This week’s flash fiction prompt posted by Charli Mills posed a challenge for me.
How do I respond to her prompt to:
In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about exhaustion.
and maintain my focus on education?
Do I ignore the prompt and post about education?
Do I respond to the flash fiction prompt in isolation?
Neither of these alternatives appealed as I have been enjoying the camaraderie and support of the flash fiction tribe as well as the opportunity to experiment in a genre that, while not an immediate writing priority, I may move towards in the future. On the other hand, as my intent with this blog is to share ideas and thoughts primarily about education, I don’t want to become distracted from my focus.
As do many, the idea for this prompt attached itself to me when I wasn’t thinking about it. Ideas tend to pop into my head when I first awaken in the morning, when I am showering, or during any other moment when my thoughts are free to flit and fly without the constraints of achieving a particular outcome.
This one descended when I was out for a drive appreciating the beauty of the pure white clouds, like puffballs, on the bright blue sky of a glorious winter day. It plopped down, ‘Barrrump!’ just as the space-bat-angel-dragon from The Iron Man by Ted Hughes had plopped down on Australia.
As mentioned in a previous post, The Iron Man is one of my favourite books. It is a great story told in beautiful language. On the back of my copy a quote from the Observer declares that it is ‘Reckoned one of the greatest modern fairy tales.’ The rhythm and poetry of the language begs for it to be read aloud. Because it has just five short chapters, ‘a story in five nights’, it is perfect as a first chapter book to share with younger children, and can be read to a class in a week, a chapter a day.
The chapter I wish to share with you in this post is #4 ‘The Space-Being and the Iron Man’.
The previous chapter has seen The Iron Man happily ensconced in a huge scrap-metal yard. It could have finished there with a happily ever after ending. But no. It was only chapter 3. There were two more chapters to come! What excitement was in store?
The chapter begins
‘One day there came strange news. Everybody was talking about it. Round eyes, busy mouths, frightened voices – everybody was talking about it.
One of the stars of the night had begun to change.’
We are immediately reeled back into the story – What is going to happen? What will the Iron Man do? – and propelled along by the giant star that grew ‘not just bigger. But bigger and Bigger and BIGger’ as it came
‘rushing towards the world.
Faster than a bullet.
Faster than any rocket.
Faster even than a meteorite.’
Thankfully it stopped before it hit Earth. But wait – it’s not over yet, for ‘a dreadful silhouette, (came) flying out of the centre of that giant star, straight towards the earth.’
After several days it (‘a terrific dragon’) landed, with its body ‘covering the whole of Australia’ and it ‘wanted to be fed. And what it wanted to eat was – living things.’
‘The people of the world decided they would not feed this space-bat-angel-dragon … they would fight it.” But all the forces of the world were no match for the dragon.
As you may have guessed, this is where the heroic Iron Man devises his plan ‘to go out, as the champion of the earth, against this monster from space’. The dragon was very surprised to be challenged to a test of strength.
The Iron Man, you may remember, is taller than a house, but the space-bat-angel-dragon is bigger than Australia. The dragon thought that, when the Iron Man had finished, he’d ‘just lick him up.’ He didn’t figure on the ingenuity of the Iron Man. The Iron Man’s challenge was for the dragon to ‘go and lie on the sun till (he was) red-hot’. (The Iron Man was small enough to be made red-hot on Earth.)
After the second journey to the sun the dragon again ‘landed on Australia. This time the bump was so heavy, it knocked down certain sky-scrapers, sent tidal waves sweeping into harbours, and threw herds of cows on their backs. All over the world, anybody who happened to be riding a bicycle at that moment instantly fell off. The space-bat-angel-dragon landed so ponderously because he was exhausted.’
Have you ever felt that exhausted you just wanted to flop down and never move again? An article in my local newspaper1 recently declared that ‘We belong to the Spent Generation – the most overcommitted, overscheduled, overconnected, and therefore overtired, in modern times.’ The journalist Frances Whiting listed a number of professions including ‘doctors, scientists, social commentators (who) the statistics tell us (are) working longer, sleeping less, not resting enough and taking on too much.’
Teachers weren’t on this list, but they could have been at the top. Anyone who lives with, or has a friend who is, a teacher knows the long hours they work. Because it is a caring profession it is impossible to leave work at the gate and pick it up the following day. Content-driven curricula and unrealistic expectations imposed upon both teachers and learners place extra stress upon all stakeholders. Long before a school terms end teachers are tired, stressed and in need of time to recuperate and recharge in preparation for the next one.
At the moment most teachers in Australia are conducting assessments, evaluating their own work and student learning, preparing report cards and conducting teacher-parent interviews. This is in addition to their ongoing tasks of preparing and teaching lessons and is mostly expected to be completed in out-of-scheduled work hours.
When I was teaching I worked between 50 and 70 hours most weeks. I used to say that even with our ‘enviable’ holidays we were still owed time. In my current out-of-the-classroom role as writer of curriculum materials, I now feel the difference as I don’t have to think about it away from my desk.
I still get tired, but not the same heavy exhaustion that comes from giving all; physically, mentally and emotionally, to a class of 25 active learners while trying to stay afloat amidst ever increasing expectations.
So my flash this week recognises the teachers who, buried under a pile of paperwork and lost in a maze of data collecting spreadsheets, still struggle to be everything to everyone, endeavouring to make every child feel special and valued, while often feeling that their own work fails to achieve any real recognition. Enjoy the break, teachers. You deserve it!
