An easy target

August 13, 2006

Let’s see if anyone can guess what I’m venting about without me actually naming the type of organisation that has brought on this rant.

Ten Clues:
1.  They aren’t very good at answering the phone.

2.  When they ring you back you are always out.  This is often because they ring you at home even when you have asked them to ring you at work, because of course you won’t be at home.

3.  You can only call them back during traditional office hours, so inevitably it takes you at least a day to be able to do that – seeing as how they leave a message for you at home, which you can only clear after they have all finished for the day. 

4.  The people you get on the phone are either brilliantly efficient and understand you immediately (using a pleasant manner) or surly, uncommunicative, and incapable of actually listening.  The latter appear to out-number the former.

5.  Arbitrary changes are often made to your arrangements, even when you have put in writing exactly what you want.

6.  Most of them make ocean-sized profits that they send to share-holders overseas.

7.  They tend to treat their staff appallingly, which makes it no surprise that customer service becomes an alien concept to many who work there.

8.  When they make a mistake it can be catastrophic.

9.  But there are never any offers of compensation.

10.  Unfortunately you can’t avoid using these organisations, unless you are going to live in a cardboard box on the street, in the rain.

An imaginary beer to the first person to guess correctly!


Rug up

July 31, 2006

Readers who are not able to marvel in the glories of Auckland television may wish to skip this post as unfortunately it will be rather nonsensical to you. 

I wish they would stop.  Just stop.  The adverts.  The ones with the rugs. 

Everytime I try to watch television they are there.  Often more than once in an ad break.  And you can’t change the channel to avoid them, because sooner or later they will pop up wherever there is a commerical break.  Like some kind of televisual weed; Old Man’s Beard has turned to selling carpet, at bargain basement prices!

There has to be some kind of fair trading problem with these adverts.  They are ceaseless and yet each and every one promises that the sale is in it’s “last days” and that this is some kind of unfortunate rug shipment, stuck in limbo due to fog/company liquidation/the rotation of the earth around the sun. 

Weekend after weekend these poor unfortunate containers, bursting with their unloved stock, are emptied at the Showgrounds, just begging, like an SPCA puppy, for you to take them home.  The implication seems to be that if they don’t get adopted purchased they will be put down destroyed in the burning hell that is just around the corner for any unsold item unlucky enough to end up at the Logan Campbell Centre.

Even if there is no issue about false advertising, there surely has to be some legal basis, under the UN’s Convention on Eliminating Torture, to insist that the ads themselves cease.  It cannot be humane to continue to inflict them on us week after week, month after month, year after year.  They make my ears bleed, they make me want to find the poor man who does the voiceover and rip out his voicebox. 

Above all else they make me never ever ever want to buy a rug.  Thank goodness we have wall to wall carpet.

But I tell you who I really hate, and that’s those racists

July 26, 2006

Many people label teachers, in fact anyone involved in education, as hopelessly politically correct and lacking any ability to ever say anything that anyone might take offence at (unless they are “mainstream”, in other words heterosexual white men). 

Not so, as this recent episode from the staffroom will show. 

I was pretty unwell at the end of the last term, just general tiredness and lethargy as commonly caused by working too much and too hard for too long.  Usual teacher problem towards the end of the winter term. 

So whenever I was in the staffroom I would leave my game face at the door and generally dissolve into an exhausted lump trying to ingest coffee and biscuits to keep this sad hulk going for another few hours.  My contributions to conversations whizzing around me, even about matters I cared passionately about, were minimal.  Silent munching and slurping was my modus operandi from about Week 7 onwards.

But this damn reliever, he riled me.  He got under my skin so deep that I couldn’t just sit there.  I couldn’t say anything either, I was so upset by his epithets and dazed from the sheer unrelenting unending term, but I couldn’t put up no protest at all.  So I stood up to leave, saying “I don’t want to listen to this anymore.”  He turned on me, taking out his anger on me personally, threatened by my challenge, so I used a term that isn’t often uttered in the staffroom, or at least not loudly enough for anyone to hear.  It wasn’t very inventive, but I felt better for spitting it out at him.  Those who remained in the room after I left told me it had the desired effect; he felt quite shocked and stopped his rants for long enough for other saner types, more capable of sparring with him than I was, to put him right.

What was said that so upset this author?  What PC rule did this reliever break?  What could possibly cause me to quite lose my composure and curse him in a manner that I usually reserve for the drive home from school, when no one can hear me but the beaded car seat cover?

