[Miscellany]

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fake Project/Real Project

I spent a long time this weekend organising my teacher resources.  I have literally thousands of dollars worth of literature and resources that just sits there taking up space and gathering dust.  Anyway after many frustrating hours of putting bits of paper into plastic pockets and then into folders the room is looking a lot neater.  I sat back tonight and surveyed my efforts and waiting for the feeling of satisfaction and euphoria to overtake me as you'd expect it would after a big clean up moment like this, but that feeling never came.  As a matter of fact I don't feel any sense of satisfaction in my clean up of the room at all.  Despite two Ikea bags full of of things I've thrown out and 2 bags I've redirect to other areas of the house I feel like the room is still frustratingly exactly as it was.

I've rearranged, I've thrown out the excess rubbish and clutter but I haven't really sorted through my shit.  Do I truly need that folder full of activities about healthy eating from 2005 that I inherited from another teacher and have never used?  Why should I keep that book about using computer activities with Grade 2-6 that I haven't opened?  For that matter should I keep any of the books whose spine still isn't even cracked?  Why do I need any of those things and why do I have them in the first place?  If I had to be objective I could probably fit all the things I need onto one shelf.  Instead I have 2, plus the 2 at school, plus the 7 car loads in storage...and more.

I seem to do this every time I attempt to clean.  I sort through my things, make it all look neat and never really evaluate or get rid of the things I really need to.  The excess history I've accumulated on these shelves of mine that I've refused to throw out have created blockage for the potential of new things coming in.  I can't fit anything else in if I don't get rid of the stale stuff that is there.  Sure, I can create a more efficient filing system or invest in a larger space, deeper shelves and generally manage the resources I have more effectively but that's not what I really want to do.

What I really want to do is preserve the essential pieces of my past that I can't move forward without and get rid of all the excess shit that clogs all that awesome stuff from coming in.

Easy.


Meanwhile on the musical landscape, this little gem has joyously been swimming around my head for the past week.  If everyone has a theme song and I think they do, this one is mine...for this month anyway.

Left of Centre - Suzanne Vega




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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Let's Get Cynical.

I'm an idealist.
I wouldn't recommended it.

I work with a lot of children who are idealists.  In fact I'd go so far to say that most (all?) children are idealists.  They sense the unfairness in things and voice them as if they are entitled to fairness.  Of course fair in a child's eye is always a little skewed but the ideal there is a good one.  Fairs fair and everyone should be treated equally.

A while ago I was complaining to a friend about something in the school system being not fair (not "that's sooo unfair" but as in, "this is not a fair way to do things").  She turned to me and said 'yes, but tell me one thing in life that is fair? You shouldn't expect fairness because nothing is fair'. I've thought about that a lot since she said it and it INFURIATES me that it's ...absolutely true.  Despite laws, morals, ideals and bad joo joo fairness doesn't really get a look in.  Any law has a loophole, morals are subjective, ideals are well intentioned but don't involve money so noone cares and bad joo joo never tends to get the bad guys anyway.

The problem for me is that idealism in my view basically follows an ideal of everything being fair for everyone.  Justice for one and all.

But is that reality?
Is anything truly balanced on the scale of life?

Sure, what goes up must come down but do good deeds beget good responses and does thinking positive bring positive results?  What about that karma then?  Do bad deeds bring bad results?  Does  an evil act bring adequate judgement? 

I remember being at uni and being *extremely* idealistic about life and how people should be.  I had it all worked out.  All the rich share their wealth which would feed the poor.   People should just love rather than hate which would end all hate crimes and war.  No one need die of a curable disease because all diseases would be curable with money being no object to fund endless medical research.  No need to worry about the environment with it being universally acknowledged that all electricity companies insist on renewable energy usage - free for all.  No petrol wars with us all driving water fueled cars etc.  It could be so easy.

It's not.

