I failed as a teacher!

I never wanted to be a teacher.

In fact, I used to think there couldn’t be anything worse. I was a nightmare at school, why would I want to deal with all of that? Especially being an actor! They say “Those who can’t do, teach.” It was like calling time on yourself and admitting FAILURE! It was worst case scenario stuff for me. I was never going down that road. NOPE!

SO I BECAME A TEACHER!

Well, this is awkward…

I fell into teaching, by chance, fate or sheer bad luck.

There I was, in the local swimming pool, with my then 2-year-old. In the showers after a great morning as we usually did once a week, just me and the boy having splash time. Opposite, a lady with her little girl, is staring at me!

You know when you know you know someone, but you can’t quite pinpoint why or how. After what seemed like hours, (but was likely only minutes) she smiled. “I know you, don’t I?” And there it was, the thick northern accent that brought it all flooding back. I had gone to drama school with her, had spent 2 years knowing her. A blast from the past indeed! Within seconds we were bear-hugging each other, wet and dripping in our mum swimsuits, under the showers, laughing and shouting obscene memories at each other, while the league of elderly flower cap brigade looked on horrified.

She was living in Kent and was teaching drama and music in the school across the road from my house. But she was leaving. She asked what I was doing with myself. I told her we had just moved to town and I was thinking about getting a job but had no idea what I was going to do…

A week later, I am in the office of the Head Teacher’s office, shaking hands and being offered a contract.

I walked away, looking back, hoping no one would find me out! Surely that did not just happen?

Then it dawned on me! What am I doing? This is exactly what I didn’t want to do. This meant the end of my acting career. It meant I was admitting failure. That I was resigned to giving up everything I had worked for my entire life! What had I done?

But then it started.

I have always been the type of person to throw myself into something full throttle and this was no different. I had been sat home for 3 years talking to a baby and watching Mr f*cking Tumble on repeat. My brain was fried and needed some intellectual stimulation other than learning recipes from I Can Cook!

So that’s what I did. I threw myself in, determined to make it work, to be the best I could be, to learn, to train and to be a success. I had energy, enthusiasm, passion and was loving it! I was buzzed and so excited to be a real grown up, with a real grown up’s job and to be in the world of respected professionals. It felt good after the last few years of just surviving.

It didn’t last long.

That feeling left after the second term… and the rest I shall leave for another time.

I worked there for 2 years and a further few months at a Secondary School as a Music, Drama and English teacher – and then I left. It was a bold and risky move, but it had to be done, and it was the best thing I could ever have done.

You see, in 3 short years I had learnt what the education system was really like. I watched teachers crumble in tears and have nervous breakdowns with the workload. I watched as teachers were shoved out of their roles to make way for fresh meat who could be easily moulded to the new system. I watched the politics of data vs. human children and learnt about budgets, Ofsted, criteria and learnt all about observations and changing marking systems every 3 months. I sat up for hours, laminating, cutting and designing maths games, spent holidays redecorating classrooms and building book corners. I spent hours worrying about lesson plans, objectives, outcomes, starters, plenary activities differentiated 15 ways, print outs, power points, marking in 3 different colours, traffic light systems, behaviour management, and sat laboriously marking useless SATS papers and entering data into spreadsheets, watching them turn orange and red and seeing the fear in grown women’s eyes as they were called for appraisals.

To be a teacher is not just to teach a million things you are not an expert in, but so much more. To teach is to be an analyst, an office manager, a psychologist, a public speaker, a wrangler of wild animals, a diplomat, an artist, an actor, a juggler, an editor, a policy maker, a nurse…

You get the picture!

I was in awe of the people around me. You cannot do that job if you don’t love it with all your heart.

But the system is BROKEN!

I loved being with the kids, I loved inspiring them, I loved seeing their eyes light up when they finally got something, when you blew their tiny little minds with science or to see the joy on their faces when they discovered something new. I loved the process too… from the beginning to the end and watching the progress, from not knowing, to that little light bulb moment. I loved the bonds we made, the characters I met and the fun we had! I LOVED teaching. But teachers don’t get to teach anymore.

I hated the industry. I hated the politics, the red tape and all the other stuff that went with it. I hated that something that I wanted to be a part of was becoming something that was being ripped apart. It was painful and I couldn’t help but be emotionally invested in it. It was exhausting. And I had only just dipped my toe in…

I left for several reasons, but an overriding factor was that I figured out why I had been led to teaching… and it meant that I HAD TO LEAVE!

I created a company based on my love for learning, but delivering it my way – as an Actor! An adventure where topics are experienced, history is brought to life and books are lifted out of the page and into the room! A world where Storytelling is the key, using our bodies and voices is celebrated and not silenced in a chair, where knowledge is embedded in emotional connection and social skills are more important than an exam paper question. A place where energy is used to it’s potential, imaginations are free to expand and awareness of ourselves as humans is the forefront of the journey.

