Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Rape and Alcohol

Over the last few weeks, I've been fortunate enough to speak to several fantastic bloggers and journalists, who have been writing about victim blaming and violence. Most of this has been related to a the posters at occupational health (which have now been taken down), though I was asked to comment on a different issue today.

Judge Mowat, who is thankfully retiring, publicly stated that rape convictions will not fall until women stop getting drunk. She effectively told women that if they are drinking, their cases will be dismissed and they might as well not prosecute.This attitude is worrying, coming from anyone. But when it comes from someone as highly regarded, it is dangerous. 

The statement I gave to the journalist is as follows:

"These statements, by a respected and trusted figure, are extremely worrying. Rape is the result of the perpetrators actions, and it is these that need to be examined, not the victim's. The archaic attitudes and stereotypes, combined with the taboo of sexual violence, mean that many women feel unable to seek the justice that they deserve or the support that they need. Rape happens to women of all ages, from all backgrounds, of all appearances and in all communities, and outdated, blinkered views of an 'acceptable victim'  need to be challenged."

There's far more that I could have said "officially", but people better qualified than me had already covered these issues, including Rape Crisis England and Wales, and Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre. 

Yet again, it shows how desperately we need to open a dialogue on the concept of consent. If respected judges and juries are telling women that women are at fault if they are so drunk they can't remember, and talk of whether they consented or not, it really brings into question their own knowledge of the law. After all, the perpetrator must reasonably believe that the woman had consented, and if the woman cannot remember because she had been so inebriated (which was claimed by Judge Mowat), then she evidently lacked capacity to consent.

Comments on the Mail Online's article include such gems as:

"Being so drunk you can't remember names makes you vulnerable, that's not blaming it's stating a fact", "Blame the ladette culture"
"Obviously people who are out drinking are easy targets"
"Women have to learn their limits"
"You wouldn't leave your front door open when you go on holiday"
"Women should fight like fury if they ever find themselves in such a situation"
"It wasn't your fault - well, it is if you get too drunk!"
"Men will learn not to rape when we all get into paradise."

But what do you expect from the average Daily Mail reader, eh?

Thing is, these comments show several of the key problems with the general public's perception of rape. Time and time again, people were writing about being out, being alone and vulnerable... but only one third of reported cases involve alcohol, not the vast majority as seems to be implied. And most callers to rape crisis helplines knew their attacker. That's not to negate the impact on those who are raped by strangers, but statistically speaking, the image put forward by these readers is the tiny minority.

As for fighting like fury and talking about injury and DNA samples as evidence, it again shows a lack of understanding. It is not as simple as fighting. There is fight or flight, but there is a third reflex as well - freeze. Both times that I was raped, I became incredibly still and passive. Maybe it was self-preservation, trying to stop any further physical harm, but it certainly didn't mean I consented in any way.

If women were to be responsible for reducing the risk to themselves and do this effectively, the actual list of advice would be rather different. It would include such gems as don't date, don't marry, don't make any friends (particularly male ones). Don't smile at anyone, don't leave your house, and live as a hermit in complete isolation.

Basically, it's completely and utterly impossible to protect oneself from rape, because it is the perpetrator's decision and fault. The victim cannot be expected to change her actions, her clothing or anything else, especially when that doesn't actually have any correlation to the incident (but even if it did...!)

People have preconceived ideas as to what a rape victim is. They don't see the reality of the situation, to the extent that I received a good and proper trolling on Twitter a few weeks ago, where I was told that no-one would ever want to rape a "land-whale" like me. Yet again, rape is reduced to a sexual act, rather than one of control and power.

What seems to be positive is that the dialogue is starting. Even publications like the Daily Mail, which have a historically poor reputation with regards to women's rights issues, are reporting positively about victim-blaming. Maybe the readers are still reluctant, but change takes time.

