Casual Applications and the Wrath of Thor

Today was a pupil-free day in my part of the world. “Aha!” I thought to myself. “All the staff will be at school, but none of the students – this is the perfect time to drop off some resumes.”

I put together a list of local schools, polished my CV, updated my Anaphylaxis and Emergency training, and prepared to leave. There was only one flaw in my perfect plan.

BoM

The picture above gives you some idea of the rain, but fails to capture the extent of the wind. Luckily, I have another handy visual aid.

IMAG0602

IMAG0603

At the third school I ran into someone who had known me since I was a child. She tried to convince me to stay inside and wait it out, but I pressed on and managed to visit a third of the schools on my list. Tomorrow I may have to battle through crowds of students, but hopefully the weather will be kinder.

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Home Again, Home Again

Well, the plan to write a blog post every day of my holiday fell through. And then I intended to post as soon as I got home, i.e. five days ago. Now instead this blog post will commemorate the day I finished unpacking, which is close enough for me.

I saw lots of great acts at the festival – Gillian Cosgriff, Cal Wilson, Adam Hills, Elixir, East End Cabaret, Ali McGregor, Asher Treleaven, Nina Conte, and finally the comedy troupe Watson. I would heartily recommend any of them, if you get the chance.

What I love about the festival is the variety – we saw traditional stand up, acrobatics/clowning, burlesque, ventriloquism, musical comedy, sexy Diablo (don’t ask me how that worked, it’s indescribable), and comedic horror at the Old Melbourne Gaol. We also managed to make ourselves laugh, especially when our costume party spontaneously turned into a murder mystery.

Thanks to everyone that made Melbourne 2015 such a success! See you guys next year!

Gillian Cosgriff and Unfunny Business

The first show of our Melbourne Odyssey was by musical comedian Gillian Cosgriff – “Whelmed”.

Chastity: I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?

Bianca: I think you can in Europe.

-10 Thing I Hate About You

According to Gillian,”whelmed” was originally a sailing term for when the waves are almost but not quite breaking over the deck – in other words, you’re 98% of the way to disaster, but not quite there yet. Virtual hands up if you think this describes your life! Gillian Cosgriff can relate.

Gillian was incredibly funny, turning tales of competitiveness, perfectionism and anxiety into self-deprecating and relatable anecdotes and songs. I won’t tell you any more about the show, although I encourage you to go see her if you get the chance. What I would like do is take a turn for the serious, and talk about is the process of bringing up your mental illness in public.

Gillian used her own anxiety as a fuel for her comedy. Other comedians we’ve seen over the years have done the same – I laughed all the way through Matt Okine’s set, but at the end of it I wanted to hand him a pamphlet for Beyond Blue.

I feel like most of my anxiety comes from worrying about whether I remembered to take my anti-depressants that morning.

– Gillian’s Dad

Talking about mental illness is becoming more and more common as the movement to de-stigmatize these problems gains strength. I think this is a good thing, and I hope that you do too. For me the issue is personal, since I have experienced some degree of depression and anxiety since 2010.

At this point in my life, I’m fairly practiced at bringing my illness up in social situations. I do this for activist reasons – I can contribute to the normalisation of mental illness by being open about my own. I also find it very personally rewarding, as opening up about my problems often makes people feel comfortable sharing their own. Realising that you are not alone, that other people you like and admire also deal with mental illness is a great feeling.

What I’m having trouble working out is how my personal and political feelings about mental illness should be expressed in a professional context – in the staff room, the playground, and even the classroom.

When it comes to bringing it up with potential employers, I don’t actually have a choice – I’m required to disclose any disability for WHS reasons, and since my depression/anxiety is chronic it counts as a disability, even though it’s managed and shouldn’t affect my teaching.

During my two practical placements, I took the leap and brought up my illness in staff room conversation. I didn’t have to deal with any direct prejudice, although some teachers made negative comments in my hearing about students who had anxiety-related exam provisions, apparently convinced that they were “gaming the system”. This made talking about my experiences less comfortable, but I believe it also made it more important. After all, if I can use my experiences to build understanding and sympathy for anxiety then this will hopefully have a positive flow-on effect when the other teachers are teaching mentally ill students.

The issue I’m really still struggling with is this: should I talk about my mental illness with my students, and if so, how and when should I do so.

Now I know some teachers would be unequivocally against the idea of revealing such a thing. After all, when you walk into a classroom you’re not showing the students the unfiltered you – you use a persona to create the distance you need to enforce discipline. Talking about your medical conditions could definitely cross that line between personal and professional.

Another problem with talking about mental illness is that students are often a captive audience in a way that friends, co-workers and comedy gig audiences aren’t. If a friend doesn’t want to swap anxiety stories for whatever reason they can change the subject, ask me to stop or simply leave. Due to the power differential between student and teacher the student may not feel comfortable ending the conversation/shutting me up. This is a very serious concern for me.

On the other hand…

Schools in NSW share with families and the community the responsibility for teaching values.