Teaching led me to what I was supposed to do. I found my purpose – and I am forever grateful!

As I celebrate another birthday of my beloved Bindlestick Theatre Company, I look back on that time with mixed feelings. Full of gratitude that it led me to my calling, but also because it made me realise that my ability to walk away from things that I don’t believe in and my opinions and moral code are much stronger than I ever thought before.

Teachers have always been a huge part of my life. From the year 6 Teacher who told me I would be a Storyteller one day, to my Secondary School Teachers who I am still in touch with today and the Teachers I work with on a daily basis throughout my work – I thank you! You are all heroes and perform miracles daily.

I may have failed at being a teacher in mainstream education, but as Tim Minchin says;

“Be a teacher! Even if you’re not a teacher, be a teacher!”

Welcome to my Fort Kids – It’s got balloons, cake and party hats in it!

“What’s the worst that can happen?” – Falling down to Succeed!

This is the question I ask my music students every single week!

I always ask them this same question towards the end of the lesson, when it comes to sharing what they have learnt with the rest of the class and someone hesitates or is nervous.

“What’s the worst that can happen?”

And the answer is usually a version of:

“IT WILL GO HORRIBLY WRONG AND I WONT BE ABLE TO DO IT RIGHT!”

And there we have it, the dreaded “DUM DUM DUM” moment – our FEAR OF FAILURE!

A feeling I know all too well – BIG TIME! As an actor and someone in a creative and often extremely vulnerable and exposing industry, I put myself in a rather awkward spot some might say. But, I wasn’t always so held back by my fears, in fact I used to get a weird kick out of pushing myself out of my comfort zone and always found my way out the other side better off, if not, triumphant. It was the fine balance between adrenaline and testosterone propelling me forward instead of fleeing to my fort.

But over the years and some very specific life events thrown into the mix, the balance shifted, something went out of whack and I developed an almost unhealthy version of this fear – Atychiphobia!

Atychiphobia is just that, it is a phobia – of failing. Not just the average run of the mill, ego-inducing fear of looking like a twat if you messed up, but a debilitating fear of doing anything that might not have a perfect result, and as a consequence, not only avoiding situations where there was a possibility of looking less than perfect, but also pretty much sabotaging any chance of happiness – by not trying anything at all!

So one day in 2013 and after 4 years of sitting comfortably and safely in my fort, I decided enough was enough and something had to shift. I made a list of all my biggest fears and decided that one by one I was going to see what happened if I faced them!

FUN FACT: We are all born with 2 fears – DEATH and FALLING! Everything else is manufactured throughout our lives.

So I chose those 2 things first, you know just to ease me into it. Gently does it!

The first fear on the list, was my fear of heights and falling from said heights, to my death. A BUNGEE JUMP.

My friend was going to do a local bungee jump and I was going along to support her. She had been talking about it for weeks and how it was ‘A Leap of Faith’ and how it changed everything for her when she had done it the previous year.

To paint a picture (and my darling dad will testify to this), I won’t even climb a ladder to the loft without spinning out and saying my last goodbyes, so there was NO WAY I was going to do it, I would just go and watch, feel a little bit sick at the thought of my friend diving off a crane, plummeting toward the earth at an unnatural speed and then go home safe in the knowledge that I was sensible, grounded and alive and have a cup of tea.

But something weird happened the night before and I may or may not have been drunk, but I went a little bit mental and blacked out because I happened to have signed myself up online and paid the fee to do the jump and then told my friend I was coming with her. I still to this day don’t remember taking the decision, so cannot comment on how I consciously got the gumption to become all brave and what not.

The next morning, before I had even opened my eyes, the panic started to rise and the comprehension of what I had done, drove me into a paralysed, quivering and breathless mess. What have I done? I can’t believe I did that? I can’t do that. I can barely jump rope let alone jump off a crane – you’re an idiot, this is suicide, you have a child, he can’t be an orphan now… WHY for the love of… OK, no big deal, the money goes to charity anyway, I just won’t do the jump, it will be fine, my friend won’t mind and will understand, no one else knows about it, so let’s just forget it ever happened. Shhhhhhhhhh! And breathe. Except my friend, who was also a teacher at our school, had let slip to some of the parents coming to support and now half the school knew, the kids had made 976666_10201361655471324_1695618910_o (2)banners for fuck sake and got a crowd ready to come down to the park – (how early did these guys get up?) NEWS TRAVELS FAST!!!

SHIT, SHIT, SHIT!

I was going to bottle it and now the fear of failing was having a massive bust up in the car park with my fear of falling – What the actual fuck?

