Mixed Bag

What a mixed bag of a day!

We had orientation for our new students today, and, when it was Jacqui and my turn to provide our part of orientation, we noticed only 39 students. That was okay; one student told us at interviews that she had previously booked a non-refundable trip to Australia and was going to miss the first few days of the course (which we okayed). But… when we read her name, with the obligatory, “That’s right; she’s not starting until…”, she raised her hand. She was there. So the empty seat was for…

The one student I was feeling ultimately uneasy about. Noel and she got into a disagreement at the interview. I had a run-in with her on the phone. And Jacqui, on one of her first days at work, got dressed-down by the little madam (and that’s the nicest word I can think of for her), to which I told Jacqui she wasn’t paid to be spoken like that, so, in true Jacqui fashion, she called her back and let her know (oh-so-ever politely as the more refined British do) she wasn’t going to be spoke to like that, thank you very much, and if she wanted to get anywhere in the course or the industry, the little madam needed to drop the attitude.

So, instead of letting us know when she decided not to do the course, she told us today after it had started (about 9:30 AM probably). I have never been excited to hear a student decided to withdraw until today. It put a good spin on the day!

On the negative yet oh-my-God-we-are-totally-gonna-win-this side of today, the government agency we have been having problems with today came back with their Canterbury manager’s verdict on our complaint: not their fault.

Yet, it so is.

For those of you who don’t know the story, we had to undergo an assessment to determine our “strategic relevance”. It’s a bureaucratic BS exercise — how can you determine how relevant a practical training organisation is on paper without going out into the industry and doing a bit of research? — Cullen and his gang dreamed up with to burden Private Training Establishments (PTEs) with so much more bureaucracy so they’d have so little time to teach they’d go out of business.

Alas, I digress.

We were somewhat confused — as, per usual, the guidelines as clear as muck and vague as vague can be — so we asked for advice against specific criteria on specific applications on specific courses. So… it was very specific information we gave.

And we received an answer. No, we didn’t need to complete sections 1, 2, 3 and 4, only 1 and 4.

Fast forward. A process taking only a few weeks overshoots its deadline by a few months: typical for this specific government department (digression: we are expected to meet our deadlines; they, for some reason, are not). We find out our applications were unsuccessful. Why? Oh, we were assessed against sections 1, 2, 3 and 4… even though they told us we’d only need to submit 1 and 4.

Unfortunately for the government body, we have the entire email conversation… in one email thread.

We decided to fight. If we gave a student a test on addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and told them that the test was only on addition and subtraction, had them complete it, then mark the entire test (including multiplication and division parts, not completed, getting zeroes), you could bet your bottom dollar the same government department would be down on us like a ton of bricks.

Oh, but by today’s response… the rules, ethics and any sort of moral obligations don’t apply to them.

So I read their response (paraphrased) to Jacqui. I read it to Noel. And you know what both of them said?

They so know you have them by the balls.

The Canterbury manager even had the audacity — and she and I have never seen eye-to-eye but hey, I proved I have years more experience than her in tertiary education and, let’s face it, it’s not hard to prove them wrong or get them in a quandary about the airy-fairy, very vague ideas they try to implement — to imply our complaint was to “circumvent” the process. Sorry, love. Not true. Kinda implying we want a fair chance. Is that so much to ask for?

So I was mad — that shaking mad you get where your hands are shaking and you are spacey but so ready to throttle someone — until I kept hearing Jacqui and Noel’s words in my head: they know you so have them by the balls. It’s true. So I was a bitch. And pushed back.

So… I end today, scanning photos (still working at 7:30 PM at night. 3 of us at work in our department and we are still flat out), on a deeply satisfied note.

What a great bunch of students we seem to have this year.

Ding dong, the witch-with-a-b has gone.

They know we have them by the balls.

What a mixed bag of a day!

Lucky

“We don’t know how lucky we are (mate)” goes a song here in New Zealand. An annoying song, yes, but a good lyric and message despite that.