If you are interested in reading the Daily Mail article, it can be found here.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

New Uniform

Whenever something changes, there is always resistance. Watching the launch of the new Guide uniform has been fascinating, as it has been one of the first major changes in recent times where I have been on the outside looking in. I mean, I'm still a member, just not leading. So I don't have that same "on the ground" experience anymore.

It all kicked off last night when leaders were warned of today's press release. This is just how it should be. If we expect leaders to be professional and prepared, they need to be informed so that they can deal with queries. I remember a time when this was not the case and I was getting asked questions by parents and the public but had no idea what was happening! The fact that Girlguiding have taken this step forward is brilliant - I just wish that some of my sister Guides would honour the confidentiality!

Within an hour, over 500 complaints had been made regarding the new uniform. This is nothing unexpected. Whenever there is change in Guiding, there is contention. Actually, that's not unique to Guiding. Human beings crave stability. Even those who have wanderlust or enjoy new experiences have a secure base to work from. 

What did surprise me was my own reaction to the new uniform. Because I really, really didn't like it. At first. Then I took a second glance and thought, "what if it was that t-shirt with jeans?" Ok, that is sort of passable. I can't see any kids I know particularly liking it, but it wasn't too awful. And, in reality, girls will put their own spin on it. They won't trot into a meeting trussed up like the Guiding Essentials catalogue. Well, maybe for the first term.

Then I realised that all the detractors, including myself, had forgotten something in this. Ok, the kids we have spoken to might hate it at the moment. But it has novelty value. "I'd be the first to wear new uniform," a friend's daughter commented. That is a powerful force. It is new, it is different and certain aspects of it are on trend. It kind of looks like a Commonwealth Games outfit.

So... We'll have no problems getting this first generation into the uniform. But what about next year, when the novelty of the design has worn off? Realistically, 2015 will be the hardest year for this uniform. Novelty will have worn off, the blocky colours may have gone out of fashion and there is still the option of the old uniform. But if their friends in the year above have the new stuff, that might swing it.

Why does it get easier after that? Two reasons. Firstly, it will be the only option from 2016 onwards. Secondly, at least half the unit will be in the new uniform, so they will be the odd ones out by not wearing it. I say at least half, because the 2014 and 2015 intake will be wearing it, plus any older girls who have outgrown their previous stuff. But in addition to that, most of the girls won't know any different. That's the uniform, that's just what you wear to Guides.

A lot of the complaints are just resistance to change and projecting our own views onto the girls. The rest are because it is a genuinely confusing mix of clothing (which doesn't even match the new colour scheme of the Guide blanket!). For most of the girls, a t-shirt won't put them off at age 10. And as long as the core values and a healthy, balanced and girl-led programme is there, it probably won't drive off any more than usual at age 13.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Posters and Tweets

The last week has been an eye opener for me, and reminded me of the kindness, resilience and passion of the women out there, regardless of whether I know them or not.

Due to a series of strange migraines which leave me unable to move or speak (they present themselves a bit like strokes), I've been off work for two weeks. And, somehow, my consent forms and other details went missing from occupational health, prompting my boss to suggest I deliver them by hand.

So, last Friday, I did exactly that. I printed and completed another consent form, phoned the occupational health people to warn them that I was coming, and hopped in my car. I was a little hesitant and determined to put on the "calm, put together" facade, because they obviously know about my past and I didn't want them to decide I was hysterical and incapable of working. Not that it was likely, but I do tend to over-think these things, and I had poor experiences with people wielding power (whose preconceived ideas about sexual assault caused big problems) last year.

I arrived at the building and rang the doorbell. The lady I spoke to on the phone asked me to come in and take a seat, as the nurse wanted to speak to me personally. Personally? I was a little concerned about this, but sat anyway.

That's when I saw it. After all, it could hardly be missed. On a blue board about alcohol abuse, where most posters were white and featuring individual drinks, there was a "featured" one in the centre. This most prominent poster was black, showing a woman and stated, "1 in 3 reported rapes happens when the victim has been drinking. Know Your Limits."

