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!