Guyland – a morning with Dr Michael Kimmel

As I walked into school on Monday morning it was suspiciously quiet and there were no kids hanging around. It wasn’t until I got into the office that I was reminded that we had a late start and there was staff professional development. Staff PD is not something that always gets me going; it’s not the highlight of my professional career, but thankfully on Monday I was left inspired and motivated after having the absolute pleasure of hearing Dr Michael Kimmel address the whole staff for just over an hour.

Dr Kimmel is one of the world’s leading experts on men and masculinities and working in a boys’ school his visit seemed more than apt. As it turned out he got me thinking about a lot more than just the boys I teach on a daily basis.

Dr Kimmel said a lot on Monday morning, but there are few things I want to mention here. He acknowledged how the world is changing for men and boys because of changes in women’s lives and how there is often a defensiveness from males that is derived from their fear of this. For many men masculinity is not something you have, it is something that you prove; something that you prove predominately to other men. I have witnessed this first hand teaching in a boys’ school. And as Dr Kimmel went on to explain, it is something that we have to challenge in boys in order to make them more resilient in today’s society.

There is a tension that exists in what it means to be a good man and what it means to be a real man. When boys were asked what it means to be a good man, words such as loyal, protective, honourable, strong were thrown up. When asked what it means to be a real man, the responses were very much more about proving their masculinity to other men – to not show emotion, to harden up. This conflict of ideas is where the problem lies. Other men are constantly judging and policing masculinity in society.

To explore this further, Dr Kimmel went on to discuss how we must take gender seriously and build character through discussion. As an English teacher this puts me in an enviable position. I am able to explore feelings and emotions through the texts I choose to teach. I am able to create a classroom environment where boys are comfortable to discuss poetry, present dramatic performances and write about both male and female characters and how they are presented in a text. Having also taught in co-ed schools I have witnessed how in an all boy environment boys are more supportive of one another, more affectionate with one other and have more empathy for one another than in a mixed environment. It is something I have always found interesting. Dr Kimmel reinforced the importance of the subject of literature for boys.

He argued that we need to make gender visible; that when girls look in the mirror they see a female, when boys look they see a human. We need to encourage boys to recognise their masculinities (plural yes, I’ll talk more about this in a minute), and if they do they will then recognise their privilege. Yes, underpinning all of this was the fact that privilege needs to be visible too. Something that I said in my last blogpost. If we can recognise our privilege, we can use it to help others. Dr Kimmel said the same about the privilege of masculinities. It’s a good point, right?

So, on to this masculinities business. Quite rightly, he acknowledges that we are not all the same. Indeed, not all men are the same. We need to take masculinity seriously and accept that different groups of men view themselves differently, and once they recognise this and it becomes visible, then so too does the privilege of being male.

Boys are in crisis in how they fit into today’s world. They need their parents, “charismatic adults”, male friends and female friends to see them through it. They need guidance and a range of these supportive people around them to point out when their behaviour is unacceptable, or in turn to say, “yes, what you did there makes you a good man.”

As always it is always good to hear a well-educated speaker talk about their life’s work and even Dr Kimmel acknowledged the irony in him being a middle class white man, but for him his privilege is certainly visible and he is using it to help and improve the lives of those without it. This is just a brief snapshot of my thoughts on the morning but I hope you find it thought provoking.

If any of this interests you, I suggest you check out some of Dr Kimmel’s TED talks which can easily be found online.

One term down…going back to work wasn’t so bad after all.

It’s been a busy three months, so busy I have once neglected writing but here I am with a little update.

Basically: I survived.

No, that’s being hard on myself. I did more than survive. I was bloody awesome.

I guess when I look back to this first term back at work teaching part time I can break it down in to four parts: my children, my house, my teaching and me. So, here goes.

Part time is great. I am at work Monday, Wednesday and Friday which means the girls go to before school care and kindy early on those days. I drop them off at 7.30am and then drive 15 minutes to work. My first week back, I had to creep into their room and wake them up in the darkness. For six and a half years I have been striving for them to sleep longer and here I was waking them up. It all felt so wrong. A couple of weeks in and they were naturally waking up. They know on “quick days” as we call them that they need to get up and get dressed while I’m in the shower, and they will have breakfast there, not at home. For the most part it’s working. They love seeing their friends in the morning and I’m lucky that where we are this is affordable ($21 for each child for those three days before school). The only problem was last Monday (school holidays) when the youngest demanded she still wanted to go to kindy at 7.30am!