At some point reality does a big old conga line through the idealism love fest and you are left with only one defense -  Cynicism.    Cynicism is subversion of mainstream ideas through ridicule because you generally distrust the motivations of people or organisations.  At the heart Cynics are so distrustful because they have seen a better way of life ripped apart unnecessarily usually due to a compromise in ideals. 
I graduated to cynicism years ago and from my own experience I can confirm that beneath the ridicule beats the raw heart of a die-hard idealist.  I've added to my list of things that would make our world better and it keeps getting longer every week.  But I do wonder if I am the only one.   No one talks about being an idealist anymore (or a cynic for that matter).
Is idealism a misguided blip that a select few encounter on the way to adulthood or are all humans at one point idealists?
Are all idealists destined to become cynics?

Who the hell is an idealist supposed to vote for?

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Can I Handle the Seasons of My Life?

In my younger years I spent a lot of time obsessively organising genre lists, composer lists and playlists in my iTunes folders.  However over the last 4 or so years my priorities have been only on a seemingly simple task of keeping my head above water.  Simple, yes, but all consuming too.  Things like playlists (and having a life) were low on my list of priorities and it's only now in the last couple of months that I have looked at compiling lists of any kind again.  It's a daunting task.  Music is an important part of my life.  In many ways music is the family I never had, the friend that gives advice and the hero that always comes along to save me when all hope is lost.  When people weren't there to pick up the pieces music always was and when I wasn't there for myself it was music that kept me sane.  Now, due to neglect in many areas of my life, my music is tangled up like a frustrating messy, knotted ball of string... and yes, I've only just noticed.  Since I can rarely find any song I want on command anymore I now tend to put the music on shuffle and pray that the Gods send me the music I need in order to feed those parts of my soul that need nurturing at that time.  I listen to my iPod most days, so I have a lot of music that shuffles in and out of my head through those ear buds.

Now I'm not going to lie, The iPod Oracle does unfortunately tend to think I need to listen a lot of Leo Sayer (downloaded in a moment of weakness folk), not to mention the audio of the trashy novel I downloaded and now can't get away from, but apart from that it's been scarily accurate in providing me the songs I need in order to keep going. Lately this song keeps popping up in random shuffles and randomly came up in conversation the other day too.





I've already written a post about Smashing Pumpkins and so I won't reiterate my sentiments but this song... Landslide, is a special one.  I was saving it for a future post about my all time favourite musical covers but today it must stand alone.  It's a special tune when the cover is better than the original (gasp!)

Thanks for the message oh Gods of the Universe, oh Billy Pumpkin, oh iPod oracle, oh Stevie Nicks and whomever and whatever else is involved.

I don't quite know how to turn the message into positive action but for now I'm listening.


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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sexual Politics



The most damaging thing about Tony Abbott's comments describing his colleague (candidate for Lindsay, Fiona Scott) is a good choice for the job because she is young, feisty and has sex appeal, is not that it's so very misogynistic (though, just to be clear... I do think it is appalling) but more importantly that it's a reductive way to regard all women.

Generally speaking, it may be flattering to be referred to as having sex appeal but it is completely inappropriate for someone to do so when describing someone's professional capacity.  The value on women is already too often measured in our sex appeal.  Not only is it shallow to describe someone's best qualities as being part of their looks but also we must note that sex appeal has a shelf life.  Therefore when that runs out (and it inevitably will) then what of her qualifications to fulfill her role then?  If there are no qualifications so important as her ability to turn men on when that runs out we must assume that she will no longer be useful.   More alarmingly, what if you are a woman without any sex appeal?  God forbid I suppose you'd have to rely on your sheer tenacity, drive, smarts, experience, clear thinking, idealism and compassion to make it as a politician... not that any of this matters if you are a woman in our future PM's eyes.  Apparently, judging by the "oh he was just being nice, lighten up" supporters of T.Abbott nothing of substance about women matters in a LOT of people's eyes.

I understand that's not what Mr. Abbott said but it's not what he said that motivates me to write this it's what lives between the lines of what he said.  Ultimately, when you reduce a woman's qualities to sex then that is what you are expecting from her.  What of her abilities as a political candidate?  Surely, it's taken a lot of other qualities for her to get to where she is yet the sum of her achievements through his eyes is so inconsequential that he cannot even think of what they are!