Lately, at work, we have been having problem with a certain government body (and if that shocks you, you must live under a rock…) and thinking back on some of the conversations I’ve had with people there, I have to thank my lucky stars that I have such a wonderful job and wonderful people to work with.

To fill you in on all this — and believe you me, I will — I’ll have to let you know a major event that made me come to this conclusion.

Last year, we had an audit. Again, government department, wasn’t very well planned (came out of the blue actually). Anyway, the two auditors (one senior, one junior) took their places at the desk across from mine (then vacant) and proceeded with their audit.

The tutors, in the office next to mine, were on break. And, by the sound of things, enjoying themselves immensely, which they always seem to do. So their laughter grew louder and more frenzied as time went by.

I have to admit, I was a bit embarrassed because, quite frankly, it sounded like our teaching team was nuts. Sure, some students could probably drive them to that — especially that small group of our “special needs” students which we inevitably get from year to year — but the laughter kept going strong. Probably some random thing one of them said and the others were taking the piss out of them.

I turned to the auditors, who looked back at me. “I’m sorry,” my left hand pointed towards the office next door, “that they’re so loud. I can have them keep it down if you like.”

The two auditors looked at one another and smiled slightly. “No,” one said. “It’s nice to hear laughter. We’re not allowed to laugh in our offices.”

They proceeded to tell me, not in so many words, that those government desk jockeys vying for a higher position — willing to walk, crawl or jump all over anyone who got in their way — made their office a hell to work in. Not a pleasant atmosphere at all.

To be honest, at the time, I didn’t really give it much more thought. Making the assumption that all government departments were like that (and hey, I have to admit I am not a fan of bureaucracy or government departments), I thought, “Well, you have a choice to work there and that choice is yours alone.”

But with some applicants we have been interviewing lately, it’s not just government departments. Many other offices and places of business don’t allow laughter or fun in any way, shape or form. And how sad is that? How good is that for morale? For staff retention?

Noel and Don created a wonderful place to work. Sure, sometimes it is stressful and we have our moments of bitching at one another, but the more I hear from others, the more I realise how lucky I am — we all are — to have such an excellent workplace.

So the morals of the story are: If you think you’re bad off, there’s always someone worse off than you; and if you’re not happy with where you are or what you are doing, only you can change it to make it something better!

Curveballs

Why does it seem when the game of life is pitching balls in the strike zone — the perfect hit — it throws a curveball instead?

Just a general observation… Not all curveballs are bad. For some reason people think that curveballs are bad. Some are very much welcome; it’s a refreshing change of pace.

Good examples:

Both people who are on my “team” at work — Jacqui and Jamie — fell into place by accident. Jacqui (our neighbour) stepped in when the woman we hired to take over the Operations Administrator position was “too ill” to take it. Jamie (Noel’s nephew) wanted a job, and with the massive amounts of data entry we have to do at work, there was definitely a job there for him. Both of them need the least amount of instruction and pick things up so quickly that I feel absolutely positively confident in their abilities. They do things to 110%. We make a good team, which is awesome considering we are a team created by life’s curveballs.

Jamie. Noel’s nephew fell into our lives when Noel’s brother Bob was talking to us about Jamie wanting a job dealing with computers, so Noel obliged. I don’t know exactly what Jamie has and what he doesn’t but I don’t know if it is much. He’s had more curveballs pitched to him in life than most of us could ever handle, but still turned out okay. I feel some higher power sent him to us so we can help him. It’s a curveball. Me equipped to help a 16 year old? Amazingly, people who know me say I have an innate ability to make people feel at ease. He just seems to click with me.  So I’m going to try to be the best role-model I can to him, and I’m sure Noel will as well.

