Archive for May, 2012

On Bucket Lists and Immortality and Legacies

Posted on May 21, 2012. Filed under: rickywoods | Tags: , , |

I’ve never given much thought to the idea of leaving a legacy.

I have been blessed to have two wonderful sons – now men – so, watching them emerge and realise their own dreams has always been enough for me. It’s not vicarious living, if that’s what the cynic is thinking. I have a very fulfilling job as a teacher and for the past thirty years it has been sufficient.

Then, last year it dawned on me that I had a decade left until I would be retiring. Something about that thought was the ‘spur to prick the sides of my intent’ (with apologies to the Bard) and I started looking at other options. I’ve always thought of retirement as a bit of a death sentence if one is not actively involved in all sorts of interesting pursuits – and if those pursuits can help to swell the coffers of a miserly education department pension, so much the better.

The obvious starting point was looking at the things I loved doing. For so many years I have been teaching others how to write and I figured it was time to do some of that for myself. I enrolled for an online writing course where I met a diverse range of people, each with something to say and looking for a market to say it in. It was en enormous learning curve for me: one personal website and a blog later, I was so excited by this new world that had opened up for me. What’s more, I had begun to earn some money from freelance writing. Nothing terribly difficult or creative, but once in a while I would see my name in print and it gave me such a kick!

Out of nowhere I was dealt a heavy blow – my father died – and my life as I had been living it was turned upside-down. I went into survival mode, having to deal with all the legal and other complications that such an event brings.

I stopped writing.

Then, a week ago I received an email telling me that I had one follower to my blog!  In that moment things changed. I went back to have a look at the scant writings that had been posted there. Five posts. Four comments.  Dutiful responses from loving friends. But this was different. Someone who was not obliged to do so had taken the trouble to read what I had to say.

It made me realise that there is still so much more that I want to do before I ‘shuffle off this mortal coil’ (oops, again!). The first of those is to pursue the writing that I had started on.  A weekly or at least fortnightly blog must be part of this discipline.  I have once again enrolled in a writing course – this time complete with assignments and commentary from tutors.

Who knows what the future will bring? More about that in a later post!

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The Wonder of Teaching

Posted on May 15, 2012. Filed under: rickywoods, teaching | Tags: , |

It’s been a year since I last posted something. Life has a way of sideswiping the best-laid plans. But now I’m back – and determined to write again. The post that follows is not a new piece of writing, but in days when I feel disheartened, I look at it and it gives me purpose again.

High school in South Africa spans a period of five years. I spent the first three of these at a boarding school. “Why? “ I hear you ask.

I read too many stories about British schooldays when I was a youngster, so I believed it would be one long midnight feast and adventure.  Reality was a far cry from that,so my final two years saw me back in day school.

The problem was that my old friends had moved on with their lives and there was no room for me.   I did what misfit teenagers the world over have done – I acted out to draw attention to myself and soon found myself in a great deal of trouble.

My parents could not cope. What had happened to their well-behaved child? Everyone thought I was heading for a fall. Everyone that is, except for my English teacher.

She was a diminutive woman with the spirit of a Jedi warrior. Her passion for English was where we connected and her classes were a light in the gloom of those days. Through her care and wisdom I realised I could achieve anything. Through her encouragement I eventually became an English teacher.

If truth be told, teaching in South Africa has become beleaguered and embattled over the past fifteen years. Schools try to muddle along without the requisite number of teachers and many schools have no principal. Where funding exists, parent bodies appoint teachers, but otherwise inadequate teaching occurs by sometimes untrained teachers.

A year ago scores of teachers took to the streets to strike in an attempt to persuade the government to look at adequate working conditions and benefits for its members. Recently, temporary teachers appointed with a promise of permanent appointments in the near future have summarily been dismissed, leaving pupils stranded and teachers looking for work.

So, why do we still teach?  Why did we become teachers?

In my case it was a special teacher who saw my potential.  It need not have been a real teacher, but could have been a Mr Chips. Or Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society encouraging you to Carpe Diem – Seize the day.

 A dear friend gave me a poster which now has pride of place in my classroom. It reads: “The Wonder of Teaching is watching Caterpillars turn into Butterflies” – that sums it up for me.

When I think of what it is that keeps me going back, year after year, these are some of my reasons:

  • It’s bumping into a past pupil, who says, “ You encouraged me to keep writing, and I have  just published my first collection of poetry.”
  • It’s watching the lights go on in the eyes of a Senior class when they eventually get Lady Macbeth
  • It’s when one of my pupils struggles against and overcomes her impoverished, single-parent background, so that she can carry on fighting for her people

When I became a teacher I knew I would not be earning a king’s ransom. I knew the hours would be long; that it would be stressful and often thankless.

But, I also knew that I could make a difference; that this was not just a job, but a vocation, a calling.

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