Crocodiles, Librarians and Unicorns

Image result for pictures of librarians and crocodiles cartoons

Driving with Shannon is always a treat. When she is not fiddling with the radio or air conditioner, she asks truly random questions. Today, for instance, as we were sailing past Milnerton, out of the blue she asked what kind of animal I would be if I were a beastie. She was not satisfied with my instinctive ‘a dragon’ response, but I managed to appease her with ‘okay so a big cat – one of the big five so when I get to the waterhole all the other wildlife gets out of my way, unlike in my very own kitchen, where ungrateful buffalo stampede past, steal my kettle water and I am forced to wait for my tea…’

Methinks she might have zoned out during the kitchen rant because her eyes glassed over behind her dirty (as usual) lenses. However she must have been listening when I went on to say that as a predator I couldn’t just lie in wait quietly with only my eyes on display like a lurking croc, because she came back at me with gusto by suggesting that librarians are like crocodiles: they pounce on you from nowhere and snap, ‘Quiet!’

Now I am not surprised that one of my children should be admonished for noisy behaviour. I have done a fair job of raising socially acceptable humans, but my own school reports were littered with far too many  ‘Colleen talks too much in class’ type comments for me to moan at the saplings for volatile volume. So I was more amused by her accurate description of what for me are the scariest of professionals: the keepers of books.

Perhaps this description resonated with me also because of my guilt about unpaid library fines and the tongue lashing I received recently for a book so long outstanding that I needed to pay R220 for it. And Library week with its attendant fine-amnesty is long gone. The librarian who confronted me though was a six foot Idris Elba lookalike so I was sad to have disappointed him (very sad) rather than afraid, but still. Ironically the book in question was hiding in plain sight on the bookshelf of my travelling companion’s bedroom; even more ironically it was named Indulgence in Death, something which should stand as a warning to all children who do not put their books back on the library shelf at the front door.

But I digress. I was contemplating the concept of kids saying the ‘darndest things’ like those clangers the two year old drops, used succinctly and correctly in front of either your maiden aunt, the local priest or in the middle of Woolworths.

The funniest birthday card I received this year, notwithstanding my (older) sister’s (paltry) attempts to age-shame me, was one snuck into a pack of cards from the Grade 6’s at school without the teacher’s knowledge, I hope. It read:

Sugar is tart

Lemons are sweet

I love you more than a unicorn’s FART.

So odd; so inappropriate; yet so funny it made me laugh till I couldn’t breathe. The poor educator would be mortified that this slipped through the censors and was delivered to the head’s office.

There is something so remarkably life-giving in the creativity of children and I love spending time with young people to hear a fresh take on the jaded, clichéd world. Some might call this sass. I like to think of it as originality in a society that takes itself too seriously.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still believe there are two kinds of parents in this world: those who think the little boy on Youtube debating with ‘Linda’ (his mother) is cute and those, like me, who believe she is making a rod for her own back by encouraging him. Generally I am not amused by cheeky children, but this one at least attempted the rhyme.

Back to Shannon: she thinks of herself as a fox (cute and furry – probably because she hasn’t shaved her legs again) and suggested I am like a bunny (sweet and hopping). Hopping mad after that! I mean really, bunnies just sit there and wiggle their noses. I am way scarier. At least as much as spinster librarians, surely.

Maybe children should be seen and not heard after all.

Personal Assistants

So I have graduated to being managed by a personal assistant. Her name is Gizelle and, like the ballet character after whom she is named, she glides through my life, effortlessly and gracefully fielding calls, managing staff appointments; gently correcting my mistakes (and they are many); protecting me from cute Grade 4 groupies whom I simply don’t have the heart to turn away, but who were becoming accustomed to spending every break with me, not to mention running the administrative nightmare that goes with managing a large school.  And she makes me tea, leaving it steaming on my desk like the lingering whisper of an elfin gift.

Ariel Dorfman refers to the life of a secretary as ‘responsibility without power, the fate of the secretary throughout the ages.’ Now far be it from me to question Dorfman’s experience of personal aides, but Gizelle’s petite, ballerina-like personage may look fragile, but she is a tower of strength and surprising talents, despite her youth. No one argues with her – especially not me.

