Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Category: Education (Page 1 of 4)

My (imaginary) Money magazine interview.

Today's beach walk.

I’m not a magazine reader, so it came as news to me when someone on Twitter said that Dave from Strong Money Australia gave a shout out to a few Aussie FIRE bloggers (including me – thanks Dave!) in a Money Magazine story about the FIRE movement in Australia.

Of course, I was anxious to read it, so I downloaded the Libby app and borrowed Money magazine from the library. (That’s another $9 off my “Earn my rates back” reading quest. ) I’d recommend reading the article for yourself, but in a nutshell, they interviewed 7 people who have either finished the FIRE path or are on their way along it. All but one were younger than me and all had different ways of navigating the path towards total financial freedom.

It made me wonder what I would have said, had I been interviewed. I’ve been a single mother for well over 20 years and have brought up my 4 boys on my own, all while working as a secondary teacher. I still have two of them at home with me, while the oldest and the youngest have flown the nest.

I stumbled across the FIRE movement around 8 or 9 years ago by reading a blog called ‘Go Curry Cracker’. I remember asking him in the comments what this ‘FIRE’ acronym stood for. I was 49, I had just paid off the house and was worried about how I could ever possibly afford to retire.

Imagine my relief when I read the famous post by Mr Money Mustache about The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement and I realised that by doing what I was already doing – (ie: saving and investing 50%+ of my take-home pay) I was on track to being able to retire at 67 with over a million dollar nest-egg. I could retire at pension age and not need to eke out my life on the pension.

That did it. I was hooked! I wanted to learn all I could about this FIRE stuff. I devoured blogs, books and podcasts. I hate Maths and numerals with a passion, but even someone as Maths-phobic as I am can learn, given enough repetition of the basic concepts.

Last year, at the age of 57, I retired. Ten years ahead of schedule.

I’m not your stereotypical ‘FIREy’ person, being older than a millennial, single with kids, coming from a career not really known for being lucrative and also being female. (And non-American…)

So what would I have said to the Money magazine people if they’d come knocking at my door? Here goes:

Frogdancer Jones* (* not her real name.)

Retired: at age 57.

Lives: beachside in suburban Melbourne with 2 of her 4 sons. Also with her 3 dogs who she possibly loves more than her children.

Career: Secondary teacher.

“I really believe that the secret to becoming financially independent is underpinned by three very important things,” says Frogdancer Jones as she pours a cheeky shiraz. “You have to know what you value in life so you can concentrate your time, effort and money on those things. You have to be able to see the value in delaying gratification – to be a long-term thinker, in other words. And you have to be willing to learn, so that when life offers up an opportunity, you can recognise it and – even more importantly, know what to do with it.”

The last point had a huge impact on the trajectory of Ms Jones’ financial life when, after years of struggling to bring up four boys and pay a mortgage on a teacher’s wage, she grabbed hold of an offer to develop her East Bentleigh property in a much sought-after school zone. This enabled her to release the equity in the property and move to a cheaper, but better, house further away from the CBD.

“Being able to pivot from my original plan to stay there until I was carried out in a pine box saved me having to work for an extra decade,” said Frogdancer. “I would never have had the courage to do it if I hadn’t have spent all of that time reading and listening to people who have already trodden the path to financial independence.”

So what does financial independence and early retirement mean to this early(ish) retiree?

“For me, the security of financial independence is an absolute gift. I left my husband back in 1997 with 4 boys under 5 and $60 cash. There were years of struggling to provide for my boys and pay the mortgage – it wasn’t easy to live off 18K/year of Centrelink benefits until the boys were all in school and I could go back to work. The frugal habits I learned back then have really paid off! If I have to, we can live off the smell of an oily rag. It took me a long time to lose the fear that I didn’t have ‘enough’ to retire on.

“Also, being able to retire at 57 is an even greater gift. For the first time in my life, I can be totally selfish. My kids are grown, I have no grandchildren and all I have to worry about looking after are the dogs and my garden. I can spend my days entirely as I choose – the freedom is absolutely incredible. I can highly recommend retirement!”

Recommended books and blogs: ‘The Millionaire Next Door’ – Stanley; ‘The Simple Path to Wealth – Collins; Strong Money Australia; The Retirement Manifesto; Aussie Hi-Fire and Late Starter Fire.

My new retirement quest – reading my way to getting my rates for ‘free.’

3 books.
Poems, history and fictional history – what more could you want?

It’s going to storm pretty heavily later today, so I decided to take the dogs and walk up to the library to return a couple of books and pick up an Atwood book of poems that I had on hold. It takes 6,000 steps to get there and back so it’s a good walk to take when you’ve been a bit too ‘at one with the couch’ for a few days.

This morning I thought of another book that I’ve been wanting to read for a while. When I got there I posted my returns through the slot and then went to the door and called to the librarians. I had the dogs with me and there was no way I was going to leave them tied up outside. My dogs are too appealing – there’s been an uptick in stolen dogs since covid hit and I don’t want mine to be added to that unhappy crew.

As you can see from the photo – they already had “The Last Tudor”, even though I only put it on hold an hour before. I was one happy customer!

As we were slowly striding home – Scout, being a miniature wire-haired dachshund, has very small legs – I idly began to think of how much money I was carrying home in these books. My father’s remark of, “They’re going to have to raise the rates!” flashed through my mind. He said this when I said that I’d started using the local library.

My rates are $1,800 each year. An average novel costs between $30 – $40. Say, just as a thought exercise, that each book costs $30. That would require someone to borrow and read 60 books in a year to “get their money back.”

(I just want to make something clear. Long-term readers of this blog would be extremely sceptical that I was willing and able to do these mathematical equations. They’d be right. I did them on a calculator when I got home.)

When you consider that last year my Goodreads challenge was fulfilled by the start of December with 80 books read, then this challenge is pretty do-able. I’ve already read 28 books in 2021, so I think I can do this.

A few rules:

  • In order to play fair, I will look online for the paperback version price of each book. After all, I’m a tight**se. I’m never going to buy a hardback version of a book when the paperback version is available.
  • If any books I borrow are eBooks, I’ll count the cost of the kindle version for this quest.
  • I will have a running total of this quest on the sidebar of this blog.
  • Even though I pay my rates in February, I will use the entirety of 2021 for this quest. It’s easier.
  • If I do well at this, there’s nothing stopping me from finding out how much I’ve paid in rates since we moved here to The Best House in Melbourne. A mega-quest will be to work at “earning back” all of the rates I’ve paid. (This could take a while…)
  • This quest ONLY takes into account the books I borrow from my local library. Books I borrow from friends or books I buy for myself do not count.

I’ve just looked up the price of the books in the photo on Booktopia.

Atwood’s ‘Dearly’ only comes in hardcover. It comes in at $22.

Weir’s “Queens of the Crusades’ is priced at $28.

Gregory’s ‘The Last Tudor’ is $31.

With the help of my trusty calculator, the total just with these 3 books is $81. So far, I’ve borrowed and read 22 books from the library.

This could be fun…

Who says schools don’t teach kids about personal finance?

Clearly, when you’re writing in the FIRE pace, a post about giving your retirement speech is something everyone wants to read. Most readers ever in a single day. Gee, if I put some effort into publicising this blog, I would have stumbled across this tactic far earlier and I would’ve retired YEARS ago! This post even beat the numbers I got when I won the Rockstar Finance blog battle in 2018.

Good times…

This morning I woke up, drowsily hearing rain on the tin roof and knew I had the day off. Then I thought, ‘I didn’t ring the daily organiser to tell her I wasn’t coming in!’ and I sat bolt upright in bed before I realised.

It’s a funny thing, being a teacher and retiring at the beginning of the school holidays. For the whole of my working life, I’ve had 5 or 6 weeks of holidays at this time of the year. So, even though I know in my head that I’m not going back to work, in the rest of my body it honestly feels like the summer holidays.

