Children are not idiots.

Children’s fiction. As an adult, it’s like Marmite. You either love it or you hate it. I personally love it. Well, unless it’s something like Winnie the Pooh. Then frankly I’m a bit old.

Take Harry Potter, for instance. Yes, they are children’s books. But they are extremely well written, have very intricate plots and at times are very amusing. They also deal with a lot of issues which are extremely adult. Themes such as death, grief, oppression, survival and the need to question authority and not blindly follow like lemmings over a precipice. They teach children that life is not all hearts and flowers and sunshine and moonbeams. They also deal with issues that are seen as adolescent but actually are still prevalent in adult life: fancying someone you are too scared to tell you like, romantic rejection, heartbreak.

A few months ago Lynn Shepherd, author of what she calls ‘literary mysteries’ (I’ve never read any of them so I can’t judge, but from the blurbs they sound like glorified fan fiction to me), got into a lot of fucking shit for writing an article saying that JK Rowling should stop publishing as it stops other writers from having a chance of selling their books. There were a lot of things which were bullshit about her article – for starters, other writers being around has never seemed to stop others from selling, if they’re good enough. Also, she seems to have a very limited knowledge of how the publishing industry works. What fucked me off the most though was her comment about adults reading children’s books: “I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds.”

OK. Let’s start with a favourite book of mine, Goodnight Mr Tom, about a boy who is evacuated during the war, and who suffers abuse at the hand of his mother. Next, Bridge to Terabithia, a heartbreaking tale of loss of a friend during childhood. Another one, Mr Stink, a story of how a rich man loses his wife and home, becoming a tramp. I could go on – To Kill A Mockingbird, Narnia, His Dark Materials, etc, etc. But the point I’m making is is that these are not stories which are of no value intellectually or morally. To insinuate that they are is an insult to children and teenagers everywhere. Just because you are not an adult doesn’t make you stupid. Being an avid reader I’ve found that the same themes crop up in both books for children and adults. It’s not like we’re different fucking species.

And so, onto my main point of the evening. I’ve just read an article about this year’s Carnegie medal winner for children’s literature, Kevin Brooks, for his novel The Bunker Diary, about a teenager who is captured and imprisoned. Brooks’s win has caused controversy due to his book’s depiction of violence. To comment on this, I’d like to quote JK Rowling. I was once an interview with her, where she said she’d received letters from parents after the fourth book, asking for there to be no more deaths in the next books as it upset their children. Her response? Basically, if you don’t like what is in my books, don’t read them.

I remember once having an argument with someone who said that children’s books shouldn’t contain themes such as death, violence or anything that would cause upset. Well you know what? Upset is a huge part of life, whether you fucking like it or not. You can try and protect children from it, but eventually it will affect them in some way. Surely it is better for them to be introduced to it via literature, or films, or TV, so they can see how best to deal with it once it does come? After all, it’s not like in Harry Potter someone died and then that was it. We went through the grieving process with the characters, and came out the other end, showing children that life does go on after we lose someone we love. Is that a bad thing to teach children? And going back to Brooks’ novel. Yes, it’s not nice to think about children experiencing violence. But unfortunately some do and other children should know and understand this. How else can they learn empathy?

We all experience death, rejection, loss and heartbreak at some point. Yes, children may get upset if they read about such things. But it does not do to hide these things from children. In fact, if we do, it is an insult to their intelligence and their ability to deal with such matters. I’ve found that they’re generally more resilient than adults. So let’s treat them as such.  

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Benefit scroungers? Look to the British…

David Cameron seems to have put his foot in it a lot lately.  At the beginning of the month he upset and outraged Poles both in the UK and here in Poland with his plans to cut child benefit for Poles working in the UK whose children live in Poland.  Is he right?  Probably not, as per usual.

For starters, let’s clear one thing up.  Cameron wasn’t just talking about Poles.  He was also talking about all immigrants that come and settle in the UK, work their fucking arses off, claim child benefit which they are perfectly entitled to and which they then send back home in order to feed, clothe and educate their children.  But, because two-thirds of the non-British benefit claimants are Polish, Cameron has decided to make an example of them.  Again.  Cocking wankfox.  No wonder the Poles feel fucking ostracised.