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Meeting madness

July 22, 2006

Last term I was told that there were to be some special meetings for teachers working in my main curriculum area, part of some consultation about new unit standards.  Now at my school the job of organising and running meetings of this nature often falls on me for a few of the local secondaries, so several weeks ago I asked the relevant HOD, The Beskirted One, if that would be the case this time.  She assured me no, that there were teachers from the actual curriculum workgroup who would be running them in many of the clusters, including ours.  But I did need to attend and be generally helpful.  All well and good.

The meeting for my area is on Monday after school  Yesterday (Friday) I contacted the teacher who is supposed to be facilitating and organising the group to find out if he would like me to turn up early to help with the set-up or if there was anything else I could do to help.  It took a while to get hold of him, but when I did, guess what?

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Please don’t breed

July 20, 2006

So Mr Individual made a startling announcement in the staffroom today – he has changed his mind and he wants to procreate at some point.

If I hadn’t been standing when he made his public flip-flop I would have not only fallen off my chair, I would probably have ended up spasming on the floor in disbelief.  The child-hater, the man who claims others shouldn’t have children because they then expect governmental services for said children, which are funded by his taxpaying dollars, he wants to have an ankle-biter, a rug-rover, a small little helpless baby.

In fact he wants to have “at least two, one of each”.


I think this might have something to do with being in a relationship.  For the first time that I can remember he’s actually met someone’s parents, and their friends.  I’d say this was a good thing if I wasn’t so jaded from hearing all about it at morning tea, lunch time, after school meetings, when we are waiting for everyone to file in for assembly, etc etc ad nauseum. 

One day soon I swear my ears will actually rot right off unless they have a tiff and break it off.  Please, dear God, bring it on before someone forgets to take their little pill or buy their little rubber sheathes. 

I know I said I wished him love, but I wasn’t thinking about the consequences; the possibility that there might be little Boy and Girl Individuals in the world.  Shudder.

Estella redux

July 19, 2006

Several months ago I wrote about the death of my friendship with Estella.  I thought that writing about it would get it out of my head. Sadly it hasn’t.

I still dream about Estella quite regularly.  I seem drawn to imagining what would happen if we encountered each other.  Would she apologise, or would she cut me?  Would she be frosty but professional, would she make it clear she was top dog and I must apologise first?  Sometimes I think about what I would say or do myself, but usually I’m just totally reactive to her.  I wait and see what she will do, I let her take the lead, in my head.

I want to stop thinking about it.  I want to stop dreaming about it.  I wish Estella wasn’t on the fringes of my life, that we didn’t know the same people.  I think about her whenever I go to a shop where I know she bought a bag ages ago.  I worry I’ll run into her at the shopping centre nearest her home, despite the fact that it is the biggest in the country and often full of people.  I rarely saw her there when we were friends, and never thought about encountering her then, but now that I’m so nervous about seeing her it seems I can’t get the possibility out of my mind.

What hurts the most though is that I doubt she ever has similar thoughts.  I can’t envisage Estella having any of these worries.  I imagine that she just expunged me from her mind, all those months ago when we fell out, and that was that.  Moving on out, moving on up.   

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still incredibly angry with how she interfered.  I don’t want to be friends again, I don’t want to forgive her, I would quite like it if she moved to the other side of the world, or at least to another city.  Actually that’s not entirely true;  I would LOVE IT if she wasn’t here anymore. 

It was my birthday recently and normally Estella and I, and two mutual friends, would have lunch to acknowledge it.  The three of them would go in on a combined present for me, and it would be a really nice time.  We have a long tradition, the four of us, of doing this for each of our birthdays, for many years now.

This year the We was just three.  That didn’t bother me.  But what surprisingly hurt me, so many months after Estella and I said our last to each other, was the absence of her name on the card.  It brought home to me that we are not in each others’ lives anymore.  And it made me sad.

Pushy parents on the sideline of life

July 15, 2006

I know, I know, I said I wasn’t going to write about the parents or the students, because I can rant about them in the staffroom at length.  I was (and still am) worried it could also jeopardize my anonymity, which must be avoided at all costs.

But a general vent about the pushy ones should be safe.  And it’s certainly needed.  It is needed like my car needs a new warrant (i.e. three weeks ago).

See there’s this thing about parents.  They care about their children.  Many of them care too little, but some care to the point of excluding any concern whatsoever about anyone else (except themselves usually). 

It’s like their kids are somehow actual physical parts of them.  They care because they have some kind of merged attachment going on – they actually are their kids, in some warped sense.  I have a theory that these parents were deprived of something in their own childhood – so now they push and push and push to make sure their own child gets everything and then some. 