I felt sick. After all the campaigning, after everything that is being done, council-run centres are still displaying posters like this. Not that they should be anywhere, but the EVB Campaign was founded here in Nottinghamshire and that, somehow, made it worse. Then, of course, there was the fact that an establishment like this, that would be judging me, had these archaic views. I might as well pack my bags...

I surreptitiously took a photo, and managed to sit down just before the nurse came to collect me and talk me through the process. It left me with more answers than questions (seeing as everyone seems to be contradicting each other), but my mind was elsewhere. That poster.

A few hours later, I tweeted the photo. In the days since, it has been retweeted 53 times, and @manderlay1940's retweet with additional comment was tweeted 74 times. And various other modifications have also done the rounds.

I was taken aback by the interest shown. I knew the poster was awful, but I had initially thought that I was being oversensitive. I never thought that so many people would be outraged. A lovely lady on Twitter asked to phone and interview me for her blog, and she has recently told me that a petition to get these posters removed has begun.

I found out today that this petition has over 5000 signatures, that the NUS has also waded in and commented on it and The Drum is also running an article. Part of it seems a little crazy, that this little "Yuck, look what I saw!" has taken off.

But then I'm really, really glad.

You see, even now, I don't have the courage to do anything myself. I'm happy to speak in public about violence against women and girls (like at Nine Worlds), I'm happy to teach about gender equality or sexual violence or even do very personal performances about it (like at the Silence the Violence event in Nottingham). But for me to ask them to remove this poster, that was making it too personal. That felt like I was trying to remove something that was uncomfortable for me, for my own personal gain rather than for the greater good, and I was scared of the impact that could have on my career. After all, occupational health hold my life in their hands right now.

This isn't about just my feelings, though. And it doesn't matter how old this poster is (apparently, it was released in 2006). By displaying that poster, which is endorsed by both the Home Office and the NHS, it effectively tells you that those organisations will look at your culpability first, as the victim, and also that the organisation displaying it will do the same. These are organisations in positions of power and trust, ones that are supposed to be supporting people.

If, on a pre-employment form, you declare that you have suffered anxiety attacks, flashbacks, depression or any other lasting effects of assault, the chances are you will be called in for an interview. Imagine sitting in that waiting room, as a woman who has experienced rape, and seeing that this establishment thinks it's your fault. Imagine what that does, on top of the nerves and worry that you already have.

So I'm glad that other women have taken this cause and run with it. I'm glad that so many people are outraged, because it shows how our outlook as a society is beginning to change, how people are willing to act for change and how we can stand in solidarity to support each other and say, "no, this isn't just you feeling this way." 

Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I had been brave enough to do it myself. To step up and say, "this isn't right, we need to change it". But then, I know that the reassurance and support, and the knowledge that I'm not alone in this, is what I needed this time. That was my discovery to make.

For those wondering, I have been told that the county council received complaints, and that the poster has been removed. I will be checking this when I go in for my next appointment in a few weeks.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Ohio: The Importance of Choice

If you want to read Neil Lyndon's article, please consider using this link. It uses a service that stops the Telegraph from profiting from disgusting journalism such as this.