I still have my wage coming in until the end of the holidays, which also makes it seem like business as usual. However, my head, which (as I’ve already told you), knows that I’m retired, made me go to Gardenworld yesterday to buy expensive tree ferns and other plants to fill in the last garden bed in my new outdoor room. I also paid the deposit on getting my ensuite remodelled. I like paying for jobs like this while I still have money coming in.

2021 will be a year of only local travel, staying close to home and enjoying the space I’ve created.

Every year I give my sons and nieces a book on personal finance. Some have read every book, some have thrown them onto their bookshelves unopened while some have dipped in and out of them, but I figure that when it dawns on each person that they need to have a handle on this money stuff, they’ll have info right at their fingertips. Already that makes them better off than most people, right?

After Christmas, I’ll put a new page up at the top, where I’ll list what I’ve given them each year and why.

Coffee grounds and cold sausages.

After my last day, as I was literally leaving the school with the last bounty I’ll be taking from this place – a tray of cooked snags and the last of the coffee grounds from the staff room – ( I wrote about making the most of what your workplace can offer HERE) – one of the economics teachers stopped me and asked if I’d be interested in giving a talk to the year 9s in a new elective they’re offering next year about personal finance.

“It sounds like you’d be the perfect person to talk to them,” he said.

“Are you kidding?!? I’d be rapt!”

“It’d be twice,” he said. “It’s a semester subject.”

“That’s why I’m retiring,” I said. “So I can do the things I want to do. This’ll definitely be one of them.”

It’ll be interesting to see the topics they’ll be covering.

My retirement speech part 2.

So where were we?

Ah yes. I’d “written” my speech the night before – just a series of dot points – and I was raring to go.

My friend Megan volunteered to be my Designated Driver once I asked her, so she arrived to pick me up and we drove into school. Everyone’s desks were piled with Christmas cards, gifts and chocolates and we were all full of anticipation for the day ahead.

“I’m really looking forward to your speech, Frogdancer,” said a friend.

“Oh, I’m not giving a speech. I’m scared of public speaking,” I said. The look of shock on her face before I started laughing was priceless.

As we all found a seat at the big tables in the hall, I couldn’t help but reflect on how lucky we’ve been in Melbourne, coronavirus wise. We had one of the toughest lockdowns in the world and could barely leave our homes, but now, just before Christmas, life is pretty much back to normal with no new cases in the community for over 40 days.

When I decided to retire earlier in the year I was annoyed to think that I’d have to give my speech via a Google Meet rather than having everyone in the room with me. It’s so much easier to hold people when you’re actually with them. And now? I got my wish. Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again!

Our principal… let’s call her Patricia because it’s a name… gave her speech. She mentioned that she was going to have 2 huge celebrations this year – even though she hates surprise parties – but because of corona she ended up with “just me and Robert” for her milestone birthday, and for their anniversary “just me, Robert, the dog and cat.”

‘Excellent!’ I thought, making a mental note. I’d left mental space to refer to others’ speeches and Patricia had, all unknowing, given me the perfect way to start my speech.

I was expecting to be called last, as due to the school’s tradition the speeches go in order of how long the people have been there, but for some reason I was called second-last. Didn’t matter – I was good to go no matter when I was called.

After she gave her speech about me, calling me a bit of a rebel and saying how I sneak the kids off to the Theatre for drama lessons – how did she know??? – it was my turn to speak.

I got up and bounded towards the podium like a pudgy gazelle. This was my moment in the sun!

People on Twitter have asked that I publish my speech. I can’t give the word-for-word version because whenever I do a speech I speak TO the audience; I don’t read at them. So what follows is an approximation of what I actually said.

(I grab the sides of the podium, lay down my piece of paper with the dot points and half turn to face Patricia.)

“Isn’t it funny how people are different? I’d kill for a surprise birthday party and my kids are USELESS! They’ve never once thought to do it. The only two surprise parties that people have thrown me have been from kids at this school. “

(Murmurs of ‘aww’ from the audience. They think this is going to be a typical teacher speech – except for the people who know me well. They were strapped in and waiting.)

“When I went on my trip to Europe in 2015 – a trip I planned when I was 15 and didn’t get to actually do until I was 51, my year 12 Theatre kids got my son Evan to pretend to take me out for a farewell mother/son dinner. When we got to the restaurant the kids all popped up from behind a booth yelling “SURPRISE!” It was lovely.

“The other time was when a class of year 7s spent all lunchtime blowing up about 500 balloons to fill the classroom. It was hilarious. By the time I got there in period 5 some of them were white-faced and tottering slightly… I think they were hyperventilating from all the balloons!

(Turning again to face Patricia. A bit of background here: every year we have our first staff meeting for the year on the day before the kids arrive back. In her ‘welcome to the staff’ speech she always says, “No parent hands us their child and says, “Do a mediocre job on this one.” It’s a good saying about how every child we have in our classes is important. )

“But speaking as a parent of kids who came to this school Patricia, I’ve got a bit of a bone to pick with you…

(She laughs and looks slightly apprehensive. She knows me.)

“I would have been HAPPY to have a mediocre job done with my boys!

(Huge laugh from the staff. Turns back to the audience.)

“Look, for those of you who haven’t taught them, they’re affable. They mean well, but they’re as dumb as a box of bricks. A mediocre job would have been just fine. But it’s a testament to the professionalism and dedication of the people here in front of me, all but 4 teachers did an outstanding job with them. (I could see people wondering who the 4 teachers were. heh heh. Just as I wanted!)

“Just to be fair, I taught 2 of them, so I’ll just leave that bit of info with you…

(I looked down to my left and saw a group of young teachers. I don’t know who they were – we have a very large staff – but one girl was staring at me with her jaw dropped literally as far as it could go. You could almost hear her thinking, “How could any mother speak about her children like that?” I started laughing at the look of shock on her face.)

“Speaking of having kids at the school with you, it’s so much fun. Seriously, even if you’re like me and don’t like babies (shocked gasps and laughter) have a shit-ton of them. Have a baker’s dozen! It’s like a sport that’ll give you entertainment here for years.

(I have to whip away the veil of anonymity for a second with my oldest son. On the blogs I call him Tom, but his real name is Jack, with a surname of 3 syllables that start with the letters DA, pronounced like the da in ‘dad’. This is important for the story to follow.)

“We all know Jenny Smith. So nice, so lovely and caring. When my son Jack Da… was in year 8, I bumped into her and asked how he was going.

“I don’t teach your son,” she said.

“Yes you do. He has a different surname to mine,” I said, thinking that might be the problem. “He’s Jack Da…. in year 8.”

“I don’t teach anyone by that name,” she said, getting cross. When I insisted that yes she did, she whisked me off to her desk to check her class list in her chronicle. In those days, it was all handwritten.

So I grabbed the chronicle and scanned the list, looking for the D’s. I have to tell you, it’s a sad day when the kid who had driven you to drink is clearly doing the same to other people. There, clear as day, she’d written “Jack Daniels.”

(The staff roared. Jenny was laughing, red faced and mopping her eyes.)

“But yeah, having kids at school with you is like a sport. Here’s how its done:

“When you realise you have your kid’s class as a sub, you walk towards the class waiting outside the room. Your kid sees you, nods, then as you don’t deviate away, you can see them realising that their Mum is going to teach the class. They avoid eye contact, but we both know it isn’t going to save them.

“You can launch your attack right away, getting up to the class and pretending to see them for the first time. “Jack darling!” and you give him a hug. “I’ve missed you!”

“Or, you play it cool. As you move through them to the door, you hear the kids telling your kid, “That’s your Mum.” See? I told you my kids were dumb – even the other kids know it.

“You unlock the door, then sternly tell the kids to line up. Then you say, “David, sweetie, do you want to go in first and have the pick of all the seats?

(People are laughing like crazy. It’s wonderful.)

