Thank you, Beast from the East

As a teacher in the UK, I often feel as if I am on a treadmill where the setting is slightly too high and I just keep going and going, a seemingly never-ending cycle of planning-teaching-marking, of getting up early, working a full day where an uninterrupted break time is a luxury, coming home and doing more work, and repeating the cycle the next day. On top of this, I don’t make it easy for myself when it comes to my home life. I put far too much pressure on myself to keep up with cleaning, tidying, washing, and find that I feel stressed when my home environment is chaotic. I also care a lot about my family and friendships, prioritising them too, but if I’m honest, do I prioritise them above my work? I really try to, but striking a balance is hard. I consciously make an effort to set myself boundaries of when I’ll work and when I’ll see friends and family, but I also find that I need time for just me to be on my own, and that is very difficult to fit into my busy schedule.

Considering all this, I very often feel myself wishing and hoping that if I could just have one day off, if I could only stop for a moment, that I would get some much-needed breathing space, that I could get off the treadmill. I often get up in the morning, longing for more sleep and wishing I could stay in bed. On my days off at the weekend, I have often packed so many plans in, almost trying to make up for the all the work I do, that it isn’t really a rest. Work hard, Play hard.

So you would think that this morning, when I got a message through from the Assistant Head that our school was closed due to the snow, that I would have been rejoicing. A day off? My prayers had been answered!

Wrong – my initial feelings were worry and disappointment: disappointment, because Wednesday is usually the “easy” day in the week for me, where I get 2 hours or so of Planning time, less contact time with the challenging members of my class and generally less marking; worry, because I left my laptop at work yesterday, as well as the fact that to complete planning at home I need access to the medium term planning on the school system and I can’t get onto that at home. A day off school, unable to do work, unable to use this time to prepare for next week… I felt like I should be happy about the free day ahead of me, but instead I felt anxious.

Feeling worried, I shared my feelings with my family, who told me to just enjoy the day. I knew I should feel like that… but I still felt underlying guilt that I wouldn’t be able to work. It wasn’t until our boss sent us an e-mail that actually told us all to enjoy ourselves (don’t do any work, and don’t check your work e-mails again!) that I started to feel better, that actually it was OK not to do work today.

So, with my gift of a free day, I did the kind of things that I usually long for – simple pleasures that made me feel much more relaxed and happy. I went back to bed, slept, caught up on some TV, chatted with family, met friends for a coffee… and we ended up making snow angels and having a laugh, walking like penguins huddled together under an umbrella as the snow came down around us.

It was a fun day, which made me embrace my inner child, playing in the snow, taking pictures of the pretty scenes, and finally just letting go. The roads here are also far too dangerous in these weather conditions, so it comforted me that by staying off school, we were keeping ourselves and others safe.

So, thank you Beast from the East, for forcing me to relax and to realise that the sky doesn’t fall in if you get off the treadmill for one day! (Even if there are huge snowflakes falling from it).

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From London to Lincolnshire: Part Two – And breathe…

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In my last post (which was sadly over 3 months ago) I mentioned that I had recently moved “home” to Lincolnshire and that I had been relaxing before the September madness begun.

What I didn’t realise fully was that September really would be MAD, and October… and November…

I feel as if the last few months have been an absolute whirlwind; they have pushed and tested everything I thought I had learned about a) teaching and b) managing my own struggles with anxiety and depression.

I guess any kind of major life change will do that to you. And I have to remind myself not to be too hard on myself, that I haven’t actually been here for that long and that on the whole I have settled in well, made friends, joined a new choir, and also made great strides with conquering what was once a somewhat debilitating fear of driving (there is a whole blog post I am planning to write about that!)

Changing schools is always difficult, getting used to a new way of working, new colleagues, new class of children, new expectations from leadership… and I am really pleased to say that I am enjoying my new position, that I couldn’t really have asked for more supportive colleagues who have made me feel so welcome. My class on the other hand… whilst the majority of them are lovely, there are a few who do challenge me and I’m not ashamed to say that they have occasionally brought me to tears at the end of a draining day where I have felt that I have failed or let myself down as a teacher. This is where I have to remember not to be too hard on myself.

Moving back to live on my own is something I really wanted to do and I don’t regret the decision to live on my own at all. I think it’s important for me to come home after work and know that I have this space to myself. However, this might sound silly, but I am really struggling with managing all the household jobs on my own, like cooking, washing, cleaning, shopping… I know that’s not a lot and that people do these things every day… but for some reason I feel like I can’t manage to do it all. I think it’s also to do with changing schools and having trouble with a new school routine. I end up taking marking home with me and working for about one and a half hours every evening; I then can’t do the other stuff I need to because I’m so tired. It feels like I’ve spent the last 3 months being tired and feeling as if I don’t have time to do anything well; I am just doing lots of things in a substandard way.