It has been announced in the past few days that Ohio has tabled a bill regarding abortion and men's rights in agreeing to termination. It is a horrific piece of legislation that would be a worrying step backwards in human rights if passed.
But whilst the bill itself is shocking, just as appalling is the reaction of male journalists and campaigners who seem to have missed the point entirely.
I pride myself on being inclusive in feminism, in wanting to involve people of all ages, backgrounds and genders in our fight for equality. I am far from a separatist, despite what my history might lead people to think. I believe feminism can be women-centred and women-led without being women-only. And I truly believe that female equality benefits men long-term too.
However, when I read articles such as that by Neil Lyndon in the Telegraph, I am suddenly led to feel a great surge of empathy for my separatist sisters.
First, let's talk about pregnancy. There's the obvious, terrifying realisation that you're going to be a parent. Even if you really want it and you're excited, there's still fear and trepidation. Yes, that's something that men feel too, I will allow that. But do they put on enormous amounts of weight, some of which they might never shift? Sounds fine, but what about when society -yes, YOUR patriarchal, misogynistic crap - insists that we stay perfect, beautiful, skinny and flawless forever? 
And how about our whole relationship with the world changing? I wish that was an exaggeration. I went down to the hotel bar to see a friend and ended up choking back the vomit. "What IS that stuff you're drinking?" It was just red wine, but a pregnant woman's sense of smell changes so drastically that it alters her perception. Shopping at the supermarket became the strangest experience, smells I'd never noticed before suddenly becoming overwhelming. I was more sensitive to sound, to taste. I had extraordinary cravings taking over my body. Quite simply, my body was not my own.
And then, at the end of nine months of intermittent sickness, pain and aches, sleepless nights (because you just can't sleep comfortably), weight gain, swollen ankles and other parts, comes the grand finale - forcing a fully grown baby out of a hole so small that its skull bones have to overlap to get through. And whilst much safer today than it once was, childbirth is still risky. In fact, there were a staggering 343,000 deaths during childbirth in 2008.
Have you got the picture yet? Pregnancy... Childbirth... it's scary stuff.
And whilst men may be expected to contribute to prospective offspring, and may still feel the same levels of fear and trepidation about parental commitments or the well-being of their partners, they don't have to go through the physical changes, the hormones or face a potentially life-threatening situation at the end of it. It isn't your body to control. As I said before, it was barely my own!

 “Since fathers will have legal responsibilities for child support, they should have rights regarding the birth or destruction of the foetus."

There is so much wrong with this quote from Lyndon's article. If there is a child resulting from the pregnancy AND they are required to contribute financially, then perhaps it can be discussed further. At that point. But with regard to the pregnancy and birth, that affects the mother and decisions should be her domain.

So women, according to Lyndon's piece, would have to provide a list of possible fathers. There would be paternity tests so that the individual could give "permission" for a termination. Seriously? There's a one night stand and no interest in children, but she needs to ask for permission to get rid of an unwanted foetus that could risk HER LIFE, physical and emotional well-being and did I mention HER LIFE?!

"If the father cannot be identified, the woman would not be allowed to terminate her pregnancy."

Because, obviously, a woman cannot make autonomous decisions. If the father is so elusive that he cannot be identified, how does he have any rights at all in these circumstances?

"Where the woman says that the pregnancy is the result of rape, she would have to provide a police report as evidence before she could have the abortion."

So, let me get this straight. A woman has been sexually assaulted, had all of her rights stripped away from her in the worst possible way. She's, quite possibly, struggling to admit what happened to herself, let alone anyone else. She's just found out that not only was her body treated as a plaything by someone else on that night, but her body has just been taken over by a parasite for the next nine months (ok, eight, once she finds out) and her body's still not her own. I keep coming back to this, but the issue of propriety is actually quite significant when all ownership has been stripped away.

She's gone through all of this, and now you're not going to let her have an abortion unless she provides a police report? So she's got to report and relive that whole experience, and that's if the police decide to take it seriously in the first place. A law like this is only going to encourage police forces to dismiss rape cases on the grounds that she's "just trying to get an abortion". Why make a difficult situation harder?

I look back on my experience in Germany and wonder where I would have been. I was laughed at by the police, because I was an English girl. I've been laughed at by others because I'm ugly and should be grateful for the attention. I'm not alone; there are thousands of women experiencing the same victim shaming that I went through, and refusal to acknowledge the trauma.

Reporting to the police, just like abortion, needs to be a choice. Choice is everything in cases of violence, and all those choices need to be independent and exclusive.

Is it in the interests of taxpayers that 150,000+ abortions should be performed every year? Is it in the interests of the wider society that those lives - more or less equal to the annual figure for net migration in the UK - should be stilled?"