“Or you can get them when you’re calling the roll. “Sarah Snozbag, Joe Lunchbucket, (sigh and go all syrupy sweet) Ryan Jones” and blow him a kiss. The best one though, is if you play it cool all through these steps, treating the class as normal. Then, just after you finish the roll, you stand up and say, “Just before I tell you what your teacher wants you to do today, Evan, would you like to grab your books and come and do your work at the big table with Mummy?” Seriously, have kids just for this reason. Its worth it.

“Sometimes though, working at the school means you see things that most parents don’t see. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking. Like Jack’s first swimming sports day in year 7. It took him a while to find his feet and make friends, so on that day I had to watch my child walking all day, on his own, doing the circuit around the pool over and over again, with a set look on his face which I knew meant he was just countng down the hours before we could go home. It broke my heart to see him, knowing I couldn’t do anything to help. But then, two years later, I was able to watch him on the hill with all his mates, laughing and having so much fun. Given time and positive action – everything always turns out better.

( Now comes the time when I wanted to switch gears and get into the serious stuff. The audience was with me 100%. They were on board. It was time.)

“Working at this school gave a lot of things to my family. A great education for the boys, friends for all of us, but most of all it gave us financial stability. Not everyone here knows, but when I was 34 I left my husband. I had a 5-year-old, a three-year-old, a two-year-old and an eleven-month-old. We had $120 in the bank, so I withdrew all of it and gave my then-husband half. I had a 100K mortgage – and before you all roll your eyes, the interest rate was around 10.8%, so shut up! I drove an old Tarago van, which was as sexy and aerodynamic as driving a loaf of bread. Whenever it rained and I turned right, a trickle of water from the sunroof would run down the back of my neck. Invigorating.

I couldn’t go back to work with so many kids – the childcare fees’ would’ved killed me, so I stayed at home on the Sole Parents pension until Evan went to school. At that time, it was around 18K a year. My ex-husband took cash jobs so he’d avoid child support, so I was getting $20/month from him. We were literally on the bare bones of our arses.

(The room was silent. You could have heard a pin drop.)

A year or two later, it was the beginning of winter The only heater my house had was an oil heater, that ran from a tank of oil at the side of the house that I had to fill up every year. Turned out that just when I was about to get new oil, the brakes went on the car. I only had enough money to take care of one job. I had about this much oil in the tank, (holds up hands maybe 30cms/a foot apart), so I thought that if I could eke it out, we could maybe get through.

“So every morning I’d get the boys up, dress them in their parkas and they’d run around all day. Little kids have great circulatory systems. I’d keep feeling their hands and then in the late afternoon when their hands would start getting chilly, I’d turn the fire on. Dinner, bath, bed, then I’d turn the fire off, snuggle down on the couch under a doona, and drink the one glass of wine I’d allow myself.

“Because the fire was hardly switched on, a family of mice moved in under it and I had to get mouse bait. I think my lowest point was one night, as I was sitting on the couch under the doona, I saw 3 little shapes sneak out from under the heater and start nibbling on the bait. I could hear the sound of the pellets knocking against the side of the tin. I sat there and cried. How could it come to this? I was the first in my family to be tertiary dedicated – hell, on my Mum’s side I was the first one to graduate high school. How could this happen to someone who was supposed to have brains?

“Fast forward a couple of years and Jack was starting year 7 at this school. The previous year I’d done some CRT work here and I saw the principal at the time. It’s funny how your life is held together by such thin threads. At first I thought, ‘maybe I should go over and say hello. But what if he doesn’t recognise me? I’ll look like a fool. ‘

“Then I thought, “What if I DON’T go up to say hi and he sees me and knows who I am. I’ll look like a stuck-up bitch. That’d be WORSE!’

“So I went up to him and of course he recognised me – he’s only human – and we were talking when he suddenly said, “Hang on, you’ve got ESL (English as a second language) on your resume. How would you like a full-time job in terms 2, 3 and 4? Our regular teacher is taking leave.”

I said yes, of course, and then asked when the interview was. He smiled and said, “You’ve just had it.”

“Imagine if I hadn’t have gone up to have a chat?

“I decided that because I had a stable income for the rest of the year, we’d get a new car. So I took the boys up to a car yard and I said, “I want to buy a good second-hand station wagon for around 20K with no sunroof!”

As the contracts kept coming, I renovated the house. The day the ducted heating went in was very sweet. We’d never be cold again.

I then talked briefly about the importance of financial independence for teachers. We influence young people every single day and if you are burnt out and don’t want to be in the classroom you poison your subject for the kids. After all, they’re not stupid. If you don’t want to be there, why should they?

I also told them how to find this blog, dancing as a Frogdancer would. They all laughed at that. They were ready for me to deliver the hilarious kick-arse ending. It was all going beautifully. I was so happy.

I glanced down at my notes, then…

… remember the guy from the English faculty who tried to psych me out on Monday? He’s also a Drama teacher, so he knows full well that you NEVER pull focus from someone who’s performing. Ever. It’s never been done in all my 17 years at the school. Not even when there was a 30-minute speech about fuschia-pink suitcases did anyone interrupt. We all got very drunk waiting for her to finish, but she had her moment uninterrupted.

Anyway, like I said, I glanced at my notes then this guy calls out, “Just stick to your notes, Frogdancer. We’re already 20 minutes over the schedule.”

O. M. GoD. I don’t know if he heard the gasp from the audience but I sure did. It was so rude and I know full well what he did was deliberate. As an English and Drama teacher, he knows all about the narrative flow, how important this performance was to me and he could see how the audience was in the palm of my hand. I don’t know why, but for some reason he wanted all eyes upon him.

I was FURIOUS. But I wasn’t going to let him rock me or pull the rug out from under me. He clearly didn’t stop to think about how Frogdancer Jones wins every work drama people try and drag her into. Admittedly, there haven’t been many of my 17 years, but he knows of a few that I’ve taken on and won.

I turned to face him, taking my piece of paper and turning it very obviously upside down. Then I said, with a glare of ice but with a smile, “Oh no. My speech is written in Arabic now. Guess I’ll just have to continue on as I was. Sorry. “

I turned back to the audience, clapped my hands together and said brightly, “Now where was I? Oh yeah! I’m retiring!’

They laughed, bless them, and we were off on the journey together again. Phew!

“You know the thing I’m most looking forward to about retirement? Getting out from under the thumb of the boss of this school. (A gasp of surprised laughter from the staff, all eyes glancing at Patricia. I didn’t look at her, keeping my gaze on them.)

“You know the woman who makes you have a good or a bad day; a good or bad year; who runs our time from the moment we wake up until we leave this place at the end of the day?

Then I pretended to realise what they were all thinking.

“Oh no! It’s not Patricia! SHE’S not the boss here. It’s Latchy, the timetabler!

(HUGE burst of laughter. I knew this would be a kick-arse ending. This train was still moving, baby! )

“So Latchy, what I’m going to say next is going to infuriate you. On Term 1, day 1 at 9 am, I’m going to send you a photo – actually, I’ll send ALL of you a photo of the dogs and I on the dog beach.

“Then I’m going to come home and have a wee, even though it’s not recess!!!

(I was beginning to think people were having a wee right where they were, they were laughing and clapping so much.)

‘In fact, I’m going to let my bowels and bladder run free all day – toilet paper will be flying around my house like confetti!

“Then, I’m going to sit on the couch and read a book for… a very long time.

“Finally, because I don’t want to let all this freedom go to my head, after lunch I’m going to take a nanna nap – EVEN THOUGH I DON’T HAVE ANY GRANDCHILDREN!!

(Huge laughter. It was music to my ears. I’d wanted to give a great speech ever since I first started at the school and I knew I’d done it. I could leave with my head held high)

They gave me a standing ovation. I bowed, stretching my arms wide and walked back to my seat. I was very happy.

Then I got stuck into the bubbly.

