This Is What I Do!

I’m a teacher.

I’ve always taught. My degree is in Teaching Studies with English Language and Linguistics. I left university and went straight into a school in London. I was there for four years and then moved back to Lagos. I taught at an international school in Lagos for six years.

During those ten years, I did various courses. CELTA, SEN, ADHD, etc. Some were online and some were evenings and weekends. I became the SENCo (special needs coordinator) at the school in Lagos (where I was for six years).

I’d like to think that I’m quite well qualified!

I took a break once Vins was born. A five year break. Bit long, yes. But I think I needed it.

I tried to start my own business (selling baby and toddler shoes and clothing). My heart wasn’t in it. So I started tutoring. Kids either came to me, or I went to them for a couple of hours a week. I enjoyed it, but it got a bit boring with only the one child each time. I explained to LagosDad that education is what I “do”, and what I do well. And then I got pregnant with Booni.

Once we came back from London, I started getting a little involved in Vins’ classroom activities – story time, Diwali presentations, etc. And I remembered how much I LOVE teaching and how much I LOVE being in the classroom.

So I thought I’d start substituting. I’ve written about this before

So now I’m substituting in the school that Vins attends. I love it, and it’s a very good school. One of the best in Lagos (depending on who you’re asking).

Anyway, so the point of this whole thing is…

Each time someone asks me (or my ins or whoever) what I’m doing now, and I explain I’ve gone back to school, they’re all like, ‘Oh that’s nice.’ And they ask if I’m back at my previous school. I say no, and I tell them which school I’m in. And all of a sudden I get a flurry of ‘Oh WOW!’ and ‘Congratulations!’ and ‘That’s amazing!’

Umm – Hello?

Is it not amazing that I spent four years getting qualified? Is it not amazing that I taught for ten years before taking a break? Is it not amazing that I was head of the special needs department?

I mean, I’m only a substitute at the moment.

And last week one of my MIL’s friends said, ‘Oh that’s good. It’s good “time pass”‘. I have been told this for YEARS. First I was ‘passing time’ until I got married. Then I was ‘passing time’ until we had children (once people got over the shock that I decided to continue working after marriage). So what am I doing now? Passing time until what?

FFS. THIS IS WHAT I DO!

Rant over.

 

A Catch Up

I have neglected you all, haven’t I?

It’s ok – don’t feel bad.

I’ve neglected everyone over the last few weeks.

My home, my friends, my dog, LagosDad and yes, even my kids.

Why?

Because I’m back at school!

Since last September, I’ve been feeling a bit restless and discontent. As though there had to be more to life than playgroup, school runs and managing my home. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with my children (mostly), but there’s more. Right?

Then I realised that I wanted to go back to school. I missed being in the classroom (And being surrounded by other people’s children!).

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be back full-time, so I applied for a job as a substitute teacher. I had an interview. And I didn’t hear anything for weeks.

Suddenly I got an email asking if I’d be interested in covering someone’s maternity leave in January for twelve weeks. EH? Really? Me? Which grade? Full-time?

I got in touch with the school immediately to say yes, I was interested. But I still didn’t get any more information. I had to come in the following week to meet with the middle school principal. Middle school? That sounded like quite big kids. And didn’t they have different teachers for each subject? Which subject would I have to teach? What if it was science? What if it was *gulp* math?

I Googled ‘middle school’ and found out the age of the students – yes, they were a bit older than the five to seven year olds I was used to. It was only the following week, when I had the meeting that all was revealed.

7th grade. Geography. Errr. Not my age range and not my subject. But I could do it.

So since November, I’ve been in and out of school. Sometimes they ring me in advance to cover for someone. But mostly they ring me at 6 am and ask me if I can come in that day. Since my aim is to get a full-time job, I’ve had to accept more often than I wanted to. I mean… SIX AM!

And since January 11th, I’ve been in full-time teaching geography to 7th graders. The hours are long – 7 am to 3.15 pm (but usually I get home at about 4 pm). I don’t see my children much (is it a terrible thing that although I feel guilty about it, I don’t mind that much?).┬áIt’s taken a lot of preparation and a lot of reading up and researching stuff – but I LOVE IT!

I Wonder…

There’s something that I’ve been thinking about lately.  And I can’t stop thinking about it.  

As you may know (and as I’ve mentioned many times before), I used to be a primary school teacher. 

