Silly (Sound) Advice for Serious (Scary) Times

November 13, 2016

Silly Advice for Serious Times – up-dated in light of recent events

It’s dangerous out there, so take care. Watch your back, shut your mouth, don’t post and be as kind as you can. If you can’t then here’s a few bits of advice, some silly, some worthwhile …

Don’t swim with the sharks (or the crocodiles). They can take nasty great chunks out of you, rip your limbs off and kill you. This occurs in deep water, shallow pools and on dry land. Dry land sharks are the most deadly, especially ones at work and in the pub – you should avoid wolves too. The problem with swimming with sharks is if they don’t eat you, you could just as well become one of them and that maybe much worse.

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Don’t play in the traffic. Keep to the paths, avoid cyclists, women with prams, teenagers with iPods, hoods, scooters, old people who dodder along and get in your way, anyone with a phone. Don’t cross the road without looking, use traffic lights but still look, listen, look again. There’s too much traffic, most of it going too fast and not remotely interested in pedestrian rights. Navigate skilfully and you will not get hurt. Get off your phone – look up once in a while and you’ll see what’s about to hit you and get out of the way.

Don’t pet strange dogs. All dogs other than your own are strange and can be relied upon to behave strangely. Always ask the owner if you can touch their dog before doing so. Don’t presume anything. If you are a post-man keep clear of all dogs, they know you hate them. If you are a representative of any religion or political party and you get too close to a strange dog then expect the worse. Dogs have an uncanny sense for shit people and will bark and bite, as they should.

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Don’t tweet, email or FB rudeness about your boss or colleagues, or use your work email for other ‘stuff’. Oh God it is so tempting but you will regret it, sooner or later. So slag them off in the pub, loudly and then claim you were drunk and can’t remember. The spoken word can be denied; the written one will always bite you on the bum. Nothings changed here – keep your work-place nice, keep your electronic communications relevant, and keep your thoughts and fingers under control. Think about how much trouble emails have caused poor old Hilary.

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Don’t work with children, old people, sick people or criminals. The caring professions suck, you don’t get paid enough, are blamed for the ills of the world and you are more likely to be abused by your charges than appreciated. You have no authority, are constantly told what to do by others and are expected to take responsibility for other people’s shit – literally and metaphorically. Don’t be a banker either, find something that makes you happy and keeps you afloat, financially speaking and doesn’t cause the planet any more pain. And for God’s sake don’t be a politician – yes, they have becomes the scum-bag profession of our time.

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Don’t believe that books are dying. The publishing industry is alive and well, just diversifying. People will want to hold a book in their hands a bit longer; students will want to scribble and underline key points; people like to unwrap books on Xmas Day. Video did not kill the radio star or the movies so e-books are not killing real books. So, as you start to gear up for Xmas put some books on your list and save the life of an impoverished writer.

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Don’t believe that the end of the world is nigh. It’s been grim for some parts of the world forever – think Africa and Indigenous peoples of the world. It is a time for caution, for not being greedy or reckless. It’s a time to take stock of what you’ve got, look after what’s important, shed the rest. The world is rich enough for all of us – it’s greed that’s killing us and the planet. Do your bit to make your corner of the world a kind and hopeful place. Grow flowers, help others when you can, always be kind – small words of care go a very long way. Don’t under-estimate your own power to do good and make a difference.

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Trump is not the end of the world. But he needs to be the end of the way political campaigns are run – on lies and sound-bites and hostility. I do not recognise this as the world I was expecting to grow old in. Politicians and the Media need to be accountable. They need to take responsibility for the mess we are currently in: for the divisions in society, for the hatred that has been unleashed on both sides of the Atlantic in the wake of Brexit and the US election. Now it’s time to make those in charge, those who make decisions for all of us, accountable. We need to shout at our law-makers, our politicians and demand better. Bravo Lego for disassociating yourself from the Daily Mail because you no longer will be associated with their Hate.

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We need to take a step back from the noise and the flashing lights and the hysteria and breath. Things need to change. We need to take personal responsibility for that change too – protest, lobby, get involved in positive actions. But you know, sometimes what seems to be a disaster turns out to be a new beginning.