The rest of the day was perfect. The staff band, ‘Duck and Cover’, played a few songs so we were all up on the dancefloor. So much fun! Lunch was delish and we had an icecream van come for dessert. Yum.

The really cool thing was that I had a constant stream of people coming up wanting to talk about my speech. Some just wanted to say how hilarious they found it, but a huge number of people wanted to talk about how the middle part resonated with them. They were brought up by single Mums, or they were doing the single parent thing themselves or had people close to them doing it. My speech really touched them and we had the most amazing conversations.

“I wish I’d known about all this before!” was what a few people said. I felt the same way. People don’t seem to talk much about the struggles we go through. I don’t know why.

It almost made me sad I was leaving. Well, almost…

I had one more day of work to get through. Friday – 9 AM till 12:30 PM.

That was another fun day. Lots of conversations, a breakfast sausage sizzle that quite a few people seemed to need after their partying at the Bowls Club the night before (I was there for a while, talking and dancing) and then it was time to leave.

We call our section of the staffroom ‘The Danger Zone.’ Loz snapped this photo of me after everyone had left. My desk is the one in the bottom left-hand corner.

I spent around a third of my life teaching at this school. I’ve loved it, there’s no doubt about that. But now – time for new adventures!

Monday: 5 days to go…

So! WHAT a day I had yesterday!

Day one of my last week of work.

Today consisted of 2 meetings and the English faculty farewell lunch. The meetings were ok but honestly, pretty pointless for me. The art meeting, which I have to attend because I teach drama, was all about next year. So was the English meeting an hour and a half later. One of the additional jobs was ‘tidy your desk” so when everyone split into year level groups to finalise the lesson plans for next semester, I walked out, telling Sam – the head of the English faculty – that I was tidying my desk as per the list.

Instead, I decided that there was no point in hanging onto these cards. My very good friend Scott first had the idea of ordering ally things from Vistaprint to liven up classes and I’ve continued the tradition since he left the profession almost 10 years ago. I give them out when I hand back their work. Anyone who earns an ‘OUTSTANDING” ( anything between 18 -20/20) gets a round of applause from the class, one of these cards and a hearty handshake from me. 

Anyone who gives me a ‘limp fish’ handshake gets a lesson in how to shake hands properly. Ugh… nothing worse.

At first I walked around to all of the English teachers’ desks and put a card on each. After all, I knew it would be a surprise because everyone else was at the meeting. There was still a stack of cards left, so I grabbed a biro and crossed out the ‘in English’ line and left them on everyone else’s desks until I ran out. Just a bit of fun to finish on.

Then it was back to the English meeting for the lunch, where the 3 people who were leaving were expected to make a speech.

According to the other two women leaving, none of us had given this much thought. I’m a bleeding-edge type of teacher, so I knew I’d come up with something on the spur of the moment. The other teachers who were leaving were immensely popular and were moving on to different schools next year, one to advance her career, the other to be closer to home and her young family.

Sam gave a little speech before each one, then a close friend of the others also said some words. In both cases it was all very emotional and heartfelt, with tears, hugging and phrases such as “loves the kids to bits”, “exceptional teacher” and “full of empathy for everyone” were said.

I determined that my speech would be a bit different. After all, I’m a stranger to the gentler emotions of love and empathy.

Sam gave his speech, talking about how my quirkiness would be missed.Apparently collecting compost materials from the school, showing off quilting and knitting projects and other things like that are things that not everyone does at work. Amazing. Frogdancer loves the students, very professional, blah blah blah.

Then he asked Adrian, the closest thing to a work husband I’ve had since Scott left, to say a few words.

“What?!?” Adrian spluttered. “Geeze Sam, it’d be nice to have some notice!”

“I emailed you this morning!”

Adrian got up, casting an apologetic look my way. “I’m sorry Frogdancer, but this will be from the top of my head,” he said.

He gave a lovely little speech, saying things about how I always come to work expecting to have fun. Fun is starting to leach away from the profession in the last few years, he said, (which I whole-heartedly agree with), but Frogdancer Jones still extracts every drop of fun she can. Loves the students, not so keen on meetings with adults,  blah blah… 

Then Brock got up and said part of the quirkiness I apparently exit is my frugality. Well, let’s be honest, he called me a tightarse, bringing up the months that I used to take the train into work really early in the morning to get a free train ride.

He obviously had no idea that at that stage I was paying over 70% of my take-home wage on bridging finance for The Best House in Melbourne, so literally every penny counted. But that’s ok.

Then it was my turn… at last!

“Well guys, thanks for the lovely things you said but your speeches have made me really sad. Clearly you don’t know me AT ALL!!”

The big laugh showed that I was off to a good start. 

“I don’t love the kids – couldn’t give a rat’s arse about them!” Another laugh… phew. “ I only come to work to socialise and pick up coffee grounds and rotting veggie scraps for the garden!”

Then I went all serious to give some light and shade to this thing that’s coming out of my mouth. (Really should’ve thought about this beforehand.)

I talked about how lucky we all are to be teaching English. We get to know our kids in a way that no other faculty does, though drama comes close. Our lessons cover all sorts of areas so we’re never bored and the kids will make you laugh every single day, if you let them.

Then I looked around the room and said how fortunate I felt to be have spent my career working with such extraordinary people who do their jobs so well. “But if I never see any of you again, hey, that’s ok!!”

Another big laugh. Another internal phew! That joke could’ve gone either way… LOL.

I can’t remember what else I said. My speech was shorter than the others, mainly because I saw some glazed looks starting to appear on people’s faces earlier. Me, I like to make ‘em laugh and leave with them wanting more.

Everyone in the faculty had a choice of bubbly, wine or gin to take. I picked out a bottle of Mother’s Ruin. I’d noticed on Sunday night when I made a G & T that I only had enough gin for one more drink so it came at the perfect time. 

Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again!

The afternoon was free, so I used it to fill in and submit the exit and CRT paperwork. There’s no going back now! I decided to hand in my keys at the same time. I can’t see why I’d need to unlock a classroom with no kids around. 

I also walked down to the canteen and picked up the bin I’d bought to collect the veggie scraps. It’s perfect for a weed/dog poo bin for the back yard. No point buying another one if the original bin I bought wasn’t being used. Now is that frugality or tightarsery at work?

I’m typing this sitting at the hairdresser waiting to get beautified for my official leaving speech on Thursday. It’s one of my days off but there’s no way Frogdancer Jones is giving up the opportunity to perform with all eyes upon her! I live for this stuff.

I have no clear idea of what I’m going to say yet, but no doubt inspiration will strike between then and now. My friend Megan is my designated driver, so watch me have some fun when my speech is over and I can relax! The bowls club is going to ROCK!

Send good vibes for me on Thursday. If inspiration DOESN’T hit I’ll be a nervous wreck. 

I suppose it’ll serve me right, though…

“You’ll miss this when you retire!”

I was walking on the top oval, doing yard duty at lunchtime yesterday, when my principal said this to me. She and one of the assistant principals were talking with some kids on the oval while the other 2 APs were playing cricket with some girls. I walked up to them, pretending to think they were adults fraternising with the kids and threatening to chase them off.

I got a hug from the principal who said that she was going to miss me, and then she said, “See that group of kids on the table over there? They’ve carried a rock from there”, she pointed, “to there” she pointed again, “and they’ve called it Dwayne.”

“Of course they have,” I said. “I’ll go and check it out.”

As I walked away she laughed and said, “You’re going to miss this when you retire!”

“I probably will!” I replied.

I walked towards the table. There were about 8 year 9s, most of whom I didn’t recognise. As I got closer I saw there were 2 girls from my current Drama class. Let’s just say that this group of kids weren’t from the demographic of the super-keen studying nerd that our school seems to pump out. These were the more… disengaged kids.

As I got closer, I was seen by the ones facing me and obviously the word, “teacher!” was spread. The kids with their backs to me turned around, scowling.

