This must be how people feel when they grow their own carrots or give birth.

When I was a younger I had three ambitions:

  1. To be a teacher
  2. To be an author
  3. To be a Blue Peter presenter

What I like about the ambitions of my 8-year-old self is that they range from very achievable to “highly unlikely.” It’s like I was looking out for my future self by giving myself the best possible chance of achieving at least one of my ambitions. Becoming a teacher was just a case of getting the necessary qualifications and securing a job. Actually staying a teacher proved much harder. And, whilst the Blue Peter dream has yet to come to fruition, last week the advance copies of my book were printed and it’s fair to say I’m feeling pretty proud of myself. I can only assume this is how people must feel when they grow their own carrots* or give birth. It is still really hard to believe that my words have been put into a book that will be sold in actual book shops.

It’s been a long process: by the time the book is published it will be almost two years since I got that first email from Bloomsbury.

There have been a number of barriers to writing this book, none of which were particularly unique but, when facing them for the first time, seemed hugely overwhelming and almost impossible to overcome. First barrier? Finding the time to actually write a book.

Nobody has time to write a book

Some writers have very specific routines and structure their day around writing. Haruki Murakami, for example, gets up at 4am each day and writes for six hours before running 10k or swimming 1,500 metres. Then he reads, listens to music and is in bed by 9pm. Perhaps the only similarity between myself and Murakami is the 9pm bedtime. WH Auden worked best between 7:00 – 11:30am after a strong cup of coffee. He would often continue writing until late in the afternoon but always stopped by 6:30pm for a strong vodka martini followed by a large dinner and copious amounts of wine.

I had no such routine. The first half of this book was written in the first half of 2017 in our attic apartment in Amsterdam. I was writing full time and most days my book was all I had to work on. It was such a luxury: living in one of the most beautiful and inspiring cities in the world with little to do other than research, write and edit. Screen Shot 2018-10-16 at 08.43.11At this point I want to say thank you to Village Bagels on Vijzelstraat. I have some very happy memories of enjoying many a goats’ cheese, walnut and honey on a sesame bagel, starting out at the canal and mulling over my mornings writing. By contrast, the second half of this book was written whilst I had a full time job and at one point, was doing supply and living with my Mum before we moved back into our flat in London. During this time I wrote wherever I could.
I wrote on trains, at my Mum’s kitchen table, in Wood Green library, in classrooms at lunch time whilst doing supply, at any cafe with a power socket in the N22 area and later, having returned to teaching full time, in Zizzi on Finchley Road before the school Christmas concert. I used any window of time available. Because the truth is nobody has the time to write a book and work full time – you have to carve the time out. It means saying no to invitations and not seeing your friends and family as much as you want. It means blocking out days for writing and stubbornly defending that time. It requires a lot of patience and understanding from your friends and family (thankfully mine are wonderful.)

Nobody thinks they’re a brilliant writer

The next barrier to writing a book is a much harder one to overcome: self doubt. That nagging voice that tells you that you’re not good enough, your writing is crap and that writing a book is a complete waste of time because nobody will want to read it. To defeat that voice you need several things: an excellent editor, a supportive family member or friend, techniques for telling that voice to kindly piss off.

Earlier this year I emailed my editor Hannah telling her I couldn’t write my book any more. I was completely stuck and thought it would be best if we pretended none of this had ever happened and I’d just run away and forget all about it (or words to that effect.) She suggested that instead I met her for a coffee and we talked through what I felt I was stuck on. A few months later I emailed  her asking her what we’d do if nobody like the book enough to write a testimonial for it. Once again she reassured me that wasn’t something I had to worry about and once again she was right.

If you don’t have an editor find a patient friend who would be willing to take that role. When my editor wasn’t available I was fortunate enough to have a husband who not only is an incredibly skilled writer, but understood the subject matter of the book well enough to make useful suggestions. He was able to be the positive voice that drowned out that nagging negative voice. When he read sections that he thought were good he would say so, when he read parts that needed work he would suggest how I could improve them. Without his reassurance, advice and the many, many cups of coffee he made, this book would never have been finished.