The reason behind Cameron’s stance is simple: he’s riding the apparent wave of anti-immigration feeling at the moment in the UK, in the hope that it’ll win him the next election.  Anti-immigration feeling which he has helped create, I hasten to add.  As I’ve said before, there has been an increase in xenophobic tendency in the UK recently.  But I’d also say that people that do feel like that are still in a minority.  The majority of Brits have no problem with any immigrant, be they Polish, Romanian, Bulgarian, whatever.  As long as they work and pay their taxes, of course.

And the majority of them do work hard and pay their taxes.  More so than a lot of Brits I could mention.  David Cameron, for one.  Everyone knows his inheritence is squirrelled away in some off-shore accounts, the tax-dodging bastard.  And what about all the Brits who have always lived on benefits, and have no intention of ever working?  We shouldn’t be slagging off the immigrants that come here and, to be perfectly honest, work in mostly shitty jobs for shit money, who pay their taxes and contribute to our society.  We should be applauding them.  If it wasn’t for them, we’d be in a far worse economic situation than we are now.  So what if they’re sending their child benefit home to their children?  Surely that’s what it’s for?  To spend on their children.  At least they’re not spending it on beer and fags.  Which is where a lot of benefit money goes in the UK.  (Of course I’m talking about a specific kind of benefit claimant.  I wouldn’t dream of tarring all of them with the same brush.)  

Blaming Poles and other immigrants for the problems with our benefits system is unfair, xenophobic and, quite frankly, cowardly.  It’s passing the buck on in order to ignore the real problem: that a lot of Brits are lazy-arse fuckers who would rather sit on their arses all day than go out and do a solid days work.  Come on Cameron, grow a bloody backbone and stop fucking blaming everyone else for our problems.  Cut the benefits for those who have never paid into the tax system, don’t punish those who do so every month.     

    

You know jack shit

I accept that my job is not one of the most important or exciting in the world.  I accept that it is not as difficult as some other jobs, for example miner or doctor.  But do you want to know what really pisses me off about my profession?  The fact that people who are not teachers generally think they know everything about teaching when really they know sod all.  

This is my fifth year teaching, and not a week goes by when I don’t get some smart-arse comment about how easy my job is.  ‘Oh, you teachers only work about twenty hours a week, you have so much free time’.  Free time?!  I’ve forgotten what that fucking is.  For all those who think that we ONLY work about twenty hours a week: I teach twenty-one hours a week.  That’s actually standing in front of students.  What, you think I fucking walk in there and don’t have a pissing clue what I’m doing?  Do you think the correction fairy comes along and fucking marks all the essays?  I suppose there’s a photocopying fairy too?  Oh, and one who writes tests and then marks them?  And one who answers emails from students who are struggling with homework?

That’s the thing with teaching.  It’s not like some office job where you can go in, do whatever you do then leave and forget about it.  Most of what I do takes place at home.  When I’m at work I just teach and photocopy.  They’re the easy bits of what I do.  But I can’t forget about it when I get home.  A part of my brain is always thinking about teaching, even when I’m not working, because I work mostly from home.  

What really fucks me off is when I challenge people who say that my job is easy.  Because they don’t want to be proven wrong.  They would rather carry on thinking that all teachers are lazy bastards.  I once taught a group of lawyers and judges, and one of the judges made a comment about me ONLY working a few hours a week.  In response I said ‘OK then, I think that when you’re not in court you’re not working.  How many hours a week do you spend in court?’  She was not fucking happy with me in the slightest: in fact, she was outraged.  She pointed out that when she is not in court she has to prepare cases and read lots and have discussions with other judges.  ‘Exactly’, I said, ‘it’s the bloody same for me.’

Another thing which pisses me off it that people presume they know exactly how the job should be done, what is ‘good teaching’ and ‘bad teaching’.  I even had a student who said ‘I’ve been a student of English for six years so I know everything about teaching.’  The stupid fuckwit.  Being a student is not the same as being a teacher.  OK, you may have noticed methods of teaching and ways of doing things, and you will know which you like and which you don’t.  This does not make you a fucking expert.  So piss off.