These were the final questions asked in the article. The short answer is that yes, these abortions are definitely in the interest of the taxpayer. The longer answer is that we often is the surgical cost of termination without considering the wider implications.

Imagine a woman who has been forced into having her child. Think of the counselling and therapy costs that she would undoubtedly need at some point. Think of the economic cost due to someone potentially unable to work as effectively due to the emotional or physical repercussions. If you want to look at cold, hard facts, then an abortion costs around £400 as opposed to upwards of £700 for childbirth (and that's without all the scans and all the rest of it). Then there's the cost of education, healthcare and everything else. If you want cold, hard "interests of taxpayers", then that woman's doing you a hell of a favour.

In reality, nothing is ever so black and white. Every woman's story is different and the reasons for abortion are also varied. To reduce women to the cost of their healthcare, abortion or birth, or to reduce children to the cost of their education is over-simplification at best, but rather callous and insulting.

Women deserve a choice over something that will permanently change their lives. There is no shame in involving the father in the decision process, but there is also no obligation. If men are so concerned with how they are being treated in these cases, then perhaps it's time to take a look at the bigger picture and the way our patriarchal society is treating women as a whole. Perhaps then, they may start to understand.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Support vs Pressure

Last year, I met a woman who was completely aghast at my openness. She asked me how I would feel if my headteacher knew about my past, about the fact I'd been raped, about my pregnancies and miscarriages. She obviously thought that I'd be terrified by the idea of anyone knowing, especially my headteacher. I wasn't, particularly. Though I wouldn't have gone out of my way to share this blog or my experience, I wasn't ashamed of it, much to this woman's surprise.

You see, this woman thought that being raped is something I should hide. She told me that by speaking openly about it, I'm bringing the organisations I work with into disrepute, that I was unfit to be working with young people. She told me that groups didn't need the stigma of people like me, that sort of woman, like it was my fault, like I had attracted trouble and I should feel guilty.

I don't blame this woman for her views, any more than I blame the organisation that she represents. She is, unfortunately, a victim herself - a victim of societal misconceptions about gender inequality and abuse. She has spent so long believing myths of culpability that violence has become something that her truth has become warped. Views like this need to be challenged, and I still feel a sense of disgust that it has taken me so long to address it, but they also need to be tackled in a way that is respectful of the framework and experiences that have shaped the viewpoint in the first place. We are trying to change minds, not destroy people.

But this post isn't about that incident or that woman, not directly. It's to do with what she said.

As I've said in a previous post, I'm lucky enough to be working in a school that I love, and I've been there since January. This half term, my induction reports from my first two terms finally arrived from my previous authority, and I was asked into the headteacher's office.

"But these are not at all reflective of what we've seen here," she commented on the reports, quoting choice sections that made me cringe. "What's changed? Why did you struggle so much?"

I don't quite know what made me be so honest, but I was. I sat there and told her that I should never have trained when I did, that I was fighting back against what happened to me, that I've had counselling since and started building up that relationship with myself again.

She asked questions - lots of questions - and I answered every one of them, fully and honestly. By the end of the meeting, I was broken and shaking, but she knew the whole situation. She thanked me for sharing and told me that it really helped her - it meant that she understood and she had enough context that she could support me and fight my corner if it was needed.

When I was interviewed for a proper contract (rather than the supply I'm currently doing), I was also open about what I do, that I blog about gender inequality, violence against women, that I have run workshops on the subject, that I write articles, go on marches and other bits. I never for a moment thought that I would be judged.

I have been discussing what we can do to support those who have experienced VAWG, both staff members and children. My experience, my past, it's all valued rather than dismissed or swept under the carpet. It's not something that comes up every day or something that is at the forefront, but it is acknowledged when appropriate. I'm free to be myself and not just a sanitised facade that threatens to crack over time.

If we accept the experiences of others and support them, we can lift them up and help them reach their full potential. By forcing them to hide their true selves or aspects of that, we are putting pressure on them and forcing them down until they break. 