“Hey Miss!” said a skinny boy. “What do you want?”

“Oh, I just wanted to see how Dwayne was,” I said.

Instantly the atmosphere changed. They all leaped up exitedly.

Dwayne was revealed – a HUGE lump of grey rock. I mean massive.

“Jesus!” I said. “I didn’t expect him to be so big.”

They laughed. and all started talking at once.

“You have to touch him, Miss. Here,” and hands guided me to where I had to make contact.

“You have to worship him Miss. We’re trying to get him to stop them putting a second gymnasium on the oval.”

I pulled a face. “I think that boat has sailed, guys. Aren’t they starting work next week?”

“Yeah. But they’ve agreed to put it so that we can still have this table at sit here at lunch. It’s important we have somewhere to sit, isn’t it?”

“Absolutely.” I smiled at Ricky, then saw Monique. She’d cut my class period 1 because she had an assessment due.

“Monique!” I said. “Where were you period 1?!?”

“I was … um… sick, Miss,” she said. The boys around the table all laughed.

“Sick of Drama, you mean!” I retorted.

They all laughed again as she smiled and said, “NO! I like Drama. It’s just…”

“Get the costume design drawings in to me as soon as you can,” I said. “It’s the last assessment you’ll ever have to do for me.

She nodded as another boy said, “You know she hasn’t done it, Miss, don’t you?” Monique looked embarrassed.

I put on a shocked face.

“What do you mean? Of course she ‘ll do it. You were planning 1920’s style, weren’t you?”

She nodded.

“Cool then.” I smiled and turned to walk away. “See you, everyone. See you, Dwayne!”

“See you Miss!” “BYE!” “See you next week!”

Yes, she’s right, my principal. Things like this are definitely the things I’m going to miss when I retire. In just over 3 week’s time.

9 weeks to go…

Bright red knitting.
Keeping busy…

It’s been an interesting week and a half. A day after I wrote my last post, we had a virtual staff meeting and my principal announced that i was retiring. Just like that! I guess there’s no turning back now…

There were a few phone calls from people curious to see what I was up to, but most questions poured in when I was back at work on campus. Yes, this past week year 7, 11 and 12 kids have been back at school. I have 2 classes of year 7s so hey ho, it’s back to school I go.

Poppy looking soulful.
Poppy.

Given how youthful and dewy I am, most people are congratulating me and then asking what I’m moving to next. A different job? Another school? Their eyes widen slightly when I laugh and say, “No. It’s a REAL retirement!”

“But you’re too young to retire!” is mostly said by people around my age or older. When I smile and say something about how age isn’t the thing that determines retirement – it’s all about being able to support yourself, they either sigh and say, “The way we’re going, I’ll be working forever” or they ask me how I’ve done it.

That leads into some interesting chats.

So far, I’ve only had one person say how ‘lucky’ I am. I guess after working there for 16 years and having my 4 boys go through the school, people are pretty familiar with my story. I countered by saying that if I hadn’t have done my geoarbitrage move four years ago, I’d still be working.

“Doing that deal saved me 10 years of work,” I said. I didn’t mention all the years of frugality and keeping my eyes on the prize – nobody wants to hear about all of that!

Scout with her ball in her mouth.
Scout with her most prized possession.

A fair few people have nodded wisely and asked if COVID affected my decision. They look a bit surprised when I say that yes, I was planning to work part-time another year so it pushed my retirement forward by a year. That still doesn’t compute with being in my mid fifties and being able to retire.

One young teacher I work with started asking me about savings rates and if keeping an eye on spending was significant, so I shot this blog post over to him. He’s gone down the rabbit hole…

People have been overwhelmingly positive – to my face at least! – with many saying they’re jealous. LOL.

But I’m going to miss some things.

This week my year 7s have been doing their wide reading oral presentations. This is a 3 minute talk about a book they’ve read. Seeing as we’re in the middle of a pandemic and masks are mandatory, I made my kids do their talks while wearing their masks. I don’t want to get so close to escaping and then get killed by an errant droplet!

On Monday one little boy was so scared. He stood up in front of the class and started reading from his cue cards. They were literally shaking in his hands. It’s awful when you see this happening, because sometimes the kids just stop talking and freeze up, which makes it that much harder for them to tackle public speaking next time.

He kept on going, looking up and focusing on me when he wasn’t looking at his cards. His voice was shaking in the beginning, but by the end of the speech he’d sorted that out.

As I watched this kid conquering his fear, I thought, “I’m going to miss this.” As a teacher, you feel so proud when a kid is obviously scared, but they push themselves through that barrier and achieve something they didn’t think they could do.

At the end of his speech I asked him how scared he was. He said, “My knees were knocking together, Miss!”

I told him how proud I was of him for pushing through and succeeding and that this kind of thing is something I’m going to miss seeing. We then gave him a standing ovation. He was embarrassed but pleased.

A couple of the girls spoke about books that sounded really good, so I asked if I could borrow them and I polished them off this week. Every now and then I do this and I find really good reads that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

On Friday we had the last of the orals. I danced at the front of the room, singing, “Yay! I never have to listen to another oral presentation again!!!” One little girl said, “That makes me sad, Miss.”

Coronavirus figures for today.

It’s funny being back at school. Everyone is masked and the kids’ tables are separated as far as they can be, so they’re all in a grid shape, exactly like a Google Meet set up on a computer screen. I said to 7M yesterday that it’s almost like we’re still doing virtual classes, except they’re a lot harder to keep quiet without a mute button.

As you can see, our numbers are looking good, so people are hoping for an easing of lockdown restrictions to be announced tomorrow, especially the 5km travel bubble. Tom28, my oldest son, is working from home and he happens to live just around the corner from the school. I saw him on each day I worked this week – Monday to pick up some facemasks I’d made him that had ‘too-thick’ elastic and to give him a sourdough loaf – Wednesday to give him his repaired masks back – and Friday to give him and his flatmate a second sourdough. First times I’d seen him in person in four months.

And one last thing – WordPress enables us to see where our readers are from. It always gives me a thrill when I see my Antarctic peeps are reading. I thought I’d give a shout-out to my scientific friends down there!

It’s almost as exciting as when I saw that someone from North Korea was reading. But it was probably just someone from the government making sure that the 4 posts I wrote about my holiday there were acceptable.

I wonder where in the world I’ll go next, now that I’ll not be tied to school holidays?

The first of the “lasts.”

Scout with a ball in her mouth.
Ryan25 bought Scout this ball – the BEST THING EVER!!! (In her eyes…)

In lockdown, teaching from home, I look across at the shitshow that American education is becoming as schools try to enforce face-to-face contact in their worsening pandemic. I’m so thankful that we’re conducting things differently. I’m finishing up at the end of the year, which means I have a term and a bit to continue my job, while knowing that as I go along, I’ll be doing things for the very last time. Yesterday (and tomorrow) was the first of the “lasts.”

Parent/Teacher days.

Here’s how it usually works: Parent/teacher day runs from 10 AM – 8:30 PM. The regular school day is cancelled, with students expected to accompany their parents to their interviews in full school uniform. (That’s the kids, not the parents.) Teachers are set up on tables with 3 chairs in front of them, in the assembly hall, the library, the music auditorium, the computer labs… there’s a lot of us so it takes up a fair bit of ground.

The interviews take 5 minutes each. Parents arrive with a list of the times and teachers they’ve booked, then have to sprint from one area to another to find each teacher. We sit in alphabetical order, so if a family has booked Mr Anderson, then has Ms Zimmerman next, they’re going to have an invigorating stroll in front of them.

Last year we tested having food trucks, market stalls and music students performing. This was a big hit and it was going to be repeated this year. Then Covid struck.

Last semester, during the first lockdown, the school cancelled Parent/Teacher interviews. This semester they decided to go ahead with an online version.

