Coming Up For Air

Up For Air

In case you were wondering where I’ve been lately…..

I’ve been working full time for the past two weeks.

All the full time working readers: So?

Well, I also have kids.

All the full time working parent readers: So?

Well, I’ve also been sick. In fact, one day I felt so sick, I actually thought I might have caught man-flu.

All the sick full time working parent readers: Sss….. Yeah, okay, that’s probably fair enough.

To be honest, I felt pretty wimpy. I mean, people do this all the time. At work, I’m surrounded by working parents teaching full time in a challenging environment. And, being full time teachers, they also have all that other accountability stuff like Professional Development Plans and reports and checklists and planning and…. It exhausts me just thinking about it.

Even allowing for the added challenge last week of spending each day fighting off a headache and trying not to cough up a lung, it concerned me that I was so tired at the end of each day.

But then I thought, maybe working is like any other physical activity. It takes fitness. Just as I used to be able to run 10km without really thinking about it, now that I haven’t run in months, even a short 4km is an effort. Maybe working full time takes training.

Apart from the occasional short stint, I haven’t worked full time since I had the kids. Prior to that, I was working full time on an IT project in a large corporation. I was commuting by train for over an hour each way and I was working long hours. And I really mean long. Six o’clock train in the morning, 7.15pm train home was the standard day. A 9.30pm train home was not unusual. Then there were the days I’d catch a taxi home at 3am. (The trains stopped running at midnight.) Or the one memorable day when I caught the 6am train to work and then came home at lunchtime the next day.

It’s been over twenty years since that mad stage of my life. There’s no way I could sustain that now. And it’s not just because I also have children who need me at the end of the day. I just don’t have the fitness for it any more.

But unlike my running that I do need to get up and … er … running, I’m not sure I’m ready to put in the training for full time work just yet. So I’ll stick with the casual relief work and take each option as it comes. And hopefully I’ll still find the time to hang out here in the blogosphere for a while yet.

Have you ever felt like you’ve lost your fitness for something?

I’d like to dedicate this post to my friends and colleagues who work full time in challenging environments. You rock.

 

 

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Is This The Real Life?

Or is this just fantasy?

I’ve never been a real anything.

Well, okay, yes, I am in fact a real person.

However….

As I have explained (ad nauseum) on this blog, I tend to flit from one activity to another, pretending to be whatever it is that takes my fancy at the time. Currently, I’m pretending I can play the banjo.

kermit_11

Maybe I’ll be as good as Kermit one day.

This pretend life has not only applied to my leisure activities. Every job I’ve ever held, I’ve spent the bulk of my time pretending I know what I’m doing.

And that’s because for every job I have ever held, I possessed neither the qualifications nor the experience for that particular position. They gave me the job anyway.

I know. I don’t understand it either.

But something changed recently.

At the beginning of February, I was given a fixed contract of three days a week for an eight week term in the school where I’ve been relief teaching.

I filled out the required paperwork and the bureaucratic wheels began to turn.

First, I was given an employee ID number by the Education Department. Having never held an official teaching position before, I’d never had one of these. Apparently this one will follow me all of my days. Mine to keep.

Along with the employee ID, I was given an official Education Department email address. Apparently this one will not follow me all of my days. Mine to give back at the end of my contract.

As far as the Department was concerned, I now existed as a teacher.

[It’s worth just noting here that all potential teachers in this state, even those only undertaking relief teaching, must be registered with the state Institute of Teaching before they are allowed to teach. We do have some standards.]

More was to come.

I was called to the office to collect my badge. A real name badge, not the paper and plastic one I usually wore as a relief teacher. This one even said “Teacher” on it.

Could this be? Was I becoming something real?

Blue Fairy meme

Two weeks ago, the photographers showed up and I had my photograph taken. My first ever official school photograph as a member of staff.

It was like the last piece of the puzzle. I was a teacher.

Being a real teacher has also meant three meetings a week and writing reports.

Pretending can have its advantages.

The term ends this week. After the following two weeks of school holidays, I’ll no longer be a ‘real’ teacher.

I feel a bit like the Blue Fairy has jumped out and said “Only Kidding!”

 

 

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They Speak A Foreign Language In America

As an Australian visiting the United States of America, I’ve been brushing up on my foreign language skills.

But you’re both English-speaking countries. Don’t you speak the same language?

Well, I think that’s a debatable point but I wasn’t actually talking about the spoken or written language.