It got to the point a few weeks ago where I had been so down on myself for all the things I wasn’t doing, as well as not sleeping enough, not having any time to myself, that I actually started to feel like I was losing my grip on reality. My head was no longer clear, it was just full of noise. On reflection, most of this was probably a lot of self-criticism.

I quickly realised that to nip this in the bud, I was going to have to change a few things. Sleep more. Cut down on alcohol and unhealthy foods. Have some me-time. Stop putting myself down. Think more about the things I have done, rather than everything I haven’t.

I’m feeling better. For the last few days, I finally felt I had the headspace to sit down and write this. But I know that although I have settled in well here, I am having a few struggles to find a new work/life routine that works for me.

I’m hoping that I’ll figure it out soon, and I’ll keep you updated in the next blog post. In the meantime… I’m going to remember to be nice to myself, and when everything feels too much, to stop, take a moment, and breathe.

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From London to Lincolnshire: Part One – From City Commuting to Country Cycling

Hello friends. It’s been a while. I’m going to blame it on dodgy Internet connections which meant I struggled to find a private space to write for about a year. But I’m back and ready to fill you in!

I have recently moved “home” to Lincolnshire from London and as a teacher I have kind of a luxury in that I have the six week summer break to settle in to my new place, refamiliarise myself with the way of life “up here” and generally relax before the September madness begins.

One way I decided to get acquainted with my new adopted city of Lincoln and the surrounding area was to get out on my bike to explore. I found a cycle route called the Water Railway, so called because the tracks follow what used to be a railway between Lincoln and Boston, which seems to have been finally closed around 1980 (although don’t quote me on that… I’m no expert). If you do the whole thing from Lincoln to Boston, you will cycle 31 miles – not something I think I could achieve even if I wanted to. Luckily there are many stopping points along the way and I decided to choose Bardney as mine, which is 9 miles from Lincoln, making it an 18 mile round trip (and slightly more to get back to my house which, I might add, is right at the top of the hill near the Cathedral).

I started the main route from Waterside South and it was pretty straightforward… all you have to do is follow the path. It runs alongside the River Witham and is more or less flat, perfect after navigating some of the steep streets of Lincoln to get there. Along the Water Railway there are also many places to stop and rest, as well as historical signs, some of which I read, and some of which I just cycled past as I was keen to get to my destination. However it would be good to take more time over it if you were particularly interested; there was information about each place along the path (including Washingborough, Fiskerton Fen, the Five Mile Bridge, Bardney Lock) as well as information about the old stations and ferries that would travel along the river to Boston (taking six hours each way – according to one of the signs I took the time to read).

It was a great place to see wildlife and, along the way, I saw (in no particular order): a hedgehog, a heron, some swans, cows, possibly a kestrel, some martins, dragon flies… this might not seem that special but it was to me, after cycling to work in London and not seeing anything natural (except perhaps an urban fox if you’re lucky).

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There were also several artistic sculptures and pieces along the path which I suppose are there to add interest, as it could otherwise get quite dull; after all, you are more or less cycling miles along what seems to be a straight and relatively even path. One of my favourites was some metal cows, and when I passed it on the way back, there were real cows on the opposite bank.

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One of the most interesting parts of my venture along the Water Railway was my stop in Bardney, particularly at Bardney Tearooms. I admit, I really didn’t know much about Bardney before I cycled there, but I knew I would find a cafe there to stop at. What I didn’t know was that Bardney Tearooms appears to be housed in the old station building and there are what seems to be the original station signage on the front and the old gate which would have been opened out at the level crossing. Inside, the tearooms were very quaint and had a kind of 1940s feel (possibly there was some wartime memorabilia but I might be making that up).

 

 

After stopping there for a cheeky ice cream I decided to head back to Lincoln. I found it somewhat easier on the way back as I had more of an idea of the distances involved, but I was also cycling into the wind which made it harder. Finally, when I came off the Water Railway at Waterside South, I had the ascent to the Cathedral Quarter and admittedly, there was one street where I got off and pushed (but according to the map, the gradient was more than 1 in 7, if you know what that means)!

