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Favourite Reads 2019

Favourite Reads 2019

It is currently 10:30am on a Tuesday morning and I am still in bed, which means one thing…. half term has well and truly arrived. The first 7 weeks being back at work have been an absolute blur and with everything that has been going on, I have found it really tricky to find time to write for my blog. That being said, half term provides me with a break away from the classroom to chill and make time for ME again!

One of my biggest hobbies is reading. There is nothing more relaxing to me than cosying up on the sofa with a good read and a coffee. However, I have discovered over the years, that reading is like marmite, you either love it or you hate it. Some people find reading a ‘complete waste of time’ as it requires you to step off the treadmill (that is our hectic lives), sit quietly and essentially switch off, solely concentrating on the words in the book. Some people find this notion more difficult than others, especially if you have more pressing matters to think about and attend to. Others just simply have no interest in reading and will only read if they need to. I on the other hand, have always loved reading as a worthwhile hobby. As Dr. Seuss says ‘The more you read, the more you will know’

I think my intrinsic love of reading was influenced by my Dad as he always made time to take me and my sister to the library, when we were younger. He introduced me to the amazing Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings novels and loved driving me and my sister to Fosse Park to explore Borders bookstore (which has now sadly closed down) on a Saturday afternoon to buy a brand, new read. So this goes out to you Dad!

I have complied a list of books that I have loved reading this year, to give other book lovers recommendations. I haven’t written reviews because essentially it is subjective to the reader and it is nice to be pleasantly surprised (no spoilers), as long as the genre and themes appeal to you, why not give it a go! I will admit I sometimes get into bad habits of reading two or three books at once, as they are reads that you can dip in and out of, so some of these books I am currently still reading. I also don’t tend to stick to one particular genre, so hopefully, fingers crossed, at least one of these reads will interest you!

Non-Fiction Reads:

Good Vibes, Good Life: How Self-Love is the Key to Unlocking your Greatness by Vex King.

Themes: Self Love, Positivity, Mental Health, Inspiration,

Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawkings

Themes: Science, Debate, Cosmology, World Issues, Logic

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (Based on the powerful true story of Lale Sokolov)

Themes: Love, History, War, Adventure, Selflessness, Struggle

Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies: Amazing Women on What the F-Word Means to Them curated by Scarlett Curtis

Themes: Feminism, Self Love, Inspiration, Diversity, Change, Mental Health, Fashion, Body Image

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Themes: Motherhood, Power, Change, Politics, Feminism

Quick, Mini Reads:

Little Black Book: A Toolkit for Working Women by Otegha Uwagba

Themes: Creativity, Advice, Wisdom, Feminism, Productivity

No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg

Themes: Climate, World Issues, Inspiration, Change

Fiction:

Harry Potter and The Philosopher Stone (Illustrated version: Jim Kay) by J.K Rowling

Themes: Magic, Adventure, Friendship

Milkman by Anna Burns

Themes: History, Oppression, War, Religion, Class, Gender

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Themes: Love, Friendship, Family, Loneliness, Mental Health, Kindness

Future Reads:

It’s Not Ok To Feel Blue and Other lies: Inspirational People Open Up About Their Mental Health curated by Scarlett Curtis

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundena

The Child in Time by Ian McEwan

Santorini

Santorini

Anyone who knows me, will know how much I love travelling. I can always justify spending money on a weekend away or a week abroad. For me, travelling is not just about making memories and taking amazing photographs. It is also about exploring different cultures, meeting new people and experiencing life outside of your own comfort zone. ‘The world is a book and those who do not travel, read only a page’ (St Augustine- philosopher).

For years I have had Santorini on my travel bucket list. I remember watching Facebook and Youtube travel videos of famous couples who have travelled to Santorini and I remember thinking ‘I am going there, even if it takes me years to save!’ After completing my NQT year and Harry landing a job as a Junior Draftsman/CAD Engineer, we felt that it was the perfect time to go. So we did…

Accommodation

Santorini is one of the many Greek islands in the Aegean Sea which hosts around 1.5 million tourists every year. Now, I can see why… Me and Harry booked to stay in the northern coastal town of Oia for seven days in the middle of July. Oia is a beautiful town made up of whitewashed houses and blue domed churches carved into the surrounding clifftops, overlooking the vast Aegean Sea. We stayed at the Residence Suites which we found through TripAdvisor (rated 4*). The Residence Suites were made up of a collection of apartments, with amazing sea views and private balconies/terraces. The suites were within the heart of Oia town which was convenient in the day, when you wanted to go out and explore the town and in the evenings when we went out for dinner and drinks.

