Day thirty! This is the last of the posts I have been making since January 12th when I shared one entitled ‘New’. This was the first on a list of thirty I had challenge myself to write, and I’m delighted that once I have finished this one, I will have completed my self-set task!! The topics/subjects were on a list I came across, and I have worked through them in the order they were written and they seem completely random and unconnected, but hurrah, in an hour’s time it will be done! So, #30:
I admit I was feeling somewhat irritated already; thanks to my left right thing I had got lost, and since we were a little late already as I’d offered to drive and had picked up the others, and of course Mandy kept us waiting, we had arrived when most of the Danish pastries offered as a bribe to us being there had gone, and the coffee was cold. We’d had to sit at round tables because they promoted group participation and teamwork and would give us a sense of equality and creativity and boost problem-solving. We had to sit next to people we didn’t know, but as we were all part of the same service and had been on countless team-building wastes of time with them, everyone did know everyone else.
A pale namby-pamby woman stood up at the front and with the assistance of Jed an ex PE teacher of the old school who yelled ‘Shut up‘ when her weedy voice had failed to call us to order – well, failed to make anyone even notice her bleating at the front, introduced herself. We’d had a talking to by our boss yesterday at the end of the day, telling us to behave, and to be fair, we’re proud of what we do, and proud of our unit, now called a school even though there’s only twenty kids, so we would do our best to control our baser instincts and silly sense of humour.
It didn’t start well for me as Mimosa our travelling companion through our journey of the day ahead – i.e. the trainer, began by mentioning the round tables, telling us they would enhance equality, creativity etc. and then saying they would help us explore the macro questions for long term engagement with our clients. I think I may have snorted because the boss shot me a look, and I resolved to behave and try and be positive about this silly lot of nonsense… and look forward to the buffet lunch… would there be more Danish pastries at the coffee break??
We had to do some exercises, all about empathy and reaching out, and embracing the energy – what did that even mean? And then the first part of the morning started off with us playing ice-breaking games; we had to tell the person sitting next to us one unusual fact about ourselves – I told the bespectacled bloke next to me I used to be a member of TAG, the tactical firearms group. The man on the other side of me told me he liked flower arranging; I thought he and I would get on, he was no more interested in floral displays than I was in Glocks. The morning droned on with Mimosa giving lots of impractical advice on how to get the best out of our young people. It wasn’t too bad for me, I was sitting on the side of the table where I could see her, people on the other side of the table had to look over their shoulders. Convergent and divergent thinking, experiential learning, reciprocal teaching, inquiry-based learning…
“You know what inquiry-based learning is?” I whispered to the flower arranging bloke. “It’s FOFO.” he raised his eyebrows at me. “F Off and Find Out,” I murmured and he gave a suppressed guffaw, rather loudly.
The boss looked across at me and frowned. I looked innocent as a mounting rage bubbled inside me. This was an absolute bloody waste of everyone’s time, and waste of money, and goodness knows how much Mimosa and her assistant, improbably called Gandolfin were being paid to spout this insulting load of old claptrap at us, us who had more years at the chalkface than either of them had had hot diners… actually they were probably on some macro raw-food ethically harvested plant based diet.
My temper did not improve when lunch failed to arrive, and all the centre staff could find for us was a giant box of pickled onion crisps, and as the milk had run out and there was some problem with the petty cash there was no more coffee only tea, and the tea was some cheap brand which tasted of floor sweepings… not that I have ever tasted floor sweepings. Jed, ex-PE was bloody furious. He went round and kept saying to everyone he was bloody furious.
The afternoon was going to be practical – we were going to learn alternative strategies for working with our young people. I didn’t hold out much hope but I would do my best.
We went through into an open area with no tables round or otherwise, and the chairs put back against the sides. I noticed the walls had posters stuck up on them, ‘We don’t just teach, we inspire’, ‘To teach is to touch a heart forever’,’ It takes a big heart to help shape little minds’ – whoever wrote these had clearly never met the type of kids we teach. I was standing next to the flower arranger again and he nudged me and pointed to one Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.
“I haven’t got my glasses, does it say it’s a quote from Arsehole?” he asked. I barely contained an eruption of mirth earning a look from the boss… no it was Aristotle I whispered back, and he actually laughed out loud and got another seriously infuriated look.
“Moving on to our practical activity, I would like us to take the hands of the friend on either side of us, taking a moment to connect with them and for us to share with open hearts and open minds, our love and commitment to the young voyagers we have been honoured to teach.”
Someone sniggered, and honestly it wasn’t me, but I could feel everyone trying to suppress the hilarity which vibrated through the room.
The boss spoke up. “I think our colleagues would prefer to connect on a mental level rather than physical, so I suggest we take a moment to reflect on what we have learned this morning.” Hats off to the boss, respect! OK, she knew it was an absolute waste of time being here, and I would do my best now and not give in to my silly side.
So what were we supposed to do with our young people – our young voyagers? Honestly Mimosa didn’t have a clue but we took a collective big breath and did our best. We took it in turns to say what we had taken away from this morning, and we all managed to rabbit something rather than truthfully saying ‘nothing‘. We took it in turns to say what we resolved for tomorrow, adding ‘because tomorrow is another day‘ – yes we had to quote Gone With the Wind, and then Mimosa told us we would spend the rest of the afternoon, learning to get in touch with our creative sides, because our young explorers needed above all to explore their own souls… give me strength’.
“We are going to loose our constraints, to slip the surly bonds of Earth, and free our minds and hearts and dance our way to find our true potential.” She flung her arms in the air as gaily as she had quoted John Gillespie Magee, Jr. and swept round the circle on tiptoes, bending as if to pick some invisible thing then throw it towards the ceiling. She stopped and beamed round at us. We stared back, stunned – dance? Was she suggesting we get our kids to dance? Had she the least clue what sort of young people we had in our classrooms? I loved them, they were challenging and difficult, and aggressive, and brilliant – we could get them to do amazing things, changing a whole school career of disengagement and disappointment, but dance? “I can see you are open to engage with this spirit of liberation – Gandolfin, prithee, can you play?
Gandolfin had a wooden flute in his hand and blew a wobbly note.
This was beyond a joke.
I stepped into the circle.
“I am sorry, this is just an absolutely ridiculous waste of time. There is no way I am going to prance about loosing my constraints and slipping my surly bonds, and nor will any of the young people I teach. I can’t do it and nor can they, and I’m very sorry, for no doubt you have met other children who love playing fairies, but I don’t think you can have met any young men and women like those we work with. So no, Mimosa, no, very sorry, I am going to sit this one out.”
There was absolute silence as I stepped back between the flower arranger and the bloke in specs. I was suddenly aware of what I had done… well, that was my job down the tubes. I sensed a quivering of emotion and looking round no-one met my eye but their shoulders were shaking as they contained their emotion, and Jed had tears running down his face.
Someone said that they were really sorry but they had sciatica, and someone said their knees were crook, and there were murmurs of apology, and then the boss said, maybe Mimosa would show us what she meant and meanwhile she would go to the shop and get some milk for the break and she would hand over to Jed.
And that was that. The boss didn’t return, and when we went back to work the next day, Mimosa and the training day was never mentioned.