People drift into my life and I am so grateful for their friendship and love. John, Anne, Adam, Dave O., Jacqui, James are all great friends from the past and the present who seem to care about me and love me as a friend and I don’t know why! But they were all curveballs, people I thought when I first met them that there was no way I’d meet their criteria for friendship (without even knowing the rules). Stupid assumption on my part, but they all took me in without question, without judgement and I don’t think they know how much that meant to me (and still does mean to me). So to them I always say thank you!

I never knew where I’d end up career-wise. And then I landed at the school and it changed me. I never thought I’d be in education, let alone tertiary education, and life threw a curveball; 11 years later and I still love it.

Previous relationships weren’t exactly the best. We fought, we swung at each disaster that life would pitch at us and still end up without any runs. No score: a game full of innings and more innings.

And then I met Noel and I never feel judged. We rarely fight. Disagree, yes. Fight, no. We joke, we laugh, even at the dumb jokes we both make. We like the same things, mostly (no smart comments about Madonna and Buffy!!!) And I feel comfortable with him and we’ve proven, as a team, we can beat each disaster pitched at us, smacking doubles and triples and home-runs. What a score we make together!

These are curveballs, the unexpected, the unwanted but thrown pitches that advance the game. Sometimes we strike out and sometimes we score, but sometimes it’s the way we look at the game.

And you know what? I love the game. I love life and all it’s quirks and turns and high balls and low balls and everything in-between. If it isn’t interesting, what’s the point of the game of life?

Bring on the curveballs.

Yeah But No But Yeah But…

Watching Little Britain, I sometimes think that the sketches could be slightly modified for our school. Some good examples:

We get a student on the phone. She doesn’t want to do the entire beauty therapy course, just oh, waxing and maybe playing with eyebrows. (Ok, imagine going to a doctor who says, “Sorry, didn’t cover that in medical school, I only know about the respiratory system.”) I feel like I want to be like Carol and say:

“Computer says no.”

Some students want all their i’s dotted and their t’s crossed, and they ask 12 times just to make sure. Great, but the answer doesn’t change from the first time you asked me in this conversation… and this is where we feel like answering like the Scottish inn keeper:

“If ye ask me on a Monday, I’d say Yeeeees. If ye aske me on a Tuesday, I’d say Yeeeeees. If you ask me on a Wednesday, I’d say Yeeeees…”

And then there are those, what we like to call, “special needs students”. The ones who just stand out to us for all the wrong reasons. I’m like Linda then.

(On phone to Noel). “Noel, it’s Scott. I’ve got a student here in my office… how can I describe her? It’s Lucy. You know Lucy? Pretty brown hair. She’s beautiful… in the middle of it. Looks like she knows where to get a good feed. That’s right! Stutters like a skipping record needle. It’s a-bee-a-bee-a-bee-a-bee Petunia Pig!!!”

Then there is that one student each year that gains a LOT of weight. I mean, a lot. So bad that you hear a warning klaxon when you get near her because her uniform buttons are about the pop. This is where Fat Fighters comes in:

“Because YOU FAT! Fatty fatty boom boom! You just LOVE the cake!”

Of course, most of our students are okay. I shouldn’t give them such a bad rap, but it’s just those special one or two that make our lives at school… interesting. Take the student who doesn’t do her homework (and it’s everyone else’s fault she’s failing except hers). At the end of our tether, and we’re trying to find out where the student’s homework is, it’s like speaking to Vicki Pollard:

“Yeah but no but yeah but no but yeah, what happened was this whole phing like Brandi Twinings, right? She like totally fobbed me off or sumthin coz she so wanted to go out with Kevin Bradford but he’s hooked up with Trish or sumthin coz they met at Eastgate McDonalds and shared a shake and she TOTALLY got like herpes or summit and they quarantined the whole mall until OSH gave them the all clear and Trish and Kevin and them were all pukin and spewin and it was well graphic and random coz Brandi put a whole bottle of Mylanta in the shake machine.”

So with starting another school year on Monday — my 11th with the school — it should be interesting to see what other things come up in 2007!