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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Things I Don’t Understand #3

How do the Current Government get away with behaving the way they do?

In general, I am stupidly optimistic about life. I try not to be, as optimists are often disappointed. One alternative is to be a pessimist with no surprises except pleasant ones but existing in a perpetual state of misery. The sensible approach is a sort of positive realism. Knowing what things are likely to actually be right but looking on the bright side as much as possible. This avoids the general misery but gives you the impetus that comes from being positive.

This is all increasingly difficult to do just now. Every time I think things must surely start to look up, they don’t. I’m sure you will realise that the cause of my constant disappointment is the current Government. I still manage to be regularly amazed by their arrogance, hypocrisy and lack of empathy. Below are just a few illustrations.

We have Mark Hoban telling us that the £500/week benefit cap will encourage people back into work and in the following sentence justifying it by saying that working people have to manage on less than that.

We have Iain Duncan Smith telling people he could survive on £53/week after apparently previously attempting to claim £39 on expenses for a breakfast

We have Michael Gove insisting that his new curriculum is designed to enable poor children to progress and improve their lot while ignoring the obstacles that the current wave of welfare reforms are strewing in their path like modern day caltrops. Laura McInerney wrote eloquently about it here

The implication is that if you go to school, work hard (leaving aside the additional effort and dedication required to do that if you come from a deprived background) you will be able to go to a “good” university (don’t worry about the enormous debt you will build up to cover the fees and assuming your accent and/or lack of smart clothes and social capital don’t reduce your chances of a place too much) Of course, even if  you do get a place at a top university, you still  have to follow this up by actually getting a job. These days it really does seem that you need to know the right people to get into some of the high flying positions that Michael Gove wants all our children to aspire to.

Gove talks a lot about the value of Cultural Capital. I’ve been reading up on this since it has been talked about so much and I understand and agree that it is important. I come from a working class background and went to an old fashioned Grammar School and then a “good” university. I acquired cultural capital along the way (although there is a lot I still don’t know about the Arts). However, what I also read about was Social Capital and that is where I start to get really cross.

Recently posts were written about this statement and focused on what an unpleasant man IDS was and how he had arranged for his wife to be paid a salary for apparently doing very little. However, what struck me most about it was some of the incidental information. For example

Mr Duncan Smith had chosen to move his previous Private Secretary, Miss Annabelle Eyre, the daughter of Lady Monica Eyre, a long standing family friend of Mrs Duncan Smith, to become Head of Planning and Tours.”


“Mrs Watson was given responsibility for finding a replacement private secretary for Mr Duncan Smith’s constituency office and Miss Cara Walker, a graduate who had left university that summer (2002) and is a friend of Mrs Watson’s daughter who is of a similar age, was immediately appointed.”

Well, that’s all very cosy isn’t it? I have no basis on which to judge their competence at the job or their qualifications for it but I doubt that someone brought up on a council estate in Basildon would have connections they could use in this way. Social Capital not cultural. And no amount of fiddling around with the curriculum will fix that!

So. What is my point? To be honest I’m not sure I can put it into one sentence. The current politicians seem to be blinkered and unable to see anything outside of their tiny, over-privileged world. They have no embarrassment about wanting everyone to tighten their belts while claiming still ridiculous amounts of expenses, and they think this is acceptable! Does anyone think this is OK?


Things I don’t understand #1

I’m beginning to think I must be far more intellectually limited than I previously realised. There is so much I  just don’t understand.

The first issue that puzzles me at the moment is the “economic crisis”. I realise that there are more people around than (say) 10 years ago, although we have coped quite successfully with population increase in the past. I also realise (unlike many) that natural resources are ultimately diminishing, but again, that doesn’t seem to be where the problem lies. So let me work through this.

We still have the same amount of money (slightly more since we seem to have printed more) We have a few more people, but suddenly the country can’t afford stuff, and as a consequence lots of us can’t afford stuff.

I know why I can’t. I left a reasonably well-paid job and have taken a far less stressful but worse paid one. I know why other people who are in poorly paid jobs can’t. They have had reductions in the benefits which they used to top up income from even more poorly paid jobs. There are also the people who have been made redundant, either through public sector job cuts or through reduction in profits of private companies because all the rest of us can’t afford to buy things now.

