littlemavis

Little_Mavis' rants and musings


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What is bullying?

I have been thinking about this a lot about this recently after being accused of bullying on Twitter after a one off tweet. I’m not going to go into this, I’d only get cross all over again, and people don’t like me when I’m cross.

However, it did remind me of the way the word is now used for all kinds of behaviour that, while they may not be kind, aren’t really bullying.

First of all a disclaimer.

A few years ago I was effectively bullied out of a career in teaching. It was the same scenario that has happened to many. An overly ambitious manager making excessive demands and blaming staff for anything that they perceive as holding them back in their upward trajectory. If you were following me on Twitter back then, you’ll know how much this affected my health. Before that I’d thought I was too strong a person to be bullied, I was wrong. It’s left me with scars. It can have long lasting and far reaching effects on people.

Maybe this is why I don’t like to see the word applied when what is actually happening is someone making an off the cuff remark or showing a dislike of someone. This may be unpleasant, but it isn’t bullying.

So. What is bullying then? I looked up some definitions. My own instinct is that for it to really be bullying, there has to be persistence of some kind rather than a one off instance and there has to be some measure of power differential. This, of course, could take many forms. The obvious one is physical, but it could also be intellectual, emotional or to do with power. In the latter case the obvious ones are senior employees bullying more junior ones but there are others such as relatively low ranked employees who have established a power base over time among peers or have relationships with those further up the tree. Knowing the right people counts for a lot. The other form this can take is in sheer numbers, which is what happens when a Twitter mob forms. I have noticed that this can happen without the encouragement of the original tweeter. This can also happen in a work setting when someone is newly appointed and is given a difficult time by existing staff, but the power differential is still there, numbers instead of hierarchy or possibly social advantage.
The actual nature of the bullying can take many forms. It can be overt or subtle. It can be disguised as help or support. It can take the form of undermining, in the case of teachers this is sometimes with students as well as with other staff. I suspect when this happens there is no way back.

Next question. What isn’t bullying. One off comments, rudeness and simply disliking someone. I think we should be allowed to not like others. And while it may not be pleasant to be rude, it isn’t bullying and if we label this kind of behaviour as such it belittles the problems of those who have really been bullied. My own experience has had a lasting effect on me. My confidence in my own judgement is still shot, I second guess myself all the time or avoid making decisions completely. I have a tendency to see criticism where none is implied. I often assume that perfectly neutral comments are critical and I find it hard to trust people, especially those in authority.

Bullying is not only unpleasant, it is destructive. Let’s use the term properly.

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Nurture 1314

Having put off my Nurture 1314 blog for over a week now I feel I really should do this in an effort to clear my mind and move on. I have struggled to think positively over the past few years. This is a double blow in a way because I am an optimist by nature. I have sometimes disguised this by a defensive form of pessimism where I actively try to assume the worst outcome so that if it should happen I would be better able to cope, however, secretly, I never really believed bad things would happen. They have of course, and I have coped, better on some occasions than others.

2013

  1. I lost my dad in February. Lots of Twitter people were right there with me through the awful winter months last year when we were trying to cope with his increasing dementia & frailty. My youngest brother was brilliant once we realised how serious his condition was and with organising everything after he died. It has left a huge empty space in my life and sadness mixed with a relief which in turn produces a level of guilt. I keep meaning to blog about him. I’ll be ready to do that soon I think.
  2. On that note, Twitter friends. When I have had dark times they have been so caring & supportive. There were times when I feel I wouldn’t have made it through without them there on my phone with me in Filey. My family were good but having more people to talk to and lean on was invaluable.
  3. We had a huge summer tweetup at Yorkshire Sculpture Park again & met several new folk. This is getting to be an annual event and is brilliant. We selfishly arrange it around our anniversary (mainly because it is Summer & we have good weather usually. If you want to see what it is like my OH blogged about it here.
  4. Met several new Tweeps IRL such as @kykaree @realaqua & @BadPenfold as well as overseas chums @hugeshark & @badunderpants. Lovely people all.
  5. Now have permanent job again. Admittedly it’s part time and only until my charge finishes primary school (currently in year 5) and far, far lower pay than before but still, a job.
  6. Bought a SAD lamp in an effort to counter winter blues (or in my case grumpiness) so far, it seems to help.
  7. Have finally bought paint to start to redecorate our bedroom. Took ages to work out the right type because of the stone walls and incredibly old plaster. (also rather expensive)
  8. Have kept in touch with people from my old job who still matter to me. Turns out most of the ones I had issues with have now left, not under especially pleasant circumstances. That gave me a rather selfish & possibly spiteful thrill of satisfaction. That’s not kind of me I know but my life was made a misery and there is a sense of Karma.
  9. Started sewing classes. I have now half made a tunic. With class fees, patterns, materials & other equipment, this will end up being the most expensive garmernt I have ever owned, but I am having such fun learning completely new skills and meeting people.
  10. I’m more at peace with myself. I still doubt my abilities but my confidence is slowly returning.
  11. Booked trip to the US to stay with friends. We have been promising to do this for ages but finances did not really allow. We sold my dad’s bungalow fairly quickly and have decided to spend some of that on this trip. I am so very excited. I’m even prepared to let you all in on a little secret. I have never flown!