Wikipedia has this cute explanation of what a personal assistant does: ‘The personal assistant is required to do any task that the manager requires whether personal or professional.’ Seriously? Truth be told I feel guilty every time Gizelle brings me tea, because that is personal and I believe that her duties should be professional only. I wonder how many managers cross the line by exploiting their assistants to do more ‘personal’ work than ‘professional’ work. The Marius Fransman situation is a case in point of how patriarchal managers view those who work for them, especially when they are young, naïve and vulnerable women.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2016-08-08-band-of-brothers-anc-integrity-commissions-fransman-report-contains-some-disturbing-nuggets/#.V6o-D_l97rc

The expression ‘my PA’ has a certain feudal ring to it and carries overtones of possession which are worrying. I certainly hope no James Bond wannabees on our staff have tried to flirt with the Meridian Miss Moneypenny. (I don’t think they’d dare.) But on a feminist aside, just google ‘secretary – images’ and see how many pictures of male secretaries with woman bosses come up…yeah…none. The job is almost exclusively considered ‘women’s work’ especially when the boss is a man. And I think as a result  is often considered to be a servile position.

Now I would be hypocritical to say that Gizelle does not field calls from Caitlin (‘Please buy electricity’ – now there is a scary assistant!) or remind me to respond to my sister’s message (an even scarier personage to ignore), but I wouldn’t dream of requiring her to fetch my dry-cleaning (if I had any) or buy my husband flowers/ whisky/ cigars. The school does not pay her to serve me, but to support me.

And thank goodness it does. Her prowess on the computer is lightning fast. She can take complex, scattered data and make graphed sense out of it and her attention to detail has saved me several times already this year from embarrassment and error. She works long hours and frequently takes work home. I am filled with mild panic at the very thought of her being absent. She has seen me at my weakest, but I live in fear of her seeing the mess in my stationery drawer.

Now here is the thing: she does all of this uncomplainingly (well she did once moan at me for signing a document in the wrong place), while running a family of two young children plus three older step-children and a husband who works shifts. Why am I mentioning this? Well because she may be employed as a ‘personal’ assistant, but it is important for me to remember that she has a personal life. She has hopes and dreams and ambitions.

Once a year, we celebrate our secretarial and administrative staff with a hallmark moment, but truth be told, it is impossible to truly give pen to the contribution of such an éminence grise. All I can say is that I am immensely grateful for the person that is Mrs Gizelle Marais, a woman of courage and one to be respected.

A to Z of Pedagogues

A quick guide for new teachers, or students on practical training attachment, for navigating the perilous staff room waters, with an indication of the type of wild animals that lurk there. Genders are inter-changeable.

(Note that these are not based on anyone currently on my staff, just mosaics and amalgamated parodies of some of the weird and wonderful educators I have encountered over the 30 (gulp) years since I graduated )

A
Ambitious Anthony Has his sights set on the top job. Meticulous and diligent, he has no time for fun, or people.  Connected to the union and knows the law.
Amiable Annette Sweet and caring. Notices when someone is struggling. When she retires there is a hole of generosity in the staffroom. Brings flowers.
Artful Arnold Always MIA when chairs are to be stacked; dodges break duty and cluster meetings. Often a good teacher, but is not a team player.
B
Backstabbing Barend Has one special focus – himself. Don’t tell him your secrets and watch out if you apply for the same promotion post. Boring teacher.
Bitter Betty Been passed over for promotion twice, but can’t see it’s her. Don’t speak to her before she’s had coffee or get sucked into her negativity
Brenda Brittle Cries easily; probably in the wrong profession. Can’t cope with ‘those difficult Grade 9s’/any class with learners.
C
Compassionate Connie Knows the back story to each person on campus; looks for excuses even for Granny Grumble; passes the tissues in the staffroom;
Cool Calvin Streetwise and dapper, speaks the students’ lingo; has their respect and his classes are fun  #goals
Cynical Cynthia Well-read and politically aware. Very bright. Enjoys philosophical discussions. Often teaches English or History.
D
Dodgy Duncan

 