Q: What’s the difference between a canoe and an Australian?

A: A canoe can tip.

If there is one thing that can strike more fear into the heart of an Australian visiting the USA than its lack of gun control it is the concept of tipping.

Tipping

Who to tip, when to tip, how much to tip…. It’s all a mystery to the average Australian.

It has always amazed me that two countries that began life as colonies of the British Empire could evolve so differently. Perhaps it is because one was founded primarily by pilgrims and settlers and the other by the criminal refuse of the Mother Country.

Tipping does exist in Australia but it is confined mostly to high end restaurants. Cafés have started putting tip jars on their counters but the only expectation is that you might drop in the couple of coins you were just handed in change for your coffee.

Even in restaurants, a tip is not really expected. It certainly is not, as it was for us at a restaurant the other night in New York, included in the bill.

You may, if you felt the food was outstanding and the service excellent, add a little extra when paying. Rounding up to the next five or ten dollars is reasonable.

I often think Americans must excel in the mathematical topic of percentages, given they must constantly work out tips based on an expected percentage.

What I will never understand is the expectation of a tip even if the food was ordinary and the service indifferent.

It is not just the value of the tip that is confusing to Australians, it is how extensive tipping is across American society. Hotels are a particular case in point.

Leaving a tip for the person who comes in to clean your room is, frankly, a bizarre concept to us. There is an implicit understanding that, having paid hundreds of dollars a night for a room, all standard expenses related to that room are covered. Certainly, it is expected that the person who comes to clean your room is being paid a wage to do that job out of those hundreds of dollars you just handed over at reception.

But this is where I start to get an understanding of why tipping is so important in America. In Australia, we fight hard to ensure everyone is earning a reasonable living wage whatever their occupation. To be honest, we have some more work to do on that but the situation is nowhere near as dire as it seems to be in the USA.

The minimum wage in New York State is currently US$8.75/hour. It’s even lower in many other states and six states don’t even have a minimum wage. (Ref.) In Australia, the minimum wage applies across all states and is currently set at A$16.87/hour (US$13.07). (Ref.)

Australia also has universal healthcare, so even though the minimum wage is low, those on low incomes can access free medical care. In America, where much of healthcare is an additional cost to be borne (unless one is lucky enough to have employer-provided health insurance), those on even lower wages must rely on the generosity of strangers and tourists to help them cover these costs.

As an Australian, it’s hard not to see compulsory tipping as a form of legalised begging for the poor.

I hope we don’t see extensive tipping become the norm in our country. I hope we continue to try and ensure every person is paid a liveable wage.

But we will continue to leave a few dollars on the table for the person who comes to clean our room while we are visiting the USA.

Australians can tip. We just don’t understand why.

 

 

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Whethering The Storm

Their is always going to be somebody who will hapily point out your going about things the rong way, weather you like it or not.

Ha! Made you wince!

Don’t worry, I know I used the wrong words up there. As a perfectionist, I just wanted to see if I could even go through with it.

I recently read a wonderful post by author Josephine Moon in which she writes about being a recovering perfectionist. At this stage, as a ‘suffering’ perfectionist, I can only aspire to the status of ‘recovering’.

I’ve learned two things this week:

Being a perfectionist means a tsunami of praise can still be swamped by one small criticism

and

Perfectionists are their own worst enemies

In the first case I had to sing a song as ‘cantor’ – I sing the verses, everyone joins in on the chorus. I thought it went okay (see, perfectionist). I received many, many compliments afterwards. And one remark that inferred I had sung the song incorrectly. So guess which comment stuck in my head for the rest of the day? It didn’t seem to matter that the majority of people had thought it beautiful. It only takes one negative reaction to send a perfectionist on a downward spiral of self-criticism. “What did I do wrong?” “How was it wrong?” “I should have…” “If only I’d…” Like the princess who could feel the pea through a pile of mattresses, perfectionists feel the pain of ‘not getting it right’ through all the praise and congratulations.

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In the second case, nobody said anything negative except my own inner perfectionist. I’ve recently moved into emergency teaching in the disability sector. I have neither qualifications nor experience in special education but I know they are desperate for relief teachers and I am keen to learn and make a difference. I was called in to work yesterday and it did not go well. Things became so out of control, an additional aide was sent into the room and even the principal came and took one child away for a while to try and calm the situation. I felt useless. On reflection I realised that it was actually my own perfectionism that had caused the problem.