In the afternoons I’m fortunate enough to have my mum pick them up, bring them home and give them afternoon tea. I’m home by four at the latest and pick up from there. I’m so grateful she can do it and the routine is working well. 

So, check to number one on the list. The children have survived…with smiles on their faces.

Next up, the house. It’s still standing! That’s the main thing and for the most part it is still in order. I do like order in my life. It’s important. A month or so in, we decided to start getting My Foodbag and it has been life changing. Yes, I no longer have to plan meals and do the shopping at the weekend but more importantly we are eating a much wider range of healthier food than we we before. No more Friday night calls to Hell’s pizza to deliver! And here’s the weird thing, the kids are eating it without complaint. I’m pretty sure there’s some weird psychology going on here but basically because the lady at My Foodbag is choosing what we eat (their words) and not mummy they will eat it! Win win. 

The laundry is a pain but I’m getting into habits that I can sustain when I go full time next year (more about that later). I stick it on at night before bedtime (electricity is cheaper then too) then hang it out to dry in the morning. It seems routine and organisation is key in this blog post.

Okay, my teaching…I was nervous about going back. Could I remember how to teach? Would they run circles around me? The usual Sunday night dread and fears, but instead of two days away from school, six plus years. But you know what? It was fine. Absolutely fine. In fact, it was awesome. I love it. Like, really really love it. Being a classroom teacher and no longer a middle manager, all of my time at school is spent on teaching, planning and marking. I’m trying new stuff and the kids are responding well. I’m remembering my knowledge of literature and my teaching skills and it’s an absolute joy. And teenage boys? They are amazing. They get such a bum deal sometimes but their energy, wit and spirit is worth going to work for. Remind me next year not to say yes to any responsibility outside of the classroom though. 

Being a parent I have clearly learnt how to get things done quickly and multi-task. I have got nearly all of my planning and marking done at school, rather than bringing it home. I have made a real effort to communicate frequently with the parents of the kids I teach (because I can appreciate now how important that is). It’s like I’m the teacher I was before, but a better version. 

And so yes, I have been offered, and accepted, a full time permanent role at the school I’m teaching at. I didn’t have to think about it for long and it feels good to have that security. There’s a lot of changes happened at the school but maybe I’ll talk about that in another blog post sometime.

Finally, me. I have survived. I am here to tell the tale. The gym has gone out the window unfortunately and there is less time to do the things I love but thankfully I do love what I do, and I think being away from it for so long and coming back to it has reminded me about that. It has also meant that time with my own family feels that little bit more valuable. Weekends are a premium now; mornings are a lot more lazy with cartoons, cuddles and crumpets, but that would have happened anyway with them both being at school as of this November.

I enjoy earning my “own” money (even though it all goes into a big pot that we share) but more importantly I enjoy having stuff to talk about other than the kids. I enjoy having grown up discussions (about what’s on Netflix or what so and so had for dinner last night) and I love the intellectual challenge of teaching. 

So there we go. It is all going swimmingly, and I know people do this all the time, that some people go back to work when their kids are babies etc…but I’m talking about me. We chose as a family for me to stay home with them as long as I could and it was most definitely the right decision for us. I would not change that for the world, but this is the start of a new phase and I, for one, love it.

The lunch bag that marks the end of an era.

I went shopping the other day and bought a lunch bag. Do you like it? 

It may seem insignificant but it marks a huge change that’s about to happen in my life. For six and a half years I have been a stay at home mum and in a week I am going back to work.

It was always going to happen at some point and the plan had been to be available for relief teaching for two days a week but I got made an offer I couldn’t refuse for a job share three days a week. It was something that I didn’t expect to happen in a high school situation with a six day rolling timetable, but here it is with three fixed days a week until the end of the year. I am excited and nervous, but mainly excited.

In my head I had a blog post planned about writing a CV in search of the job that would mark my return to paid work; my skills now include child wrangling, making animals out of pipe cleaners, multitasking to an Olympic standard, fangirling, writing silly stories…the list goes on but for now my CV can remain untouched. 

