Something got me thinking about my working life today. I’ve been working since…well I was a teenager and a young one at that. When you have a family business it tends to happen, you get pulled into the work ethic pretty early and since it’s the only time I got to spend with my mum really, well I was over there whenever I wasn’t doing homework or looking after the house.
From about 11 years old when she moved on from a playgroup to a full blown day nursery next door I would do the washing and ironing for the nursery as well as my own when I got in from school. I would help out with looking after the children and learnt how to care for babies and young children. I knew how to make bottles, change nappies, bathe and feed them and get them to sleep before I was even capable of having one of my own (if you catch my drift) and I loved working with them.
I kept working for the family firm …well I still do every so often. I ended up doing everything from doing computer work that they couldn’t cope with (until my brother took over on that front) stocktaking, cleaning, DIY, making and fixing toys, supporting staff with computers for their NVQ’s, doing science experiments with the older children, gardening and landscaping even making a mini conservation area, cooking, shopping (ever tried buying nappies at 14 years old in a small town?) and more. I got £10 a week until I was about 16 and did more hours even then I didn’t get a lot.
When I went to University obviously due to living 45 miles away I only worked there out of term time when I was back at home. Instead I spent my time stressing about the nervous system, memorising the names, uses and side effects of drugs, learning about some horrible medical conditions, dissecting cadavers and spending hours in laboratories. Neuroscience was no ‘cake walk’ I suppose no degree is but you could fool me by the hours some people seemed to put in. It was stressful but great fun at the same time and I made some of my closest friends while I was there who are still in my life and I hope will continue to be for many years to come.
While I was at University back home and recovering at a friends house from one of our many parties I ended up agreeing to my second job, my first real one that would include a pay check. My friend T worked at a theatre and they were desperate for another person to chaperone child actors, he was on the phone with them while I nursed my head with a cup of tea and a bacon butty when he turned round and looked at me saying ‘I might know someone just a second’ and asked me if I was interested.
The next weekend I was introduced to the magic that is backstage at a theatre, it’s a strange place with a lot of hazards, places you can’t go, wires and people everywhere so I understood pretty quickly why the kids needed a chaperone. Over the next couple of years they would call me every so often and ask me if I was interested in some hours with them, usually during Panto season but I also got to work on ‘Brassed off’ which I loved. I didn’t enjoy having to get up on stage on new years eve one year though when they had a tradition that had all the back stage staff get up and join in the singing of Auld lang syne (I ended up having to hold the hand of a man in the audience).
By the end of my degree I had begun to realise that I was not exactly level mentally I had had what was probably close to a nervous breakdown while doing some of my projects and trying to analyse data as for my dissertation….my computer broke down and I lost most of my work about 2 weeks before it was due…talk about stress!
I had also realised that I would never get a good enough grade to go on and do a Phd but I had also decided that I didn’t want to work in a lab for the rest of my life but would rather aim for something I had thought about since school and become a teacher.
Now I thought I needed more experience of working with teenagers, I had had plenty of time with the under 12’s and even done work experience in nursing homes but teenagers? Nothing really.
So as I was finishing my degree I went off and looked for something in a school, I wasn’t sure about being a TA or anything like that (teaching assistant sorry) but it was experience so I applied for that and everything else I saw. I had an interview for being a chemistry technician and was told I got it by the time I had got off the bus back in town! I was so excited but they broke the news to me that I wouldn’t start until September, I was gutted and had to go to the job centre to ask for help money wise until then. I was so ashamed to be there, scrounging, asking for help but as I was waiting for my appointment I got another phone call from the school. To my surprise they had found enough funding for me to start straight away and when I sat down with a smile to speak to the man I had my appointment with and explained what had happened I was ecstatic!
I worked at that school as a grunt in my little windowless lab for a year. In that time I had my gallbladder removed and went back to work too quickly because they took away my help far too soon (I have internal scar tissue now thanks to that) and had many a breakdown crying out of frustration, anger and embarrassment in the little under stairs cubby hole that we weren’t supposed to use usually due to one teacher who I just couldn’t cope with. Ironically he went off with stress not long after that and I never saw him again.
I became pretty OCD about my lab, everything was labelled and set out accordingly, I had trays set out for specific experiments that were used all the time, bottles were organised, paperwork, everything (I used to have a photo of it but it seems to have disappeared). I must have walked miles around that school every week, put up with some horrible children, worked more hours than I was paid for, handled some truly dangerous chemicals and had great fun with the teachers and techs while I was there!
During my time there I applied for my teacher training, the kids hadn’t scared me off the idea and I still wanted to be the one stood at the front of that classroom. I even got a personal reference from one of the teachers who was sure I would make a great teacher, with their encouragement I aced the interview, was accepted on the course and left with their blessing and a beautiful necklace that I still wear almost every day.