Parents still book the usual way. The times are set out slightly differently. Instead of 5 minute time-slots one after the other, there is a five minute gap between each interview. This allows the teacher time to finish one interview, send an email invitation to the Meet to the next kid, wait for them to jump onto the Meet and then off it goes again. Because the interviews have that 5 minute buffer between them, we have 2 days instead of 1, running from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM.

Clear? I hope so.

Yesterday was Day 1.

OMG. It ran perfectly! It was so ordered and serene. Everyone was happy and calm, sitting in their lounge rooms instead of being breathless from racing from pillar to post. There was no need to almost shout to project what you’re saying over hundreds of other people talking. The interviews tended to be a couple of minutes longer than usual, so there was time for a bit of banter and mucking around. (At least, that’s what happens in my interviews. I like to start with a joke to get everyone laughing. Then the rest of the interview is fun.)

The five minute buffer in between also meant that I could quickly look up the next kid’s marks for the year, so I was ultra-prepared for each family, instead of having to keep a block of kids’ marks in my head if they were stacked back-to-back.

I knew that this was my last ever round of parent/teacher interviews. Unless I take on a short-term contract in the future if the school is desperate for someone, this will be it. When the last interview finishes tomorrow at 4:20, then that is a page that will be closed for good.

When you think about it, it’s rare in life to know when the ‘last’ thing will be as you’re living it.

It’s rare that we kiss someone knowing it will be the last time.

When the baby wakes one night, we never know that this will be the last time before s/he starts sleeping through the night.

Evan23, when he was in late primary school, went through a phase of wanting to sleep in my bed with me every now and then. I don’t know what was going on in his world at that time but he clearly needed the comfort of having me close. I let him, knowing that it would be extremely unlikely that this would go on forever. He wasn’t going to be coming home from a party when he was 18, tossing his car keys on the hall table and then sleeping in my room! Sure enough, one night was the last time he ever did it. I wasn’t aware at the time that that night was the last one.

It’s only after something hasn’t happened for a while that you realise that it was the end.

So I’m going to enjoy the next few months leading up to December 18.

Some of the ‘lasts’ will be sweet. “That’s the last grammar test I’ll ever have to mark!” I’m looking forward to that one. “That’s the last meeting I’ll ever have to attend!” That’ll be a goodie, too.

Some will be a bit sad though. “This is the last drama class I’ll ever give.” “This is the last time I’ll call the roll and finish with a different kid each time… . and the hideous blah blah blah.”” Kids love being hideous.

With the lockdown being extended, we may not be back in the classroom until the middle of October. Whenever it ends up happening, I’m planning on noticing each moment. All of the ‘lasts.’

After all, life is made up of these little moments. If you don’t stop and savour them, then what’s the point?

Have some fun during lockdown!

Pic of a red and orange fake flower
A fake flower from North Korea.

Melbourne is a few days into our second week of stage 4 lockdown – only 4 more weeks to go, baby! We can only have 1 person leave the house to shop for groceries a day; we must wear a mask at all times outside the home; you can only move around within a 5km bubble from your home – (pity half of mine is taken up by Port Phillip Bay!), and there are only 4 valid reasons to leave your home anyway. But there are still ways to have some fun with other people during lockdown.

Personally, being a bit of a home-body hermit, lockdown is going along swimmingly. Ryan25, my third son, is a quiet introvert and David26 is spending the week at his girlfriend’s place, so the house is chill and groovy. But not everyone in my world is taking it so well.

Some of my students aren’t enthused at having to endure another round of remote learning. The extroverts are struggling and some have distractions at home, such as little brothers and sisters. One of my kids, Joy, has a 3-year-old sister who insists on coming to every English class after I said she was very cute, which on reflection was probably a mistake on my part. Remote learning is harder for some kids, so I’m trying a few things to keep them engaged.

See the photo at the top? This was what greeted my year 7 classes today as they logged into our Google Meet. At our school we have to start each scheduled period with a Meet. We mark the roll, set up the lesson etc before we set them loose to do the work. Each teacher stays on the Meet (camera and mike muted) so that any kid who needs help with the lesson can pop back and ask a question.

I’ve decided to begin each Meet with something different. It only lasts about 2 minutes, so the kids are learning quickly that they don’t want to be late for English or they’ll miss it. (This means I can mark the roll quickly – heh heh heh.)

They logged on. I waited until about half the class was there, then I joined the meet. I could hear their comments as they looked at the image. “What IS that?” “It’s either a flower or a fruit.” “I can’t tell what it is…”

Then I sat down and said, “Hey everyone. This is a flower I stole from a restaurant in North Korea.” Their eyeballs bulged. I haven’t told them that I went there a couple of years ago. “Want to know the story?”

So I described to them how restaurants in North Korea look – wedding reception rooms planned by people with flamboyant taste and a penchant for disco balls, artificial flowers in arches and painted backdrops of improbable scenes – and then told them how one night, as we were leaving a restaurant after dinner, my Irish friend James grabbed a flower off the big table at the front of the room, shoved it into my hands and said, “Take it Frogdancer! Go! Go! GO!”

As we raced down 3 flights of stairs, him giggling like a child and me fearing at every step to feel a heavy hand on my shoulder, hauling me away to a North Korea gulag, I knew that ‘d never forget that moment. It was so out of character for me – I’m a bit of a rule-follower – but hey. I have a good story and a fake flower to entertain my students with.

Wait until they see the propaganda postcards in a future Meet!

Poppy.

Of course I use the dogs too. One lesson last week, the kids joined the meet to “discover” me reading the novel we’re studying to the dogs. Before I turned around to see them, I said, “I have to stop reading to you soon. My next class is a group of the ugliest children I’ve ever seen and I have to get ready to… OH! Hello!! Oops, is my microphone on? ” as they giggled in the background.

Once, by pure chance, I caught the best moment. Jeffrey was asleep on the back of the couch. I had the camera trained on him and then, just as I was going to grab my laptop and start talking to the kids, Scout jumped up beside him and Jeff fell off the couch and disappeared on the seat below. You should have heard the kids! Especially when Jeff’s puzzled face rose up over the top of the couch while Scout was prancing and wagging her tail.

This is all silly stuff, but it brings an element of fun into what is a stressful time for some.

It’s not just kids who are feeling it. I check in with my parents once a day (usually) and the last couple of phone calls Dad has been a bit flat. They’re in their 80’s, which is the group that are dropping like flies, so he and Mum are strictly following the guidelines. When I asked how their day has been, Dad sighed and said, “Fine. I mean, nothing actually happens. We watch a bit of Netflix, someone might call and we have a chat, your mother and I might go for a walk, but that’s about it.”

This got me thinking and I came up with a cunning plan. I rang the boys and we’re all into it.

At random times, but at least once a week from each of us, we’re going to send them something in the mail. I don’t want it to be every day, because that would quickly become routine, but every couple of days or so, there’ll be a little snippet in the mail to make that day a bit different.

I kicked it off with the magnificent drawing you see above. Mum loves going on walks, Dad hates them but since her fall he has to go with her. The picture is entitled “Mummy and Daddy going on a walk” and she has a big smile while he looks grumpy. (The orange thing is his moustache, by the way.)

I posted it to them yesterday. On the back of the envelope I didn’t write my address, just “I hope this is good enough to go on the fridge.” Mum is an artist, so she’ll probably get the shivers at how bad it is, but I think they’ll still get a smile from it.

I’m thinking I could send them some seeds to plant, more drawings, a poem or song lyrics – any more ideas, just stick them in the comments. I’ll be grateful. I’m hoping that it’ll be fun for them to receive the mail, but it’s also fun for us to think up silly little things to send them. It keeps the brain moving.

Patchwork pic of a dachshund.
Dog #1. Fourteen more to go!

On Monday, I had a brainwave.

It doesn’t happen often, so allow me to enjoy the moment.