Always has a shady side business. Don’t ask where he got that cheap perlemoen he’s selling in the staffroom.
Dramatic Daisy Makes large gestures, loud entrances and powerful exits. Stay away from her around deadline times. Children love her or hate her.
Diehard Dieter Taught staff members and their parents. Remembers when the foundation stone was laid and ‘things were better run.’
E
Eager Edgar Volunteers for everything especially when management is around. Can be annoying, but generally a good egg.
Earthchild Imogen Gets to school early because she travels from Noordhoek; eats lentils and couscous from well packed lunchbox. Has numerous degrees
Equity Esther Takes men to task for patriarchy and challenges school traditions. Feisty and smart. Removes Jo’s sexist cartoons from noticeboard.
Extra mile Emily She’s a gem – nothing is too much trouble. Can be relied on to help out without fuss. Sometimes takes on too much
F
First Year Fiona Has many faces; can be talented, almost always unprepared for the ignorance of learners; overwhelmed. Needs a mentor and/or a drink.
Fitness Fazeka Dresses in tracksuits and eats rice cakes. Disapproves of your chocolate cake and sedentary lifestyle. Runs outdoors club. Scary.
G
Granny Grumble Old before her time; fault finding and negative. Dislikes people. Do not sit on her chair or leave your Tupperware in the wrong place.
H
Hipster Hannah Spends her salary on clothes. Drives a yellow Mini Cooper; Instagrams her clubbing exploits. Too friendly with learners.
I
Iceberg Irene Watch out for this sociopath whose glacial manoevering will undermine your most innocent intentions. Resign if she is promoted.
Ignorant Ilsa Has ‘been teaching for 30 years’ and has nothing left to learn. Says she has no favourites in class. Has favourites. Never notices irony.
Incompetent Irvin Went into teaching because he couldn’t think of anything else. Makes the post office seem efficient. Complains a lot.
Inspirational Iris Is able to draw talent even they were unaware of from her students. Celebrates her charges. Humble.   Learn from her.
J
Jocular Jo The staff room clown. His jokes can be off colour, but he keeps the room from being dull; students love him because he knows his stuff.
K
Kick-ass Kallie Loud and enthusiastic. Always raring to go. Will jumpstart your car when you leave the lights on all day.
Knowledgeable Nicki Has read every book on every subject ever written and has multiple degrees. Can make you feel inadequate if you are insecure. Has cats.
L
Laidback Lwazi Nothing phases him; reads the newspaper in admin periods. Re-uses old exam papers each year if he can get away with it.
Last Minute Larry Unprepared for class. Mostly to be found at the computer when the bell rings. Panics when Photostat machine is broken
Lecherous Lenny Can’t keep his hands to himself; laughs heartily at sexist jokes. Makes a beeline for new staff.
Loskop Lottie Loses classroom keys/ textbooks/piles of scripts all the time. Better hope she is not your exam relief when you need the loo.
M
Maestro Max The Music or Art Teacher: defies description. Brilliant and popular, the kind of inspiration you’ll remember forever. Not always patient.
Moody Maureen Well-intentioned but inconsistent with her learners. Her bipolar swings are confusing. You may need help if she is your mentor.
N
Neutral Nigel No personality. Goes through motions, but doesn’t make waves. You find yourself imagining what secret life he may have. He doesn’t.
O
Old school Oliver Good teacher with great track record of results. Can be reluctant to try new technology.
P
Poisonous Pam Pammy sits with Backstabbing Barend; is no one’s friend. Knows the dirt on everyone and whispers it behind their backs. Avoid her.
Professor Pauline Very bright and an excellent staff resource. Pupils will complain she can’t explain properly. Probably should be lecturing at university.
Q
Quixotic Quintin Always driving a new cause. Can upset management and sometimes does counselling when he shouldn’t.
R
Religious Rita Devout and prayerful. Is shocked by Jo’s antics, but loves him anyway. Has the respect of everyone.
Rightwing Rene Rita’s twin sister who wields her faith like a club. Joins GG in reporting Arnold and Jo to  management and patronises the maintenance staff.
Rugged Ryan Runs up the mountain before or in between classes. Cycles to school. Hope for a view of his abs.
S
Seen-it-all Sal Jaded and uncreative. Needs a sabbatical or career-change. Can’t afford to retire.
Sissy Spoilsport Reminds staff the bell has rung. Takes the ball away from kids in the quad; warns you not to eat in workroom.Reports others for swearing.
Simon the Sociopath Outwardly charming. Tells colleagues, learners and parents what they want to hear. They wrote ‘Snakes in Suits’ about him. Not your friend.
T
Trendy Tendai Hails from Zimbabwe. Viewed with suspicion by locals and frustrates management because no EE points are possible. Fabulous clothes.
Trevor the Tyrant Instils fear in his students; is unreasonable and inflexible. Sadly all too frequently to be found in management offices.
Thor Has the loudest voice on campus, but secretly a pushover. Girls run rings around him because he doesn’t ‘get’ them.
U
Ubuntu Una Social conscience of staffroom; champions students’ right and supports important causes. Friends with Connie.
Unctuous Albert

