Fifty Book Challenge 2014

In step with my new tradition of attempting to plough through at least fifty books a year, this year I have managed it with a week to spare. I thought I would compile the list (mainly because I am amazed that I have found the time) but also highlight the ones that were well worth it, in my humble opinion.

Full, exhaustive list:

  1. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
  2. Oranges in No Man’s Land, Elizabeth Laird
  3. Allegiant, Veronica Roth
  4. Second Star to the Right, Deborah Hautzig
  5. How I Paid for College, Marc Acito
  6. Oops, Hywel Roberts
  7. Strange Meeting, Susan Hill
  8. The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness
  9. Dark Places, Gillian Flynn
  10. Revolver, Marcus Sedgewick
  11. The Bailey Game, Celia Rees
  12. The Daydreamer, Ian McEwan
  13. Midwinterblood, Marcus Sedgewick
  14. The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook, Jim Smith
  15. What’s Left of Me, Kat Zhang
  16. the Wish House, Celia Rees
  17. The Iron Man, Ted Hughes
  18. The Photograph, Penelope Lively
  19. Fearless, Tim Lott
  20. Floodland, Marcus Sedgewick
  21. Blood Money, Anne Cassidy
  22. The Willow Man, Sue Purkiss
  23. The Husband’s Secret, Liane Moriaty
  24. The Wells Bequest, Polly Shulman
  25. Pimp Your Lesson, Isabella Wallace
  26. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capone
  27. The Bunker Diary, Kevin Brooks
  28. Edge of Nowhere, John E Smelcer
  29. The Dark Horse, Marcus Sedgewick
  30. Malarky, Keith Gray
  31. All The Truth that’s in Me, Julie Berry
  32. Out of the Easy, Ruta Sepetys
  33. Heart Shaped Box, Joe Hill
  34. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
  35. The Ask and the Answer, Patrick Ness
  36. The Butterfly Lion, Michael Morpurgo
  37. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
  38. Wonder, RJ Palacio
  39. The Tulip Touch, Anne Fine
  40. Gone, Michael Grant
  41. The Book of Dead Days, Marcus Sedgewick
  42. Paper Faces, Rachel Anderson
  43. Paper Towns, John Green
  44. Hunger, Michael Grant
  45. Lies, Michael Grant
  46. Plague, Michael Grant
  47. The Quantity Theory Of Insanity, Will Self
  48. Exchange, Paul Magrs
  49. Witch Hill, Marcus Sedgewick
  50. On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan

I think we can safely say that a) I have discovered (a little late in the game) an unfounded and complete love of Marcus Sedgewick, thanks to the librarian at my old school. Midwinterblood was like nothing else, and so beautifully written. The same llibrarian was also the lovely human being to force the Carnegie finalists into my hands- up to that stage, my only experience of Kevin Brooks was what I believed to be a weak plotline in IBoy. Bunker was both bleak and raw, but had what I love about fiction; the presence of humanity in the most unimaginable of circumstances.

Hill’s Strange Meeting is definitely one for the teacher out there- I used an extract from this book to read to year 10 when teaching Wilfred Owen. The graphic and stark description of the character’s portrayal of the front line portrays his numbing experience perfectly.

I was pleasantly surprised by Celia Rees; I find it quite accomplished of both her and Sedgewick to be able to twist several different stories in such a way that it never felt like I was reading a particular ‘style’ that you sometimes come across with writers- my ideal author is someone who does not fit a pattern, or writes consistently in the same way. The unpredictability and skill of being able to write with eloquence but unlike that of a previous book is the ideal!

Exchange is one for any book lover- the Exchange is a book shop set up by a man that simply asks for books in exchange of other books- an extension of the free book shops that are now popping up, the concept extends from an exchange of reading to an exchange of the different aspects of the character’s lives and experiences between one another.

Joe Hill was a recommendation and quite possibly next to The Road, one of the most dark and terrifying books that I have ever read. I have strayed from the supernatural in quite some time and this conjured up a nasty, realistic twist on the idea of the dead remaining unsettled. The main character Judas makes quite the sceptical lead, and his cynicism bonds the entire story together.

I think the underlying theme of dystopia throughout my fifty books is pretty clear! Zhang’s What’s Left of Me is one of a trilogy which I have still yet to track down the remaining two of, and once again gave a sense of realism to the way that the world could work out. Both this, Michael Grant’s series (still unfinished) and Patrick Ness’ KONLG touch upon elements of the world that we know and play out the possibilities, and consequences of what could be, but also reinforce the fact that as humans, the small comforts and necessary compassion that we hold for one another still remains.