Getting  desperate now Oh yes Helped my charge to learn two things I think will really help

  1. To arrange items in neat rows before counting or to cross things out once counted (I know, but it’s an important skill)
  2. To skip over questions she can’t answer and come back to them later rather than trying & trying & getting upset which stopped her concentrating on anything remaining (Sounds minor but will be a huge asset when doing the actual assessments)

Whee. That#’13

2014

  1. Carry on challenging myself to rediscover my self-confidence and, importantly, push through inevitable minor set-backs.
  2. Forget old job, (if not forgive) Move on.
  3. Be more proactive at work. New class teacher in January. Good time to start.
  4. Blog more consistently. I have neglected it of late.
  5. Re-enrol in sewing class. A half finished tunic is neither use nor ornament.
  6. Book on any suitable available CPD courses.
  7. Actually use the paint we finally bought to redecorate the bedroom. We will have to wait a while for better light though. Also find some wallpaper.
  8. Get back into the garden & tidy up all the bits that have become overgrown or shabby. (Part way there)
  9. Make sure we have at least the occasional weekend away.
  10. Keep in touch with my brothers. It would be so easy not to now we no longer have my dad to make sure we occasionally meet.
  11. Actually go back to Filey for a few days & see some of my dad’s old friends. They were wonderful when he was ill and I want to make sure they know how much I appreciated this.
  12. Walk more. When I get out I always enjoy it. The first step is always the hardest.
  13. Meet more Twitter folk and make sure I stay in touch with those I have already met
  14. Book a place at #NorthernRocks

Right Done. Excuse mistakes please. Was rattled off in a bit of a rush. Off next door shortly for drinks & friends for NYE. Have a great 2014 everyone!


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Clearing my mind #1

I’ve had a shaky few years recently for various reasons but I think I’m getting back to my old self. I can tell this partly because I seem to be pissing more people off. I’m not saying this is a particularly good thing but it is familiar.

This means I can look back & start writing objectively about things I couldn’t write about before because they were too recent. So. I’m doing a few posts to get things off my chest. I don’t especially expect anyone to find them interesting but I can now write about them without getting upset so here we go.

Today I’m going to talk about …

Lesson Observations

I was thinking about this after reading this about Ofsted observations being not very useful in judging the quality of teaching.

Observations were the thing I hated most when I was teaching.

I came to teaching late after successful years in a variety of roles & industries – What can I say, I have itchy feet – It meant that I was used to being treated as an intelligent adult and having my judgement trusted. In teaching (at least in my experience), this isn’t the case.

We were observed twice a year. Once was by our line manager, when we were supposed to be able to negotiate which lesson was seen, and once was part of an institution-wide review. In the latter case all we were given was which half of the week we would be observed and it could be by any senior member of staff. This was meant to help prepare us for an Ofsted visit.

The first few years were fine. In those days, there were different grades for teaching & learning & 7 grades. I honestly can’t remember the grades but there were good points & points to improve. As time went on the pressure to perform well in these observations increased. As Ofsted observation grades changes, so did ours. We had grades 1-4 Excellent, Good, Satisfactory, Poor. My place of work was ahead of Ofsted in deeming Satisfactory not to be satisfactory. A Grade 3 observation grade meant a stiff talking to & re-observation. In my experience, the grade given depended as much on who was doing the observing as much as on how the lesson went.

One year I had been given the second half of the week as my “time slot” I knew full well that some teachers managed to elicit hints about which lesson would be observed but I had none. By Thursday evening nothing had happened and I was getting very tense. On Friday I taught what were probably my three most challenging classes. I taught IT across the board to students who did not want to, and “had not signed up to” do IT (good luck to all those FE teachers who will be delivering GCSE resits to unwilling kids who failed them in school). On Friday morning I had two Performing Arts groups followed by a Sports Study group. I was delivering the same content to them all, although it would be delivered to the two kinds of students in very different ways. I had prepared a lesson which ticked all the boxes on the list of “How to deliver a Grade 1 lesson” which had been handed out the previous week. I had printed copied of the Scheme of Work, lesson plan, copies of handouts, a character profile of the students with their additional needs.

Of course, I hoped I would be observed in the first lesson as they were usually the more co-operative of the groups and Sports Studies students on the graveyard shift on Friday was always, shall we say, demanding.

No-one turned up to observe the first lesson. “Oh good” I thought optimistically. I can iron out any kinks. The class behaved appallingly. I suspect they simply picked up on my tension. Performing Arts students could be charming, mercurial, sensitive and infuriating. Often all at the same time.

The class were awful. Simply awful. I don’t believe there was anything wrong with the lesson but they were having one of those days. I kept thinking ahead to the next class who were generally less co-operative and how that lesson would be even worse, and the afternoon………..

Eventually, I burst into tears. There, in the classroom, in front of the students. I was mortified. It was bad enough crying in the loo or in the staffroom but in a classroom? In front of students? It was unthinkable.