What I really want to know is WHERE HAS ALL THE MONEY GONE? It was there before; it doesn’t seem to have been destroyed. Where is it?

I don’t believe it’s all being drunk, smoked and gambled by the poor. Admittedly, I have some (diminishing) savings that were put away for my old age, and although it now looks as if I may need that more than ever, there may not actually be much left by then but that’s not enough to explain the current crisis. So people WHO HAS IT? And why can’t we get it back?

I know I’m over-simplifying, it’s one of my vices but the question is still out there.

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Updated post on hard work & its value

I wrote this post just over a year ago, and thanks to the unthinking outpourings of yet more Tory MPs, it seems relevant again

I do not believe that hard work is not in & of itself especially admirable

I have always worked hard at my job, I have testimonials from previous employers that say this. If you pay me to do a job I will do that job to the best of my ability. I will spend whatever time it takes to do the work properly to my standards. However my work has never been my life. I have never lived to work I have worked to live. This doesn’t mean anyone has been short changed.

I am unhappy if someone tells me I am not working hard enough.  It’s only happened the once.  The combination of working my socks off and being told that actually made me quite ill.

Since I left the job I have heard so much from the government (and others) about the importance of working hard & not having a sense of entitlement that it’s starting to get quite depressing

Yes, do a decent day’s work for a decent day’s pay. I have always encouraged my girls to work hard

Work is generally good. It  means you can get a sense of achievement & you earn money to do other stuff. But it shouldn’t be the be-all & end-all of life. There seems to me no point at all in working your socks off so that you can buy lots of consumer goods that you won’t have time to enjoy because you are working such long hours. Slow down & smell the roses people.

Do not expect me to think it admirable simply because you work long hours. Especially if your sole intention is to become wealthy. I won’t condemn you for it either but it isn’t going to impress me. And don’t assume that people who do not have that level of ambition to earn lots of money aren’t prepared to do an equally good job. And don’t assume that if people haven’t “made it” to the same extent that you have that it’s because they are incapable or lazy. Maybe they haven’t had the opportunities or breaks, maybe they didn’t know the right people, or maybe their priorities are elsewhere. (As a brief aside don’t expect me to admire you at all if you got where you are by cheating or trampling on people – though I’m sure anyone I follow on Twitter wouldn’t do that)

Basically, there really doesn’t seem much point in life if all we do is work hard to make more money to buy stuff to save time so that we can work more……etc.  Professor Sharon Beder discusses it here”

One of the things I have struggled most with about the current government is their ability to contradict themselves and expect no-one to notice (as in Michael Gove’s insistence that he wishes to free schools to make their own decisions on what and how to teach while dictating what primary schools should teach right down to the list of words children should be able to spell at certain ages) . The sentence that struck me here is

We must stop bailing out the reckless, avoiding all risk, and rewarding laziness.”

Where exactly do you draw the line between reckless & avoiding all risk? Who decides where this line falls?

Overall this attack on working people seems gratuitous and poorly thought out. I am far from convinced that much of it is true. We are about half-way up the working hours list, as for retirement age, again we seem fairly average

Another well made point is that working hard & long hours is all very well when you have an interesting, rewarding, well-paid job (such as MPs, consultants, board members etc), it isn’t quite as enticing when you have to work 12 hour shifts on factory lines, driving lorries or street cleaning. As a friend on Twitter said when reading that most people prefer a lie-in to hard work “well who wouldn’t)

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But does “Arbeit Macht Frei”?

Right. This has been retweeted into my Twitter timeline several times today (Twitter has the custom of doing screenshots to Daily Mail articles to avoid giving their website more hits than we need to, especially since most of the links are commenting on how awful the articles are)

I have a few thoughts. When I worked in FE (Up until last year) a yearly assembly was held in which we stressed to our sixth-formers the importance of obtaining A levels and going on to obtain a degree. I, by the way, had no input into what was said in these assemblies and I sometimes gave a more down-to-earth assessment back in tutor group sessions. We based this on the monetary value added by obtaining additional qualifications. A table was shown which worked out how much extra someone could earn with A levels instead of a degree and a degree instead of A levels.

Ordinary teachers, like me, commented privately on the fact that the amount of money that could be earned at the top of the teaching main-scale (currently £31,111 after 6 increments and a max of £36,279 with all 3 performance related payments which may be awarded at 2 yearly intervals) was referred to as “only” and it was indicated to students that they should aspire to more than this.