Because one thing I have learnt since I started this blog three years ago is that it doesn’t ever go away – that feeling that your work isn’t good enough. It doesn’t matter how many people read what you write, how many people share it on Twitter or whether you have a contract from a publisher – there is always that feeling it isn’t good enough.

What next?

Like my friends and family, my blog has been severely neglected since I started writing this book. Now it’s done my plan is to return to blogging regularly about teaching and education and there may even be another book in the pipeline. But for now we return to Amsterdam, where this journey began, for a much needed half term break.

*I’m told carrots are particularly hard vegetables to grow.

 

 

Introducing: #ChristmasCarolChallenge

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I’ve been doing my annual read of, “A Christmas Carol” one of my favourite Christmas stories and it gave me an idea. I’m not taking part in “Blogmas” (for those who aren’t familiar with the term, “Blogmas” is a blogger challenge that involves writing every day from December 1st – 25th on the theme of Christmas.) I always felt it would seem at odds with the education/politics posts I write most of the year.

The idea is really simple:

 

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No prizes for guessing what the 3 posts are about:

1. Christmas/Christmases past

This could be the recent past or a Christmas from your childhood. What was Christmas like for you as a child? Whether it was making gingerbread or roasting chestnuts on an open fire (does anyone actually do that?) to pelting your siblings with chocolates after a particularly stressful game of Monopoly – we want to hear about it.

You could write about one specific Christmas or the Christmas traditions you’ve kept throughout the years. It could even be about the first Christmas you can remember.

2. Christmas Present

This one is fairly straightforward. How are you celebrating Christmas this year?

3. Christmas future

Be as creative as you like about this one. This could be a Christmas you hope to have in the future or even a bleaker vision if you really want to get in touch with your inner Dickens

How To Get Involved

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Write your posts and share it on Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag: #ChristmasCarolChallenge.

If you don’t have a blog and would like to get involved you could write your piece as Facebook status or in a Word Document and screenshot it for Twitter. You can even write your piece and share it as a comment under any of the #ChristmasCarolChallenge posts. If we are inundated with pieces from non-bloggers then I’ll compile them as a post.

The challenge will be running until December 31st. Your posts don’t have to be written on consecutive days – you can write them as and when you want. This is meant to be an enjoyable experience and a chance to be creative. I can’t wait to read what you come up with.

Happy writing!

 

So, You Want To Start A Blog?

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It’s September. Fresh, energised and full of optimism, September sees teachers take up new instruments, join exercise classes and start diets – it is the real New Year. So it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise when, in the space of 6 days, I received four emails asking for advice about starting a blog.This is incredibly flattering as The Girl On The Piccadilly Line has only existed (at its current domain) for a year so I am no expert (and there are people out there who are experts in this sort of thing.) But, for what it’s worth, here is my advice for anyone, teacher or otherwise, thinking of venturing into the world of blogging.

1. Write about what you know/what you love

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A lot of bloggers will tell you to choose a niche and stick with it; become an expert in that field and you’ll have a ready made readership. That isn’t bad advice but I think the most important thing is that you write about what you know. For me that was education and politics but it doesn’t really matter what it is: coffee, insurance, tube stations with step free access or the best places to go for brunch. If you’re passionate about your subject that will come through in your writing. Trying to regularly produce interesting content on a subject you don’t care about is hard work and can be mind-numbingly dull – don’t do it to yourself. And if you write that blog about the best places for brunch send me the link.

2. Read

Any teacher will tell  you that the best writers are the ones who read widely. So read. Read articles, blogs, novels, non-fiction. Find a writer you love and study the way they weave their words together – learn from them. Struggling to put together a catchy opening paragraph or heading? Get reading. Interested in writing list-style posts? Get reading. Want to use your blog to share your short stories? Get reading. At the moment I’m reading a lot of blogs to try and learn the art of writing a decent closing paragraph. My posts tend to end abruptly or just fizzle out. You don’t know how much I wish every post could just end with, “That’s All Folks!”