As for Mark Latham.  What an arsehole.




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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Heaven Knows, It's Got To Be This Time.

Last week the seriousness of staff meeting was gloriously punctured by this:


...oops, someone forgot to turn their phone to silent.

One of my younger colleagues leans over towards me and makes a derogatory comment while laughing at the 'euro-trash' beat.   Whoa, whoaaa.  That's New Order he was dissing.  How?  I can't even imagine a world where New Order is less than the absolute pinnacle of cool.  Apparently it turns out I am crusty, old and out of touch with the musical tastes of the under 25s.  Folk if you aren't sitting down yet please do so because I have bad news to break to you; apparently New Order is no longer cool.  Someone please alert the 1980s.  I'm absolutely devo.

I think like most people my age I stumbled onto New Order in 1988 when Blue Monday was re-released.  It may be hard to be believe but to my fluoro short sporting, "Hang Ten" t-shirt (yes...) wearing, rolled down socks rocking self you'd think I was already too cool to listen to such manner of synthpop from a band from "En-ger-land" but no, apart from Michael Jackson's Thriller, Blue Monday was probably the coolest thing I'd ever heard.  Looking back, it was the coolest thing any of us in Mrs H's Grade 5 class of '88 had heard to be honest.  Now I much prefer the original track (duh) but back then BM '88 was a new sound to ears that had until that point been mostly attuned to bubblegum pop popularised by Australian soap opera star pseudo-musicians.

Of course Blue Monday wasn't even a new sound in 1988, it was already a 5 year old living, breathing child by that stage; New Order had already acquired The Ha├žienda, bridged the gap between dance, Post Punk/New Wave and well and truly etched a path into musical history.  I never knew any of this. I was 10 in 1988 and my biggest mission in life was to learn how to use the hair crimper without burning a hole in my forehead.  How was I to know that by the time I was 20 I'd be pressing my face against the bus window listening to Joy Division and New Order on repeat on my Walkman while on the way to change the world one film studies tutorial at a time?

It's hard to articulate what it is about New Order that is special and it seems reductive to say that they 'just are brilliant' (it's not even true, some of their songs are shite) but sometimes words are an inadequate medium to describe a truth that you feel somewhere deep inside.  Isn't that why we listen to music in the first place?  Doesn't it fill in those spaces we can't quite express through words?  How can you articulate the perfect strum of a guitar?  How can you describe the moment when you listen to a song and feel yourself completely disappear in to the vibration?  How can I do this justice?  I can't.

My favourite of theirs is Ceremony. There is still some conjecture in my own mind as to whether this is still officially a Joy Division track or whether it was truly New Order.  It's officially touted as New Order's debut track but with lyrics written by Joy Division's frontman Ian Curtis and originally recorded with his vocals before he tragically took his own life.   It seems the perfect mixed up choice - a sad goodbye to Ian Curtis and hopeful hello to a new kind of music that ended up changing the world.

It is by no means the only song of New Order that I love and I've posted it before on this blog but many years ago now when I made a list of my top 100 songs of all time this was #1.  Right now, it's midnight on a terrifyingly windy night in old Melbourne town.  I'm on my 10th listen.  Indulge me while I fill in the spaces I can't quite articulate as I go for 11.

Ceremony - New Order






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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Rambling Crazy Lady Post

It's been a funny old contemplative weekend.  I caught up with an old friend on Friday night.  K is resplendent in the later stages of her pregnancy and I am torn with being so happy for her and with noticing my own utter lack in this department.  Soon I will be the only one in that particular friendship group sans child.  This is not exactly a welcome concept, mostly due to the fact that our conversations already revolve around poop and children and never around those philosophical and political arguments that we used to have and I wonder how much more baby centered they can become.  It scares me for the state of our friendship, how much longer can I sustain not ever being asked how I am?  Maybe soon I'll be able to slip away in the middle of a conversation and steal into the gin cupboard and no one will even notice.  Even the crazy little voice inside my head is now telling me I need new friends that are at the same stage in life as I am that is (spinsters and lunatics). 