Working with children with disabilities takes special skills and processes. Things must be done a certain way, particular words must be used when speaking, defined actions must be used when directing the children to do things and activities must be tailored specifically for that class. It can be overwhelming and in wanting to get it right, I froze and instead did nothing.

©Fran Priestley (www.freeimages.com)

©Fran Priestley (www.freeimages.com)

I received no criticism from anyone involved at the school, but that was not necessary. My own perfectionist was quite capable of berating me herself. “I was terrible today.” “They’ll never ask me back.” “I should have done…” “Why didn’t I…”

Being a perfectionist can make you feel like a tiny boat in a storm of criticism both external and internal. It’s all you can do to keep afloat and try and head for a safe harbour.

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©Patricia Dekker (www.freeimages.com)

So, if I am to move from ‘suffering’ perfectionist to ‘recovering’ perfectionist, what do I need to learn from these two situations?

1. Turn up the positive and lower the negative. Hear the praise and quiet the criticism. It’s okay to hear and learn from constructive comments that will allow you to do things better but don’t let it drown out all the things you got right.

2. Sometimes things will not go well. Sometimes you will get it wrong. Learn from it and move on. Change the situation then let it go. Don’t let the fear of getting it wrong hold you back from getting it right.

It’s a long journey and a far from easy one but as long as I keep moving forward I believe I’ll get there.

©Petr Kovar (www.freeimages.com)

©Petr Kovar (www.freeimages.com)

 

 

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7 Reasons Why You Should Employ A Jack Of All Trades

The world is round. So why do we live in such a linear society?

Most employers seem to have a one-track mind when it comes to selecting their staff. They search for someone with the qualifications and experience that lines up perfectly with the position they are offering.

A Jack of All Trades, however, is likely to have qualifications that match the criteria but no related experience. Or experience in the job being advertised but no relevant qualifications. And likely to have both in areas that are both mildly related and totally unrelated to the position.

But while most employers immediately rule out such deviations from the norm, I’d argue that a Jack of All Trades is exactly the sort of employee every workplace should have.

1. Versatility

A Jack of All Trades has tried it all. Or at least a lot of what is on offer. She has skills in broad areas, knowledge in many subjects and can pretty much turn her hand to anything. As an employer that means you can give her any sort of job and she will take it on with gusto. It’s like getting ten employees in one.

2. Flexibility

Tapping into a variety of experiences means a Jack of All Trades has had to be flexible. Depending on what he has taken on, he may be called upon to use his physical fitness or his intellectual acumen; his ability to wield a hammer or a paintbrush; his business nous or his knowledge of classical music. As an employer’s business needs adjust in an ever-changing world, a Jack of All Trades employee is up to the task whatever comes.

3. Creativity

A Jack of All Trades does not travel through life in a straight, predictable line. She views the world in sidelong glances and turned heads. She sees above, beyond, below and behind all the world has to offer. A Jack of All Trades does not expect the world to be the way she expects it to be. She expects the world to surprise her. Should a problem arise, the Jack of All Trades has every angle to employ in solving it. She not only thinks Outside The Box, she is Outside The Box.

4. Unflappability

By his very nature, a Jack of All Trades is always ready to move onto the next new shiny thing. Change is not something to be feared but celebrated. An alteration in the job requirements of a position will not have a Jack of All Trades sobbing in the executive bathroom or hiding under the covers in his bed while he claims stress leave. He will relish the new challenge and get on with the job.

5. Adaptability

The Jack of All Trades is the chameleon of the workforce. Need someone to communicate with shareholders, factory workers and management? You need a Jack of All Trades. She’s met so many people, worked in so many areas, she can morph into any representative you need. A Jack of All Trades adjusts to meet whatever is required in her position. She won’t cross her arms, stamp her feet and protest, “that’s not in my job description”. If anything, a Jack of All Trades relishes the challenge of every aspect of her job, especially the unexpected ones.

6. Quick Learning

The reason a Jack of All Trades knows so many things is because he is interested in so many new things. He is always hungry for new knowledge and new skills. This makes him a quick learner, basically through constant practice. It would be rare for a job candidate to have every single skill an employer requires for a position. There is almost always some learning involved. If you hire a Jack of All Trades, those gaps in knowledge or skill will not be gaps for long. A Jack of All Trades actively seeks to learn all there is to learn and then some. You will soon have an employee who not only knows everything he needs to know to do his job but will also probably know how to do Pete’s job too, especially if it intersects with his own. And no formal training required. A Jack of All Trades is a self-training machine.