 

Hand-wringing, arse creeping, yay-saying suck-up
V
Vocational Vuyo A natural: instinctive and born nurturer. Creative and reflective. Sometimes falls foul of Barend and Pamela. Shares his lessons.
W
When-we Winston Misses the ‘old days’ when caning was possible. Only knows middle part of anthem. Decries government. Waiting for passport for Perth.
Welcoming Winifred The first person to greet you. Ask her where it is safe to sit and how the photocopier works.
X
Xbox Exton The techno kid. This is the one to ask if your laptop is on the blink; just don’t ask about FPS or how FIFA cheats unless you have time.
Y
Yardarm Jan Hang ‘em high approach to teaching. Not interested in positive discipline. No one speaks in his class.
Z
Zany Zoliswa Free spirited; Attends all cultural festivals; Thinks outside the box; sometimes forgets there’s a marking box.

Resolutions for 2016: Channelling Audrey

I hate making New Year’s resolutions. I don’t smoke or drink so there is not much to give up and expecting me to no longer indulge in chocolate prompts me to consider death as an option. Frankly, no meaningful change in my life has ever happened on the first of January anyway.  In the past I have steadfastly refused to make any specific commitments at this time, knowing full well that the most I can hope for, as my daisy daughter says, is ‘still being here next year.’

Yes, I know I should exercise more and a swear jar in the house is a grand idea. Being on time for weekday mass in order to avoid the bench of shame at the back of the church would be good discipline and I could do with less lard on the aging body but hey, as my mom used to say, the pork plumps up the wrinkles. The most weight I ever lost began when I decided on a random Thursday in October once that it was time I discovered the elusive thigh gap– and even then the fat didn’t stay off. Let’s face it, the neighbourhood is not ready for me to be pounding the streets in neon Spandex anyway. (Have I protested enough?)

These are things I do plan to avoid in 2016 however:

  • No more answering my phone when ‘private number’ comes up. It is always some perky salesperson trying to make quota, who is all sweetness and light until you say you are not interested in the policy/ credit card/ new charge to come off your existing maxed out store card. Then they transform into Grumpy Cat.
  • Ignore Facebook messages suggesting that if I re-post a photo of a Range Rover/ resort/ airline. Let’s face it (get it?!) Mark Zuckerberg is NOT going to be calling me with share options on 1 January.

  • Buying chocolate (so if someone generously donates that delectable vege it’s ok). The lady still loves Milk Tray. Okay I admit this sounds like those pathetic attempts to stop smoking: ‘I won’t actually buy any’ (i.e ‘I’ll just leech off others.’) but it’s a move in the right direction.

My wish list is extensive. I’ll never really look like Audrey Hepburn; I doubt I shall be able to boast on Facebook about my new motor vehicle with its ostentatious red bow from the factory (jealous much?), and although I would like to be able to bully Liam until he has mastered the correct use of subject and object pronouns, that is largely frowned upon by the parent police these days. However I shall be going to Paris and Venice on a much-delayed honeymoon and I have a fabulous new job to start in the New Year. How cool is that?! I can dream of myself as Audrey Hepburn doing Europe in glamour…

Reassessing one’s life is a good idea though so I’m not knocking the making of resolutions per se. Improving oneself is important. But take this meme doing the rounds currently:

2016 resolution

Am I the only one who sees the irony in this? Yes I think it is vital to make an appointment with yourself regularly to re-charge those failing Duracell bunnies, but surely focussing on oneself entirely is not ‘improving oneself.’  I am not suggesting that we all rush out and work at The Haven Night Shelter or join Greenpeace (although those are jolly good ideas), but a humanistic focus on ‘self’ and the individual is what is hurting our world. Improving oneself should require one’s seeing of the other and that’s a whole different Chinese shop of dresses. Because being other-centred calls us out of our self-obsession.