K and I were still able to have a rational conversation on the account of the child still being in utero so we made the most of it by me moaning about my job and her looking at me pityingly and K discussing her fears about giving birth and me (unwisely) advising her to take all the drugs available (preferably at once).  The birth thing sounds rather hard, scary and horrible but I can't pity it.  It's a beautiful miracle and she is so fortunate to have the love in her life that has afforded this experience for her.  I am trying to think of the fortunate things in my life.  I keep coming up with 'at least I'm not homeless' or 'I never have to compromise over the remote control', which is absolutely true but also kind of sad if that is the best I can do.

EM whom I had dinner with last night is in my predicament but she has made peace with her childless, spinster state.  I don't even know how you would begin to do that.  I'm the opposite.  Case in point - this is the photo I'm staring at right now as I type this.  It lives on the wall of my study.



It's beautiful, no?  It's a vision of (my) stupid, ridiculous hope and although I love looking at it I hate that I harbor these hopes still.  It only makes it harder to move on with my life.

Despite that difference between EM and I, we are of one mind when it comes to the plight of the single lady in her 30s.  I like having friends who completely understand what it is like not to want to go to weddings alone and lament on the unfairness of always giving the gift but never being the recipient of any.  Also this:




Anyway we are now living in post-feminist glory (apparently) and a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle (or so I've heard) but my God, when will the wilderness years be over?  I don't give a shit about being independent or see taking the garbage out as a 'win' in the division of labour.  I don't see being single as freeing at all.  In fact I think you are more restricted as a single person.  I can't quit my job and 'find myself'.  Who exactly is going to pay the mortgage when I do that?  If I get sick, there is a series of complicated measures I have to go through in order to get through it.  There's no depending on someone to pick up the slack when things go wrong.  I am not so much fearing being eaten by Alsatians as I am planning it now.

As for breeding.  I can almost literally hear the tick-tocking of that old biological clock ringing in my ears and I realise that this is it.  Halle Berry may be able to get away with having a baby in her late 40s but I won't be able to.  It's now or never and this scares me because... well now is ...NOW.  I have thought about this a bit and I have my own set of morals here about the subject but is it selfish to 'go it alone?'   I'm not counting it out completely, but let's just say I'm not making any appointments to the clinic either...

I'm not even sure what the point of this entry is.  I was going to write about the beauty in the passage of time as symbolised in seeing Before Midnight with K but um... I guess not.  Sorry about that.

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Thursday, August 08, 2013

Awkward

My boss called me into her office the other day wanting to change the way we assess in the curriculum area that I am a leader of.  Of course, I'm being nice...  she didn't want to change the way we assess, she had already made that decision without consulting me.  Rather, she wanted to tell me that in fact we weren't going to use the assessment tool that I had painstakingly put together (and had been using at the school until now..) and instead we were now to use an online annotated assessment sample instead.

I don't have a problem in changing things up at all,  but if I'm leading a curriculum area I want to make that decision because my decision will be based on evidence and knowledge rather than oh... a whim.  I'd also like to be consulted about it, even if it's just for show.

So now, I have to make the presentation tomorrow that is going to lead our staff into using this online tool for our assessment.  Here lies the problem: I have been looking at this online assessment sample for a few days now and it doesn't marry nicely or neatly enough to actually inform our assessment in any real or easy way.  For instance if child A  is in Grade 1 but working at a Grade 3 level I want to be able to go to the assessment sample at grade 3 and compare that to what Child A is doing, if they measure up I can start to make an informed judgement about moving Child A's reporting mark up to that level too.  The problem with the new assessment tool is that there is no common element between Levels.  I can't go up and down levels because there is no common assessment task between levels for me to compare to. 

After the presentation the staff will have a workshop where the take children and assess them using the online tool.  It's not going to work.  You can't do it.

So how do I present this knee slappingly hilarious idea without looking completely incompetent while at the same time maintaining authority and face and NOT being derogatory towards the boss for having such a dumb idea?

