Delightful graffiti spotted on a beachside footpath in Ettalong, Central Coast, NSW:
“Be your own best friend” – author unknown.
I have been struggling these last few weeks/months. As I have mentioned before, I do tend to be the Glass Half Full guy. In the current world pandemic situation, is is definitely getting harder to keep afloat, even though most of Australia has, seemingly, been making good progress.
None of us in Australia should be complaining too much – maybe my current negative feelings are more a product of Survivor Guilt. So many others in the rest of the world are dealing with situations far worse than us. I heard a theory a few months ago that, when singer David Bowie died, we were all propelled into an alternate timeline. As each month of 2020 has brought more new and unusual surprises – Australia’s horrendous bushfires, the awful smoke hazes, a drought (and water restrictions) that killed off any greenery that had not already been burnt… – that alternate timeline theory became more and more believable.
It was delightful to chat with a long-lost friend on the phone a few weeks ago; it really made my day to catch up with him after over 20 years, but I deliberately kept the first call short. I tend to talk way too much and I had this nagging thought that a brief conversation first might be wise after such a long time. But his followup emails of gossip and news have not been coming through to me. We have now had several more shortish calls trying to ascertain what was happening. His phone doesn’t receive texts, and emails seemed sensible. I’m trying not to be too paranoid, but he’s not the only one sending emails that apparently disappear into the void. With the prevalence of Junk Mail and phishing schemes in recent years, it is rare enough that I get many emails that I actually want to read (most of them are correspondences about online purchases these days). When you are really looking forward to an email – one that never comes, but supposedly was sent – it gets hugely frustrating. In my desperate searches, I have found a Social drawer, a Promotions drawer, a hidden email Junk drawer… So many places a stray, important email can hide.
Complicating matters, I had recently created a new Googlemail e-address because temporary codes to enter various sites were taking to long to arrive in my regular mail before expiring. When the new system asked if I wanted to copy across the full address book from my usual mailbox, it sounded a rather useful thing to do. What I actually managed was to let it pull across everything into the new, empty In-box. Now new emails come into one box, sit there a few minutes, then get whisked away to my new account. Sometimes they sit just long enough for a copy to come into my iPhone from the iCloud. While this accidental strategy has cut down on incoming email to my phone, the rest has to be checked manually via the laptop – and for both accounts. Do I really need more apps on the iPhone? I am hesitant to attempt to undo the transfers, but if mail keeps going missing, I will have to resolve this issue.
Several of my concerted efforts to make sure my life stays full and interesting into retirement have been unravelling. The “New Normal” we are having to expect and accept. My monthly writing group has to meet with Zoom, which is a totally different experience. Some benefits, but also some pitfalls, resulting in more preplanning. My literary agent is now semi-retired and no longer taking on any new children’s book manuscripts at all. (I can’t believe such a great advocate of mine is now essentially gone from my future plans. I really missed the boat with that, just as retirement had granted gave me the additional time to write – and rewrite.) The Young Adult novel manuscript still needs at least two more drafts before it is ready to show anyone.
But the old days of gregarious Star Trek clubs seem to be long gone, despite my best efforts to revive the local groups. The mainly US-based action figure collectors’ group, Playtrek, has, however, met twice by Zoom during the lockdowns. It was a fun way to lift everyone’s spirits.
My Diploma of Remedial Massage course has had to tread water with weekly Zoom lectures – where would we be without Zoom? – but the college has now exhausted all the remaining theory classes that can be converted to online modules. Most of the next two terms (extending our course, now, to an 18-month commitment instead of only one year) are highly practical Clinic sessions, requiring members of the general public booking in for remedial treatments. It is sounding like social distancing and full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) are to be part of our New Normal. At this point, massaging through single-use nitrile gloves seems almost incompatible with using my newfound palpation skills. I know it’ll be possible – and is mandatory – but I do feel that some clients might have to be in considerable pain before they seek out a massage from gloved hands.