But it’s bad for the kids – not just the other children, (witness the rather extreme example of Christophe Fauviau who doped his children’s tennis rivals) but also the progeny of the pushy parents.  Because as much as they push me to give their child a better mark, better assignment, better desk, better position on the netball team, better spot in the play, they push their kids too.  They push their offspring, at the same time that they make that child doubt that they could have achieved it for themselves, without Mum or Dad interfering, intervening, to make sure of it all.

And what happens to these parents when they do succeed?  The Dumper has shown pushy parent tendencies – one day she was bragging about the exam success of one of her kids, but it was clear to me that she was actually focused on the 8% of marks he’d missed.  He’d only got 92%.  How disappointing.  I hope she replaced all his sci-fi novels with books on quadratic equations, that’ll learn him.

My irritation with these parents started when I saw how they treat the unfortunate teachers who try to wrangle their children.  I was quite lucky in my first year of teaching not to have any pushy parents in my classes, but I saw how they totally and utterly chewed up and spat out the teachers at parent teacher interviews.  Because if it’s not the child’s fault, it must be the poor schmuck who teaches them who is to blame.  Or perhaps the teacher and the student collude together, with the purely malicious aim of frustrating their caring mother or father?  Either way, things must be put right!  And so out of the handbags come the pepper-spray comments “What could you be doing better to help our child?” and “So you don’t pay Beatrix as much attention because she is smart?” 

Teachers teach and parents parent.  They are complimentary jobs and we should both be focused on helping children to learn and grow up in a way that allows them to achieve their potential.  But that potential should be their choice, not the decision of Mum, Dad, or Mr Johnson who teaches mathematics five days a week.   Sometimes that choice isn’t the one we would make for them, as their parent or as their teacher, but if it is truly their own choice then it is more right than anyone else could make for them.

Just because there’s no school doesn’t mean it’s a holiday

July 4, 2006

When I meet people at a social engagement and they ask me what I do, I grit my teeth for the (almost) inevitable response to my reply. 

Many people, when they hear the word “teacher”, seem to have an automated response in their head, which sometimes flows out of their mouth, along the lines of:

Teacher (tee-char) n. – Discontented person (usually unattractive single older woman) who feels under-paid and under-valued despite getting 12 weeks’ holiday each year, on the taxpayer (i.e. me).

Now in this post I’m going to ignore all the other inaccurate stereotypes about teachers, and focus in on the one currently  causing my spleen to itch fiercely:  Holidays.

The reason it is currently creating so much distemper is because I am, right now, on “holiday”;  the break between Term Two and Term Three. 

And what have I been doing?  How have I been luxuriating in my freedom, wallowing in the salaried free-time that I am indulgently given by my loyal friend, the Ministry of Education? 

So far I’ve marked 32 assessments, written up 5 lesson plans, spent approximately two hours catching up on some reading in my curriculum area, and done some brainstorming for a minor school production I’m supporting in Term Four.  This is all before the end of the first week of my “holiday”.

When I first started teaching I lurched towards my first term break with hope.  Visions of a sparkling two weeks of blissful nothingness would break upon me at inappropriate times (when I was ensconced in a staff meeting, whilst plonked on the stage at assembly, and while monitoring the kids getting on to their buses at the end of the day).  But this was not the reality that overtook me in that first break.

Instead I was sick.  I fought off a cold, with what little vigour and energy I had left, from the end of Week 9.  I kept going to school each day because although I felt like my head was having some kind of trance-thrash concert without my consent, I didn’t want to go through the palaver of a reliever, and I thought it would be a bad look to take sick days so soon after starting. 

On the first Saturday of the break I could withstand the cold’s chilling embrace no longer, and I succumbed.  I spent the first half of that first “holiday” in bed, sneezing miserably and trying to make myself feel better by thinking about all that leisure reading I was doing.  I now know that it’s quite common for teachers, new or otherwise, to come down with something at beginning of term breaks – it’s happened to me at least once a year for the last eight years.

At the beginning of the second week I tentatively ventured out of the bedroom, only to find the pile of marking I had left in the car.  And then I made the fatal mistake of opening my planning book and realising that I now had six days in which to complete half a term’s worth of planning. 

I got it all done, but I learnt the lesson – term breaks are not holidays.  They are periods for recuperating, catching up and trying to get a jump on whatever onslaught is coming next.  Without them teachers would simply not be able to function. 