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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

To Everything There is a Season

I was supposed to be doing some work on the weekend but somehow ended up at the movies instead.  Movies are the vice I always give in to, even if there is a lot of other stuff that needs to be done.  The movie we saw was The Way Way Back - a vacation story about a blended family who takes a trip to the beach for the summer.  But really, this Duncan's story, an awkward 14 year old who is dealing with being bullied by his Mum's smarmy new boyfriend and trying to find connection in a world where he feels so isolated.  I suppose this is a typical teenage story.  Didn't we all feel like that at some stage?

To say this movie struck a chord with me would be underplaying it a bit.  I didn't particularly identify with Duncan but I understood him and he gave me something that I just love getting when I go to the movies; a realisation.

The first scene of the movie is the car trip.  A conversation between Duncan and his Mother's boyfriend Trent breaks the silence leading Trent to question Duncan about what score he would give himself out of 10.  When Duncan reluctantly gives himself a 6, Trent gleefully tells him he's a 3.   This is not a good beginning for Duncan.  He's 14.  His mother is going out with an arsehole. He has absolutely no power, no friends, no life and nothing to look forward to. He feels unwanted, alone, awkward and lonely but something incredible happened to Duncan on his summer vacation: He bloomed.

I like to think that everyone has a blooming moment.  Perhaps yours happened at 14 and aren't you lucky that it happened so early if it did?  Maybe your bloom happened as a senior in High School or after you left and got a job.  Perhaps it was meeting the love of your life that did it.  Maybe it was getting your license or going overseas or doing Tough Mudder.  I don't know - I guess there are no rules to this kind of stuff.   A time to every purpose...

Duncan's "time" happened on summer vacation while holidaying with a family whom he felt didn't want him.  One day, while at a cafe Duncan randomly connects with the eccentric and immature water park owner Owen, who offers Duncan a job for the summer.  Duncan is excited by the prospect of spending time away from his family and accepts immediately.  At the water park Duncan finds himself.  The mavericks who work there - whom you can also imagine may have at one time felt as Duncan does - accept him totally as one of them and Duncan responds in the only way that someone completely accepted can and that is, he becomes his true self.

Maslow had a theory of self-actualisation that somehow fits into this story.  Although the threory was widely contested in the psychological community I still love to this day.  There is something so Earthy and real about it.  It feels real and that's enough for me.  Basically, in order to be self-actualised there is a hierarchy of needs that must be met.  The needs are graduated like a pyramid each step moving away from the physical and basic and into the spiritual and emotional (from food, shelter to love, confidence and belonging).  It isn't until all your needs are met that you can be self-actualised.  I think sometimes people confuse self-actualisation with success.  You can be a 'success' and 'functional' and 'loving' and still not be self-actualised and I suppose if that's how you see self-actualisation the hierarchy of needs really doesn't make sense.  IMO Self-actualisation is a state of mind, a meaningfulness one finds in life that goes beyond the material and into the soul.  Successful and loving people don't necessarily have those qualities (though, they might) and maybe self-actualised people don't necessarily meed success as a material form either.   Do I think you can skip steps and still reach the top though?  Perhaps..

I was reminded of Maslow's hierarchy of needs while watching The Way Way Back.  Duncan had the basic needs but not the emotional ones.  At the water park he found a sense of belonging and connection among people who accepted and embraced him.  He let go.  He bloomed.  He stepped up.  He defied Trent's assertion that he was a "3".

I realised that apart from our basic needs there are a couple of things that might help us to become the best person we can be:

1) A place (no matter how insignificant) where we can be completely ourselves and accepted for who we are by other people.
2) A champion who will stand up for us when we can't stand up for ourselves.

Duncan's family saw him as a 3.  In their stifling presence he was awkward, shy, weird and moody but that's not who he really was.  At the water park, with Owen championing him, he became a 10.  He found his champion and his special place and he left that sleepy summer town behind not a better person (as that would suggest he needed 'bettering') but a person who was allowed to bloom, finally.  It was his time.