My doctor once asked how I was feeling (about a year before I retired) and I told him I was worried I was becoming depressed and he said, “You’re not depressed, you’re just lonely”. That line has given me much to think about. So many things were happening that were cutting me off from my reliable positivity networks, and several more were about to be lost (or at least strained) due to retirement. I was hating that I was getting invitations to funerals, but hearing about other gatherings after they had happened. I know other doctors who probably would have written a prescription on the spot, not that I was asking for one. I think he was probably right. I am trying to monitor the situation and firm up some networks, but building a new friend network is something that gets harder each decade, I think.
Online friendships are good, but different, and no replacement for what I am needing at the moment. The best thing about Facebook, for example, is its immediacy. Several of my penpals have become Facebook buddies, meaning the wait times between letters is greatly reduced. Especially now that interstate and international snail mail services have become so unreliable. I recently reconceived the Instagram account I set up (then ignored) years ago, and it is finally pulling some interest. I am digging up some old pics of various vacations. My Andorian Sock Monkey travel buddy is quite a drawcard, although a dedicated Facebook page for him, created a few years ago, received no traction at all.
I suspect I am not the only person feeling a cut off from reality in this New Normal of social distancing. Remember that line people used to put in autograph books? “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver, the other gold.”
Hopefully the “old” is not too tarnished, eh? Wish me luck.
I think I’ve finally recovered from our Book Fair week; the whole school had directed a lot of energy at our annual Grandparents’ Day. Although my only contact with the grandparents this year was in the crush of the Book Fair, there were numerous events throughout the school, all well attended. Once again many of the staff observed that, these days, most of us are older than the average grandparent of a primary school student. Sigh…
As I was attempting to close up the Book Fair cabinets on Thursday morning, I had a last-minute request from a parent who’d been waiting on an automated payment to be made into her account so she could buy some books. Luckily, I’d mastered the art of EFTPOS this year, although the transaction ate into my morning preparations!
At the exact same time:
* a tech guy arrived to re-image two testy OASIS Enquiry kiosk terminals
* the locksmith turned up to repair both main entry doors to the library (they both jammed at the same time yesterday, effectively locking me out of the Book Fair (my Principal congratulated me on my excellent security practices: every window was also locked tight when he tried to gain entry via the burglars’ route, and…
before the desks and chairs could be restored to their usual arrangement…
* my first class turned up for the morning. Accompanied by a casual relief teacher, clutching English worksheets on procedural texts. Could I help model some recipes?
For the briefest moment, I almost hyperventilated. I wanted to run screaming from the room. (Ah, but we do have a Library Rule: “Please walk in the library”.)
“Yes, of course! I know just the resources we need” I said.
I reached for three big books in close proximity: one with recipes, one with science experiments and one with handicraft procedures. You know, it was the best team-taught, impromptu lesson I’ve done in ages!
Barely settling down in the staff room for coffee, I received a frantic message: the Book Fair men were here for the cabinets! Back to the library. And where was that recharging cord for the EFTPOS machine?
I realised today that I’d actually put together the following little piece last year, and it’s still quite valid.
Murphy’s Laws of School Book Fairs
1. First sale of the day – an 80 cent pencil – will inevitably be countered by a crisp $50 note.
2. If you put a signature on the item’s price sticker at a school book fair, in an attempt to prevent shoplifting, the child will inevitably have a single ten cent coin to pay for a $10 item. Or even a $25 item. (These students have expensive tastes. And a totally unrealistic idea of the value of money. They also believe that if you keep buying items that give you change, you’ll never run out of money.)
3. If a student hands you a bunch of 16 shiny $1 coins, and it looks like he raided Mum’s money box, he probably did. (And why was he so desperate to purchase a personal burglar alarm, anyway?)
4. If someone sees you sneaking a look at the EFTPOS machine manual, they’ll suddenly demand you test it out on their card. (“Please do use the Ready Teller across the road please, these instructions are too obscure, okay?”)
5. Of course, you’re supposed to charge up the EFTPOS machine the night before.
6. Stationery is still way more exciting than books, even on Day 3 of a Book Fair.
7. Tired teachers only make addition errors in front of the parents, not little students, who wouldn’t notice anyway.
8. Today’s grandparents are younger than most of the teachers. (Welcome to the middle ages.) But they are quite generous (Ka-ching! Ka-ching! – sound of cash register).
