How to work from home

Next week I’ll be joining my fellow redundantees in celebrating our six monthiversary of being out of our local authority jobs. Some are working, some are looking, some are retraining and some are self-employed like me.

So it’s time to reflect on what I’ve learnt. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks they say but I have so that must mean I’m not either a) old (but if you read that Guardian interview you will know this is sadly not true or b) not a … well, how very dare you for suggesting it.

I’ll start with working from home. My previous employers called it working at home, the idea being that it was an occasional occurrence and that you would be called at least once from the office to check you weren’t slumped in front of Homes Under the Hammer or in the changing rooms at New Look.  And it was only ever for one day.

But now I work mostly from home and this is what I’ve learnt:

1)      Work where you like. We are lucky enough to have an office in our house. This is mostly occupied by Mr R and his collection of guitars, amps and other music gadgets but it also has nice bright windows and plenty of shelving. So do I work in there? Do I heck. I’m happiest at the kitchen table. It’s near the kettle, a room away from the living room and telly and near the front door for the many callers we have. I recommend the kitchen able also because you have to keep mess to a minimum. My stuff is neatly tidied into one box and one pile of stuff which, when it gets too large, is transferred into the box. See? Gotta have a system, as Harry Hill used to day.

2)      It’s a whole new world out there.  We’re lucky enough to have really friendly neighbours and now that I’m around more during the day I bump into them more often. It makes for a much more friendly place. And for those of you out there who believe that London is one big scary city with muggers lurking on every corner, come and visit us. We’re nice really. Our postman is adorable and stops for a chat on his round and keeps an eye on the place when you’re away. The letterbox barely stays shut as we get a huge amount of junk mail hitting it. We average eight to ten pieces of junk on a good day but it can be up to twenty. It’s Friday today so there will be a flood of menus later today. My sister in law was staying a while ago and was in the house when we were both at work. When I got home I found her a glassy-eyed wreck. ‘It hasn’t stopped,’ she said pointing to the letterbox. She jumped out of her skin every time something came crashing through so had not had a restful time. She lives by a lemon grove half way up a mountain in Italy so I guess she doesn’t get many kebab menus and tarmac -your -drive flyers on an average day.  We also get a lot of charity works coming round for my money, church members asking me if I know Jesus and people trying to flog electricity/ gas/ double glazing/ life eternal.  I’m always polite but firm. I have certain charities that I give money too, I’m happy with my gas/ electricity/ supplier, my windows are fine and yes I think I saw him in Budgens buying Sugar Puffs. Today was an offer for loft insulation.

3)      Kids. I live near a secondary school and when I was working I never saw the students. Rather like an episode of CSI Streatham, however, it was possible to piece together the evidence that they were there: used cotton buds in the morning on the way to school; chip papers and cigarette butts at lunchtime and drink cans, crisp and sweet wrappers at home time. Nowadays I actually spot them scuffing down the middle of the road in herds, hoods up, heads down.  Once the grunting and loud dubstep has lurched by and I’ve held my breath as they swing their school bags past the wing mirrors of my car I pop out and collect the debris for recycling. I don’t mind them too much and let’s face it, they and their school ensure that house prices remain stable in our road and that’s no bad thing in these times.

4)      It’s good to talk. It’s important to talk to other colleagues if you’re working from home. Several home-workers had already told me this so I’ve made an effort to catch up with friends and ex-colleagues. I’m not usually a fan of the café culture mainly because I don’t (whisper it) drink coffee. It’s a matter of taste rather than for health reasons. I’d love to sip an espresso at a bar, order a macchiato at diner and enjoy a cappuccino at breakfast (which of course is the only time of day you should ever order a cappuccino) and I’ve tried but to no avail. I drink tea- wimpy green tea or Lady/Earl Grey without milk or sugar. Which is basically a tea bag in a mug of hot water and I can easily make that at home. Cheaply.  So until now the whole coffee shop experience has rather passed me by. I now, however, meet friends in cafés  and enjoy it. My favourite local is Earl Grey and Rose for a cup of the proverbial and they do the most delicious smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels.

5)      Eat when you’re hungry. In an office people tend to stare if you have lunch at 11 0’clock and roll their eyes in sympathy if you eat at 3pm. There was nowhere in the office to eat your own food save at your desk so it was never a relaxing experience . I get very grouchy if I don’t eat on a regular basis so when at home I nip to the fridge at make something to eat. Contrary to what you might think I eat less now than in the office (far fewer biscuits around) and I’m a much nicer person because I’m not hungry. If you come to visit you may wish to bring Jaffa cakes. Just in case.

Tea at mine. Note the homemade baked cheesecake.Yum.

