die for’ pearls. Mums’ and dads’ (mainly mums’) pride, but also nervousness, is apparent in the posts as successful first days of term are celebrated. Supportive comments such as ‘how grown up’, ‘what a lovely smile’, and ‘she’s looking so smart’ are genuinely heart warming and, to me, show social media being used positively. A mums’ (and teachers’) tribe at its best.
I remember myself just how stressful these rites of passage moments can be. Year 2 to Year 3 is a big jump and discussed infinitum. How will the children get to the bus independently without a bus monitor? The transition into Secondary is also a big deal and merits plenty of butterflies in the tummy for the whole family. This is despite excellent transition programmes,brilliant induction programmes and several coffee mornings for anxious parents. For parents the thought of their eleven year olds having to navigate the large campus, remember to put their bags in the lockers and avoid the wrath of any teacher, who think children who are late to class should be turned to mincemeat, is enough to turn the calmest of mums into ferocious lions defending their cubs! This is especially the case when transitioning to a new school, new country and making new friends.
Libraries as a Safe Haven
When I was in the libraries I was always on the look out for students who might be feeling a bit lonesome, had lost their ‘helping hand’ or ‘buddy’ or were not having the best of times. Having found those kids I’d have a bit of a chat, but keep things low key. The library can be a real safe haven for students who are struggling and the last thing I wanted to do was to take that ‘safe place’ away from them. I would though pass on any concerns to tutors and pastoral heads who could then go on to support as appropriate. Whilst encouraging reading and sharing book suggestions was ‘my thing’, my primary aim was making sure the kids were settled and integrated with friends and their being in the library every break and lunch was often an indication of a concern.
The Friendship Minefield
The whole issue of friendship concerns can be a minefield that even the best of teachers and parents can’t always help with. As much as we want to ‘fix thing’s it isn’t always that easy. (We wrote about it in our IB Survival Guide and included strategies for handling friendship concerns for older kids.) With the younger ones some seemingly ‘lost’ kids just need time to find their feet but others need a little more intervention. Lunch times can be endless when eating alone, or wandering from place to place in the search of a friendly face; for some kids a teacher’s sympathetic look can be almost unbearable. I don’t know if it is because I’ve read so many ‘teen books’ (it came with the job) but my level of empathy about this has always been in overdrive. I find it heartbreaking to watch kids lonesome and struggling kids try to fit in. (Quiet note to self – stop being so melodramatic Sally!) Perhaps because of this,, or because I can’t seem to quite let teaching go (just yet), I’ve been trying to think of a few strategies for helping kids find their niche during their school leisure time.
School Strategies to Help Kids Find their Place
Whilst these ideas might help students that just need a bit of settling and enable them to meet other like-minded kids, I’m not for a second suggesting that they are a quick fix to solving more serious friendship issues. Lunch time activities, of course, need staffing and teachers are busy at lunch already helping with extended essays, choir rehearsals, drama meetings, swim meets and so on. Staffing is always going to be a challenge though perhaps teachers who run lunchtime activities could have their after school commitments reduced. It’s just a thought. Even better, why not get the senior students run lunch time activities for younger kids. I know Betsy used to love going to Year 2 to read with the little ones. It doesn’t have to be reading though and activities could be as varied as yoga, radio club or even line-dancing.(I’ve no idea why that came to mind!) Draw on the kids’ own passions.
A Cautionary Note
I know my old school had tons of opportunities for the students and one of the problems was that it was quite often the same kids who seemed to join everything. This meant that perhaps sometimes less confident youngsters hung back. With this in mind it is perhaps not too good an idea to overly advertise and promote some new activities. Instead directly invite the kids who you think need support. Be careful about asking a crowd of settled kids to look after someone who is perceived as ‘uncool’. The intention is good, but not all kids are as mature as they seem and it can make the lonesome child feel worse than they already did.
When my kids were at school I used to worry about this type of thing all the time. If they seemed down I immediately wanted to fix things and intervene and I know for sure (as the girls have told me) that my anxiety rubbed off on them! Ho hum! C- on the parenting scale! There often, though I can't pretend always, is less to worry about than you think and in my experience kids will find a teacher (or several) who they can make a connection with. It is often kids who don’t always seem to fit in, who teachers get on well with. For example, just before the end of term a lovely young lad, who was often in the library, bumped into me at a school concert and before he knew what he’d done he rushed up and gave me a hug and told me he’d missed me! I had no idea at the time I was working in school that our ‘little chats’ were having any kind of positive impact on his school day. Knowing that they were meant the world to me and put a smile on my face worthy of a facebook ‘first day of school photo’ post.
Good luck with the new term everyone.
This week I’ve been blogging a bit about working in the same school as my husband and kids. My dad has also just spent a week in respite care, so I think, with one thing and another, I’ve had institutions on my mind. This has got me thinking about the similarities between care homes and schools!
Similarities between care homes and school!