The Old Town

The old town of Oia is bustling with shops, restaurants, bars and galleries. The main street stretches throughout the town and along the top cliff face of the island. One of my favourite ‘go to shops’ was a tiny bookshop called Atlantis Books which stocks a variety of books (popular reads to traditional literature) in English and Greek. The best time of the day to visit would be in the late evenings, otherwise it would become too busy to wrack the shelves for worthwhile hardbacks.

Me and Harry never struggled to find a quaint coffee house, restaurant or bar in Oia which overlooked the Cyclades. The restaurants had a variety of food options ranging from traditional Greek cuisine, to Italian and English dishes suitable for both vegetarians and vegans. However, we both enjoyed opting for the popular Greek dishes of souvlaki and tzatiki at our favourite restaurant, Thalami overlooking the beautiful Santorini sunset. The staff were lovely and welcoming and the food tasted beautiful! Harry also enjoyed the Mastika liqueur that was served free of charge with the bill.

If we were to visit Oia again in the future, we both agreed that we would go when it was less busy. That is not to say that the tourism detracted from the island at all. It just meant it became very difficult to really explore the streets and shops properly without feeling rushed or cramped. We were told by people that either lived there or worked on the island in the summer months that Santorini becomes very busy from June to early September. They said that the best times to visit would be April/May or later in October when the hustle and bustle of the summer tourism calms down.

Santorini Sunsets

The famous Santorini sunset is one of the most stunning sunsets I have ever seen (yes I am completely biased) and Oia town is considered one of the best places to fully appreciate it, for free. If you are not staying in Oia, I would recommend that you arrive in the town before 5pm to grab the best sunset spot, as everyone flocks towards the south side of the cliffs to enjoy the best views. So get there earlier rather than later! Oia castle made for an amazing spot, but it does become incredibly busy and difficult to take pictures.

Next time, we would pay to go on a sunset cruise around the island to enjoy the sunset views from the sea. Prices range from 35 euros+ each, depending on which company you go with. But it is an experience that you wouldn’t want to miss out on! So it is on our ‘to do list’ when we next visit.

Perissa Beach

I will be honest, Santorini is not well known for its stunning and idyllic beaches. Other Greek islands that I have visited including Skiathos, Skopelos and Paros have beautiful sandy, white beaches that stretch on for miles. Santorini’s beaches are composed of black volcanic sand and pebbles. But they are still beautiful and well worth a visit! The best beaches in Santorini are Perissa, Kamari, Ammoudi and Perivolos.

Our favourite was Perissa Beach or ‘Black Beach’. It is located on the south side of the island and lies at the base of the Mesa Vouno Mountain. The beach’s location meant that we either had to travel by taxi or bus from Oia, as we didn’t rent a car, moped or quad bike. It took about 45 mins to get there as we travelled through Fira (the island’s main town). Perissa is definitely one of the most popular beaches on the island with its famous volcanic, black sand and dark, blue crystal clear waters. We went quite early in the morning so we didn’t struggle to find sun-beds with amazing views of the sea and mountain. We found out that if we were to have lunch at one of the various beach bars/restaurants, then the sun beds came free.

Holiday Gallery

I love taking photographs, but I will admit that my pictures do not give the scenic views justice, so it gives you all the more reason to add Santorini to your own travel bucket list!

10 Things I have Learnt within my NQT Year

This time last year, I was preparing to start my first official year as a primary school teacher working with reception children. To this day, I still have friends, family and acquaintances questioning my career choices. ‘Why would you want to become a teacher?’ ‘It is not a 9 to 5 job… Do you not want a life?’ ‘Those who can’t do, go in to teaching’ ‘What are you going to gain by teaching young children five days a week?’ Well, I am going to tell you…

Being a teacher (and a reception teacher at that) is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. You become their second parent, nurturer, play partner, social advisor, and of course their educator. That is not to say that it is perfect. As a teacher, no matter what year group you go in to, you will experience the highest highs and the lowest of lows (my work friends and colleagues will vouch for me). There has been many an evening when I have got home at half 6 and worked through to 11 with a splitting migraine and not had that voice in the back of my head saying ‘Erin, your job is currently your life, can you maintain this’. The honest answer is no. As I prepare to embark on my second year of teaching as an RQT, I have learnt some tricks of the trade and life lessons which may help future, potential NQTs survive their first year.