3. “At the end of the day, the only thing that’s perfect is a blank sheet of paper – untouched with nothing on it. And if you’re questing for perfection then you’ll leave that paper blank.” – Neil Gaiman

I don’t really like the way I write. I often wish my writing sounded more academic; I’ve yet to master the art of being concise as opposed to just wittering on  (At this point it’s worth mentioning I am available for commissions…) When I first started blogging I used to agonise over posts. I would ask beg my husband to read everything I wrote before I published it, “Is it alright?” I’d ask nervously – I just didn’t believe anything I’d written could be any good. (Little tip – find someone in those early days to be your own personal editor/proofreader/cheerleader. You don’t have to marry them though.)

Over the last year I’ve learnt a valuable lesson: writing is to be read. If people want to read your writing then your writing is serving its purpose. I’ve accepted the way I write is readable and in the last few months people have actually started paying me money to write things for them (which I still can’t get my head around)) So I’ve come to the conclusion I can’t be that bad. Please don’t be like me – have confidence and just keep writing.Sure, you’re first few posts may only be read by your parents but that’s OK!

4. Use social media – not just to share your work.

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I love social media – it’s the fastest way to get your blog out there but it has other uses too. Use it to find other bloggers, join in with blog chats and interact directly with your readers. You get out what you put into the blogging community so get involved. Spend at least an hour a week reading other blogs, commenting on and sharing the things you really like. Invite guest bloggers to write for you – they’ll bring with them new readers.

Use hashtags to increase the visibility of your posts. There are dozens you can use – I tend to rely on:

#MondayBlogs

#WWWBlogs

#WeekendBlogHop

#SundayBlogShare

5. Enjoy it

The best thing about blogging is that there are no hard and fast rules about what it’s meant to look like. You can post once a month or every day. You can publish poems, lists, diaries, songs, photos, videos. The whole point is that you’re carving out your own corner of the internet. It can be whatever you want it to be (within legal limits.) If you find you’re not enjoying it take a break – don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

Erm…

That’s all folks!

 

 

 

 

2015 – Who Runs The World? (Girls)

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Despite not being Liz Kendall’s biggest fan, I practically whooped with joy when I read that she’d told a Daily Mail journalist to fuck off for asking about her weight. 2015 was a big year in politics and particularly for women. 2015 was the year that saw Turkey and Saudi Arabia elect record number of female politicians, Hilary Clinton have resounding success in the Presidential debates and The Sun finally succumb to the “No More Page 3” campaign. We’ll quietly ignore the pink bus; it turns out that a vehicle reminiscent to something Barbie might drive is not the way to turn women onto politics.

Now, I understand it’s Boxing Day so in between eating leftovers and watching “Space Jam” no one’s up for reading anything too heavy. For that reason I’ll stick to the much loved list format for this one. So – happy Boxing Day: 9 times women won politics.

1. Corbyn’s Cabinet

Yes, he should have appointed Angela Eagle as his chancellor, but that aside, with the final headcount standing at 16 women and 15 men this is still the first women heavy Shadow cabinet we’ve seen. Although I still think the press missed a trick by not referring to it as The Corbynet…

2. Stella Creasy and the Tampon Tax

There are a number of reasons to love Stella Creasy her but her best moment of the year for me was her argument against the Tampon Tax (and forcing MP Bill Cash to say the word “tampon”)

3. Abby Tomlinson

I make no secret of my admiration of Abby. This year she shot to fame after creating #milifandom to try and counteract the unfair media portrayal of Ed Miliband. Since then Abby’s shown she is a force to be reckoned – she took on the Murdoch press for hounding her extended family and (my favourite ever moment) she stood up to bullying from the ever delightful Louise Mensch.  This is just the start of things to come for Miss Tomlinson; I’m certain we’ll be hearing about her for years to come. Is it too soon to start #Abbyfandom?

abby tweets
This girl bloody rocks.

4. Kezia Dugdale

Although the rest of the UK may have voted for a sausage fest of a Labour party Scotland elected Kezia Dudale as the new leader of the Scottish Labour Party. Well done Scotland.