I was so impressed to hear about the Syrian refugee community in the UK who have pitched in to help Manchester’s folk combat the floods. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/uk-flooding-syrian-refugees-help-build-flood-defences-near-manchester-to-give-something-back-a6790421.html

And the story of a patron in an American restaurant who paid for a Muslim family’s meal.

http://sfglobe.com/2015/12/29/anonymous-patron-pays-muslim-familys-dinner-bill-at-olive-garden/

That’s surely what makes the year on the planet better, but I don’t know one can plan for it by resolving to be more philanthropic. I mean no one sits down and says, ‘Gee this year I shall help out when there is a flood/ drought/ injustice on Facebook (insert token cause here).’ These things tend to be prompted by need in others and are inspired, I believe, by the urging of the Spirit. But there is certainly NO way that resolving in January to have a ‘selfish year’ focussed on ‘self-improvement’ can make any difference at all. Self-improvement MUST involve reaching out to others in my view. Such a self-involved January intention cannot possibly envisage, let alone plan and execute works of kindness and assistance. So if I intend to make any resolution at all, it will be to be alert to the nudges of Holy Spirit towards the needs of others.

It’s the lonely child on the bench at school; the random stranger one smiles at; the beggar whose eye we meet rather than pretending to rummage in the cubbyhole at the lights; the rights of the defeated which we uphold and the child for whom we put down our phone to listen to. I hope I can give the gift of myself this year, no matter how trite that may sound.  And to do that I need to look up and out, not only inwards. Or else I shall miss those opportunities to pay it (love) forward.child.png

I hope in the busyness of my new position and the running of the home that I can find time to be present to my family and make time for my friends. I tend to become so driven and single-minded that like many teachers, my own children’s gripe is that I love my school children more than them. So as much as I intend to channel my inner Audrey Hepburn (the humanitarian not the skinny film star part – because that would involve a more austere chocolate resolution) https://youtu.be/qQ-8wyFfVbE, I must also remember my own UNICEF duties at home and pray that this time next year the world is a little better with me in it.

Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!

 

 

What type of student are you harbouring?

The Student Species: subgroups at examination time

As our matriculants settle in for the long haul of final NSC examinations, examine this list of student-types and see if you recognize yourself or if you are a parent, ask yourself which one of these incarnations is occupying space at your breakfast table. If you are in the grips of exam fever, remember, it is not a terminal illness, although how you treat the malady may determine your fate:

In a typical classroom, or lurking in his bedroom in your home, one may find the following personas (genders transferable)