  1. Do not buy your own laminating pouches

Looking back to last summer, I must have spent at least £50+ on laminating pouches in order to laminate display lettering, posters, labels etc. for the classroom (in an attempt to be super organised). I quickly found out when the first term began that the school does provide pouches for staff to use. However, words of caution, laminating pouches are expensive for schools to buy and they can not be recycled. So I now only laminate what I will reuse year on year. Yet what I would suggest and recommend is buying a cheap laminator for home use. I bought an A4 laminator from Wilkos for £15 and it is still going strong. This has been a God send for me.

2. You can not do everything

I will admit, I am a slight perfectionist and I like what I like. I have come to realise in my NQT year that this is a strength and a weakness. I can not do everything and there is a cut off point. My cut off point either ended in illness or high levels of stress because I struggled to let the ‘never ending to do list’ go. I felt like I couldn’t leave work or go to bed until I had scribbled every single thing off my list for that day and it just wasn’t realistic or sustainable. Whilst writing this I can just hear my Mum’s voice ‘IT CAN WAIT UNTIL TOMORROW WHEN YOU SIT BACK AT YOUR WORK DESK AT HALF 7 IN THE MORNING ERIN!’ Even though I did not think this at the time, Mum you are right.

A teacher’s to do list is never ending and as soon as one thing is ticked off, another 5 get added so you have to prioritise what is the most important. If it is not urgent, then leave it until tomorrow or whenever you can give it the attention it deserves.

Another handy tip is to delegate. I struggled with this at the beginning. But your teaching assistant (if you are lucky enough to have one full time or even part time) is there to assist your teaching and help with the never ending workload. So share out the jobs and don’t feel bad about it. They are there to help you and they will do this in whatever way they can. Whether that be running to the photocopier or tidying up the creative table.

3. You are the most valuable resource in the classroom

This year I have spent hundreds of pounds on a variety of resources that I felt the children would love and benefit hugely from. Whether it be a self selection storage unit from IKEA or a variety of seeds for the children to grow from the local garden centre. Erin has bought it all! Yet what I realised, more so towards the end of the third term is that you as the class teacher are the most valuable resource. The storage unit and the seeds have a purpose but you as the adult set the learning environment each and everyday for each and every unique 4 year old, that walks through that classroom door.

Sometimes it is difficult to practise what you preach. You are only human and there are some days when you feel like ‘I can’t deal with anything today’ or ‘I am exhausted, there is no way I can teach phonics this morning and then do five guided writing groups by 12 o clock’. But for me, when those children walk through the door to greet you in the morning with a smile or a hug, you realise IT IS NOT ABOUT ME, IT IS ABOUT THEM! Negative thoughts and feelings aside, I am here to educate and inspire. That is why I went into teaching after all.

4. Pinterest and Twinkl can be lifesavers

Whilst training to be an early years teacher, I was encouraged by a number of educators to stay clear of using sites like Pinterest or Twinkl. Whilst I agree to an extent that teachers should not become completely dependent on these sites for ideas, planning and resources. They are still lifesavers when having a mid term mind blank! Yes, we all have them.

In reception, we teach through child initiated play. We use the children’s interests to plan lessons and activities, whilst linking these interests to a specific skill. These skills range from being able to count to 20 to being able to listen attentively and share with one another in their play. That means I have to plan, make and resource around 7 different activities a week (excluding lessons, interventions and guided groups) for the children to access independently. This can be enjoyable if you have some creative ideas up your sleeve. But sometimes I will be sat there wracking my brain for a lightbulb moment and this is where Pinterest and Twinkl come in and save you. Pinterest and Twinkl are free to use through your school and they provide you with some amazing ideas that you can magpie and bring to life in your classroom. So they do have a purpose!

5. Drink and eat well

My family and friends will laugh at this as I wouldn’t say I am the best advocate for talking about being healthy. I have not always seen my ‘body as a temple’ within my NQT year. I will admit I did not eat well. I got into bad habits of bringing in ready meals and snacking on sweets, crips and doughnuts. Come on… who doesn’t love junk food. This was not helped by my stash of chocolates that I stored in my cupboard for after school or the endless trays of ASDA iced doughnuts that ended up on the table in the staffroom to celebrate someone’s birthday (yes, I would never be able to resist not having one). I will be honest, those choices did not make me feel good long term. I felt low physically and it affected my weight, my skin, and my general happiness. Eating badly was a short term fix. But what I will say is everything is fine in moderation!