5. Nicola Sturgeon

Whilst we’re on the subject of Scotland, you can’t review the year in politics without mentioning “The Most Dangerous Women In Britain.” Whatever you think of her politics there is no denying that Nicola Sturgeon lead an impressive campaign in the run up to the Election. Straight talking, quick witted and feisty as hell Sturgeon made herself the selfie Queen of Scotland, lead her party to a stonking victory winning 56 out of a possible 59 seats and topped the Women’s Hour 2015 Power List.

6. Jess Phillips

Jess Phillips MP hit the headlines a number of times this year. The most controversial incident was when she responded to the suggestion men’s issues should be debated in parliament on International Men’s Day (as there are few opportunities to discuss issues important to men) with:

When I’ve got parity, when women in these buildings have parity, you can have your debate. And that will take an awfully long time”
Whether or not you agree with her, Phillips was unfairly trolled with threats of violence and rape after this incident. Initially she reacted the same way most human beings would: by avoiding the internet but then came back fighting and showed women around the world how to deal with trolls: by promptly reporting and shaming their disgusting behaviour. Excellent work.

7. Mhaira Black

Mhaira Black, the youngest MP elected to the House of Commons, gave a killer maiden speech attacking the Conservative’s austerity programme, “I am the only 20 year  old in the UK that the Chancellor is prepared to help with housing.”

8. Saudi Arabia

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Not famed for their equality agenda, Saudia Arabia took a big leap forward this year by allowing women to vote for the first time ever. 130,000 women registered to vote which falls massively short of the 1.35m men that registered but in a country where women aren’t allowed to drive, this is progress.

 

9. Angela Merkel

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In the face of harsh criticism, Merkel stood firm on her policy to not limit the number of refugees that could enter Germany even though it meant standing alone. This year Germany have welcomed over 250,000 refugees which is over 12 times the number Britain has pledged to take in the next 5 years. Her response to critics that say she is compromising the security of Germany and stretching their resources too thinly? ” Wir schaffen das.”  We will cope.

Guest Post: What Is Education About?

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One of the best things about blogging is hearing from people who’ve read my blog and want to contribute their ideas and offer their opinion on something I’ve written. I’ve had emails from people from all over the world, teachers, lecturers, students and sometimes just other bloggers that have read something that’s struck a chord.

A couple of weeks ago I had the most charming email from a man called Geoff Marshall. He had read “What Did You Learn At Primary School?” and wanted to get in touch. It turns out that Geoff had been pointed in the direction of the article by my Primary school head teacher, who had worked with Geoff in the 70s. Geoff is 87 years old and retired from teaching in 1989 – something of an Education veteran.  He knows his stuff and has written an article that sums up the state Education system perfectly. He kindly agreed to let me share the article here. You can find it in it’s original form on his website. Just to recap: this is an article written by the man who hired my Primary school head teacher. This is why I love the internet.

What is Education about?

I’m desperately concerned for our children, both now and in the future. Few question what is happening in our schools. The establishment seem to be agreed that, minor quibbles aside, all would be well if only the state sector could be like the private. 

 
But within my lifetime many of our primary schools were the best in the world and visitors came from across the world. Innovation and initiative were welcomed and expected and Education was an instinctive discipline, the foundation of our thinking. Each school built its own identity upon who was there and where they were. People and place were what made them.
 
Children are expert learners. They have to be and they show it from birth. It’s what they do, with parents and teachers to help them. Schools should be where learning is enjoyed and celebrated for children to ‘grow in abundance,’ as Christian Schiller memorably put it.
 
Learning is a process which requires skills, just like any other process, skills which are improved with practise, founded upon choosing. Making wise choices is the most difficult of skills as we all know and it is fundamental to learning. Adults, knowing something of the available options, are there to help children choose but always within their capacity to choose.
 
Children’s learning begins by observing and contemplating first hand, concrete experience. With all the immediate reactions upon meeting something new there will eventually come one along the lines of ‘So what shall I do about it?  How shall I respond?’ This is the beginning of choosing. It is the task of the adult to follow the child, ready to talk through the possibilities. Being alongside, reading the child, then becomes a prime skill of the teacher.
 