  • Last-minute, Lazy Larry: He leaves everything to the last minute because he couldn’t be bothered. Then his work is of course somewhat pedestrian or he cruises to good marks with no effort. He battles to complete his degree in 3 years because his work ethic is so poor. He is a regular at nightclubs and surfspots during exam time. His parents are very busy.
  • Tessa the Terrified is usually friends with Nancy the Nervous. They tend to focus on the fear of academics and appear like bokkies in the headlights when confronted by difficult work and stressful situations. They are the ones seen scurrying around before examinations, or anxiously scanning textbooks minutes before called into the examination room. They live on Rescue Remedy and their mothers have used up the medical savings plan by mid-March of any year on anxiety medication.
  • Terry the Tortoise: We all know who won the race, don’t we? Terry plods along devotedly, trying out all the exemplars on the internet and attending all his extra lessons, checking and rechecking all his examination answers. Slow and sure wins the race. Teachers love Terry and he is inevitably successful in life.
  • Then there is Terry’s rival, Rushing Russell: He is the first one finished in every examination. He sits with his arms folded, assuring his invigilators that he has checked all his answers. He is yet to score 100% for anything. He loves finals because he can leave as soon as he likes. He has been known to miss a few questions because he didn’t turn over the last page of his question paper. Teachers throw their hands in the air in distress when they see him emerge after one hour from a three-hour paper.
  • Angie, the Agile is dating Russell (for now). She’s the smart-alecky kid who spots questions for her History papers, never spending more than an hour or two studying for any test. She will dump Russell after school and marry Terry because he has made more money. He will buy her a Nail Bar to keep her busy, because she can’t finish any course of study.
  • Another popular couple is Avril the Avoider and Peter the Procrastinator. They never get around to studying for any length of time either, because they waste too much time tidying their desks, pouring coffee, adjusting songs on their ipods and ‘just quickly’ going on Whatsapp. When their parents buy them iPhone 6’s (not a smart move).they are doomed to mediocrity. Cassio the Casual often joins them when he is not shooting people on the latest bloodthirsty, Call of Duty-type Xbox game.
  • Then there is David the Dedicated who is diligent and conscientiously prepares ahead of every session. His timetable has been up since June and he has model answers pasted in his bathroom. He is entirely focused on his studies and has a clear goal in mind. He sometimes is considered a bit of loner or is called a killjoy at times because he refuses clubbing invitations now and then to study, but his mansion is often a hub of activity after he qualifies. His parties make the social pages then. His cousin, Richard the Recluse, is a different kettle of fish. He does too much; over tries and sometimes works too hard, second guessing himself all the time.
  • Stephen the Selfish and Brenda with Blinkers are not popular with their classmates. They are too focused on their own goals and refuse to assist their mates in study groups. They achieve straight A’s in the NSC examinations, but fail to be accepted at UCT Medical School because they have no history of outreach work. They join in the complaints of Elvis the Efficient who shouts at Hyperactive Hettie who is all over the place and eager for any conversation not about work. They find the student protests of @Feesmustfall to be an annoying waste of their time. Their parents were furious that they were not made prefects in matric.
  • Hettie did have the prettiest dress at the matric dance though – everyone knew exactly what it would look like because she thought of nothing else.
  • Stephen will marry Helga the Hostile who also hates group work. They will have separate bedrooms and be blissfully happy. Brenda will become a research scientist and is happy living alone in a cottage next to her private laboratory.
  • Sickly Samantha isn’t really. She stays home to avoid dealing with school. The vicious circle eats her in the end.
  • Then there is Mira the Magnificent, who is the envy of the class because she is annoyingly lazy (She’s near genius and a smarter version of Larry), but pulls rabbits out of a hat in every test. Her teachers often wonder just how brilliantly she could perform if she put in the same amount of work as Terry. She battles a bit at university due to her tardy work ethic, but is generally more stimulated there.
  • Rory the Resistant hates school and all his teachers. He is biding his time until he can play professional sport. He has no Plan B after playing for Barcelona and after he injures his knee at Ajax trials he is forced to sell shoes for a living. Spiro the Sports Maniac is his best friend. They do all their orals on sport.
  • Warren the Wallpaper flies beneath the radar. He is not a discipline problem and escapes notice by doing the bare minimum to pass. He will probably have ADD children later in life and wonder if that was his problem.
  • Babsie the Butterfly is friends with Angie, but is too flakey to care at all about school. She ends up working in Angie’s salon, where she loves to gossip with the clients.
  • Cedrick the Pseudo-Clever believes he’s over school and foolish teachers. He underachieves in matric, flunks out of varsity because he has no work ethic and is laughed at by lecturers for his wannabe-intellectual, attention-seeking ploys in lectures. His parents started out thinking he is a genius and realise too late that that they have spoiled him.
  • Thando the Talented grew up with He does it all with ease and is immensely popular too. He plays first team cricket and soccer, as well as moonlighting in the hockey side. He scores straight A’s with ease and can sing and dance too. His parents are humble, but support all his endeavours, although his mother worries he over-commits.
  • Inez the Insecure is afraid to try because she might fail. It’s safer for her to go along with Cassio and pretend school is beneath her. Her twin brother Cassiem the Careful drives his teachers mad by counting every word in his essays more than he edits his work. Both spend a lot of time with therapists.

Of course this is all just fun. They are not based on anyone specific, but on students I have encountered over my 20-odd years in teaching.Chances are that you are a mosaic of all these types.

Happy studying.