Sadly, I know that I am in the minority, being in an environment that does support and embrace me for who I am. But we need to take this model and encourage it. Not so that every woman has to share their experience, but so no woman has to live in fear of it "coming out".

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Languages 2014

As a teacher trained in secondary languages, I often find myself blustering through the primary curriculum followed by a trail of self-doubt and insecurity. I might be able to blag my way through English and humanities, but what on Earth gives me the right to teach maths or P.E.?

Most of the time, I remind myself that teaching skills are transferable. Yes, you need to adapt, but the fundamentals are the same; good progress, pupil talk, higher order thinking skills, VAK approach. I'm constantly learning (or deepening my knowledge), particularly in specific curriculum areas, and have made a lot of progress in the time I've been working with my lovely Y3 class, but I'm still in awe of the skills demonstrated by my primary trained colleagues.

However, in various staffroom discussions, I began to realise that the way I feel about primary teaching is how most of my co-workers feel about teaching languages. Many of them currently avoid it, using excuses like, "we couldn't fit it in" (in fairness, we do have abnormally short afternoons which are taken up with so many other subjects) amongst other things, and consoling themselves with the knowledge that my MFL club constitutes access to language learning.

But September 2014 is coming, and with it comes the new curriculum.

I am by no means an expert, and definitely not in Spanish (the chosen foreign language of my school). I was a French and German specialist, but I have a vague idea of what Ofsted are looking for in a language classroom, thanks to the constant threat of HMI in previous schools.

So, the standard 80:20 pupil:teacher talk ratio, rapid progess, at least 50% target language (including pupil talk), normal classroom commands and questions done in target language, learner autonomy in communication, application of grammatical concepts...

How do you create learner autonomy and promote language use in a classroom where the teacher is not confident or willing in using target language themselves? There are only two teachers in the school (myself not included) who speak some rusty Spanish and they only teach it under protest.

The first task, evidently, is to raise confidence in staff. Yes, you could employ a native speaker or language specialist to get the job done, but if you are going to integrate the principles of language learning throughout the curriculum (as suggested), then the rest of the staff need to get confident too. 

Schools simply don't have the money, resources or time to spend on sending every member of staff on a course. What needs to be done is ready to go lesson plans, with target language included, for every member of staff. Linked with that needs to be target language sheets for pupils so that they can ask to go to the toilet, if they can borrow a rubber, if they can get a drink (rather like most secondary schools already do).

Yes, it's time consuming, but it's worth it. You simply cannot get the required percentage of target language without the right scaffolding, support and confidence on both sides. It's not enough to have enthusiastic learners, or just enthusiastic teachers, you need both. And you need to give them the tools.

As for 80:20, why is it that primary teachers go into a blind panic about this? They are amazing at planning literacy lessons or numeracy lessons that are pupil centred. But ask most of them to do the same thing in a foreign language, and they lose the ability to think straight. That treasure hunt that you did for science? Yeah, that works for French too. And the Tarsia activity you did in history? Perfect for German! You know how you use chunking grids for practising with different connectives? Use that too!

For me, the area it gets really tricky is rapid progress. I've seen so many lessons at primary level focused on greetings, with no progression over the half term, just repetition. It's fine for playing with language and getting used to some of the sounds, but for the new curriculum, it will need a complete overhaul.

In my class, I have girl whose mother is a native speaker. I have been given all sorts of advice from my colleagues, such as "She'll enjoy the games, leave her to it" and "Use her as a translator, it shows progress in a different skill", but I'm not convinced by any of these.

If I leave this girl to the games, she shows no progress at all (except, perhaps, in her enjoyment of language). If I use her as a translator, then how do I prove her progress in Spanish? How is her skill measurable in interpreting single words and short exchanges for her peers?

On the other hand, this girl has not done much written work in Spanish. She currently tries to write things phonetically, using English rules (which works sometimes, but not with ll, y or v) and she rarely uses connectives. She gets her tenses mixed up too when writing, which shows a whole area where we could differentiate appropriately, stretch her and show good progress.