Students generally want the best.  Unfortunately, a lot of the time they don’t know what that is.  I once taught at a business and had a conversation regarding variety in a lesson.  The students were bored with just working from the book and wanted something different:

Student: We want you to start using electronic resources.  Like an interactive whiteboard.

Me: Oh, I didn’t know you had an interactive whiteboard.  Of course I can arrange some stuff for that.

Student: We don’t have one.

Me: Oh.  So how do you expect me to teach using one then?

Student: Can’t you get one and bring it to the lessons with you?

Me: Errrr, no.  You would need to buy one.

Student: We can’t afford to buy one.

Me: Ohhhhh-K.  What about a laptop?  There’s a projector in the room, so I could do some stuff from the internet and put it on the big screen.

Student: There’s no internet connection in that room.

Me: Can we change rooms so I can have internet connection?

Student: No, it’s the only room available.

The fucking testicle.  How am I supposed to use electronic devices in teaching when there is no conceivable way for them to provide them?  Basically, they had heard that interactive whiteboards were the new ‘in’ thing in teaching and they wanted a piece of it, without really thinking it through.  Cockheads.

Oh, and people get pissed off about the holidays teachers get.  In the UK people think teachers getting six weeks summer holiday is a lot.  Well, in Poland it’s more like two ot three months (depending if you work in the public or private sector).  Again though, there is planning to be done during this time.  Still, it’s a long holiday.  Then again, ask yourself this: if you worked with children or teenagers day in, day out, wouldn’t you fucking need a long break from it?  They’re not the easiest people to work with.  Jesus Christ, working with adults is bad enough.  The grief that I get from students sometimes is unbelievable.  Only yesterday I had a eighteen-year-old school student whinging that she didn’t want to work in class because she was tired.  Unfortunately for her I’m not a sympathetic teacher.  She got told ‘Welcome to adult life.  You’re going to spend most of it tired, bored or both.  Get used to it.’ 

Teaching has just been named as one of the most stressful every day jobs.  And it is.  It’s hard work dealing with people all the time.  It involves a lot of dull paperwork.  There are targets to hit, like in every other business.  So for those who say it’s a piece of piss, come and try it yourself some time.  I bet you wouldn’t last fucking five minutes.  

 

Wash your mouth out!!

I’ve just read an interesting article about swearing.  Being one of my favourite past-times, it got me thinking.  Is swearing really that bad?  Or are people just too fucking sensitive?

The article in question talked about a headteacher of a school who has sent home letters to parents requesting that they do not swear in front of their children, as the kids are coming into school and using the language in class.  Of course, as a teacher myself, I understand that there is certain language you cannot use in the classroom.  Not only just not in the classroom, but in a variety of situations.  Such as in work, when speaking to a shop assistant, when speaking to someone older than you, etc.  But does the problem lay with the swearing itself?  Or is it that children haven’t been taught when it’s appropriate and inappropriate to swear?

There’s no point in saying people shouldn’t swear.  It’s a natural part of any language.  It’s emphatic, serves a multitude of uses and is also a lot of fucking fun.  In the right context, of course.  Down the pub, for example.  I’m probably right in thinking that most people are of the opinion that parents shouldn’t swear in front of their children.  Maybe they shouldn’t.  In fact, a recent survey carried out found that half of the eleven-year-olds surveyed found it frightening when they heard their parents swearing.  But it’s a fact of life that we all lose our tempers at times, we all say things without thinking.  So maybe we shouldn’t be so worried about swearing in front of children, but actually make them aware of when and where it is OK to use such language.

Because, actually, most younger kids are unaware of what a lot of these words mean.  They’re just repeating what they’ve heard.  I remember once calling my mum a twat because I’d heard some boyband member say it.  So for any teachers out there who come down hard on young students for saying things like this, keep in mind that they probably don’t know what they’re saying in the first place.

