The Big C ………so far

I haven’t posted anything this year due to my world coming crashing down last Christmas – or at least that’s what it felt like. I have kept a hand written diary which has helped to clarify my thoughts and feelings but not published anything until now.

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I found a lump in my left breast last December and since then I have been on the cancer treadmill. I spent the first morning of the Christmas holidays having all the tests done and then had to wait until the week after Christmas to find out the results although I was fairly sure that it would not be good news. Christmas was a difficult time as I didn’t want to say anything to anyone until I knew for certain. Telling people has been one of the most difficult parts of the whole thing. Cancer is such an emotive word.

The diagnosis was confirmed before New Year and so then onto scans. I had an MRI scan and a CT which both confirmed that the cancer hadn’t spread. It was a hormone fed tumour so I was also immediately treated with an oestrogen blocking drug. It seemed to be quite good news. I would take the drug for a few months to reduce the tumour and then have a lumpectomy which would be followed by a course of radiotherapy. I felt that I had got away quite lightly considering what I know some other people had gone through.

I spent the first few months of 2017 trying to get on with my life as normal while having regular check ups and ultra sounds to see how the tumour was responding to the tablets. I told my immediate family and SLT at school but very few other people as I didn’t want it to become a focus for who I was. As soon as people know that you have cancer, it immediately becomes more of an issue. People say ‘How are you?’ in a very meaningful way. It’s lovely that they are concerned but I didn’t want to have to keep talking about it so I kept it as quiet as possible.

My operation took place at the end of May, just before Summer Half Term. It seemed to go well and the breast wasn’t all that much smaller. Then we had to wait three weeks for the test results.

When they came back, the news wasn’t good. There were signs of pre-cancer changes in the tissue they analysed so my surgeon told me that I needed a mastectomy. That was a shock and it took a while for it to sink in. I had been all prepared for the in December but things seemed to have been going so well after that and I thought that the lumpectomy would be all I needed. The next operation date was already fixed and I had to decide very quickly whether I wanted reconstruction or not. I really felt as though as I was being rushed into making the decision. I decided to go with the reconstruction as it would be more difficult to get a good result if I changed my mind later on. I wasn’t totally sure if that was I wanted though. I found the idea of having something foreign implanted into my body quite unpleasant.

The second operation took place 4 weeks after the first and then there was more waiting for results. I have only managed to teach my class for 8 days during the final half term as I seemed to be continually recovering from operations. The mastectomy was a more difficult recovery due to having two drains inserted which meant that for two weeks, I had to carry two bottles and their connecting tubes around. I had an extremely unfashionable shoulder bag which went everywhere with me! I was so pleased when they were finally removed even though the removal was extremely painful.

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After three weeks, I had some results which still weren’t totally clear so a sample was sent away for oncotype DX testing which gives a prediction of how likely someone is to have a recurrence of cancer with and without chemo-therapy. I was praying for a good result. The idea of chemo quite frankly scares me.

We had the results back this week and again, they weren’t clear as to what I should do now. My score was 19 which is just into the intermediate range so it is not clear whether I should undergo chemo therapy or if the negative side effects will out weigh positive protection from a recurrence. So the decision is up to me. I have found this to be almost the worst part of the whole thing so far as there are no right answers and no-one can make the decision for me.

At the moment, the jury is still out.

Goodbye 2016

It’s that time again when all of the #nuture16/17 posts start appearing and I think back over what this year has brought.

I have to say that I won’t be sad to see the back of 2016. My beautiful tabby cat died of cancer in March, we were robbed while on holiday and health issues are rearing their ugly head at the moment. Which makes it even more important to look forward to things improving next year.

Going back over last year’s hopes and it’s been a mixed bag really.

1 Staying Positive
I actually think that I did quite a good job of this last year. My class were fun to teach and I managed to keep my job in perspective so that it didn’t take over my life. I did manage to take a photo on nearly every day during the year. I have stored them all on Flickr and they can all be found here

https://www.flickr.com/photos/138942551@N05/albums

2 Sats
Well, what can I say? A farce? Fiasco?  As a school we didn’t do too badly but I was incensed by the content and quantity of the reading paper which led to several of my children who read perfectly well ‘not meeting the expected standard’.
Another irritation was the seemingly widely held belief that schools who did better at writing than reading must have not moderated their pupils’ work correctly. Our school have always had better writing results than reading and this year was no different. We moderated thoroughly and were quite harsh in our judgements and it’s annoying to read other people say that your results must be wrong.