I was showing the year 7s the patchwork dachshunds I’m making for a quilt for Ryan25. I figured, they’re kids, they’d like cute things. Then I suddenly thought of how quickly time passes when you’re in ‘the zone’ creating things. I know for me, when I’m making these dogs, 2 hours passes in a flash and I don’t give a thought to covid, lockdown or anything serious. It’s a total break from the world.

Maybe some of these kids would find the same?

I talked to them about creativity. How it’s an innate part of the human condition to find pleasure in creating something that has never existed before. How satisfying it is to put an image on a blank sheet of paper, to write a song that fills a silent space, to knit a beanie from what’s essentially just two bits of twig and some string.

I asked them to think about what they might create during the lockdown. Not something like playing a computer game to the finish, because that’s intangible. What could they create that they could actually hold in their hands? That they could point to, long after the pandemic has gone and say, “I made that during the second lockdown in 2020.”

Some of them looked bewildered. Some started asking questions about what qualified. And some looked thoughtful.

We have a catch-up lesson scheduled for Friday. If kids have finished all their work, we log on for a Google Meet and then they’re directed to do wide reading. But I’ve said to my classes – “Make sure you get ALL your work finished. Then after I call the roll on Friday, let’s have a show and tell of what you’ve been creating. I’d love it if someone waved a knitting needle with a few lines of knitting on it, or a half-finished drawing of your radiantly beautiful English teacher. Maybe you’ve baked a loaf of bread, (Amit danced around excitedly at that), or you’ve planted some seeds.”

I paused.

“This is NOT compulsory. I’m not your Art teacher. I can’t say, “Be creative. NOW!” But I want you to have a think about what you could possible do. Lockdown is hard. Making something from your hands makes tha time go by so much faster.”

One little boy asked, “But do we have to do it?” As he asked that I saw a mum in the background of another kid.

I saw her laugh as I said, “Did you hear what I just said??? NO. You don’t have to do it. But humans make things. I’m asking you to practice being a human.”

Anyway, we’ll see what happens. My goal isn’t for 28/28 kids…. actually that’s 56/56 kids (I have 2 classes)… to all magically develop a hobby to sustain them during these long lockdown days. This won’t grab everyone.

I’m aiming for a few.

56 kids is a fairly big sample. There’ll be a few who’ll think about what I’ve said and will cast around for something to show. Some of them will already be creating – I had a convo after the Meet with a couple of boys who wanted to show me their artwork and it was AMAZING – but others will try something they haven’t done before.

Others will come along to the Meets on Friday and maybe see something that someone else has done and be inspired. I don’t know.

But just think.

How cool would it be if even a couple of kids created something in the pandemic that they were proud of? Something that would never have existed if we weren’t in this situation?

How cooler would it be if someone discovered a talent, or started a hobby that they kept on doing even when the doors open after lockdown?

Again… I don’t know. But it’s going to be fun to find out.

Janis from 'Friends'.

What’s teaching from home in a lockdown really like?

Scout. She’s been waiting for a lockdown all her life.

I sighed, rolled over and picked up the ancient laptop that was charging beside the bed. I opened it, came to the FI/RE blog and started typing. It was good, I suppose, that for the first time in over 3 weeks I felt like writing on the blog. But why did it have to be at 1:17 AM?

Teaching from home has been going on for 2 weeks. It’s hectic, but also rewarding when you see how the kids have risen to the challenge and are producing some excellent work. It makes me laugh when I hear the media or many parents on Facebook or Twitter whinge about having to “homeschool” their children. They’re NOT homeschooling! Homeschooling is when the parent selects the curriculum, organises each lesson, supervises the work, marks the work and is basically responsible for everything. Here? ‘All’ they have to do is get their child/ren to sit down, open their laptop and do the work that their teachers have assigned them. Too easy!

Or is it? Readers attuned to punctuation would have noticed that I wrote ‘all’ they have to do. Some parents are discovering that their child isn’t the perfect, angelic student they thought they were. Some kids are difficult to keep on task. I call them my “bright, shiny object” kids or my “wriggly puppies.” These are the kids who, when I see they’ve submitted work onto the Google Classroom, I smile, knowing that their parents must have been standing over them every step of the way, battling with them to finish the assignment and turn it in.

I finished a quilt! This is for my sister-in-law Jen. It’s called The Outlander quilt.

So what does teaching from home actually look like?

First off, let me set the scene. Here in Victoria during our stage 3 lockdown, schools are technically still open, but only for the children of essential workers and for those kids who are considered ‘at risk’, (where school is their safe place away from home – the welfare team know who they are and are keeping tabs on them). Every other child is expected to learn from home. My friend who is a primary teacher heard one parent turn up on the first day of school attempting to drop her son off because “I’m an essential worker.” She’s a florist! She left, taking her son with her.

I teach 2 year 7 English classes and a year 9 Drama class at a very large secondary school in a leafy, comfortably middle-class suburb in Melbourne. We are a public school, but one that is highly sought after by parents who want excellent academic results but would rather put their money into buying a house in the school zone instead of paying exorbitant private school fees. (Can’t complain about that – it’s what I did myself, after all!) We’re one of the state government’s flagships for public education.

So around a decade ago, we began to accidentally position ourselves really well for this lockdown. We are heavily technology-based, with every student issued with their own chromebook, every classroom has an interactive whiteboard, and even the most technologically-challenged teachers (that’d be me) are used to using on-line platforms and methods of teaching.

So the actual nuts and bolts of online teaching isn’t really a huge problem. For example, anything I don’t know how to do, I can jump online and send an email to the other 12 teachers in the year 7 English team. Someone always comes back with a solution. If I, or a student, have a problem with anything computer-based, we have the school’s IT team available at the end of a phone call or email.

I love those guys! Technology and I have an uneasy, wary relationship.

The back of Jen’s quilt. She burst out laughing when she saw it – she loves a bit of Jamie Fraser! (Don’t we all?)

The real learning curve has been adapting the curriculum to online learning. A huge amount of work has been put in by every teacher at the end of last term and over the holidays. We’ve been adapting all of our lessons and assessments so that they can be delivered easily and clearly to the kids, as well as working out the best ways that they can submit each task for us to look at.

Some subjects are easier than others. English, for example, is easier than Drama or Music. But even English has it’s challenges. The first task in the year 7 curriculum for term 2 was a wide reading oral presentation. In normal times, the kids design a slideshow or powerpoint, then stand up in front of the class and deliver a speech, telling us all about a book they’ve read.

Easy enough to organise when they’re all in class. But how do they deliver this when they’re in iso?

My oven broke down two days into iso. I had to have tradies in the house, all gloved and masked, to install a new one. It looked like they were robbing the place!

Turns out that there’s a program called Screencastify where they can deliver their speech on screen while having their slideshow scroll by behind them, just as they would in class. The kids were given the first week of term to get their speeches written, their slideshows put together and to film themselves delivering their speech with their slideshow. Tuesday this week was the big day when they had to submit their work.

This all sounds good, right? Ha! Tuesday’s supposed to be my day off. I was working flat-out from 8 – 6. I didn’t have time to take a shower and get out of my pjs until lunchtime.

The emails! I’ve never had so many!

The work not filmed properly!

The work being submitted to me via email (where I can’t open it) rather than the Classroom! Seemed like hundreds of them…

My best sourdough yet! My new oven arrived just in time to start using my starter.

I have 56 year 7 kids. Twelve and thirteen year olds aren’t renowned for attentive listening at the best of times, but I was astounded at how many of them clearly failed to read the instructions given to them in emails, on the Google Classroom and in their daily lesson plans. So much time wasted in redirecting kids back to the videos I’d posted, showing them how to download Screencastify and showing them step by step how to submit their work properly.

Some kids did it perfectly first time, (the angels!), others needed a nudge in the right direction, (those adorable doofuses!) while others needed So Many Emails directing them to actually read what I’d sent them…(I probably shouldn’t say what I was calling this group of kids by the end of the day after the 600th email!) This is all stuff that when, if you’re in a classroom side by side with them, can be fixed with a 30-second talk. Communicating via email is a different beast.

