Planning prior to commencing my PGCE is not just about knowing the curriculum and ensuring that my subject knowledge is at an appropriate level. Before I can even take a step out of the door, I have to know that my children are going to be safe, secure and cared for. That’s right, the ‘c’ word is childcare.
As a teaching student I want to be as good as I can possibly be, I want to be able to demonstrate that I am just as good as someone who does not have the responsibility of children and that I am organised an responsible enough to make sure that they get to school in the morning without affecting my own working day.
Whilst school starts at 9am (or in some of my potential placement schools 8.20am), as a teacher I am expected to get there at least 30 minutes (more preferred) before class starts and to leave an hour or two after it ends. Where I live it is entirely possible that my placement school is a 1.5h commute away and incidentally this in one of the ones which starts at 8.30am. In order for me to arrive at school for 8am, I will need to leave the house at 6.30am (7am if I’m lucky).
Well there is no before club which opens at 7am where I live. Where my children go to school the breakfast club starts at 7.45am – so that is no good. I could move schools but the local school which has an earlier breakfast club 7.30am – technically still no good) is full. There are no childminders available, and even if there were, I doubt that a 7am start would be possible. My mum is disabled and unable to drive so although she can offer childcare, she can’t physically get the kids to school and they are too young to walk by themselves. So what can I do?
Before I moved to Skipton in January 2015, we lived in Scotland and my children went to primary school there. One of the mums I met at the school gates had an au pair. Actually she had three over the time I knew her. It was something that I had never considered, I had heard of au pairs bu never had met anyone who had had one. I always thought that they were ‘how the other half lived’.
So I googled ‘au pair’ and I found a plethera of websites. There certainly seemed to be no shortage of potential au pairs. But the idea of inviting a stranger into my home, to live with my children worried me – would it be safe?
I did know of someone who ran an au pair agency – AuPair Ecosse. The agency is the brainchild of Dr. Ruth Campbell, who I had first met as a Ph.D student at the Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling. So when I was first looking into solving the dilemma that is childcare, and now armed with the information that people like me could have an au pair – Ruth was the first person I contacted. It was really enlightening. The first thing she advised was to use an agency, preferably one registered with the British Au Pair Agencies Association. That way you would get full references, a college report, a profile of the au pair and safety checks done. Getting an au pair off a website, is much more risky.
Unfortunately, because her agency is specifically for au pairs who want to live in Scotland, I was unable to access her service. However, she did recommend an agency in West Yorkshire called the International Helping Hands Au Pair Agency. Whilst they had never placed an au pair in Skipton before, they had places Mother’s Helps here.
So I completed the registration form and then was invited to write a family profile, with pictures of our home, our family and describing what sort of things we did and the type of people we are. We wanted an au pair for up to twelve months to cover the period of study for the PGCE. We made our initial registration in January 2016 but were told that the au pair who wanted to start in September, would not start applying to agencies until Springtime. In May we were told about a soon to be 19 year old, female au pair from Germany, the downside was that she only wanted to au pair for 6 months. But she seemed lovely on paper, plus we only had 24h to reserve her. So we said yes please and our profile was shared with Mira. We just had to wait. Fortunately, she liked what she saw, and the next step was to Skype so that we could meet for the first time. It was all a bit nerve wracking, I am sure as much for the au pair as much as us. The kids had lots of questions: Do you like princesses? Can you do origami? I don’t know what the au pair was expecting but I think that we came across a bit nuts. However, she was not put off and we became friends on Facebook and began to message each other.
I can truthfully say that we have messaged each other, pretty much at least once every day. It has been a tremendous opportunity to get to know her, and hopefully it will mean that she will be able to settle into our somewhat messy family (I am a bit worried that our messiness will put her off).
In preparation for her arrival, we have completely refurbished the spare room. New bed, new wardrobes, a tv, new decoration. I hope that she likes it.
The other change we have made is to our diet. Our au pair is vegetarian and we really want her to feel welcome so my husband and I have been experimenting with vegetarian foods. To be honest it has been a bit of an eyeopener. Prior to meeting the au pair, I think that we ate meat at least once a day. Now we actually have meat free days. I was worried that I would’t like it as I am a ridiculously fussy eater and I remember at university we had a quote board where the more memorable (usually stupid) phrases that people said were recorded. One infamous one of mine was “I don’t do veg”. To be honest, I am staggered that my kids have never figured out that I don’t generally eat vegetables, whilst I hypocritically encourage them to eat carrots and even brussel sprouts at Christmas. However, the recipes that we have tried have been on the whole successful. Perhaps it is because, for the first time in our 12 year marriage that Gordon took on the responsibility of preparing the food? Nonetheless, we now are less afraid of the concept of vegetarianism, so already the experience of having an au pair has improved family life, and she hasn’t even arrived yet!
Our au pair arrives on Saturday afternoon. We are picking her up from the airport, en masse. The kids are very excited. Teighan already tells me that she loves her. I hope that our au pair is happy and feels like one of the family.
I really hope that this works out. I want someone to look after, play with and care for my kids in the hours before and after school. Enabling me to complete my PGCE and access the NQT year, hopefully without the worry of what on earth we would do without her. I don’t know if our au pair knows how much we are relying on her, but I hope that she knows that she can rely on us too. We will make sure that she gets a proper taste of British life, visiting lots of interesting places and sharing experiences.