I was going to close with my all time favourite, but in true book worm style, that is impossible. I am however incredibly happy that I finally made time for the Book Thief, after being told by so many people about its beauty. The narration of Death makes it all the more poignant, and his encounters with Liesel are both heartbreaking and eye opening.

What next? I need to get my teeth into all the grown up stuff that Neil Gaiman has done that my eyes have yet to see! I quite enjoy recommendations rather than seeking books out. The perks of having so many English teachers on your Twitter timeline!

#Nuture1415- what a difference a year makes

As the year draws to a close, I wanted to re visit my Nuture1314 post, look back on my then-perception of achievements, and see not only how my aspirations have or have not been completed, but whether they even remain the same. It remains true that this is a career that has completely tilted my view of particular beliefs and values that I thought I was very rigid on, and it is also true that nothing matches hindsight. This may be quite an indulgent way of bringing things to a close, but I have found it more than invaluable to measure my own achievements and happiness against a point that I was previously at- it is immeasurable to grasp a true portrayal of it in any other way.

My #Nuture1314 achievements were:

1. I realised that I am a good mother.
2. I was approached by @tes to write an article for their blog, regarding using iPads within the classroom.
3. I know I can teach.
4. Other things are just as important.
5. I broke Bob’s armour.
6. Y10 actually want C grades.
7. J brought me a tile.
8. I taught my son to read.
9. I went to Venice. And Sherwood Forest. And Cornwall. And Sea Life. And Wistow Maze. And took a row boat out on a lake. And had plenty of picnics. And went to the seaside. And generally remembered how fun my son was/how to be a non stressy, non shouty mother.
10. ERM HELLO THERE MISS. YOU ACED A PGCE.
11. I have learned to relax.
12. I did what couldn’t be done.
13. I have a job.

I have realised this much about myself over the last two years since joining the teaching profession (and maybe that is merely a coincidental effect of my self-awareness during this time)- I find it incomprehensible to believe that something is impossible. Whether I am still completely under the impression as to whether I am personally capable of making it so remains to be seen, but in each year that has passed, I concoct new ways of proving to myself that I can do things.

2014 was meant to look something like this. So how have I managed against the goals that I set for myself?

1. I’ve bought a house. An actual house.
2. I HAVE A TICKET TO SEE ELTON JOHN.
3. I’m going to have all summer off. Yes yes I am.
4. I’m going to be nice, more often and in a more obvious fashion.
5. Remember things!
6. Treats are good.
7. I will not whinge.
8. I want to get better.
9. @gcuoros words, “Do less better.”

My house is much closer to a point of completion that I ever dreamed possible this time last year (after spending over a month on a sofa bed whilst my son had to play human jenga to get to his resting place every night). I have become more over analytical than whinge-fest, and moving my work closer to home has caused me to take a more collected approach to my workload- what does not get done will always wait until Monday. I still adopt the approach to my work that it IS possible to have a balance, and it IS achievable to have a weekend like every other occupation- it is completely dependent on the stage that you can step back and say, ‘that is enough.’ I can only advise others finding this a struggle to remain objective when contemplating a workload- I try to consider everything in a ‘value vs time’ mindset. Of what value is the task- this then determines the time that should be allocated to it. Who will it benefit and to what extremity?

I am nicer. Not that I was a vile dragon previously (not all the time anyway), but I find it more and more comfortable to show those that I care about them that I care, without the expectation of it in return. I remember that other people have their own priorities, and the appreciation that I would feel at having a small gesture to show how important that person is to me can sometimes be priceless. To give without expectation demonstrates complete security of your purpose in the big wide world.

I believe I am a better teacher, again not because I was not before, but because of my own self-awareness. I am capable of identifying and disposing ideas that do not work, and my mind works in a much more linear approach to planning and delivery. Again- value vs time. What will we get out of it? And so, how much time do we dedicate to getting it right?

Enough holistic wittering, let’s work on WWW for this year, and EBI for next..

1. I got a new job.

I am now at a school that I feel that my opinion and worth are valued, that I am a contributory part of a school where the ethos and purposes match my own. I am helping to develop an approach to education that will make the teaching and learning better, and I feel completely supported. Where everyone’s needs differ, mine were that I could be somewhere that openly valued staff, and that I had the trust and opportunities to develop as a teacher. I have both of these and know how lucky I am.