7. Organisation

Early morning rowing, evening banjo lessons and regular blog posts. Training and fundraising for an event and rehearsing for a play. Throw in raising children, maintaining a household and looking for work. The organisational skills of a Jack of All Trades cannot be underestimated. She has a Masters in Time Management and a PhD in Keeping It All Together. Need six things done at once in a high-pressure environment with tight deadlines? A Jack of All Trades has it covered.

So why would you bring only a tiny part of life into your business when you could have the whole shebang?

A Jack of All Trades – the World’s Super-Employee.

Jack of All Trades 2

Jack of All Trades: Super-Employee

 

 

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Collision Course

Do you ever notice how many different versions of you exist?

That’s this week’s writing challenge. No kidding. You do know the name of my blog, right?

As a Jack of All Trades, I’ve got so many versions of Me it’s hard to keep track.

Lately, they’ve been arguing.

About six months ago, I made a tentative foray into casual relief teaching at a school for children with severe intellectual disabilities. I enjoyed it and I received positive feedback so why then have I not pursued more work this year?

Scientist Me thought I should have more study under my belt before inflicting my inexperienced self on unsuspecting children and support workers.

Accountant Me pointed out that I couldn’t afford to study and maybe doing some work first might be a good idea.

Sporty Me was too preoccupied training for Oxfam Trailwalker and didn’t want to know about it.

Humanitarian Me was conflicted, wanting to concentrate on fundraising for Oxfam but feeling that working in the disability sector where teachers are sorely needed would also be a good thing.

Introvert Me was hanging on to the hope of still finding a way to make money sitting in a room by herself.

To shut them up, I went back to the school this week and put my name down to teach again.

It didn’t work.

Academic Me wants to spend this weekend preparing enriching and challenging activities to implement when she’s called in.

Musician Me wants to buy a ukulele and a set of bongo drums so she can just sing songs all day. She’s having an argument with Accountant Me.

Creative Me wants to hit the art shops and buy lots of art and craft activities to do with the children. She’s arguing with both Accountant Me and Musician Me.

Control Freak Me is, well, freaking out because she doesn’t really know what she’s doing.

Actor Me is telling Control Freak Me to get a grip on herself and that she’s got it sorted. She just has to finish work on the script. (Control Freak Me is not convinced.)

Teacher Me is frighteningly absent from the conversation. I think she’s pretending she doesn’t exist.

Sigh.

I think I’ll go lie down and have a chat with Counsellor Me.

'Armageddon' by bubor (www.freeimages.com)

‘Armageddon’ by bubor (www.freeimages.com)

 

 

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The Meaning of Work and the Work of Meaning

It is generally agreed that long term, chronic and generational unemployment (where children grow up never seeing an adult get up and go to work) plays a large part in societal disadvantage and dysfunction. It is often trumpeted that if we could only get these people into some sort of work, all those problems would disappear. But does putting someone to work sweeping footpaths or stacking boxes really improve their sense of self? Perhaps for someone who has never held a job, the experience of earning a pay packet would indeed lift their self-esteem. But for those who have in the past experienced challenging and fulfilling work and now find themselves jobless, would any sort of work make them feel the same? I think the employment rate hides another societal issue – that of those employed but for whom work does not hold meaning.

Steve Jobs

Until very recently I was unemployed and had been for eight months. I voluntarily left a job that was family-friendly, reasonably flexible and, though low-paid, secure. It would seem an odd job to leave but it had little to challenge me and it was difficult to identify what difference I was making to the world.

I have a teaching qualification, long ago gained but never used. Having a background in mathematics and science I was assured by Those In The Know that these were highly sought-after subjects in the local high schools. So I took the gamble, left my job and launched myself into the world of Casual Relief Teaching.

Those In The Know were sadly misinformed. Thus the eight months  of unemployment.

What changed? I took another gamble. Friends working in the disability sector had for some time suggested I put my name down at the local school for children with intellectual disabilities, citing a desperate need for relief teachers. I had batted each suggestion away with the sense of dismissive ridiculousness it deserved. If I couldn’t gain employment in my area of expertise, what hope did I have in a sector for which I was woefully unqualified? However, unemployment (and its accompanying feelings of rejection) can give one an incentive to try even the most outrageous career choice.