We got there in the end. I only have 2 kids that I’m chasing up – everyone else has done it. Because I was online the entire day on Tuesday, I ended up marking the orals as they came in, so the kids got their marks on the same day. I even received an appreciative email from one of the parents. That made my day! Usually, when we hear from parents it’s not a good thing…

I thought I’d dress up for a Zoom meeting one morning with some friends. Everyone else was wearing make-up and had done their hair, so I did the same. Well, sort of. Never let vanity get in the way of a good laugh!

Meanwhile, in the first week of term, I was dealing with how to teach Drama online. Obviously we are going to have to use videos to assess any performance tasks, so I decided that for the first two weeks I’d set them a little video task and get them used to the process of filming, then submitting it to the Google Classroom for me to look at. They’d learn how to do it before the work they were handing in was work that would go on their reports.

The work I set for the first week of term was to get them to film themselves telling a 1-minute story – using only their hands. They were given this on the Wednesday and they had until Friday to get it done and uploaded onto the Classroom.

After a flurry of emails asking various questions, the videos started to arrive. A few of them were very basic, but most were superb! It was clear that the kids were itching to sink their teeth into something after 2 weeks of school holidays in lockdown.

Poppy an hour after she ate most of my sourdough that was rising, getting ready to bake. This was 30 minutes before the noxious farting began.

The stories that the kids chose to explore ranged from:

*a pair of hands representing someone drowning. (She had a glass of water off-camera and was gurgling into it as her hands slowly subsided.)

*two ‘people’ making a trade for a bike. This vid had subtitles to help tell the story.

*a hand packing a little car with a picnic basket, driving it into the country (parking the car under what looked suspiciously like a bonsai) and enjoying an al fresco lunch. This had a musical soundtrack, tiny little props and excellent editing.

* a boy who handed his video in late after I sent an email to his Mum had 2 hands talking. One was a student and the other was an irate parent telling him off for not doing a Drama asignment. This one made me laugh a lot!

*Hands dancing, teaching aerobics classes, being stuck at home in lockdown, being bullied, going on a hike and ‘hunting’ cats. I found out Darby has the most adorable kitten I’ve ever seen. At the end, when the ferocious kitten was joyfully ‘attacking’ the hand hunting it, its purring was so LOUD!

The dogs, banished outside once Poppy’s explosive diarrhoea started. Here are Scout and Jeffrey asking mutely to be let back in, with Poppy, to the right, having yet another poo. Don’t let dogs near sourdough! Fun times.

This week I’m getting the Drama kids to look around the house and put together a 30 second soundscape made up of ordinary household items. They can do things like drag something across carpet, bang pots and pans together, slam doors, record the beeps from a microwave etc. Then they have to put together a movement performance to this soundscape, film it and send it in to me.

This isn’t an easy task, but surprisingly, the kids have been much less angsty about it than they were the week before. I’m hopeful that as the weeks go on and we all get used to how the whole remote teaching thing works, things will calm down and people will be a lot less anxious. Anyway, I gave them this task yesterday and it’s due tomorrow. I’m interested to see what they come up with.

Next week – I’ll hit them with a script that will be assessed. In normal times they’d have 2 weeks to get a performance ready. Now, I’m giving them 3 weeks.

Lockdown games! See the red bowl up in the corner? Ryan25 uses it for popcorn. Watch for the next photo as I subtly hide it from him.

During this time, we’ve been directed to make the kids feel supported and cared for, while not overwhelming them with too much work. We have to keep in mind that while some kids will have a calm, quiet home to do their schoolwork in, most will have other siblings hanging around, often loud, younger ones. They’ll probably have parents also working from home, maybe all of them trying to work from the same dining table.

Also, kids are stressed about this rupture to our normal routine. In the drama videos, but even in our written English work, it’s amazing how often the kids have referenced Covid-19. We’re expecting kids to complete the work we give them, but we know that some kids simply can’t or won’t do it. We’ll follow up, but at the end of the day, if a kid refuses to do the work, a term off isn’t going to make a huge difference in the scheme of things.

Lockdown games – There! Hidden. It took an extraordinary amount of time for Ryan25 to find his red bowl. I kept saying, “It’s in the cupboard!” Oh, the hilarity.

Speaking of following up work that isn’t submitted on time, here’s a tweet I sent after the year 7 Oral Presentations:

The funny thing is, the next morning most of those late students were among the first to hand in the work given out for Wednesday’s lesson. I’m betting they had irritable parents standing over them making sure that they knuckle down and do what they’re supposed to!

As far as teaching in lockdown, on the whole I’m enjoying it. We teach some lovely kids and their “Thanks, Miss!” emails when I send feedback on their work bring a smile to my face. (Which, when you think about it, is a stupid thing to say. It isn’t as if I could smile anywhere else on my body!) Teaching totally online is a challenge that I never thought I’d ever do – it’s not as if I’m teaching in the remote corners of the Northern Territory, for example, where distance ed is a normal thing.

I’m not missing my near 2 hours in the car on a workday. I’m able to wake naturally at about 7 or 8 AM and start my workday in the sunlight. That’s nice. I like teaching with my dogs beside me. And they, of course, are LOVING having Ryan25 and I home all the time. They’ll be devastated when life returns to normal.

Do I miss the classroom? No, not yet. If ever. After all, I know we’ll be back in a few weeks. Term 2 won’t last forever. This will be an interesting blip in my career, not something that will forever change how I teach my students.

The last two weeks have been hectic. I haven’t worked so hard in my life and made so few steps during a workday! My fitbit has thrown up its hands in disgust at how few steps I make on an Assessment Task day. But as I said, once both we and the kids become more familiar with how this whole thing works, I’m sure that life will calm down, the emails will be fewer and we’ll all just get on with the job.

Because that’s what’s happening. Our students are being taught. They’re still learning – not just about academic things but about surviving a crisis, getting along with people and being resilient. They’re learning not just from their teachers but by all they see around them.

This will be a time in history that they’ll look back on, hopefully with fond memories. They won’t remember those English questions about the novel that they submitted or that Maths test on Chapter 12 that they did. They’ll remember that their teachers cared. That they got to know their families better than ever before. That by all of us working together as a community, we can slow down the spread of an unthinking, uncaring virus and save lives by not overwhelming the hospitals.

They’ll have some funny memories. One of my year 7 kids – let’s call him Max – started off his oral presentation standing in a bath. His voice was all echo-ey from being in a bathroom. I was wondering why on earth he’d do this when he got to the sentence – “Then Percy Jackson discovered that he was the son of Poseidon, the God of the sea.” His father stepped into shot and threw a bucket of water all over him. It was hilarious! Max kept going, voice quivering a bit from suppressed laughter. Towards the end of his speech, he mentioned Percy Jackson having a lightning bolt as a weapon. His Dad, out of shot this time, turned the bathroom lights off and on a few times. It was fantastic. Max’s face was a joy to see. He won’t forget things like this.

So that’s what teaching from behind a computer is like. I’ve learned a huge amount about tech. I’m doing bleeding-edge teaching in delivering lessons in ways I’ve never had to before.

I’ve discovered that remote teaching means that the school day doesn’t end at 3:10. Kids (and I) are online all day. I have to close my laptop at 5PM and walk away, or else I’d be teaching till 10 PM at night.

I’ve learned to be more patient with kids than I ever thought I’d be. I’ve also learned that kids are flexible and creative and will rise to the occasion if you give them the chance.

Anyway, I began this post at 1:17 AM and it’s now 4:48 AM. Fortunately, it’s my day off tomorrow because I’ll definitely need a nap after lunch after writing this! I hope that this has been of interest to people. It’s a funny old time we’re living through.

I hope you and yours are all well. Stay strong, stay sensible and stay home.

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