A Unicorn at School
‘Miss. Marnie has a toy in her bag.’
‘Uh-uh,’ I responded.
‘You’re not allowed to have toys at school,’ he insisted.
Trust him! Always dobbing.
‘Miss,’ he persisted, tugging my sleeve.
‘What is it?’ I sighed, dragging myself out of the confusion of marks and percentages that now seemed more important to telling a child’s story than their own words and actions.
I looked at the little fellow pleading for my attention. They were all so needy; so demanding; but time . . .
‘It’s a unicorn, Miss.’
‘Unicorn! Let’s see!’ I was back. A child in need!
I welcome your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of the article or my flash fiction piece.
1 QWeekend 14-15 June, 2014
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I know of Ted Hughes but haven’t read Iron Man. Another for my “to read” list. My Mother was a teacher and I have lived through what you are describing. As kids we knew when we arrived home from school not to say anything to Mum until she had finished reading the paper and somewhat recovered from her day. We would then be given some time before she settled into preparing lessons, marking students work and countless other chores which she did at home for her job teaching. Your flash showed this well and I loved your explanation of the process and the intent that went before it.
Thanks so much for your generous and supportive comment, Irene. It really is only those who have lived with a teacher fully appreciate the extra hours that are involved. It would be interesting to hear the perspective of teachers’ children about their parents’ work.
Yes it would be interesting. I know we were a bit resentful when we had something we really wanted to tell my mum about.
I wonder if jealousy ever comes into play: you care more about those children than you care about me! My children never expressed that. I certainly hope they never felt it. Thanks for sharing. 🙂
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A lovely post, Norah. I enjoyed reading your thought processes re your own purpose in writing and how to combine it with the flash fiction challenge. I agree, teaching is a caring profession – I would go further and say it’s a vocation as many go through the training successfully but don’t last the course when in front of a class. Good teachers give everything they have to help pupils fulfill their potential – and then give more. And yes, ‘Tin Man’ is a wonderful story for children – and adults!
Thanks for your kind words, Teagan. I’m pleased you enjoyed my post. I appreciate your recognition of the work that teachers do! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Noted and read with envy, Norah…envy at your skill, the time you devote to these flashes and blogs and the thoughts you provoke. Not sure I’m in a ‘flash’ mood yet (or will ever be). Must read The Iron Man with Thomas next holidays! Rx
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Thanks Rosemary, I appreciate your support. It is always a pleasure to receive feedback from so many wonderful people. I think it would be great if you joined in with flash, or even Lisa’s bite-size memoirs. You have a lot to share, but I know you are busy with your own priorities too. Thomas will LOVE The Iron Man!
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Norah, what a wonderful way to weave your purpose with a flash. Although, we all have dueling priorities and I even took a long weekend off! Always do what works best for you.
I’m going to have to read this “Iron Man.” It sounds like a wonderful classic.
Great flash that also serves as a statement. Teachers are so burdened with data collection and theory, who has time to teach? It’s an heroic moment when the teacher sets the data aside, recalling her purpose.
Thanks Charli, I always appreciate your support. You are allowed to take a long weekend off. I give you permission! I just need to give myself permission occasionally.
I think it would be rather redundant of me to say that “The Iron Man” is a wonderful read, so I won’t!
Thanks, too, for you comment on my flash.
Okay–your next! It was refreshing to take an extended weekend. 🙂
Thanks Charli, Doing that now! 🙂
Great work Nor! I very much enjoyed the FF – I can see you reflected in the words!
The “Spent Generation” – that about sums it up, doesn’t it? Technology is supposed to be making our lives easier, but we don’t work any less – we merely have greater separation of duties. How I long for the days when I only worked from nine to five! Does anyone even do that anymore?
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I don’t know about 9 – 5. I’m employed from 9 – 5 but I do my own hours at home! It could make an interesting poll. I remember attending a seminar way back in the 80s when computers where just making their way into the home market. We were told that computers would be so good at doing certain tasks we would end up, by the turn of the century, with so much free time that we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves. What a false prophet he turned out to be. Computers now rule our lives! Anything that can be done, should be done: that seems to be the rule.
Lovely post Norah, pulling together so many woven themes. I too love The Iron Man – we read it over and over until the cartoon superseded it!
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Thanks Lisa. I’m pleased you are an Iron Man fan. How was the cartoon? I don’t think I’ve seen it. Did it do justice to the book? Can they ever? I remember when I saw an animated version of The BFG I was disappointed with some of the details depicted. However the whizzpopper scene was absolutely delightful!
Lovely, Norah, I always admire how you pull the different strands together and make me, as someone outside education, interested in your ideas. Although my blog links more directly to these flash fiction challenges, I don’t want to post mine as a stand-alone, but it can sometimes be quite a challenge to integrate it with another theme.
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Absolutely. It takes an age to construct something meaningful around so many threads. That’s why, regrettably I do flash so briefly, without cover!
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We all have our own unique ways, Lisa! That’s what makes it interesting! 🙂
Thank you Anne. I do try to link the flash to my educational intent, but as you say it sometimes a challenge. I realise now, too late, that I could have omitted all the preliminary part about the Iron Man and still have had more than enough for a post. I didn’t see it at the time, as it was the Iron Man that got me thinking. Thanks for reading through. It was a lengthy post. You always manage to make a good connection between your flash and themes. Thanks for sharing. 🙂