3 Holidays
Didn’t start off well this year as we were robbed in Barcelona in May which rather spoilt our return to Collioure. However, we did discover the beautiful area of Asturias in Spain and visited the incredible Playa des Cathedrais

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We also visited Majorca for the first time and went to see the Christmas lights in Kew Gardens which were beautiful.

4 Singing
Still singing and have had a fantastic year. The Full Monty wasn’t the most interesting show to rehearse as the women don’t have a huge amount to do but it was an amazing show to be in. The adrenalin kick at the end of the every performance was brilliant and really reminded me of how much I love to perform.

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Then in August and again in November we took part in The Scarlet Pimpernel and this was another amazing production. Such a fantastic cast and a lovely group of people. I was gutted when the run came to an end. Next year we have Guys and Dolls and Camelot to look forward to.

5 Reaching Out
I am still inspired on a daily basis by my Twitter network as well as my supportive friends in the PTRC network. You all keep me sane, amused and inspired and make my life so much better.

I always write way too much in these posts. If you are still here, well done for persevering this far. I will try to be briefer with the next half.

Reading Something Different

non-fiction

So far, my aim of reviving a love of reading in my class has only been partially successful. My class are reading and many of them are reading a lot. This is linked to our whole school reading challenge where the children are awarded stars when they have read for a certain number of times at home. Many of my year 6 are keen to fill their reading card and eager to tell me that they have read at home. That’s great and it’s lovely to see so many parents supporting this challenge.

However, where I feel that I have been less successful is in what they are reading. We have tried to encourage them to read more widely but many of my class are still reading the same types of books as they have been all through last year. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, David Walliams and Tom Gates are by far the most common books being read by my pupils.

Getting them to challenge themselves to read something different is proving to be quite difficult. At least two thirds of them are very reluctant to try anything new and will often give up after only a few pages.

This month’s initiative is to get more of them to have a go at reading non fiction. This was inspired by a photograph of a display on Twitter although sadly, I can’t remember who posted it. I am grateful for the inspiration from whoever it was. I am showing the class and reading extracts from a range of non fiction books throughout this month in the hope of inspiring them to try something different

Next month, I am going to have a focus on picture books. Again, this has been inspired by Twitter as I saw a post by @readingrocks about a book Advent Calendar. My aim is to have a different picture book to read to them for every day that we are at school in December. I want to show them that new and different books can be just as enjoyable if not more so than their current favourites.

A focus on Reading

It seems a long while since I dashed off my rant about the reading tests. Rereading it reminded me of how angry we all were after day 1 of this year’s Sats. When the results came in, reading had gone down as we had expected. So this year’s focus is on reading. Not reading to pass a test in May (although I hope that they will) but a focus on becoming readers who enjoy reading for its own sake and happily spend their time reading a wide range of books. I am very conscious this year that I didn’t really do enough to promote reading in the classroom which is ridiculous considering that I read at every available opportunity.

This decision was then reinforced by several discussions on Twitter as many other people have also been thinking and acting on this issue. I read many blog posts including those by @mrsPTeach  and @fod3 which really helped me to sort out my ideas.  James Clements’ report on Reading for Pleasure on the OUP website was very useful as well as the Herts for Learning blog. I have also begun reading The Book Whisperer by Doralyn Miller which has already inspired me to change some of what I do

My book corner display is initially based on Roald Dahl for his 100th birthday but gradually I want that to change so that the display board becomes a place for the children to read recommendations of books from their friends as well as information about new books that have been added to the book selection. Hopefully it will become a useful point of reference for the children rather than just being a static display.

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I usually begin by getting the children to go and choose their books a table at a time in a nice orderly fashion. After reading the first chapter of The Book Whisperer, I am changing that and having a version of her ‘book frenzy’. I’m going to get all my book boxes out of the book corner and put them on the tables and have the entire class choosing at once. Hopefully this will generate some discussion and enthusiasm for reading on the first day.

Once a week, we’re also going to have DEAR time (Drop Everything And Read) when I will read as well. I’m going to be reading books out of my book corner that I haven’t read yet to hopefully provide a role model as well as enabling me to talk sensibly about what is actually on my classroom bookshelves. I have a list of books that I am going to work my way through.

I also want to try and read more extracts from books to generate interest among the children. We always have our class novel but I think that I need to give them a taste of a wider range of books than just the four or five that we manage to read during the year

Those are my initial ideas. None of them are my own, they are all borrowed from other people but I hope that they will help to generate enthusiasm and interest in books. The biggest thing is going to be my input though. My pupils will not develop enthusiasm if I don’t have it. I need to do a much better job at promoting reading and helping all of my Year 6 pupils find books that they can enjoy.