I guess I've been struggling with being seen as a 3, seeing myself this way too.  I hold out hope for a champion and a place to bloom and moving up that pyramid - don't we all?


Although it's not quite Monday anymore, this one organically came up out of this post and so it must be its time.  I love this brand of 60s folk rock and whenever I play this song it seems to always be the right song to play.  I guess that Old Testament is not all fury and hell after all.

Turn, Turn, Turn - The Byrds



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Saturday, August 03, 2013

Shit


The shift in Education Leadership lately has been towards a business model of management.  I've never worked in an office but I've seen The Office and as far as I can comprehend the business model basically consists of a complete tosser at the top who has no idea what they are doing/might be good at managing one thing, middle management who don't care and the plebs who do all the important stuff while stealing the highlighters when no one is looking.  It's a money driven system with an agenda of maintaining or expanding a commodity.

In teaching, it is ridiculous to think of learning and students as a commodity.  A commodity implies that there is a direct return on an investment, which is all well and good in theory except that the business world is notoriously impatient and only wants results in one form (economics).  Getting an economic return on the student investment will probably not be evident for 30-50 years if something was put in place today.  This is too long for a political party to wait in order to brag about their effectiveness in government.  Despite allegations to the contrary I honestly do no believe any of the major political parties want to promote anything that won't show a result within their term of governing.  Is this cynical of me?  It's only true.  Furthermore isn't the return we actually want to see is a healthy, happy community of people who are life long learners and critical thinkers?  Isn't THAT the point?  Oh wait, that's not the same as money.. okay.

When compared to the business model the current school model of leadership has some similarities particularly in that there is also a complete tosser at the top, middle management who don't care and plebs.  However while an office pleb has only a small level of authority, a school "pleb" gets to be King of the Castle in their own classroom.  They are the authority in a very real way.  This means that in order to have effective leadership of staff from the top, you absolutely need to make sure that at the bottom line what is being taught in the classroom is always at very best standard possible.  Therefore f you don't have excellent curriculum knowledge from the top then a few plebby teachers can ruin the stability of the school.  A shitty teacher = shitty parents = shitty school.

In my view, good leadership in schools comes not from economics but from exclusively employing exemplary, inspiring teachers with excellent knowledge of curriculum for the top jobs.  Yes, sure economics is important, as is being able to work out timetables and the like but these things can be learnt on the job (and let's face it, don't we all know trained monkeys who are able to work out timetables and meet with the accountant every 3 months?)

My view of leadership is not exactly shared by the Department of Education.  They speak of leading from experience and exemplary teaching but in fact the opposite is what is being pushed into leadership now.  Those on the road to leadership these days are groomed by Department heads more interested in management than Leadership.  There's a difference.  The moment schools become "managed" by business graduates who have an interest in economics rather than knowing exactly how to teach and lead curriculum is the moment schools lose out.

In my opinion a good school has personable managers, a healthy budget in surplus with excellent teachers who carry the load and get the job done.  An excellent school has a leadership team that could walk into any classroom and teach or help teachers plan a lesson in a way that inspires another teacher to be better at their job.  There is no surplus in the budget (perhaps just a rainy day fund) because the budget is used for resources, professional development and mentoring and to pay exemplary teachers extra money for excellent work and Leadership have a good idea of what the needs of staff and students are.

We are moving away from a model of excellent and moving towards 'good'.  This is horrific in my eyes.  I can see it happening right now in my place of work.  The latest promotion to a very senior leadership role at the school is a manager and not a leader and what is the most horrifying is that I know that this was desirable from the perspective of the school.

My idealism is crushed and my heart breaks for the kids and for the good teachers out there in Education.  We are heading down a very bad road by treating schools as companies or businesses.  Hiring a trained monkey may seem like a good economic choice but we are not in the business of economics.  We are in the business of learning and learning just happens to be a money pit politically speaking.  The thing is I don't care about the politics of it, I'm all about connecting the dots here.

If we hire trained monkeys at the top then what exactly do we expect is going to come out at the bottom?

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