Students have also been encouraged to take on very large student loans on the basis that the additional money they will earn by having a degree will make this worthwhile.

Should we therefore be surprised that graduates are unwilling to take jobs which pay the minimum wage (currently £6.08/hour which works out at £11,856 for a 37.5 hour week) If you had started on minimum wage at 16 you would have earned roughly £43,485.00 by the time you would have left university.

Even worse is expecting them to take on unskilled jobs with (by all accounts) no useful training for your unemployment benefit. Would the author of this article do that job for that money? If not why expect someone else to?  She also says that

“When you have 72 direct competitors, all offering a similar degree, an identical number of starred A-level grades and more or less the same clutch of Saturday jobs, sports awards and extra-curricular embellishments, you really have got to think outside the box, to make your own CV stand out successfully from that huge pile”

Well, here’s the thing. Not everyone can stand out, that is the definition of outstanding. I realise this may come as a surprise to Gove, Ofsted and some school Senior Management Teams but you can’t change that fact.

Cait Reilly, when she objected to working in Poundland wasn’t sitting around waiting for the perfect job to fall into her lap, she was already working, as a volunteer, in a place that actually would enhance her CV and help her towards the job she had trained for.

The government, and sniping right wing journalists want to make their mind up what they think education is for. Either it is to prepare people for work, in which case they cannot object to graduates expecting to do the work they have prepared for once they graduate, or it is for the sake of education itself, to enhance knowledge and make them onto better people, in which case they need to stop criticising qualifications as being “useless”.

If our graduates are expecting too much, it is because we have led them to do exactly that. We sell education as a path to making more money. Their real mistake is in believing us.

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What it’s like to be a Bard

I’ve considered writing this blog entry for a long time but have put it off because I worry about you all getting bored of my introspective ramblings. But, yet again a tweet started me thinking about it and I’ve decided that if you think it’s boring you don’t have to read it.

If you’ve played “Dungeons & Dragons” or one of the many computer games based on their rules you will have come across the idea of character class. The class of character you create will determine your starting attributes and skills and determine how good you can eventually become at these skills and how quickly you can progress with them through practice.

The original classes were Fighter, Mage, Cleric and Thief. At some point, they added Bard.

A bard can do a bit of magic, a bit of fighting, a bit of theft, they have lots of knowledge and high charisma, they can persuade people. Now I haven’t played proper D&D, I’ve only played games using simplified versions of the rules so I’m interpreting loosely here.

When I first came across a bard character, I liked the idea and based my character on that. I did again, in another game, somehow I identified with the idea. Finally, I realised why. I was a bard. I could be competent at most things, with the notable exceptions of passing my driving test (finally passed on fifth attempt) and ten pin bowling where my first attempt was so disastrous I never tried again.

Of course, I can’t do magic, and I can’t fight, but I can research I’m fine at IT, can programme in obsolete languages, I can teach, am very well organised and logical, I can ace the soft skills but have very few actual selling points,

When I sat my O levels (yes, I’m that old), my results were fine, nothing spectacular like the 10 A* some kids manage now, but perfectly acceptable and evenly spread between the subjects. All the teachers wanted me to do their subjects at A level. (I chose Sciences & Maths btw). At University, I elected to do a Chemistry degree. To be perfectly honest I suspect this was because we had a good Chemistry teacher. In retrospect, this was the wrong decision. Since then my jobs have slowly moved away from Chemistry via research in a Pharmaceutical firm to sales admin in same, to sales admin elsewhere to general admin to IT admin to programming to software support to teaching IT.

I’ve been competent in all these, good maybe very good in some, but never exceptional (as far as I know).

So, there you have it, I’m a bard. I can do lots of things well but am not what I would consider outstanding in any. I know a lot without being an expert. I can get on with people. But I’m not sure where I go now as a generalist. Maybe specialising when young and sticking to it would have been a better plan. My poor parents couldn’t have advised me, My dad drove trains and my mum was a housewife, neither educated beyond 16. Fortunately, my children have known what they wanted to do since they were small. Their ambitions may eventually be thwarted, but at least they always had a focus.

Me, I’m just a sad bard. Jack of all trades, master of none. Is there anyone out there in need of one?

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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.