For us the idea of dad spending a week in respite care was in part to give mum a break from caring for my dad 24/7, (she wasn't at all keen.) We thought it might facilitate her getting some quality sleep; In addition we wanted to provide the opportunity for dad to build up his leg strength and improve his mobility. My mum and dad both saw the logic of the plan but were not completely confident it was a good one. As always my folks were probably right – the respite week wasn’t completely successful! My mum and dad both missed and worried about each other (despite mum visiting every day) so couldn't rest ther minds. To make matters worse dad has come home a bit below par having caught some kind of flu bug! That brings me to my final similarity between care homes and schools.
It’s good to have you home dad.
Is Making Friends with Colleagues a Recipe for Disaster
Living overseas and being thousands of miles from family and friends back at home, I have found that the expat friends I have made are extremely important to me. Friends made whilst living living abroad know first hand what it is like to be away from home living in an alien environment with a foreign language to navigate (or not). They understand the issues surrounding your children being third culture kids; they empathise with your homesickness, not just for family but for seasons, and sports fixtures; supermarkets and being called ‘love’ in the high street shops. The friends you make share worry and concern about family back home and laugh with you at the frustrations that come with living in particular cities (why can’t Thai people do roundabouts?). They share your lust for adventure and new experiences. Expat friends are transient not stationary. They come and go and understand the stresses of relocating somewhere new; the reliance on social media to keep in touch is a given.
Expat friendships are a big deal. Trust is essential as communities are tight knit and gossip can be rife. I think that I’d go as far as to say that these special friendships can almost take on the status of being equivalent to a ‘second’ family. This isn't necessarily positive - haha - friends really do get to know each other inside out – ‘warts ‘n’ all’!
So that’s all well and good, but what is problematic is that these deep and meaningful all giving and consuming expat friendships, are probably made at work, in my case, at school and this definitely has cons as well as pros.
Cons of being Friends with a Colleague
That is a long list of negatives which seems ironic when all my close expat friends did actually start out as colleagues. (It was a treat for me when I became a cross-campus member of staff as I then went on to make some lovely new Primary teacher friends too.) I do know some teachers who avoid making friendships with colleagues from school because of the potential problems as listed above. Not so me! I think with a bit of humour and the occasional eating of humble pie, colleagues can become the best friends you are likely to find. Lets face it a friend who is a colleague, especially one who is a teacher, is someone with whom you are likely to share a lot in common. If you are passionate about teaching and learning then there is always something to talk about. If a friend is a real friend they will even be forgiving if occasionally you act like a petulant teenager and fail to maintain an absolute professional decorum at work (At least I hope that’s the case!) Sorry Jackie!
I feel certain that the friends I’ve made at Patana (some of whom, like me, have now left school) will be friends for life! They know too much about me to not be! (That was a joke – kind of!) My own kids often refer to the Houghton gang ‘Billy, Rosie, Jamie; and later Sophie and Tom with whom they’ve grown up in Bangkok as like having extra cousins. Over the years they’ve not only met grannies, grandpas, uncles and aunties but have been on holidays with them and spent key celebrations together. Friendship really has merged into family time. During the years we’ve not been with our own folks, friends have been happy to lend their family out and Christmas days have been spent with a variety of grandparents, aunts and uncles all mucking in and enjoying time together. I think this is a pretty special status to reach, so despite the potential cons I declare that good expat friends are about the best friends a person can have..
I blogged yesterday about what it was like being married to the Secondary Principal. After writing my post the girls said to me that if I thought it was bad being the Principal’s wife then I should try being the Principal’s kids! I retorted if they think that was bad then they should try being the Principal’s kids’ mum! (By the way I’ve got no idea if the apostrophes are correct in the last sentence.)
Our comments were largely tongue in cheek as the kids have had an amazing education for which they and I are truly grateful. I’d even go as far as to say that they’ve even enjoyed being teachers’ kids, especially Betsy. She cites the following advantages and disadvantages:
Advantages of Being a Teacher’s Kid
Disadvantages of Being a Teacher’s Kid
The girls say that as being a teacher’s kid is a fairly common phenomenon in international schools it isn't really a big deal. I do agree but, like being the Principal's wife, it has its moments ...
The plight of teacher's kids: "Why can't you persuade your dad to let us have pizza in the canteen every day?"
Remember the time when:
It breaks your heart to see your kid sad at school, which can happen when you are also there all day every day. I've found that sometimes I've just have to speak up for my kids and risk the wrath of colleagues who might feel betrayed. Often though, being part of a system I've found it prudent to bite my tongue (and vent in an odd third person blog style way later!). It really isn’t the done thing to be ‘one of those’ mums!
Ultimately, I've found being a teacher’s kid’s mum has meant I've been able to see on a daily basis all of the truly fantastic educational opportunities the kids have had. I've had the knowledge to tap into everything on offer and been in the position of understanding most of it. Being part of a school that lives its mission, has a great teaching staff and a wonderful pastoral system intent on improving the well-being of all the kids has been as reassuring as it gets. All in all being the teacher''s kids' mum has been a privilege.
Times have changed. All four of us used to head to school and then there were three, two, and now just Mick :( Photos courtesy of a sad Saint Mick of Thana.
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