The class were wonderful. They calmed down. Sympathised, behaved (*mostly) for the rest of the lesson, and, miraculously made no attempt to make capital from my distress. In a rather twisted way I could blame my distress on the fact that my mum had died a few weeks before and I suppose, in hindsight, that did have an effect, but truthfully, the cause of my distress was the stress of waiting to be observed and criticised.

The observer came to the next lesson. It was OK, not brilliant. I was still too shaky. No idea what grade it was given, I’ve obviously blanked that out.

Other than that, my worst experience was when I did a lovely lesson for an observation. The kids worked hard, learned stuff, enjoyed themselves. The observer enjoyed herself & told me so. When the report came back, my manager told me I had been given a grade 1 but they believed it was really a grade 2 because of a couple of improvements listed. Grade 2 went on my record. I was so cowed by the whole business by then I didn’t even go back to the original observer to ask. I think that was the point at which I realised it was time to go. I was obviously never going to win.

….Oh, no, there was an even worse occasion when I changed everything I was going to do in a vain and misguided effort to do what I thought was wanted and the class just refused (quite understandably) to co-operate at all. By then it was all too late and I was a dead woman walking anyway.

It is possible to have good experiences of observations where the focus is support rather than judgement. I had a wonderful staff mentor who came in and helped me to identify what I was doing right and what I could improve and how. If all observations were like that I would support them wholeheartedly. Sadly, they seem to be far more about bringing teachers into line and people pushing their own favourite styles & theories. I hope the way they are done improves. I don’t think that will happen.


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Giving Myself a Break

(Introduction) This isn’t in any way a moan, more of a consideration of perspective. I think sometimes we are actually too hard on ourselves. We see all our frailties and failings, well, some of us do, and we overlook out successes and achievements.

(Get-out clause) If you don’t want to read rubbish about me and my introspection, it’s probably best not to read on.

(Inspiration) The other day, creakily moving around after doing some reasonably physical task (possibly ironing) I found myself bemoaning getting older and wishing I’d appreciated my physical well being (you know the energy and lack of aches and pains that you take for granted when you are young). Then I realised that the window when I was adult and physically fit was actually quite small. Today I read a blog from someone with ulcerative colitis and found myself being grateful that I was as well as I am now.

(Background) I have Crohn’s Disease. You can read about it here if you are so inclined. To summarise it’s an inflammatory disease of the gut, with a fair amount of pain and lots of other unpleasant effects. It first developed in (I think) when I was 25. I had just got married. My GP initially treated me for irritable bowel and sent me to A&E several times for them to check for appendicitis. Finally, he got sick of my whinging (after I lost well over a stone in weight in a couple of months) and got me an outpatient appointment. The doctor who saw me there has my undying gratitude. He examined me and told me he didn’t know what was wrong with me but he could see that I was very ill and he was admitting me for tests. To cut a long story short, after ruling out conditions like typhoid (yes, I know, I had never even considered that), I had a diagnosis and treatment.

(Information) The main effects of Crohn’s is abdominal pain (cramps like extremely bad period pains or the first stage of labour), tiredness, because you aren’t absorbing nutrients well, and a need to know where the nearest loo is at all times. Other effects include joint pain, osteoporosis and reduced fertility. Some people are very, very ill with it. I am one of the lucky ones.

(More background and more information) My symptoms were bad for about eight or nine years, pretty much until I became pregnant in fact. Getting pregnant is not always easy with Crohn’s. There is a possibility of reduced fertility due to inflammation and scarring of the fallopian tubes, and the incidence of pain, reduces somewhat the …..erm…. opportunities to conceive. However, having become pregnant I started to feel better than I had for years. The improvement has persisted since and my primary symptoms of pain (and yes, weight loss) have mostly remained dormant. I am being treated for osteoporosis and I do have regular problems with back pain. This is, I believe, due to inflammation of ligaments and so is mostly where my pelvis and shoulders are attached to my spine.

(Conclusion) So, in short, those wonderful days when I was adult, solvent, fit and healthy didn’t really last all that long, though I did enjoy them.

(Admission) I sometimes feel down when I consider my professional life. I never seem to have progressed much above the bottom rung of any ladder I have started on, I have changed career at three times so far and have now abandoned teaching as well. On more than one occasion, my reason for leaving has been that I have no respect for the person I am reporting to. I look around and see people who I know are no more able or hard-working than I am who are rising through the ranks and I feel I have failed.

(Warning, sob story bit now) But, though much of this is down to poor decisions on my part, I also think some is because I was ill at the time people are usually making the most progress in their career, following which I was working part time bringing up two children.

(Bigging myself up) What I have done is hold down a decent job pretty much since I graduated and managed to bring up two children to adulthood. I am still (reasonably) healthy if ever more creaky and (more or less) sane, though that was questionable last year. I’ve had very little time off work sick before my problem with stress (about a week over the ten years I was employed there).

(The dénouement) In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m writing this mostly to convince myself I can still find a rewarding responsible job, that won’t bore me stupid and will pay the bills, in spite of the best efforts of the current government.