– Values in NSW Public Schools

 According to the DEC, respect is a value of NSW Public Schools. Caring for others is a value. And part of my job as a teacher is to model and explicitly teach these values. As such, fighting the negative stereotypes of mental illness is actually part of my job description. And one of the most powerful ways I know to do this is to be honest about my own problems, while demonstrating that people with mental illnesses can lead meaningful, productive lives.

This is a lot of deep reflection to be prompted by a comedy show that dedicated an entire song to the life cycle of chameleons. In truth this has been on my mind for a while, and I haven’t come up with a solution yet. For the moment I’m keeping my mind and my options open. I’ll be looking to my friends and co-workers can contribute their own experiences and opinions. In the end I hope that this whole problem will become obsolete, as mental illness becomes an ordinary part of life instead of a shameful secret.

Holiday Blogging

For the next week or so I’m going to be on holidays in Melbourne, hanging out with friends and going to some shows for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Some bloggers may see this as a chance to take a break, but not I! I’m planning to write some reviews, and hopefully I will have some funny stories to pass on (after all people involved have approved me telling them, or been given suitably hilarious pseudonyms to disguise their involvement).

No Lessons Learnt

On Saturday I went to help out at a Girl Guide activity. Since I didn’t make it to the Gifted Munchkins this week, I was hoping that this could function as a replacement source of blog inspiration, reflection, and funny stories about children.

What actually happened was that I spent most of the day carrying heavy things and putting on rock-climbing harnesses. I can’t lift my arms higher than 45 degrees, my legs ache, I somehow got sunburned in the shade and I’m most of the way to losing my voice.

At least the kids had fun.

I didn't take any photos on the weekend, so here's me as a Girl Guide in 2003
I didn’t take any photos on the weekend, so here’s me as a Girl Guide in 2003

Keeping Busy – Online Courses

During this time of pre-employment, it’s all too easy to fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way.

But at least Pink Floyd understands me

Thanks to my friend Lisa, I’ve found a way use my time more productively. Lisa introduced me to a website called open2study. This website has a bunch of free online courses on a variety of topics. The courses take 4 weeks and involve watching videos/reading transcripts, multiple choice assessments and online forums.

Online learning is an interesting topic, and something I will probably blog more about in the future. For the moment, let’s just say that I wouldn’t just sign up for any online course, but this website has two things going for it:

  1. A personal recommendation from a friend and fellow teacher
  2. The fact that the material is created by actual lecturers and researchers from Australian universities

At first I signed up for three courses – Mobile Robotics, Concepts in Game Development and Writing for the Web. I then promptly dropped the last one, since a look at the first lesson showed me that the course was focussed on writing for businesses, whereas I am just one person picking up a hobby. As for the other two, I’ve made it through the first week and will hopefully see them through to the end.

In the future I want to talk about why I picked the courses I did, what I’m learning from them, the strengths and weaknesses of the open2study model, and how this learning could carry over to schools. In the meantime I will leave you with this, the most important lesson I have learnt from this course so far: robots are cool and I want one.

Wish you were here

One week review

So there it is: one week of blogging. It was easier than I thought it would be in the first half of the week, harder than I thought near the end. I think my new schedule might be to post twice a week – I’m thinking Wednesday will be for posts that I’ve written ahead and can post any time, while Saturday can be based on what happened during the week. We’ll see.

To everyone who has read my posts over the last week, thank you so much. The feedback I’ve received has been very encouraging. I would also appreciate any criticisms and suggestions for change you might have.

Virtual hugs for everyone!

Experimenting with media

I’m pretty tired today and I don’t have a post pre-written, so I’m going to experiment a bit with some of the non-text options that wordpress gives me.

Here’s a song I heard on the radio today.

Here’s a cat gif.

tumblr_njxejpmnrT1s2yegdo1_400

Here’s a tweet.

And here’s a poll.

Blog Recommendations

It has come to my attention that some of the people I press-ganged into reading my blog don’t actually know anything about blogs (Hi Dad!). So I thought I’d write a little primer, and link to some of the other bloggers that have inspired and entertained me.

Ways to read a blog

  1. Go to the web address. Bookmark address. Visit frequently.
  2. Sign up for updates by email by visiting the blog and clicking the FOLLOW button.
  3. Use a web reader, like Feedly, and import the RSS feed linked to on the sidebar of the blog.

Other blogs I read

  1. Teaching the Teacher. A New Zealand teacher living and working in Singapore, Stephanie is constantly innovating and finding new ways to integrate technology into the classroom.
  2. Crochet Between Worlds. Two friends, two countries, many interesting and adorable craft projects. I’m not super crafty, so I like to marvel at all the amazing things that they can do.
  3. The Brass Ring. The story of a same-sex couple attempting to conceive… and then the story of their pregnancy… and soon their baby!
  4. What If? From the ex-NASA engineer that brought you xkcd.com comes detailed and well researched answers to even the most absurd of questions
  5. Love, Joy, Feminism. Thoughtful reflections on parenting, religion and US politics from someone who’s seen it all up close.

If you’ve got any other suggestions, why not leave a comment?