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After being used to cycling in London alongside the traffic, it was really nice to get out into the open and cycle for a long stretch. In London I would always cycle with a high-vis jacket and helmet and I’m not going to stop doing that as I think they keep me safe, however at points I did feel a bit silly wearing it all, because you could probably get away with not doing that on the country paths. The advantage of London is that it has properly marked cycle paths and I was worried initially that it wouldn’t be as safe in Lincoln, however to my pleasant surprise, some of the busier roads had off-road cycle paths and crossings that you can cycle over when the light goes green. At Bardney Tearooms I also picked up a detailed map of Lincoln which has a key for each road according to its safety for cyclists.

So hopefully before I return to school in September, I will get another chance to try out a cycle path in Lincoln. I hope you enjoyed this blog post and I look forward to writing many more now that I have Internet 🙂

A Photo Collection

I’ve had a draft of this post written for a while, but for some reason I could never find the ‘right’ time to post it. It’s a collection of photos from home, Tattershall, the village where I moved to at the age of nine, and where my parents still live. Because I’ve been studying and working abroad, I still haven’t really moved out of my parents’ home (like a lot of people in their 20s these days!) and it’s somewhere that me, my brother and sisters always come back to.

When I’m back in Tattershall, one of my favourite things is to take my dog for a walk in the fields, by the castle and the church.  Here, it feels like you have completely left the village behind – in fact, when it’s quiet, you could be the only person in the world. It is a vast, open area of fenland, made up of ditches, high grass banks and lakes.

I first started regularly walking my dog there when I was in a period of unemployment which lasted for several months. Getting outside with my dog felt like a relief and an escape from the tedious and depressing situation of constant job applications and rejections. I enjoyed getting in touch with the nature around me. I saw a beauty in the place that I had found hard to see when I was a teenager growing up there. The fens of Lincolnshire can look bleak and dreary, but they can also look striking, open, and, in a unique way, beautiful. It’s all about perception. In my photos, I tried to capture the beauty that I saw. Over a year, I captured Tattershall in all seasons and weathers. It never seemed to look the same.

I am currently in Tattershall and just today, I took my dog for a walk in the September sunshine. We were making the most of the sun and late summer warmth while we still have it. In a week or so, I will be moving away from Tattershall to start a PGCE course in London. So, before I go, it seems like the right time to post this photo collection. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

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Acclimatising

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From sunny Spain to not-so-sunny Britain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I haven’t been writing as regularly as I would have liked, but in the last two weeks I have gone through a mega upheaval as I left sunny Spain to return (in what is intended to be a permanent move) to the UK. Following this was a 5-day placement volunteering in a British primary school, a requirement before I start the PGCE course in September. I am also trying to move back in to a room which is too small for all the things I have acquired over the last few years whilst I have been moving around from place to place. Knowing that I will be moving away again soon (to London), I am currently living out of two suitcases and trying desperately to clear out what I can to make life easier for the impending move Down South. Meanwhile I am also adjusting to the British summer weather i.e. severe lack of sunshine (the things that haven’t moved from my suitcase at all are my summery clothes, open-toed sandals – don’t actually know when I’ll be using them again if this ‘wettest-summer-on-record’ continues!) I’ve even brought out my cardies, slippers and jeans – things that two weeks ago would have broken me out in a sweat just thinking about.

Still, as ‘Life is Beautiful’ is all about appreciating the positive things in life, there is a lot to celebrate about the move back to England. No more constant smothering myself in sun cream. No more jokes about being a ‘gamba’ (prawn) for my pale-but-goes-red-in-the-sun British skin. No more massacring the Spanish language every time I open my mouth. I’ve been reunited with my favourite British foods (Yorkshire Puddings have never tasted so good!) I’m back in my tiny but peaceful Lincolnshire village. And most importantly I’m close to my family and friends, and I’m back where I feel happy and comfortable.

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Happily reunited with British food! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finally, I feel that I can’t finish the post without a brief comment on the 5-day primary school placement. After nearly two years experience working with children of various other nationalities, I was interested to see what it would be like teaching British kids. And I was surprised to find that it is pretty much exactly the same, except for the fact they understand everything you say (which actually freaked me out a bit!) I got asked the same questions as I usually do by foreign kids: Do you have a boyfriend? and by the same kid two days later, You mean, you still don’t have a boyfriend?!, and even, most surprisingly, Which country do you come from? (!)

So, after that placement, my work is over until September, and it’s time to relax and enjoy the summer. There’s lots coming up: a trip to London to see Wicked, a much-needed massage and facial, flat hunting in London, and the Olympics… Watch this space 🙂