Fortunately I had the opportunity to enter as a volunteer. It gave me the chance to experience the environment and what would be required with a ‘no harm, no foul’ get out clause.

I loved it.

Yeah, it surprised me too.

Confucius

I’d made no secret as to my purpose for volunteering and once my stint was over, they were keen to move me into relief teaching. I was to undergo a number of days of induction, getting to know some of the classes. Halfway through my first induction day, I was asked if I was available to work the next day. And they’ve kept asking, so I must be doing something right.

Each day I go in, I feel like I’ve jumped out of an aeroplane without a parachute. I am on a steep learning curve (practically vertical) but I am thriving on the challenge. I feel once again the work I am doing is meaningful, not only because it is challenging and stretching me to my utmost ability limits but mostly because of the children themselves. They inspire me every single day and I highly value the opportunity to offer them the experiences and learning they deserve.

Any job can give you at least some sense of doing something productive with your time. It also conveniently puts food on the table. But a job that makes you feel like you are making a difference in the world is what turns working for a living into working for meaning.

It doesn’t mean you have to be vaccinating orphans in Africa or building shelters for the homeless or even working in special education. Whatever your work is, if it feels like more than just a job, if it gives you pleasure in the knowledge that you are having a positive influence on somebody’s life, it is a work of meaning. Perhaps you are the welcoming, smiling face at your local café, the only one a lonely old lady may see all day. Perhaps you take pride in keeping a school clean and tidy, knowing that you are contributing to a positive learning environment. Perhaps you bring the joy of music to people.

It doesn’t have to be ‘worthy’, it just has to matter.

MLK

 

 

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In Praise of Worker Bees

The greatest thing the world will see?
It is the humble Worker Bee.
Manager Bees will have their place
(The Business has to have a face)
But without the Worker Bee
There’d be no job to oversee.
They make the buses run on time,
Restock the stores and mend the line.
They pay the bills, replace the lids,
Clean the sinks and teach the kids.
I don’t know where the world would be
Without the humble Worker Bee.

I am a Worker Bee. I’m a very good Worker Bee. It took me some time to come to terms with the fact that I am and always will be a Worker Bee. It is inherent in the human condition to want to climb higher up the ladder. I have climbed up there – the air doesn’t agree with me.

When you are good at your job, people assume that you must want more. More responsibility, more pay, more recognition, more of everything. And it’s easy to get sucked into thinking you want it too. I’ve learnt the hard way that it’s not what I want (well, the ‘more pay’ bit was nice but I wasn’t so keen on the rest of it). I really am happiest just doing the job I’ve been given. I don’t need the constant worry about what other people are doing.

And it’s not just in the work field that it is easy to fall into the trap. People assume that if you’re a good committee member, you’ll make a good President. Good players into good coaches, good actors into good directors. It just doesn’t work like that.

Management, whether in the workplace, on the sports field or on the stage, is a skill in itself. I’ve known some spectacular coaches who weren’t star players. Many well-known directors were never starring actors themselves, if actors at all. So it’s okay to say you’re good at what you do, but that you’re not management material. Your gifts lie in your work; others will have the gift to manage that work.

I am reminded of the Peter Principle. “The Peter Principle is a proposition that states that the members of an organisation where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Principle) It has certainly held true for me.

I’ve had some spectacular promotion disasters. I once got someone sacked when, only days into taking over a management role, a fellow manager talked me into removing a worker she saw as under-performing. I was terrified. It all happened before I really even knew what was going on. Then all hell broke loose when it was revealed the other manager had no jurisdiction to do such a thing (neither did I, actually).

The two years I spent as President of our local preschool were uninspiring at best, a catastrophic mess of poor decisions at worst.

Each time I try to step further up the ladder, I am invariably reminded that I suffer from management vertigo. Often, I’m lucky if I manage to hold on to the ladder at all, especially on my way down. And I relearn the lesson that I am, at heart, a Worker Bee. Given the last time I had to sheepishly slide back down the ladder was only recently, I am something of a slow learner.

I am determined now, however, to celebrate my role as Worker Bee, to acknowledge I have gifts and talents to offer that are no less valuable just because they are ground-level skills. After all, what would our world be like if we were all a part of management? Horrifying thought, isn’t it?

Worker Bees are the Bees Knees.
They keep the hive alive.

Worker Bee Me

Worker Bee Me

 

 

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