9. A major computer system changeover shall occur on the same day as the takings of the annual Book Fair must be finalised. It will also be the last day of term, and only one day before a public holiday. (We had to do a set of tasks to prepare for conversion to OASIS Thin Client in 2007 – seems like only yesterday, or decades ago.)
10. The final tearful request for a $1 scented eraser will be announced precisely ten minutes after the van, full of all the cabinets of product, leaves the school grounds. (A prediction: just you see if I’m right.)
If memory serves, I was.
Was it worth it? Sure, why not? Especially with 30% of sales being returned to us in books – some even being just-announced CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) Awards shortlisted titles. But Thursday morning was a great example of a day that some people would see as a string of disasters, but others think of as a typical day in a school library. In some perverse way, it was fun and rewarding.
A teacher-librarian colleague recently said, on a listserv, “I think we need to be a bit more open with what’s happening in our schools in relation to the library. As we are all aware, we’re pretty isolated because we have no-one else in a similar position at the school.”
While I agree wholeheartedly that teacher-librians do need to be prepared for those feelings of isolation when things get grim, there are certainly already many effective avenues we can go to for support: professional associations (ASLA NSW and ALIA); “Scan” articles left in key locations around the school; other professional literature; ringing the School Libraries and Information Literacy unit (NSW DET); networking with local TLs and valued, like-minded staff members; and input (and a sympathetic ear) from the Teacher’s Federation contact person. Etc.
When I was doing my teacher-librarian retraining in 1990 at University of Technology Sydney (UTS, Kuring-gai), there was a lot of emphasis on TLs being proactive (thanks Ross J Todd, Barbara Poston-Anderson, Jill Buckley, Michelle Ellis and Joyce Kirk).
I often read horror stories on the teacher-librarian listservs – about TLs not being appreciated – but I can honestly say that, of the eight or nine long-term Principals I’ve had over my teaching career, they’ve either already been staunch or open-minded supporters of the school library (and the teacher-librarian), or else I’ve helped to educate them into being supportive. I once proved to myself – in a large school – that the effective way to the Principal’s ear was through the executive staff – one by one… until they were all on-side. My side. My proactive message, proudly modelled for all to see in collaboratively planned and negotiated lessons every week, eventually won through – because it wasn’t ever only me repeating the mantra of what was to be the TL’s desired contribution. (And I shocked even myself, turning a “non negotiable timetable set in stone with no team teaching” into a fully cooperative timetable after only one full year at the school).
And if I’ve somehow led a charmed life and simply fluked it into good schools with good Principals my whole career, I apologise. I reckon I’ve made plenty of lemonade out of my piles of lemons over the years.
Since when have Principals been the enemy? (So much for the old stereotype of the Principal married to a teacher-librarian.) I think that it’s great that Principals swap notes about what their TLs do. Because surely no one is going to be convinced to downgrade their TL’s contribution – on the whim of another Principal’s misguided opinion – if the whole staff at a school hold that TL and their work in high regard. Surely, even the most stubborn, unconvinced staff can be won over, person by person, if you have to.
The poster also mentioned TLs being used as “dogsbodies”. A few times, as TL, I’ve been delegated a job that might be considered a dogsbody’s job. Current case in point: distributing The School Magazine to teachers every month, which no one else wanted to do any more. I made it my special duty last year (and this year): mentioning exciting ways to use it in staff meetings, finding the links to class programs, printing out free online guidebooks, and (even) making teachers feel a bit guilty for not using the resource wisely.
Custodian of the school web site? Suddenly the school library became the hub where all material for the web site is generated and maintained, and integrated into collaborative planned and/or taught lessons in the library.
I know of other TLs who have inherited Stewart House Rep, SRC Coordinator, School Yearbook Editor, School Historical Artefacts Cupboard Custodian, Chess Club, or Choir – and each can become either an intrinsic joy of the job, or an unwanted albatross, depending on the way you look at that glass: half full, or half empty.