The problem comes when you have students who swear in class and know exactly what they mean.  I currently have a student who, at nineteen, is the youngest of the group, the rest of them being at least in their mid-twenties.  Now, this particular student is exceptionally talented and academically intelligent.  Probably he has spent most of his childhood being surrounded by adults less intelligent than himself, and this experience has unfortunately turned this student into an absolute cock.  He always tries to dominate conversations in class, he always has some fucking smart Alec comment to make and he thinks he knows better than everyone else.  And he swears.  A lot.  And not just mild swear words, but some of the most vulgar ones.  He knows exactly what he is saying, and I can only think that his reason for using such language is to see what attention it gets him.  I’m pretty sure I’m right here because when I walk round the class monitoring he’s always swearing or saying some other shitty comment, then looking over at me to see if I’m taking any notice of him.  For him, being exceptionally intelligent has not made him exceptionally mature.  Although he is nineteen, an adult in the eyes of the law, he is still effectively a child.  How to deal with such knobheads?  I ignore them.  They want attention, they can look elsewhere for it.

Obviously I have had problems with other Polish students who have said certain words in class, and then for me to berate them for using such foul language.  The majority are shocked, as they don’t understand how strong certain words are.  Fair enough, in the past I’ve used certain Polish swear words without really understanding the strength of them (unfortunately swear words which are the strongest in English don’t necessarily have the same strength in Polish, and vice versa).  What fucks me off is when people know the strength of a word and use it regardless.  One of my exes used to use the word ‘faggot’.  This fucking annoyed me, not because of the word itself: I have gay friends who I can jokily use the term with and it’s not a problem.  But my ex used to use the word simply to describe homosexual people, even though he knew the word was vulgar and that there were other, less offensive terms to use.  Which in my opinion is completely unacceptable.  The same ex also used a barrage of swear words when meeting my uncle for the first time, a gentleman forty years his senior, despite being told repeatedly not to use such language.  The dickhead. 

And of course that’s another problem with swearing.  Meaning and context are a huge factor.  Here in Poland I regularly call male friends of mine ‘pedał’ (faggot) – as a joke.  I mean no offence by it, it’s just banter between friends.  And in response they call me ‘pizda’ (cunt).  And it’s all jolly good fun.  Of course I wouldn’t dare use these words in front of my boss.  However, I have tried to use said words in a jokey manner with people I’ve just met when very pissed, and it didn’t go down well.  So obviously I still have some things to learn as to when to and when not to use certain language.    

So can we really stop people swearing, especially in front of children?  I bloody well hope not.  And there’s no point either.  Children will hear swearing anyway, through music, TV, friends, whatever.  They’re going to be exposed to it regardless of whether parents wash their mouths out with soap.  What needs to change is what we teach kids about swearing: what words mean, the strength of them, and what circumstances it’s OK to use them. 

Your baby’s just said its first word? Sorry, couldn’t give a shit.

So, the last couple of days the papers have been full of the same story.  A little boy has been baptised.  Whoop-de-fucking-do.  Who gives a shit?  I certainly don’t.

Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with the royal family per se.  In fact, I’m pretty much indifferent to them.  And I can kind of see the current obsession with them.  The young royals are proving themselves to be pretty average Joes and Janes, so naturally the British public feel some kind of affinity with them which wasn’t there with the older, definitely more aristocratic elders.  No, I suppose my beef with the issue is that it involves a baby.

I’ve never really understood the attraction of babies.  Most of the time they look like Winston Churchill.  Or some kind of alien.  And all they do is cry, eat and shit (of course they sleep too, but I don’t really mind when they do that).  But according to most people they can do miraculous things.  I remember when a younger member of my family had just started sitting up, and because of this she was apparently ‘so clever’.  What?!  I’ve been able to sit up for fucking years, no-one’s ever told me I’m clever because of it.

Of course there are individual babies that I like.  Well, one baby anyway.  Probably because I’ve only spent about 4 hours in said baby’s company.  And she’s nearly a year old.  But even so, why do people think their babies are so special because they’ve started to do things like crawl, or feed themselves, or grab things?  That’s what they are supposed to do.  If they were not doing those things after a certain amount of time you’d think they were bloody retards.  Sorry to my friends with children, but I am not going to be impressed because a baby can do what a baby is supposed to be able to do.  However, if I ever meet a baby who can have a conversation on the ethics of euthanasia, understand mathematical physics and play the tuba, THEN I will be impressed.