So next time you are having problems getting a park at the cinema during the school holidays and you curse those lazy teachers and their protectionist union, have a think about what we’re actually doing during that time.   Have a think about how difficult you find your children to deal with for the whole two days of the weekend, how exhausting it can be.  Think about the assignments they are set and how you struggle sometimes to read their writing or understand what the hell they are getting at in that essay on Twelfth Night.  And think about what it must be like to do that for a living. 

Trust me, you’d need twelve weeks a year out of the classroom to cope too.

Apologies for the irregular service

June 26, 2006

This term has been total madness for me, but it's nearly over.  The school holidays arrive at the end of this week and I don't think I've ever needed them more in my teaching career.  You can probably expect a veritable Niagara Falls of vents come term break, as long as the marking mountain doesn't loom too high. 

Those dreaded telephone calls

June 24, 2006

I loathe and detest tele-marketers.  

I know I shouldn't, they are just doing their job and few of them would do it for a living if they had other options.  But honestly, every time the telephone rings between 5.30pm and 7.30pm I know it is probably going to be one of those painful "Sorry but I'm really not interested" conversations. 

I had one the other night who didn't know how to let go.  I'm always polite, because it's a crap job, for pathetic money and a whole Olympic Stadium full of abuse and grief, at really anti-social hours.  But this guy managed to stretch my politeness to the point where it snapped, rebounding on him quite painfully (I hope): 

Ventoletta:  "Kia ora" (Me answering the phone) 

Hapless Tele-marketer:  "Hello, can I please speak to, errr, Mrs Vent Box?" (So far, so polite) 

V:  "I'm sorry but there is no Mrs, my name is Ms Vent Box." (This always peeves me, the assumption that I'm a Mrs because I'm over a certain age, but it's not his fault.  He isn't the first to make this mistake, he won't be the last, I'm used to just correcting people and getting over it.) 

HTM:  "Ok, Mrs Vent Box.  I'm calling on behalf of Evil Empire Enterprises, we're just wanting to make you aware of a fantastic new life protection scheme that has just become available to you, and only 100,000 other lucky people."  (Ok he didn't say 100,000 he probably said "a select few" or somesuch other rubbish.  He was pretty obviously reading off a card, at speed, so I shouldn't blame him for the bad attempt to hook me in by making me feel special.) 

V:  "Is this about life insurance?  Because I'm not really interested, I already have life insurance, but thanks-"  (HTM makes mistake number one and interrupts me.) 

HTM:  "No, no it's not life insurance, it's life protection!  It's quite different.  It means that if you were unfortunately to end your life earlier than you had otherwise expected your family will be cared for.  It's really quite a revolutionary new idea!"  (At this point he was clearly no longer reading from the card, but was in fact filled with a genuine zeal about the product.  There was a hint of angry desperation in his voice too, and his friendly facade was starting to slip irretrievably downwards.  Oh dear.) 

V:  "I don't really see how this is different from life insurance, and also how it would actually protect my life.  Anyway, thank you for your call but I'm really not -"  (I'm still being polite but Ms Harsh Tone is creeping in.) 

HTM:  "But Mrs Vent Box, you are turning down the most amazing opportunity!!  Really if you would just hear me out-"  (He's quite testy by this point, like his life depends on this sale.) 

V:  "Look I'm sorry, but I already have life insurance and I'm quite happy with my current arrangements."  (Ok, this is a lie, I don't have life insurance, but I'm firmly trying to assert my desire to end this conversation and get on with my evening.) 

HTM:  "But you don't understand!  This is such a good opportunity.  Let me tell you about our wonderful life protection scheme.  It involves-"  (And so he starts reading from the card again, quite agressively, as if by sheer force of personality he can somehow keep me on the phone.) 

V:  "I have told you that I'm not interested, but you don't seem to be listening.  I've really tried to be polite but-" (Interrupts me AGAIN!  What is wrong with this man??) 

HTM:  "You are making a big mistake, this life protection scheme is-"  (He's very angry indeed, and he doesn't mind me hearing it.) 

V:  "Ok I've tried being polite but I am quite happy with my current arrangements and I hope you have better luck with your other calls this evening.  I do not wish to talk to you any further.  Goodbye."  

And thus I hung up on him. 

I felt very guilty.  It's a terrible job, and sometimes people are just rude to the poor tele-marketers for the sake of it, someone safe to take out their other irritations on.  But this guy took the chocolate eclair.  He was rude, disrespectful and couldn't take my "No" with grace.  I hope he wasn't trying to pay off his gambling debts.