 

Fingers crossed, world. xx (Images from Private Collection)

Stop. Think. Don’t press ‘Send’ just yet …

October 29, 2016

Stop. Think. Don’t press ‘Send’ just yet …

I am compelled this week to consider the state of electronic communications and the ease with which people take offence, misread information and then, and this is the killer bit, post some excessive, out of all kilter bit of vitriol that somehow – somehow – is okay because we all know it’s okay to be offended and outraged and to say so in the strongest possible language.

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Many years ago when on-line forums were new and before FB really got going; there were no Blogs, no Twitter or Snap-chat, etc etc, I joined an on-line writing community. I thought this would be a good thing – post some of my stories, the odd chapter of an odd novel and get some feedback from like-minded people. It was a reputable organization over-seen by someone big and respected in Hollywood. In order to get feedback you had to read and comment on three stories. The more you commented the more you could expect feedback on your stuff. All good, I thought. But you know where this is going…

I dutifully read my quota of stories. Most were pretty ordinary, some had potential and some should not have been published, even in such a forum – they weren’t ready for the light of day. I read some erotica, well it was presented as that, but it really was some horrid bit of porn masquerading as erotica. I ummed … I ahhed … and then I commented, saying that perhaps for it to be more appropriate to the genre it needed to be more nuanced, more subtle, less objectifying of the female character. I cannot tell you how bad it was but how kind – relatively speaking – my commentary was. I did the teacher thing and said what worked in the story, what didn’t and what I thought could be done to improve. I thought very carefully about what I wrote.

And then the gates of hell opened.

This guy, and it was a guy, and it was not clear from my non-de-plume that I was female, accused me of all sorts of things; of being some up-tight frigid bitch who’d never enjoyed sex and had no idea how a real woman might feel, and that I had no idea about men or writing, was clearly miserable in all aspects of my life, so why was I commenting at all. I was clearly too stupid and sexless to understand his wonderful work. Yes, he had missed most of what I’d said, which was that the sex was fantasy cliche, the characters were wooden and the situation was not remotely credible – but in nicer, more helpful words.

He had, as often happens, attacked me personally instead of engaging with my critique. I had responded to the work, he had responded to me, his ‘attacker’.

Needless to say, I got off that forum before he could look at any of my stories and rip them to shreds in a revenge-response. It cured me of on-line writing clubs and taught me a salient lesson, which has stayed with me through my later and current on-line writing. I keep away from the personal criticism unless they are public figures like Gove and Wilshaw and I am pretty much unidentifiable on places like fan-fiction and some of my e-books. Yes, this is to protect my professional life but also to protect me. I do not want to endure the merciless self-indulgent, vile criticism of strangers ever again.

shennay a ‘balanced’ student critique!

I have been reminded of this matter this week through the unfortunate story of the Oz Mummy-bloggers bitch-fest. Notorious Mum posted, what from my reading, was quite a fair comment on the ‘queen’ of the mums-sphere, Constance Hall. Now, I am well out of the demographic for either blog but from the side-lines it has been a sad story to watch. Notorious Mum didn’t say anything outrageous; she was quite complimentary about Hall but then made a couple of fair and soft criticisms that unleashed hell for her. I do think it is disingenuous of Hall to write about panic attacks and collapsing and not realize that her posse will respond, will take the high ground and attack on her behalf, which is what they did. Rather like wolves circling in an ever increasing pack they went for Notorious Mum and trolled and spited and vitrioled her beyond belief.

This is the ugly side of the internet, the dangerous side of tribalism; this is like football hooligans going on a rampage after their team loses, smashing and trashing all in sight. This is the anonymity of groups, of the herd; the danger of the pack, that lets terrible things happen. One person wouldn’t do this; one person face to face would not say the things that are said on-line. This is mob-rule and it is incredibly dangerous.

We need to talk about this. On-line bullying happens all the time. It is the dark-side of electronic communications, of all of them. Adults bully adults – on Face-book and Twitter. We all know that the lovely but sensitive Stephen Fry takes himself off Twitter when the bitching gets too much and who can blame him? Children and teens bully all the time – indeed it may be less in the real world but it is greatly increased in the cyber-world. Have you not read the tragic stories of teen suicide from on-line bullying and trolling?

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Why do otherwise sane and normal people think it’s okay to be as vile as possible on-line? Is it because you can’t see people’s faces? Is it because you are hidden in another place behind another name? Is it because electronic messages (texts and emails can fall foul here too) can be so easily mis-read – that humour, or banter, or something nuanced and subtle cannot be judged effectively?