When I started teaching in Lagos, the school was very new – it had only been open a year, and everyone was still finding their feet.  Over the years the infrastructure improved, there was more guidance and there were more ‘rules and regulations’.  I was not happy about this at first (I’m not good with change), but soon realised that these changes didn’t benefit only the children, but they were crucial to my own personal and professional development.

I always taught Year 1 (5-6 year olds) or Year 2 (6-7 year olds).  I loved teaching.  I loved the kids in my classes (most of the time) and I think I got on well with most of my colleagues.  I’ve met some of my closest friends through teaching.

However, what I didn’t like (and I’ve made no secret of this either) was the paperwork and politics.  AND, apart from that, dealing with some of the parents.  The parents pay a lot of money to send their children to a private international school and expect a lot from the teachers; which is fair.  But there were some parents that became “overly involved” in everything that goes on in their child’s classroom.  Sometimes I feel they have every right to do this.  Within reason.

As a member of staff, of course it was necessary to always be polite and professional and deal with issues as they arose.  

I always thought I was a good teacher.  I took the time to talk to my children, to listen to what they had to say and to deal with their ongoing friendship problems (amongst many other things).  Any teacher would do that.  That’s what good teachers do, right?

But something’s changed now.  

I’m a parent.

I’m a parent and I can’t help but wonder if my interaction with parents of children in any of my classes would have been different if I’d *known* what it was like to be a parent before.  

Does that make any sense?

I wonder if I would have been as quick to placate a mum who had concerns about her child’s behaviour or progress (when there was no need to be concerned).  

I wonder if I would have been that little bit more sympathetic to the child that was upset because he didn’t like what was in his snack box.

I wonder if I would have been a little more patient with the five year old that was still crying every day when he arrived in school three months later.

All my ‘wonders’ are like this, and it’s made me question whether I did the best I could.  

 

Staying At Home

I am a stay-at-home-mum.

While I was pregnant, Hub and I decided that I would stay home for awhile and see how I felt about going back to work.  Right now, I don’t want to.  I don’t miss school.  I don’t miss the paperwork, the politics or (some of) the people.  And I certainly do not miss the very early (5.30am) mornings.  I am happy staying at home and being with my son.

I’m not saying I’ll never work again.  I’m just saying that for the moment, I don’t want to.

Believe me, I know how lucky I am.  I know how fortunate we are to have a choice in the matter.  There are so many mums that would leap at the chance to be a SAHM.  I thank my lucky stars every day.

But should I be made feel guilty about this?

Example

I was with a friend a few months ago.  V had just learnt how to roll over onto his front.  My friend’s child is a similar age to V.  She seemed quite impressed and said her baby wasn’t rolling over yet.  I asked her if she’d noticed the baby doing half a roll (does that make sense?), because that was how V started.  She replied with, ‘I haven’t noticed because I work.’

This same friend came to V’s party last month.  As she was leaving, we were trying to sort out a play-date.  She said she was a little busy for the next couple of weeks (as was I because my sister was in town).  I told her that wasn’t a problem at all, and that she should contact me when things were less busy.  She replied, ‘I’ll do that, but I’m not sure when it will be because, you know, I work.’

She was quite condescending both times.

I *know* she doesn’t want to work.  I *know* she would rather stay at home and be with her child.  And I know that she is not (yet) in a position to do so, which is why I have kept quiet and not said anything.

I’m not sure if she’s trying to make me feel guilty, or if it’s my over-active imagination at work.

Either way, I don’t like feeling like this! 

Looking For A New Job

No, no – I’m not looking for a new job at the moment…  I just wanted to tell you about what happened when I *was* looking for a new job a couple of years ago.  When I think about everything that happened, I know I was taken advantage of and maniuplated.

I moved back to Lagos and started teaching at an international primary school in 2004.  The school is privately owned (and sometimes feel more business-like) and had only been open for a year.  It was small and the staff were friendly and happy.  As soon as I walked in for my interview, I knew that this was the school I wanted to be in.

I was not classified as an ‘expat’.  I was a ‘local expat’, since I had already lived here and was coming to live with my dad.  My flight ticket was not paid for by the school and I didn’t get any excess luggage allowance.  At the time this didn’t bother me.  In addition, my salary wasn’t as high as it was in London (I had already been qualified and taught for four years) – but I didn’t have to pay taxes so it kind of all evened out in the end.  I was also entitled to one return flight to London every school year, paid for by the school.  

I was very happy there.  The school grew and policies were implemented and followed.  It went from strength to strenghth.  And I grew with it.  I received more responsibility and after three years became SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator).  Some colleagues had become my closest friends.

