On not knocking it until you’ve tried it

My uncle tells a story about firefighters in Blackpool. They of course have to do all the fire safety stuff at all the clubs in Blackpool, of which the famous ‘Funny Girls’ drag club was one. The very flamboyant owner enjoyed his visits from the firemen, and one one occasion said: “Ooh, we bend over backwards for firemen….” as only a gay man in drag can do. Innuendo R Us

My very-straight uncle said “Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it…”

He didn’t try it, so he didn’t knock it.

Still, it’s kind of an important thing to remember. I said yesterday about having fingers in lots of pies, and mostly that was a survival strategy from my very early days when I worked in a hotel a couple of nights a week, collected milk money on Friday evenings and worked in a greengrocer’s on Saturdays. In fact, having lots of fingers in lots of pies was what enabled me to survive when I quit teaching in schools.

When I started teaching, my take-home salary after my pension, national insurance and tax had been deducted was £795.00. With the rent on a room in a shared house standing at about £300, that would have left me with about £495 – £100 a week – for all my shopping, petrol, bills, clothes, insurance and car. I had little option other than moving back in with my mum, which at least allowed me to buy a £500 car off my ex. The insurance was about the same price. Paying that loan back took another £100 a month out of my salary. Part of the problem was that the first month, you work in hand, so you have to buy clothes, petrol, food etc, with that. Not that I had a debt to run up, but that first month without any pay took me five years to catch up on. Luckily, my mum let me pay her £100 a month for food and lodgings – way cheaper than it really was.

Still, at 23, you don’t want to still be living with your parents and you want a little life of your own. I carried on teaching, of course, but picked up a bar job and some tutoring. Between the two, it gave me another £100 a week, which made it easier to buy a new car – £500 cars are filled with problems and I’d spent a lot of money trying to sort out a problem on the Ford, so I bought a little Peugeot. It cost me £130 a month, which I thought was a total extravagance.

As soon as I was able to mark GCSE papers, I started doing so. It gave me the equivalent of another month’s worth of salary. In 1998, I was up to £895.00 a month and a £17,000 salary a year. It was just enough to get a mortgage on a house, but I still kept doing the pub work and the tuition and the examining. I also started marking SATs, and though I was violently opposed to the test itself, somebody’s got to mark it and that person might as well have been me.

As you can see, my fingers in pies came from a real need to stay afloat financially.

Still, I did other things as well.

I’ve always been mad about night school and other classes. I did A level Art at night school and when I finished that, I did A level Spanish. Then I started on a photography course. That morphed into a three-year night school course. I also did a Masters in my spare time.

But each of the things I took on allowed me to do something else. Marking GCSEs and SATs gave my teaching the edge. That quest for just a little extra cash turned into a lifeline a few years later.

In 2003, I was made team leader for both the SATs and GCSEs, which instead of netting me the usual £3,000 or £4,000, netted me double. But don’t get me wrong, I did it at the same time as a full-time job in which I was already working 11 hour days.

By 2005, I was being dragged off to dark hotel rooms to remark rogue markers’ work, which netted me another £3,000 for 3 weeks of work in a dark room under constant supervision.

So, finger in the teaching pie, finger in the marking pie.

I also said yesterday that I spent a lot of time putting my resources online. Luckily, Andy was an internet whizz and I did the ECDL at home under his tutelage. I got Word-savvy and Excel-savvy and PPT-savvy way before everyone else in teaching did. When the school got money for ICT training for its teachers, the head asked me. She was a mean, mean woman who hated me, so for her to ask was an extra privilege.

And I’ve always been a girl with a sense of foreboding. The future is something that’s coming and you’ve got to be prepared for it. I never, ever thought it was any good moaning about change and progression or government-induced initiatives. What good does moaning do? Besides…. don’t knock it til you’ve tried it.

So we tried it. It wasn’t that bad. And the fact that we were just about the only department in Lancashire moving forward when everyone else was trying desperately to hold on to the past and not change, or adapt in the least-uncomfortable ways possible meant that when I went for a job leading this change in 29 schools, I got it. It was a culmination of all my squirrelling away of activities, of marking in dark corners, of using every single moment of spare time as a way to improve financially.

People forget that. People looked at me in 2005, as the youngest (at the time) consultant in the North-West, the least ‘experienced’ time-wise, and yet the most experienced, experience-wise. And they think I got there by luck. That I was blessed. That I knew the right people.

Bah.

I got there by spending every single hour they spent in the pub, or on holiday, or watching TV, in working minimum-wage jobs that took a huge amount of time and doing them well so that eventually they became good wages for less time. When they were doing I don’t know what, I was teaching after-school classes for £6 an hour.

And there were sacrifices, make no bones about it.

I sacrificed all the time I could have spent with my family and friends and watching television or just chilling out, or sleeping. The biggest regret I have about my time with Andy is that we barely saw each other. We were both so keen to improve. And we did very little actual relaxing. We worked maybe til 7 or 8 each day and we went to the gym. And at weekends, we did extra stuff, like creating web-pages or creating tutorials.

But by keeping doing everything, by keeping my fingers in lots of pies, and putting them in other pies, it gave me ways to live on my own means. Not only that. Things that started 14 years ago as a way to earn a little extra ended up as ways in which I earn my main crust: tuition, marking, writing. That Masters in process consultancy I’d picked up over 4 years, essentially an extended reflection on how individuals and organisations can change and develop and how best to manage that change suddenly meant I had another bow in my quiver.

I think by the end of my teaching career, I’d attracted a fair share of bitchy onlookers who forgot that to get where I did, I’d had to work more than they did, harder than they did, with less pleasant people than they did. While they had families and children and half terms where they walked the dogs or went on holiday, I worked.

Believe me, that had some psychological payback when I realised the people I worked for didn’t give a shit about me and all my work had been for such little respect or reward. That’s why I decided I’d never work for a school again. But when I made that decision, I had lots of other things to do instead.

So don’t knock it til you’ve tried it, and those small two- or three-hour extras every week could end up being the mainstay of your life in twenty years. You never know.

 

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