You know the ending to this one already, so I will skip the part where I ended up in a crane cage with the Mayor and had ITV news filming my every move and get to the point. (Although, these two points did have a very big part in my decision, heightening the experience beyond what anyone had ever expected – only me could this happen to!)

So I jumped – or rather I let go! The bungee jump guy in the cage with me, told me to count to 5, got me to put my hands out in front of me and then he let go of my harness in 1… 2… 3… I didn’t even hear him after that!

So there I was, plummeting toward the earth, eyes shut, breath held and ready to meet my fate, everything still and silent. I may have passed out momentarily, because the next thing I remember is my body being yanked from oblivion and flying back up into the sky. I HADN’T DIED! The rope had not snapped, my feet were still attached and I opened my eyes to the banner, my 3 year old and a news crew all screaming and cheering at me metres away as I bobbed lower and lower to 2 saviours who grabbed my arms and pulled me onto a mattress. I laid there for what seemed like an hour, heaving and sobbing and punching my fists in the air like I had just won the Olympic gold medal for staying alive! 994741_10201361697832383_376373182_n

Needless to say that my phobia of failing was still strong willed that day, which led me to conquer the biggest fear I thought I had.

I want to be able to tell you that I can now go up ladders like a boss and that I have done a sky dive since and am some adrenaline junkie dare devil – but that would be a big fat lie. In fact, doing the jump made me realised how much I didn’t ever want to do it again.

But it did change everything else!

I let go!

I let go of staying still, I let go of not experiencing life in case I got hurt, I let go of feeling like everything was a threat and I let go of the girl trapped the fort! I suddenly started my life again, started making decisions to be happy, to move forward and to live my life a little bit more adventurously again.

Don’t worry, I still love my fort like a crack whore loves crack and have an incredibly long way to go, especially when it comes to putting myself out there creatively, but I have come a VERY long way.

I ask my students the same question every week, “What’s the worst that can happen?”

And my answer is always this:

Nothing! You might get it wrong, but the world won’t stop, the ceiling isn’t going to cave in, a dinosaur is not going to burst through the window. You won’t die!

(I also make them fist pump at the end of every session, sans the heavy snot-faced crying from me.)

Here’s the thing – I didn’t die and it felt awesome! I have since gone on to do hundreds of things that have terrified me, including starting this blog, but I still need reminding of my own advice on an almost daily basis at the moment.

So I would like to up the challenge.

Here is my pledge:

I Challenge myself to do one thing that scares me every week for the next year!

Challenge #1: I have booked myself on to an improvisation class this week – the epitome of letting go! I will report back next week!

Welcome to my fort, it has cats, over-sized scarves and buckets of tea in it! 

Welcome to my Fort…

Hi there tinternet,

I have had this blog page since 2011, when I was a stay at home mum, doing lots of awesome things like creating cute and eco-friendly veggie patches, crafting my entire Christmas, making organic baby mush, being a paleo goddess and generally rocking the whole ‘Earth Mother’ bullshit that I thought I was supposed to be doing to be a good woman. The kinda stuff people seem to find infinitely interesting to read about, watch you tube tutorials on and spend vast amounts of time creating pinterest boards for inspiration for their own – I know because I am one of these people!

Well obviously it didn’t actually happen – depression and anxiety happened and a loss of self-confidence and the stresses of becoming a single mother took its toll.

Skip, jump, leap and frolic ahead several years and I remembered I had this empty vessel waiting to become my new project (because I haven’t got enough to do, clearly).

So the whole perfect parenting thing went out the window after a couple of years and life is rather different now. My mini human is now 7 years old, going on 17, I am a business owner, entrepreneur, professional actor (again) and have quite a lot on my plate – no time for that veggie patch now, in fact I am pretty shit at all things domestic, (I recently killed the basil plant and burnt a pizza), so you get the picture… I am a HOT MESS.

So this blog is going to be about just that.

I have spent many years fighting the good fight to feel like a good human, but the threat of failure and the need for perfection often stopped me from achieving things, acting on creative ideas and putting myself out there for my career. I also commit a lot of my time to beating myself up for not being the perfect mother, feeling guilty at most points throughout my son’s life and tying myself up in knots just to appear to be holding all my shit together.

So this is a new beginning, a challenge if you will – to break the cycle of creative self sabotage and to fight my paralysing perfectionism, to be open and frank about some of the things in life that I don’t usually talk about, mainly because I am a single working parent with no social life and very few friends to talk to, (can you hear the tiny violin?) and to keep a diary of some of the new projects and tasks I am taking on – the accountability factor, which I am expert in avoiding.

So dear readers, if there are any out there… brace yourselves, here comes the train wreck that is my life – look out for my adventures into dating after being single for 7 years, literally not even sure what is down there anymore, healthy living quests, parenting fails, adulting fails and general ramblings on life.

Welcome to my fort kids – it has crayons, fairy lights and gin!