I am going back to teach at the school I worked at before I went on maternity leave in 2010. This is the school that interviewed me for my initial teaching job in NZ on the phone the night before I got married in the UK. The school that has invested time and money into my professional development and the school that provided me with my Kiwi family. It really is like going home when I walk into that place. 

It is also the school where I had positions of responsibility and that has very high expectations of staff and students. This is a good thing but I have changed, more so because my situation has changed. My priority now is my family and it will be different being back in the department in a part time role without that responsibility. I am sure there will be times I have to bite my tongue or sit on my hands. I know that I am going to be that teacher who leaves as soon as they can after the school bell and then be up late at night marking and planning when my children are asleep so I can spend more time with them when I get home. I’m okay with that.

So these school holidays I have been getting organised; Getting the house in order, sorting out before and after school care (thankfully my mum can pick the girls up). There is more to do but it will all be okay, and if it’s not, we will all be okay. It will take time to adjust and I know we will sometimes be living in a mess and eating weetbix for tea, but no one will die and we will all be okay. It just needs a change of perspective.

Going back to work will be good for everyone but I think I’m safe in saying it will be best for me. It will stop my mind turning to mush and I will have adult company once more. This thought alone makes me happy and a happy mum means a happy kids.

So there we are. A big change ahead. It’s not going to be easy but it’s time for it to happen. Hopefully I’ll be able to share my journey on the way back to work with you…warts and all. 

“You can have it all”…my two year plan, part one.

What do I want to be when I grow up?

I can clearly remember answering this question when I was about six years old. The answer was simple, a teacher. As time passed a few other alternatives got thrown into the mix: a travel agent (I liked filling in forms), an air hostess (so I could travel), an RAF communications officer (So they would support me through University – isn’t that awful of me?), but at the end of the day I always came back to a teacher.

I absolutely loved school and was inspired my own teachers. I knew that it was what I wanted to be and that was the career I pursued right from the start.

I began my teaching career in the North East of England and quickly got some responsibility when I moved to my second job after only three years of teaching. It wasn’t much but I was a new head of department for a new, and small, Media Studies department. Small because I was in charge of me, and only me, but everyone has to start somewhere, don’t they? Let me clarify, it was my job to set up the new course for the following year so there was plenty to do. The vast majority of my job was as an English teacher though and this is truly where my heart is in teaching.

Teaching opened doors for me in New Zealand. I interviewed for my job over the phone on the eve of my wedding, and thankfully got it…that may have put a bit of a damper on my big day if I hadn’t!

The school I taught at in Auckland was one of the best in the country and it offered me so many opportunities. They supported my professional development in so many ways and I am so grateful. I went to courses here in New Zealand; I was a representative at a conference in Singapore; I was part of an action research group and presented my research to an international audience of my peers in Philadelphia. I was offered these opportunities and grabbed them with both hands. I am a hard worker, and I tell you now, this was hard work, but it is so rewarding and so important.

Over time responsibility came along in promotions both within the department and the house system. It was a busy job without these responsibilities, but now it was even busier. Evenings and weekends were spent prepping lessons and marking (you can imagine the marking of a senior English teacher). There were extra curricular activities. I would routinely spend one night a week at debating until 10pm at night, and sometimes there were events at weekends.

Let me stop now and say I am not complaining. Not complaining in the least. I loved my job. Really loved it. I loved the people I work with (some of them are still my best friends), loved the subject I taught and most importantly, I loved the students I taught but my life has changed. It has changed a lot, and here is where the problem lies.

My husband and I always agreed that if we had a family that I would be a stay at home mum until they were both at school. Well now we have two children and that is where the two year plan comes from. In two years they will both be at school full time.

I don’t know if I can be a teacher anymore.

I am the kind of person that gives their all. I am worried that I can’t have it all. Something will have to give and that will not be my family, so that leaves my students not having the best teacher in me in front of them in the classroom. It’s a conundrum. I want to have it all.

I know that people manage to do this every day. But I need to work out if I can do it and I have two years to consider it. The alternative? That’s the issue; I need to work out what else I can be if I’m not going to be a teacher.

What else can I be when I grow up?

improve communication in relationships from charlie brown's teacher