6)      What to wear? I asked a self- employed friend if she got up early and dressed properly before sitting down to work. I had fears that I myself might be skulking around in pyjamas at four in the afternoon watching Jeremy Kyle repeats and eating cakes. My friend assured me that she not only gets dressed, she does her hair nicely and puts on makeup before firing up her laptop. I found that it makes me feel more professional to get up in time to spend a few minutes with Mr R before he goes to work, perform my ablutions and then get dressed. It’s strange putting on casual stuff rather than smart clothes and heels and I now look forward to dressing up on the occasions that require it. Of course there’s no really need to put on make up to work at home but I usually at least smear on a bit of mascara for fear of scaring the lovely postman (see point 1).

7)      Household chores. I was also worried that instead of working I’d be rushing around cleaning the house. I do notice that the floor needs vacuuming and the window sills need dusting but I’m at work ok? Proper work is much more compelling than cleaning anyway. Mr R has decreed that I can at least keep an eye on the milk level and buy milk when needed. Unfortunately I’m rubbish at this and only remember seconds before he arrives home ready for a coffee. Don’t get excited, I don’t make him that either. Not being a coffee drinker (see point 4) I make terrible coffee. I usually end up rushing to the shop, which is luckily only at the end of the road, with seconds to spare and acting all nonchalant and efficient when he arrives.

So that’s how to work at home part one. If I think of any more points there will be a part two. Meanwhile, feel free to add your own observations below.

….Today’s post was brought to you by elementary typing, much hitting of back space and mild swearing…. 

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Jamie’s Dream School: things get political

My favourite thing about Jamie’s dream school is the same thing that drives teachers and parents: the kids speak their minds. It doesn’t matter if they’re speaking their mind to Jamie Oliver, Alastair Campbell or the prime minister, they don’t stand on ceremony and if they think it they say it.

In the final episode, the students received their final report and loose cannon David Starkey was sensibly teamed with everyone’s favourite youth worker, Jazzie B.  Within seconds, Starkey continued his run of inappropriate comments while repeating Simon Callow’s equally charmless remarks to a student. Now Conor might be a giant gob in a tie but he’s still just a kid and he shrank visibly as Starkey gleefully told him he’d make a great stand up comedian… if he ever turned up on time. Nice. Uncle Jazzie quickly stepped in and told the poor teen that he could do whatever he wanted if he set his mind to it. The grin on Conor’s face said it all as he said, “do you really think so?” The musician then tried to engage Starkey in some intelligent adult dialogue but was bulldozed by the historian who clearly loves the sound of his own voice to the exclusion of all others.

Jazzie B: A+ as usual. A model student.

David Starkey: you’re excluded.

Alastair Campbell was also in trouble. He told a student that she couldn’t come on the visit to Downing Street because she had had an almighty outburst in his class. Campbell likes dishing out the arguments but doesn’t like it when someone argues back. I think he was actually most upset by being called a f****** P**** but it’s nothing most of the country hasn’t thought at one time or another.

Eventually all was sorted out and a remorseful Angelique meekly went along to meet the PM. (By the way, have you noticed that David Cameron’s hairline seems to be sliding inexorably toward the back of his head revealing more and more of his eerily smooth face?)

Conor, Starkey’s nemesis, stated that he felt that our school system was stuck where it was forty years ago.  I think Conor might have a point but this was not explored or debated by the PM as he dismissed the comment out of hand. What a pity. Perhaps the PM could do with listening a little more to those who have just spent most of their lives in the state school system. In fact this goes for all politicians: listen to those who experience the systems you want to change (are you listening, Lansley?)

Once outside Harlem, the most cantankerous of all students and the subject of a stand up row with the headteacher a couple of weeks ago, summed up the visit.

“He listened to the things he wanted to listen to and didn’t listen to the thing she didn’t want to listen to.”

You said it.

Although to be fair it’s probably the same with most senior politicians regardless of political allegiance.

At the end of the programme Lord Jamie of Custard admitted, “ Cor lummy cripes swipe me Mary Poppins, it’s bleedin’ hard being a teacher innit, geezer.” I may have embroidered that a little but the meaning is the same.

I think what he realised was that many teachers are inspirational and energetic but it’s not always easy to teach large mixed classes successfully.

At the end of Dream School we learn that many of the students had given to internships, back to studying or to a course or apprenticeship. Brilliant, I wish them the best of luck in everything they do. If only these amazing opportunities, small group teaching and one to one support was available to all students.

Perhaps that’s what Conor meant when he said that the school system was outdated.

Jamie’s dream school again

Dream School is turning into a bit of a nightmare for St Jamie of Twizzler as his ‘teachers’ and students clash and even the head loses his cool.

In last week’s post I pummelled David Starkey for his snobby attitude to the students and his lack of teaching ability and it seems that not much has changed. Following the slanging match between the head and a student in assembly, Starkey thought it would be amusing to take the mick out of the student in front of everyone. Nice. Even the head looked like he wanted to throttle the historian.