But how many members of staff in primary schools have the skills and ability to do this? I'm currently struggling, and get by through my knowledge of language teaching and my networks that I've developed over the years. Ideally, schools would be able to access this sort of expertise through their local secondary schools, but in cases where the primary curriculum is in a different language to that taught at KS3, this is not necessarily going to work either.

The new curriculum for language teaching has the potential to work. But only if the curriculum is directed by someone with the time and skills to support everyone appropriately, and if there are suitable links in place. Teachers need to stop seeing foreign language as a scary, unteachable concept, and realise that they already have most of the skills in place. Above all, for this to work, we need to co-operate, network and be a little more confident.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Right School

"Wow, it's been four months since I first interviewed you... It's just flown by!" my boss (who isn't really my boss and it's complicated, but I still call him my boss because he's awesome) told me.

This was a staff night out on the last day of term. Quite sedate really, but the first staff night out I've been on since I lived in Dunstable (and those were merely after-school pub sessions or nights in the school hall), because I've never been counted as one of the staff before, no matter how long I've worked at a school.

In some ways, he's right. This term has flown by quickly, before I even realised it was happening. But, on the other hand, it feels like I've been at that school for years, like I'm as much part of the furniture as everyone else. I love it so much and it's been such an integral part of my healing process and personal journey.

Before starting at that place, I'd all but given up hope with teaching. I felt like I was useless, had nothing to offer, and like the detractors who blamed me for my experience of violence (and accused me of being unfit to work with young people) were probably right. I had no self-esteem, no confidence in my abilities.

Mr Boss Man once asked why I was so worried about a lesson observation, when I had been so chilled at interview... The truth was that I never expected to get a job. I couldn't for one second believe that anyone would actually want me, so I wasn't overly worried about rejection when I expected it anyway.

Being at this school has taught me so much. Firstly, that I do have the organisational skills to cope with this job, though it does take an awful lot more effort for me to keep on top of things than for some people! And that I'm not the messiest / most disorganised person in the school. It's a close run thing, but knowing that scatty people can get far in this profession keeps me sane!

It's taught me that I do have strengths in this job. I am good at languages and music (obviously), but my language work has given me a head start in teaching English. I've discovered that I adapt quickly, that I learn from training and work to meet my targets. I've also learnt where I can give extra to the school, in terms of clubs and things. I've found that I'm good at scaffolding and differentiation. It's not something I thought I was very good at, but it seems to come easily, as do pupil-led lessons.

I've learnt that I'm stronger than I think I am. With so many children from difficult backgrounds, I was bound to come into contact with stories similar to mine. I didn't think I'd cope with that, but I did, I am, I can. It's really empowering to know that my experience gives me perspective, strength and empathy, rather than the weakness and hindrance that I thought it would.

And, most importantly (possibly), is that I've found out how to love a job and commit to it - throw myself in entirely - without sacrificing myself and my emotions. Too often, in the past, the only time I would really work as hard as I could was to escape the pain and flashbacks. Now, I throw myself in because I want the children to learn and have fun, I want to do my best for them and for the school.

I've still got a long way to go. Observations seem to cause severe allergic reactions (well, nervous breakdowns) and I need to get the hang of this work-life balance thing... but I've discovered how much I can do with the support and input of the right school.

And, for the first time in forever, I feel truly happy.

This didn't really fit in anywhere above, but I wanted to say it anyway... the people I work with are amazing and supportive. The school is the wonderful, nurturing environment that it is because of the fantastic men and women working in there are so compassionate. I have wonderful TAs in my classroom, reassuring me constantly, a beautiful colleague in the other Year 3 class who has coped so well with a newbie, a brilliant senior leadership team and, just generally, the best colleagues a girl could ask for. The school wouldn't be what it is without them, and I wouldn't be who I am without them either!