Since finishing my NQT year and having a 6 week summer made me realise that I need to start my RQT year with a health plan. Otherwise, you end up just burning out and becoming extremely ill.

Find a plan that works for you. I know it sounds easier said than done. But plan your meals at the weekends and make them in advance. Factor in regular exercise and go before or after work to reduce stress and drink plenty of water. Do not do what I did and live off three vanilla lattes a day as you end up dehydrated and then the migraine kicks in. It is a never ending cycle…

6. Lessons do go wrong occasionally

As a trainee and an NQT, planning lessons can take hours… You really have to think about what you want the children to learn and the logistics of it all. The best lessons that I have observed are the ones that have really been thought about in advance. But it is soul destroying when you have planned an amazing lesson in your head, typed it all out, practised it in front of your mum the night before and the delivery goes south. It is even worse if you are being observed and you feel like that could of been ALOT better.

First things first, do not be too hard on yourself. You are new to the game and no one expects an NQT or a highly experienced teacher at that, to know everything. Secondly, this is how we learn and get better, by making these mistakes.

I will never forget one of my close friends and colleagues at work giving me a pep talk, after I went into meltdown over a ‘bad lesson’. She said ‘Erin, get a grip, you did not die and it can always be put right’ and this has stuck with me ever since. Also, more often than not, you actually think it is worse than it actually is. So have fun with it and laugh it off. It’s not the end of the world.

7. TALK, you are not alone

I am not going to sugar coat, but teaching is a whirlwind of emotions. In one day you can feel like the best teacher in the world and the worst teacher in the world. This is because teaching is so personal. Being surrounded by children and staff all day (on a bad day) can be one of the most lonely and isolating places in the world. I felt as an NQT that I have to come across as optimistic and okay all the time. I wanted people to see that I was coping alright on my own. BUT THIS IS AN ILLUSION. Everyone has bad days, everyone cries and everyone has a cut off point.

So, TALK! Talk to your family, friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, husbands/wives, work colleagues, therapists and BE HONEST, because more often than not, they too feel the strain of everyday work related stress and upset. We have all been there. Once I took a deep breath and spoke openly, I felt like a weight has been lifted and the curtains had been drawn back. ‘Erin be yourself and talk to people if it gets too much’. I am not invincible, I am only human.

8. Find your own style and take risks

There are multiple teaching styles, so trial everything and go with what suits you. The beauty of teaching is that you don’t have to stick to one style. Education changes all the time so why can’t we, as educators. I always worried that ‘going my own way’ would lead to lots of mistakes and personal failures. But without trying things, you’ll never move forward and you do become stuck in a rut. The best lessons I have taught are ones where I haven’t played it safe. It becomes the land of the unknown because it could go one of two ways. It could be awful or it could be a game changer lesson. However, if you don’t take the plunge how will you ever find out.

9. Have a life beyond your job

This, for me is the biggest life lesson I have learnt within my NQT year and I am still working towards this going in to my second year. As an NQT, the goal is to survive by the end of the summer term and essentially pass your first year as a teacher. You go into the job giving it 100% all the time and you do end up neglecting yourself. However, if I could rewind time and speak to myself a year ago I would say ‘You can be an amazing teacher and still have a life. It is all about a work life balance’.

This term ‘balance’ gets banded around a lot, yet it is so relevant, especially in teaching. I am entitled to time away from my job, that is not to say that I switch off and don’t care because that is the furthest thing away from my character. Sometimes I care too much. But I should be able to enjoy my weekends, evenings and holidays without worrying about my job and the never ending to do list. This summer made me realise how little I did for myself within my NQT year because I had six weeks to fill to refocus on what is important. Whether that be going on holiday, going for a walk in the countryside, or cozying up on the sofa and reading a tonne of amazing books and essentially doing nothing, but relax.

Your job is not your life, it is a part of your life. Remember that!

10. STOP and reflect

Finally, we have made it to the last point of my blog post. So, I will try to keep it short and sweet.

When you can, whether it be in your lunch break or at the end of a difficult, stressful school day, take ten minutes to stop and reflect. Yes that means getting off the treadmill occasionally and reflecting on your personal achievements. As a teacher you achieve so much within one academic year and you learn a hell of a lot about yourself. Think of where you started and where you are now and celebrate it!

You are only an NQT once so enjoy it. You are changing and inspiring the lives of the next generation and you are doing an amazing job, so keep going and believe in yourself!