As a teenager I said that I didn’t want to have kids.  And I was constantly told in reply that I would change my mind when I got older.  Well, guess what, I’m still not that fond of the idea, and I’m now thirty.  Aside from the fact that I’ll probably never meet someone who would be willing to stick around for more than half an hour, never mind long enough to bring up a child, I just can’t envisage my life with them.  I’m far too selfish, drink like a fish and have enough bloody problems looking after myself, never mind looking after a small thing which is depending on me to keep it fed and clean.  Fucking Jesus, I sometimes have to force myself to feed myself because I’m such a lazy twat.  The only scenario where I can see myself having children is if I didn’t want to work anymore.  Which, even though I’m lazy, I can’t see happening.  I like the money too much.

And another thing.  Why do people with babies presume you’re interested in their baby in the first place?  OK, close friends and family, you’re obligated to be interested, like it or not.  But, for example, I was once on a train and a kid came over and smacked me on the leg with its toy.  I looked over at the mother, who had been watching.  She looked up at me and said, ‘Isn’t she wonderful?’  No, she fucking isn’t, you fucking imbecile, she’s just whacked me on the chuffing leg.  Said mother started telling me about her child.  I don’t fucking care, you knobhead.  I don’t know you, or your child, and I have no bloody interest in doing so.  Stop talking, take your kid away from me and piss off.

So, as you can see, I won’t be having children at any point soon.  Not unless I can guarantee one that doesn’t cry all night.  Or one that doesn’t look like an alien.  Or one that can play the tuba.

Turning the ‘dreaded’ 3-0

Well, here it is.  The day I thought, at the age of fifteen, would never happen as I presumed I would be dead of old age by then.  Today (or yesterday, by one hour and fifteen minutes, if we’re being precise) I turned thirty.  And actually, I’m pretty god damn pleased about it.

Gone are my twenties.  The twenties where I thought, after leaving university, I would automatically become this super-elegant female, wear suits and have a ‘proper job’.  The time when I thought everything would come together and I would be more mature, more headstrong, more collected, more sure of myself, more sophisticated, more…everything.  Well, fuck that.  I’m now thirty and I’m still waiting for that to happen.  And to be perfectly honest, I’ve never been happier.

Let’s be honest, your twenties are fucking atrocious.  Everyone expects you to be an adult as soon as you leave university, but your head is still in ‘let’s go out and getting fucking trashed’ mode.  Then you get to your mid-twenties and a lot of your friends are getting married or even having kids.  And still you feel like too much of a child yourself to do these things, even though you put on a pretence of being mature to the outside world.  All the while, inside your head is like a scene from ‘Eraserhead’, i.e. severely fucking fucked up.

And then you get to your late twenties, your friends still have kids but are more likely getting divorced or still in their marriages but struggling for cash in these hard times and don’t have the money to enjoy themselves: their kids and their mortgages are crippling them.  And that’s when I start to think that I had the right idea all along.

Yeah, I might be poor.  Yeah, I might have what is considered to be a crappy job.  Yeah, I might not own my own home.  But, you know what?  I live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  I have fantastic family and friends, more than I deserve most of the time.  I have enough money to keep me in booze.  I enjoy my life.  Something which many people my age cannot say.

I have had the ultimate pleasure of spending my birthday weekend with people I love, like and respect, and whose company I enjoy.  I had the opportunity to speak with people who could not be here, but who I feel exactly the same about.  OK, I may not be that mature, but I am mature enough to realise that not everyone in the world has the same things to be thankful for as I do.  I know I’m a grumpy twat half of the time, but I do know how to count my blessings.

So, people of the world who feel sorry for me because I’m single, thirty and have no assets to speak of – go fuck yourselves.  Let it be said that I am no Bridget Jones character.  I am in no desperate need to settle down and try and own a house or whatever.  Maybe understanding that you don’t need those things in life to be happy IS maturity, whereas actively seeking them just because you think that it how things should be ISN’T.  So here’s a toast to my thirties: here’s to another ten years of getting absolutely fucking annihilated.