I know this is a simplistic description of learning and of being a teacher but it is sufficient to set it apart from today’s model of good practise. The teacher I have described is a world away from the super being, master of a problem class of youngsters, awed by his ability to impose and to instil the required information. The Secretary of State now promises a hit squad of ‘excellent teachers’ to show failing schools how to do it.  But clearly, instilling information is not practising learning. One is absorbed in helping a child to grow, the other is remembering information.
 
I remember teaching a class of children who could be ‘difficult’: you needed to control to survive. Teachers still need to do that because in most schools children would rather be somewhere else only they know they will need a job when they leave and passing exams will help.
 
Teachers should not be blamed for what they have helped to create in schools today though many are happy enough to see themselves as the one who tells you what to know and how to pass exams. They are after all servants of the state employed to do that. They have become a function of targets, inputs and outcomes reducing the magic of learning to a set of instructions and measurements. There is no place here for intuition, for choosing an alternative medium or discipline, or for simply doing something else. Their masters see no need to meet and learn about children, how they grow and think: they are immersed in sheaves of paper, sending them across the land to ensure all children everywhere perform to a standard in the way the Minister wishes.

 

 

What is it the Minister wishes? Looking back over the years you might think it difficult to know, but overall the message is the same. The Minister wants what is best for the politician; Education is a means to an end which is whatever the Cabinet decides it is. So it could be sex education, numeracy, racism, literacy, social mobility or whatever else is in the headlines of the moment. Teachers have to ensure that children know all about these because society requires it. Above all though, the nation wants young people fit for work, flexible to the needs of the employers’ market.

 

Education is no longer an unconditional ‘good’ like Health. I can speak of a time when my purpose was all about the rounded growth of the person, me with the doctor, the healthy mind and the healthy body. They go together in the makings of a person. Thank goodness the doctors’ oath protects us. Their only concern is our health, not what it’s for. Education is too wide in its references to be described as being ‘for’ anything, rather it is an elemental aspect of life. Would anyone suggest that living is ‘for’ something? Education is a process promoting a full life, one that makes the most of the experiences it offers. Inflating ‘training for a job’ to being its main purpose has been the triumph of capitalism these last fifty years

Parents know that their children are unhappy at school. It is not a place where they can follow their interests, especially when that might disrupt the routine of the day. Parents remember their school days where they learnt that school is to be endured for the sake of the future. So they feel guilty yet remain zealous supporters of what happens. Why is that? It’s because they know that the tests and the targets are all a means to an end which is otherwise unobtainable, so the children must manage as best they can.  Many parents translate their responsibilities into an almost hysterical determination to grab a place in a ‘good’ school which makes no bones about its purpose being to give a ticket to the next stage on the treadmill. So finding a ‘good’ school is as easy and simplistic as reading the football scores and is done with the same intention. What’s top and how to get in?

It ought to be a monstrous crime to seize a young child barely out of babyhood and deliberately proceed to process it in a calculated programme preparing for an unpredictable future which can be of no interest to a young mind which by nature is only interested in the here and now. There can be no more effective way to confuse the mind of a child than to make it perform to a purpose which it doesn’t understand. But when there is a real need perceived and designed by children, they will achieve the most astonishing results, the envy of adults and such as only they can create.

What would happen if we went with children instead of against them, if we followed them, studied them, and helped them to become what they have the abilities to become? Children are devoted to learning. It’s what they do. We should be reading their needs, showing choices and helping them to respond to the concrete first hand experiences they meet. What would happen if children were given the fundamental right of a civilised life and encouraged to grow by developing their ability to make appropriate choices within their capacity to choose? What would it be like if progress were measured by the growing sophistication of the choices made? Just suppose teachers became trusted professionals, expected to decide what has been achieved and what next should happen. What if knowledge became a product of the process of learning rather than the first requirement?
Then as they matured children would begin to understand that their work leads naturally into subject disciplines each of which is of course embedded and was extracted from a concrete experience. They may well become a specialist but still their work will depend upon making wise choices, which of course is the foundation of democracy. How long must we wait before this is allowed to happen? 
Geoffrey Marshall, November 2015