A review of 50 first experiences

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14 June – I achieved my target of 50 firsts a few days ago, but in fact there were quite a few more firsts that it didn’t feel right to share in this way. This was the first time I sat in a funeral car. Once was for my lovely stepfather, who died last October, and the other time was for my dear Nana, who died on 11 February at the age of 98. I suppose it’s what happens when you reach 50 – more evidence of how short life can be, and how quickly it can pass you by. More people to miss.

Is it okay to share this? I’m not sure – a blog is that weird thing between a facebook post and a diary entry, like writing for someone looking over your shoulder. The point of this challenge was not to do big things (or brag about them) but to notice what is around me. And on reflection that did start to happen. I spent a lot of time looking up events and places where I live, and began to appreciate that York is a city where lots of small and community events are happening all over the place. I took myself out of my comfort zone a few times, and I also did most of the challenges with friends and family, which meant a lot to me. I didn’t visit John O’Groats, but I sponsored someone who did a coast to coast cycle ride and someone else who took part in the Live Below the (Poverty) Line challenge – challenge by proxy, maybe.

Anyway, it’s one year since I turned 50 so I’m putting this blog on Facebook for any friends to read – or not.
I still haven’t been to Rio, the moon or John O’Groats, read War and Peace, seen a manatee, driven a Jaguar or swum the Channel.
But there’s always next year.


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First 49 and 50 – henna tattoo and manicure

5 and 11 June – It’s the first time I’ve grown all my nails – how embarrassing is that! So this was a small, rather vain, celebration of the fact – just before I reach the end of being 50.

Marks: 9/10 – I love the purple nailvarnish and now the gingeriness of the henna has gone down, am getting rather fond

Tried lots of angles but none of them flattering

Tried lots of angles but none of them flattering

of my little tattoo by my extremely talented student Mehazabin.

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First 48 – ‘invested’ in a bookshop

30 May – This year I keep hearing about bookshops, pubs and other community places offering shares – what a great idea, especially during a recession. So, inspired by Lucy Mangan I went onto the website of Bookbarn in Bristol and joined crowdcube to make my investment. To be honest, I didn’t invest much at all (recession, and all that) but I rather like that feeling of being an investor/shareholder – especially in a bookshop.  Now, all I’ve got to do is visit the place and buy a book.

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First 42 – discovered the magic of Django Reinhardt

11 May and 7th June – This year, thanks to Gillian and Mark and their amazing guitar festival I was introduced to Django Reinhardt’s intoxicating French gypsy jazz guitar sound – the Remi Harris Quartet, who played at a tiny jazz club in Boston Spa where the audience brought along their sandwiches, and Djangologie, who performed on the first night of the Bishopthorpe Little Guitar Festival (2013 slogan: ‘not so little any more’. That hot, giddy sound gets into your bones.

Marks: 8/10 – need to hear more.

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First 35 – appearing in the audience on BBC Question Time

21 March: I’d only applied the week before to the programme, so was very surprised to get a call on the way to my car to say I’d got a place and what was my first question going to be. In the end, my two questions were: With the imminent arrival of people from Romania and Bulgaria, and pressure on everyone to find a job, why is the government cutting funding for classes in basic English? And In the current climate (meteorological and financial) can the panel give their 3 reasons to be cheerful. Neither were selected but it was a fascinating evening. David Dimbleby, who came to chat to us before the programme, was charming, approachable, and funny. Mrs militant-Tory-keep-those-scroungers-out attached herself to me at the coffee part and then insisted we sat together near the front, where my other neighbour was a very large nineteen year old lad who had his legs spread as wide as they could get and his arm in my face most of the time trying to get on the telly. There were a few like that, I suppose. Before the programme I got chatting to a 16-year-old hoping to study Politics at uni, who was there with his mum and very keen to ask Michael Gove a question – and as far as I could see from watching it on the tv later , had his hand up the entire time, in vain. The warmer was brilliant – a panel made up of audience members, who were sharp and professional and handled the audience’s question with wit and real expertise. One of them, a photogenic student from York University, managed to ask two questions during the actual programme, and later admitted to me in the loos that she was president of the students’ union, which accounted for her confidence (she didn’t say that last bit). Michael Gove, on the panel, was rather odious, and talked over most of the programme – I’m sure there are normally more questions than there were this time from the audience. Although I didn’t get my first question asked, I did try to ask another similar one when it looked like the right opportunity, but I was too slow – worried about sounding blustery and out of my depth, I wrote my question down on paper, and lost the moment.

Marks: 10/10 – even the bus back was an experience, since it only held those of us who’d appeared on the programme. Felt like a special little clique as we each got off.

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First 30 – got a ‘1’

28 February – I thought long and hard whether to include this, for a number of factors, but as it’s a personal ambition, and a first, I decided I would.

During the DTELLS (Diploma in Teaching English in the Lifelong Learning Sector) we had a session on what it took to get an Outstanding (1) grade in teaching. We talked about how unrealistic it was to be consistently outstanding, and the importance of recognising Mazlov’s Hierarchy of Needs alongside planning and preparation (sorry, Sam, if I’m misremembering this). It took three years, I think, before I got my planning time down from an average of three times the length of the lesson itself. But lesson observations have always been a different story. I could easily put a week into planning an observed lesson, and still have it fall short, because with all that planning I usually forgot to factor in something crucial; for example a) that several or all of my students might be having a bad day (Mazlov), or b) that the technology in the classroom I was depending on might not work (or more likely, I wouldn’t understand it); or c) that the complicated, and paper-intensive, nature of these resources meant that they were inevitably very teacher-centred, thus exacerbating (a); or d)that I might be having a bad day (Mazlov again).

And then, one observation I got something right because my learners put on such a performance (okay, I know some of them were showing off) that I was given a Good (2) grade. I was ecstatic. Did this stop me worrying? Add your own ideas – do bears, etc – because this February I lost my nerve completely during my graded observation, was so hung up on getting the (learning) tasks done and out of the way, and keeping to my lesson plan timings, that I missed the fact that the learners didn’t in fact understand the tasks at all. Result: an unsatisfactory Satisfactory (3). And thanks to dear Mr Gove’s new rulings, I was scheduled for a re-observation. I knew it was poor, and luckily, and with loads of support from my lovely manager and colleagues, I got back my confidence for the re-observation. And the result was the long-awaited Outstanding (1) grade.

I suppose I should reflect on what this has taught me. I know that most of my colleagues (all?) find observations extremely stressful, and I think that luck, confidence, the right people being in the right mood at the right time, play so big a part. Maybe one day those at the top will realise this and change the system. But for a little while, until the next observation, which would you believe it is only a week away, the next time I come away from a lesson feeling I can’t do anything right, I’m going to console myself that just once, someone said I was outstanding.

Marks: 8/10 – mainly because after wanting it for so long, it was actually a bit of an anti-climax in the end (so ungrateful!)