 

 

Reading Furore

What a morning! Today saw the first of this year’s Sats tests and to be honest, I wasn’t that worried. My pupils have made great progress with reading this year. Their enthusiasm and interest has grown and their understanding and ability to infer from a text has really developed. We have done the sample paper and not done too badly and done lots of other similar types of questions over the past few months.

My feeling of general optimism lasted for about 10 minutes after the test began. The texts looked all right, not too densely printed so that the pupils weren’t put off by huge amounts to read but then I began to look at the answer booklet.

How on earth can anyone seriously think that was a valid test of an entire cohort of Year 6 pupils? Many of the questions were pitched at a level well above the understanding of an average child and the language being tested was unrealistic. There seemed to be a lot less single mark questions that could be answered fairly straightforwardly too.

What really annoys me though is the damage that the government have done to my children’s feelings about reading. All year, I have encouraged them to read and introduced them to texts that they enjoy. I have worked hard to get them to view reading as something enjoyable that they are all good at.

That has been totally destroyed for many of my children this morning. Reading will now become something that they have failed at and the memory of their struggle and upset will overshadow the pleasure that they found earlier during this year.

Nicky Morgan and Nick Gibb should be ashamed of themselves for presiding over such an unsuitable test for assessing the reading ability of 10 and 11 year olds. There has to be a better way and it needs to be found before next May.

 

Daily pictures in March

March was quite a difficult month to try and take a photo everyday. I’m not sure why especially since it seemed to be getting easier in February. Part of the difficulty was due to workload and not really having anything noticeable to take photos of. School exercise books aren’t especially photogenic although they do feature on a couple of photos.

I have found that I have been noticing the light a lot more. I can really see why the impressionists such as Monet loved to paint the same subject at different times. The light makes such a lot of difference. A lot of my photos feature sunlight and reflections.

Here are some of my favourites from last month. The whole collection is on Flickr

https://www.flickr.com/photos/138942551@N05/albums/with/72157665295344672

Anyone who does look at the whole month will notice that I am a photo short. I know that I did take at least one photograph everyday but Mar 15th seems to have disappeared completely.

Mar 11th
Cobweb on the school gate at 7:15am
Mar 28th Watermead Park
Clouds through branches at Watermead Park

Hidden Swing

I love this photo of my children’s old swing seen through the trees at the bottom of the garden.

Mar 19th

This is my saddest picture of the year so far. It’s the last picture of our beautiful tabby cat Charlie. She was 14 and died later that morning. It was two weeks ago but I still expect to see her everyday.

I’m not stressed ……..honest

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Apparently April is Stress Awareness month and it is also probably the most stressful month of the year for many teachers. This is the month when we really try to cram in as much information as possible into our pupils ready for national testing in May so it feels very appropriate.

Teaching is becoming more and more stressful as the years go by. Every year there are new pressures on top of what already seemed like a full load. A year ago, I felt almost at the point of giving up my job completely as the stress was becoming too much. A supportive head and husband helped me through it but I have been determined that I was not going let myself feel that way again.

This year, I think that the stresses on teachers are even greater for many reasons that have been well documented elsewhere. However, although I feel hugely pressured and things have kept me awake at night, it hasn’t been as bad as last year. So what has been different?

Exercise has helped, especially walking. I live in a fairly built up area but there are a couple of walks that almost feel as though you’re in the countryside with streams and fields. Walking by water always makes me feel better.

I have also tried to build in time away from home with my husband. If I’m not at home then I can’t go onto my laptop and look at my planning again. Being somewhere completely different helps my mind to switch off properly. It’s also lovely to see new places or just walk by the sea.

However, think that a big part of the reason is that I have been more aware of the symptoms and therefore in a better position to deal with things. Last year, by the time I realised what was probably wrong with me, it was almost too late. This year, I have made a conscious effort to step off the hamster wheel when I felt that things were getting on top of me. It might be just for a short while such as going out for a walk at lunch time in the sunshine or maybe ditching the grammar exercise in their books in favour of a lesson done on whiteboards that won’t generate any more marking. Being aware of what is happening to you is really important. Stress builds up gradually and the effect can be catastrophic. I got away quite lightly but don’t ever want to feel like that again.

I don’t think that the stress in our profession is going to get better any time soon and so we need to get better at handling it. Hopefully Stress Awareness Month will help us to do that.