But more about that assembly showdown: I’d like to say I was shocked and horrified by the behaviour of the student but I can’t because I’ve seen it all before. I’ve also seen how a simple misunderstanding can escalate into the sort of stand off that would have Gaddafi backing down. I was surprised at how the head managed- or rather didn’t manage- the situation.

The great behaviour guru Bill Rogers teaches about primary and secondary behaviours (which incidentally have nothing to do with the schooling system but are descriptors in their original sense.) It’s very easy to get carried away with the secondary behaviour but you need to focus on the primary.

Here’s an example:

Teacher: I’m going to ask questions and I’d like you to…
Student (Interrupting): Sir, I want to say something.
Teacher: Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking.
Student: You don’t need to snap, sir, I was only asking.
Teacher: I didn’t snap, you’re being rude.
Student: Oh my days! I don’t know why I even bother coming to school, you’re an idiot, sir.

And so it escalates. The interrupting was the primary behaviour and the teacher should deal with that. The answering back was the secondary behaviour and the teacher engaged with that secondary behaviour thereby ignoring the original problem and escalating the situation. Make sense?

The teenaged Vesuvius went off with a mighty bang and a crisis that took time, effort and emotional struggle to sort out was caused. And Lord Jamie of Burger was very sensible and managed to be all things to all people. Although I wish he would stop calling everyone ‘mate.’

Elsewhere in this episode, students stayed in a Biodome but only one managed to fend off her nicotine cravings and remain inside for two days. Her reward was a trip to Arizona to work with some top Scientists. Hell, I’d leave Mr. R and move into a Biodome if those prizes were on offer!

Money guru Alvin Hall, who is all sorts of bow-tied camp deliciousness wrapped around a steely core, had a tricky start when two students decided to try and throttle each other.

Soon, however, the entire class was bent over calculators doing real Maths and there wasn’t a peep. One student even stayed on after class to talk about how many ‘woman’ goats he would have to buy to become a squillionaire. Top tip: If you’re going to be a goat farmer you may wish to know that ‘woman’ goats are usually called ‘nanny’ goats. Just saying.

I can’t wait for next week’s episode when Alastair Campbell makes his return after instigating a fight in his politics lesson, the students are introduced to the joys of Latin and its routing of Carthaginians and poetry and the ‘teachers’ hoist Sir Jamie of Chip’s under-crackers up the flagpole.

Probably.

Jamie’s Dream School

You have to hand it to old Jamie Oliver: he’s not shy about a challenge. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the first episode of Dream School but gave in and tuned in for the second helping. So what does Saint Jamie of School Dinner know about running a school? Well, nothing but he’s well known for having an incredibly successful career following an incredibly unsuccessful school career so he can empathise with the students who have also failed at, or been failed by, school. When it came to his cooking lesson he made a good fist of it (B+). Others were not so lucky.

 David Starkey, privileged, highly intelligent and passionate about his topic wasn’t a huge success. In fact his behaviour was such that, were he a newly qualified teacher in an ordinary school, he’s have been in serious trouble. Calling a kid ‘fat’ and then whining that he didn’t start it is not very professional or indeed mature. Jamie, bless his little turkey twizzlers, handled Starkey incredibly well and although the historian insisted that the students were ‘feral’, Oliver didn’t give up and got him back in the classroom. Mark: F. See me.

 Alastair Campbell equally came a cropper. After humbly showing the class a TV clip of himself in pitbull mode and talking about how fabulous and brilliant he was, he got the students debating. Except it wasn’t proper debating with the proper debating rules that most schools use. The rules are there for a reason: they stop the discussion from becoming a bun fight where anyone can join in. More importantlly, it also stops the debate becoming personal. Campbell’s debate ended up being very personal and a student walked out in tears. Mark: D- (at least he didn’t call any of them fat.)

 Jazzie B of Soul ll Soul fame ran a brilliant music class. He didn’t assume that the students would love him because he was famous. He didn’t assume that his topic would be inalienably interesting to all of them. He praised their efforts and challenged them to do more. He established good behaviour and maintained it consistently. This is a man who obviously knows teens and knows how to capture their interest. Mark: A+

 Photographer Rankin also had a good connection with the students and drew the best out of them and, as with Jazzie B, he didn’t assume that he was the star of the show. Mark: A

 Teaching isn’t as easy as it might seem.

 A lot of comment on the programme has focussed on the poor behaviour and attitudes of the students so I’d like to say a word in their defence. The voiceover told us that several of these kids had been rejected by their chaotic families and were living in council flats alone. Now imagine being rejected by those you love, being alone and vulnerable and not seeing much of a future for yourself beyond alcohol, drugs and the job centre. There’s no one in the world who will stand up for you or to be on your side.

 Now, are you ready to get yourself up in the morning, go to class, sit still, listen and learn?

 And what happens to thes youngsters once the programme finishes and all the fuss has died down? I can only hope that the producers will continue to support the students and that the celebrities might find it in their hearts and busy schedules to be there for them.

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