2. I spot patterns.

As people, we often lack the ability to identify that our life is a series of making the same mistakes over and over again- we don’t evolve, we simple spiral by transferring the same behaviours and applying them to different situations, making it even more incomprehensible for us to notice that the pattern itself is still the same- we are still approaching things in the same way. Whilst the context might be different, our reaction and how we respond is still exactly the same- I believe that this is the fundamental error that contributes to our discontentment- either as teachers, or outside of the profession. I am by no means an expert at this- spotting a cycle, and grasping the ability to put something into action to combat it are two very different processes. It is something that the more aware I am of it, the more likely I am to be able to put a plan in place to action a change.

3. I know that now is more important than then or then.

Don’t get me wrong- planning is a key coping mechanism to make us feel like we still have control over a situation- it is the mind’s way of rehearsing for every possible eventuality. However, it is so so easy to think that putting something in place for the future will in some way change what is going on in the present. We get so caught up in nostalgia looking back, or seeking security in setting up the future, that it is unpreventable to then lose sight in what is happening in the here and now. Your well being in the present, and re-evaluating to what extent that is being maintained should take priority over any other spot in your timeline.

4. I still get the mystery.

I am still constantly confused at work- every day, I will participate in a discussion with a child that makes me question the ideals or values that I have placed in something- in a good way. I am excited by my job- I embrace not knowing the outcome of learning, and have never felt as rewarded by anything in the same way that I feel when teaching children how to think with independence and depth.

5. I have the confidence to share my ideas without the doubt that the ideas I have are successful or will be of valued.

This is more about self worth- the most successful people are the ones that do not stop to consider whether what they are saying is worth saying- yes, it is vital that you consider the reaction, the opposition, the alternative, but there is undeniably a huge sense of value to giving yourself the recognition that you have plenty to share.

6. I have worked on projects that I am incredibly proud of- BBC Bitesize, UKED Mag, with other exciting prospects lined up for next year.

I have been given some fantastic opportunities (Thanks to @veldaelliott, again!) this year within a professional capacity, and I cannot tell you what it has done for my sense of pride in my work, and number 5. I won’t dwell too long on this one.

7. I can see practical implementation of how I can contribute.

I can now see where I fit in the educational profession (not completely, or with a particular plan) and how I can add value to that. This is an unfinished one, but at the same time, I can identify my point to a much greater degree than I could twelve months ago.

8. I have been brave enough to set up a teachmeet!

We are go! This is a massive task for me and something I feel incredibly about. Teaching and learning, improving the standards of education in an effortless and inspiring way are so important to me and this will be a fantastic opportunity to do so. Tickets are available via https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/leicester-teachmeet-2015-sponsored-by-e-teach-tickets-13125997211 and I could not be more excited to bring a group of teachers together to inspire one another.

9. I have educated and informed myself to confidently hold an opinion on education.

I always assumed everyone knew more than me. Turns out not.

10. I am comfortable.

Both inside and outside of the classroom, I feel a little bit more sure of what makes me happy, and the limits of my own capabilities. I am not superhuman, I cannot fix everything, and I cannot always do what it is that I so desperately want to. Everything is not always possible.

Things to look forward- anyone who follows me, you know I love a to do list!

1. Running a teachmeet without it falling apart at the seams like a poor man’s super sweet sixteen. Cake everywhere.
2. Identifying possibilities and not waiting for opportunities.
3. Running and coordinating a teaching and learning programme within my own school.
4. Not yet knowing where I want to be- that’s exciting! I have constantly toyed with my next steps within my career and where I want to be- I am hoping that this becomes more apparent as new opportunities present themselves to me.
5. Becoming more informed in my practice- I need to fit more stuff into my brain to understand and implement certain ideas.
6. Making plans- both in and outside of school.
7. Wanting to collaborate and share beyond my own Teachmeet.
8. Organise myself but at my own pace, and within my own capabilities.
9. Complete action research, looking at what I believe to be the detriment of interdependence and how to react to that within secondary education.
10. Providing a real-life context to my teaching, so that students can recognise the importance of holding and justifying their opinions and views.

I have also finally FINALLY mapped out plans for two books- one fiction work that has been in my mind for a while and an educational one. Remind me of this when I whinge about not having anything to do.