I haven’t done a blog like this since this one and December 2013 seems like an awfully long time ago. I suppose 1000 days is quite a stretch under any circumstances, and given what has happened since then, those days have completely reshaped our lives in just about every way we could have imagined. So, here’s my nurture blog as 2016 comes to an end and 2017 starts dusting itself off, doing its final stretches and vocal warm ups before taking to the stage to show us what it’s got.
Things to be grateful for:
I’ve moved a lot in my life – having spent basically the first 18 years in Leeds (barring a couple of wonderful years out in York) I’ve now lived in 11 houses since 2001. This suggests that I’m not made for settling down, and given that the latest move was quite a big one, perhaps that’s true; but certainly in terms of trying to find somewhere to call home, Darlington came closer than anywhere else to being the perfect fit. It has everything you need from a city, while simultaneously being small enough to walk around in less than 2 hours. I went cycling in the country, and shopping in town. I made good friends too, some who made me laugh so much I ached, some who played badminton with me until I was fit, some who won (and lost) pub quizzes with me and three who played in the best Beatles tribute band in England with me. If you can give credit to a town for helping to improve your life, I’d definitely give it to Darlington. And I’ve still never set foot in Kong, so who knows what glorious wonders I might still discover there on a trip back one day?
Ah, the Darlington of the Far East. Having talked about moving abroad for nearly 12 years, and having seen a few opportunities come and go for various reasons, we finally took the plunge at the end of December 2015 and applied to attend a conference for international schools in London over the weekend of January 16th, 2016. We were excited as to how our horizons might be broadened, but we had one stipulation – we didn’t want to work in China. By January 17th, we’d accepted jobs in Shanghai. So, the Pearl of the Orient has been at the forefront of our minds throughout this whole year. We spent January through to July reading, researching, learning the language, panicking and anticipating in equal measure, and in August we finally boarded the plane and began our adventure. And what an adventure it has been! The blog is here if you’d like to read it – but suffice to say it has been everything we hoped for and more.
- My job
This year has really brought home how lucky I am to be doing this job. It is brilliant. I’ve made good friends, learned a lot about myself, and obviously been able to move out to Shanghai, but more than anything else the great joy of this job has been (as ever) working with the amazing kids who make the classroom light up. I have been so lucky in my career to have worked with some wise, bonkers, hilarious, outrageous and brilliant students who have made me determined to always work harder and be better. One of the defining motivators of my teaching career so far has been the fact that I just don’t know if I’m any good. That fear pushes me, hard. So when I left my school in July and received easily the nicest cards and warmest wishes I’d ever had from some genuinely inspiring, wonderful and demanding students, it signalled a watershed moment for me. I don’t now think I’m brilliant, but I realised that I can be good at this, and my motivation to work hard at exactly that has never been higher. Saying goodbye to my old classes in July was genuinely heart-breaking, as much as I was excited to be moving to pastures new. They made every day of the job enjoyable, and teaching some of those students will forever be one of the great honours of my career.
My team-mate, partner, best friend and wife. She, as ever, takes the rain and makes me a rainbow. If I think I’m lucky to be in Shanghai, or lucky to be doing this job, or lucky to be healthy, or lucky to be anything, it all pales in comparison to how lucky I am to have her in my life. I don’t know how she puts up with me, but she has so far and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure she wants to keep doing it.
- Jurassic Park (obviously)
I’m always grateful for this.
Things to hope for:
- CPD/Be a better teacher
Always. Got to get better, got to be better. I think I’ve improved, but there is an awfully long way to go still. I quite like the challenge, even though it’s daunting to keep oneself in a state of upheaval, I sort of relish the chance to keep rebuilding myself.
We took lessons for 6 months before we left, and since we arrived in Shanghai, we really haven’t used our Mandarin as much as we could have. It’s a tough language to get your tongue around, but letting it stagnate won’t help, so I’m going to try and improve throughout the year and get to a point where I’m not quite so scared to talk to our cleaning lady at work because she’s lovely and it would be nice to say more to her than ‘How are you? I am fine. I enjoy playing badminton on Wednesday evening.’
- Be less sarcastic
Apparently, I’m sarcastic. Whether or not that sarcasm is mean depends (it seems) on who you ask, but everyone pretty much agrees that I’m sarcastic. I don’t take any pride in this, and I would like to try and be warmer to people. It might mean fewer cheap laughs from the stalls, but I can live with that.
- Don’t lose touch
Life is busy, but the world is small. I haven’t always ‘had time’ to keep in touch with friends and family back in the UK but that’s not good enough. They are really important people, and I don’t want to fade into their memory as ‘that one who went to Shanghai’ just because I’m not nearby anymore.
- The best House tournament ever
I’m in charge of House events at school – and I think I’ve done ok so far. We’ve made a good start, but I really want this year to include a House tournament that people are talking about for years to come. It’s a big goal, and it will take some doing, but I’m determined. The new House prefects are brilliant, and willing to put the work in to corral the troops, so hopefully between us we can move some mountains.
- Don’t forget music
I used to be a part-time musician. Shameless plug time – some of my songs are here. This year has been a busy one and I haven’t written a single song, or really sat down with my guitar or piano and tried to write one. I miss it, and will be trying to produce some new material in 2017, even if only for my own enjoyment.
Every year I say I’ll get better at this, and then I manage not to. The blog on Shanghai has started well, so I will try and keep that up, and as for this one, I’ll do my best. It’s hard to find a reason to blog when it seems that everyone else is doing it a lot more effectively than I could ever manage, but maybe I will find a little corner for my voice and say some stuff.
- Stay grateful
This, my main goal, has been brewing for a while now, but I’m trying to put it into more tangible action in 2017. I’m trying to turn my negative emotions into gratitude whenever I can. This was brought home to me by two specific events recently. Our first term in our new school has been a long one – 19 weeks in total – and December 12th marked the first time I had ever started the 10th week of a half term. It was exhausting, and much as I have enjoyed being there, I must admit I was ready for a break. I’m grateful, though. This is the most incredible opportunity we’ve ever created for ourselves, and if the cost of that is the occasional 10 week half term, then that is a low price to pay. For the entire week, I simply reminded myself that I was getting to start my 10th week of the half term in this city, at this school, with these kids and these colleagues. It didn’t seem quite so daunting then.
The other event was coming back to Darlington for the Christmas break. I met up with an old friend and colleague to play badminton, and some of the students from the team came down to join us. It was so lovely to see them again, and remembering that I don’t get to teach them anymore made me sad for a moment. But again, at least I got to teach them in the first place; and for that I will be eternally grateful. I’ve found that exploring the reasons I have to be thankful has shown me that I have millions upon millions of reasons to be happy and grateful for so much in my life, and I’m looking forward to experiencing that more in 2017. Too often I’ve been grateful after the fact, and realised too late how lucky I was – this year I want to understand and enjoy that experience in the present. I am very fortunate indeed, and I won’t take it for granted.
- Continue my one-man crusade to have Jurassic Park put into the Literary canon.