Every year I signed my contract, just checking to see I still had my flight and transport to and from school included.  I didn’t really think about what other people had in their contracts.  The owner didn’t like her employees to discuss these things.  This is, I feel, rather unrealistic and just a little ridiculous.

Anyway, so in January/February time (2009) the new contracts came out.  I didn’t really think much about what was in mine until I heard about my friend’s contract…  She had received a 33% pay rise.  I had received a 6% rise.  Without the amount I was getting for the SENCO position, she would have been earning more than me.  I had been there five years.  She had been there one year.  I had been qualified for nine years.  She had been qualified for four.  She was also being offered an excess luggage allowance and two flights every year.  And (I think) her own apartment.  She had previously shared with two or three other girls.  

I was confused and angry.  Was I not worth that much?  Wasn’t my contribution in the school community as important?  Had I not done enough over the last five years?  Also, I had started to feel a little bored and unchallenged.  The repetitiveness of teaching the same year group for five years was getting to me.  Maybe it was a sign that it was time to move on, and I started looking at other schools.  There is a lot of competition between the schools over here because there are only a handful of good ones.

The school’s biggest competition (at that time) was an American school.  It was a school I went to as a child and I loved it.  I had recently been there for a conference and all these memories came flooding back.  THAT is where I was going.  In the past they only ever hired people with American qualifications, but they had changed that policy.

I got my CV, references (my line manager was the only one who knew I was going for another job) and other paperwork sorted.  I went for an interview.  They called me back for a second interview.  Both went very well and I was feeling optimistic.  Then they called me back for a third interview.  It was on a school day, so I had to rush home to freshen-up, etc.  I arrived early and went into the school office.  

Who was the first person I saw there?  Yep… My current boss!  The owner of the school I was already at!  I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me!  She asked me what I was doing there (she was picking her son up from school), and I told her I was just checking out my options.  She didn’t say anything.  

I had my interview and was told that I would most likely get the job and that they would get back to me very soon.  It was a Wednesday.

It was not until the following Wednesday that current boss called a meeting with me to see what was going on.  I explained the situation to her.   She basically said that she had to do what she had to do to keep my expat colleague there.  She obviously didn’t think I would go anywhere…  She knew that we had been trying to get pregnant and said it would be easier in a place I was familiar with, rather than starting a new job.  And that if I needed a couple of days off here and there, we could come to an arrangement.  Then she went on to say that she didn’t think I’d be suited to the other school.  I didn’t have the right personality and that the parent body would have me kicked out because they wanted white American teachers.  She then said that she would have to know very soon if I intended to stay or go so that she could start looking at staffing for the following year.  She pushed for, and I agreed that I would or would not sign by the following Wednesday.  And my salary was slightly amended.

Remember that it was February.  And when I think about it now, I was really dumb.  She didn’t have to know if I intended to renew my contract or not until the Easter holidays.  She manipulated me.  And I stupidly allowed myself to be manipulated.  Probably because she terrified the hell out of me.

I anxiously waited to hear from the other school, but no phone call or email came.  And when the following Wednesday arrived, I signed my contract and handed it to HR.  

The following day, someone from the other school called to offer me the position.  I wanted to weep.  He apologised for not having called me sooner, but he had been in Florida on a school trip.  Current boss KNEW THIS because her son had gone on the trip.

I asked my line manager for advice.  Should I withdraw my contract?  Would that be too unprofessional?  Did I *really* want to start all over again in a new place with unfamiliar people (I’m very shy) and teach a curriculum I didn’t know much about?  Maybe the parents wouldn’t like me?

I don’t know what it was that helped me make up my mind, but I emailed the other school and apologised to them.  I wasn’t able to accept their offer as I didn’t feel it would be professional since I’d already signed the contract.  I was disappointed, but it was the right thing to do.  The school I was in had accommodated a lot of my needs over the years.  They had allowed me time off to travel for my wedding and honeymoon (three weeks).  Plus they’d allowed me two weeks the following year to go to Thailand for my cousin’s wedding.  They’d also given me a day here and there when Hub had booked our flights on the wrong days, etc.

However, I was played.  Big time.  And if I decide to go back to teaching, I don’t think I’ll go back there…  My line manager was always very positive and full of praise for all of her team.  She constantly told us that we were doing a fabulous job.  However, sometimes you need to hear it from ‘upstairs’.