Is the meaning lost because people are too busy reacting and feeling hurt or out-raged to read the text/message/blog correctly? Are we not allowed to make valid criticisms of some people or subjects? If the language of the text is reasonable, if the comments are sound but simply offering a different point of view, are we not allowed to say such things anymore? Are we not allowed to respectfully disagree?

Why is it okay to be as bitchy as possible about Clinton and Trump – how does the plethora of cruel memes and unsubstantiated stories about both of them add to the debate, to electing the right person? How has everything become so personal and vindictive? One only has to think of the Brexit campaign to know that facts and reason were lost in the face of the personal and unsubstantiated bullshit flying from both sides.

Why are people so ready to react with nastiness and venom? Have we all become Edward Hyde, our dark and mutated selves full of blackness and evil allowed full reign by the anonymity of the internet, buy the lack of face-to-face connections?

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Perhaps it’s time to think long and hard before we comment on a post, before we reply in haste to a text that has upset us, before we send off some hastily composed email that might not be read in the spirit it was sent. Perhaps it’s time we took ownership of our words as well as our actions. Perhaps it’s time we realized the power of communication and took responsibility for what we write and how we write it, with a heightened awareness of how those words might be received. And yes, I am with Notorious Mum, grammar and spelling do matter, especially if you have a large on-line presence.

So, comment fairly, dear friends … (images from Private Collection)

Why Do Boys Fail in School?

October 23, 2016

Why Do Boys Fail in School?

Warning: this is long and ranty!

I want you to take note of how I have titled this blog. I could have said, as do much of the media – Why do schools fail boys? – but I want to step back from the constant blame-the-teacher, slag-off-the-school culture that is endemic across the media in both the UK and Oz (and the USA). I am pushed to write this blog in response to an article in last week’s Times Magazine (My Son and Britain’s Boy Crisis, 15-10-2016) where a father of a white British boy waxed damnation against the current education system that according to a raft of statistics is failing boys.

He is correct: the stats are worrying. Girls out perform boys at every level on their way through school: by 8 years 83% of girls achieved level 4+ in reading, writing and maths, as opposed to boys achieving 77% (2015); at GCSE level (15/16 years) girls have out-performed boys for over 25 years, with girls achieving 61.8% 5 A*-C grades compared to boys achieving 52.5% (2015). At university in the UK there are 90,000 more women than men. Add to that there are 65,000 more unemployed male NEETS (not in education, employment and training) than there are females.

The stats are of concern for white British boys across all measures and, in what is no surprise to many of us, a quarter of boys start reception (aged 4) struggling to speak a full sentence or follow instructions. (These stats come from the magazine article but are widely known in this country.)

Education in too many parts of the world is not fit for purpose and the current push in Tasmania to make students start school earlier will not help address some of the issues faced by a range of students. In the UK there is an alarming trend to diagnose boys with ADHD more and more, and for them to be labeled failures before they even finish primary school.

The father in the Times article blames teachers and the education system. He states boldly: ‘The gender education gap has been in existence for at least 30 years and is no secret… It is unacceptable that governments of all colours, the education sector and the trade unions have willfully continued to turn a blind eye to the issue.’ These are the words of an angry father.

Understandably he doesn’t know what happens within the education sector or what teachers have to deal with on a daily basis. He sees education in a limited way, as a parent, albeit a worried parent but one with enough clout to have his opinions and ideas published in a large circulation newspaper.

The issue with failing sections of the community is not a secret in schools. We are constantly being asked to cater to particular cohorts; for many years it has been Black-Caribbean boys in the UK; at home it has been Aboriginal students. Now things here have shifted and it is white British boys who are failing most dramatically. In schools we know this, we have them in our sites and are bringing to bear a range of interventions designed to stem the tide of failure.

But, in all honesty, by the time they get to secondary school the rot has well and truly set in. Some students can always be inspired and turned around but to think that schools can do this alone, or single teachers are somehow responsible, is somewhat delusional.

Pal art

 

Let’s unpack some of the issues facing boys (and many of our girls too).

1.School structures – the way education is delivered has not really changed over time: one teacher delivering information, setting tasks, assessing tasks, to the many. Students are expected to co-operate, do their best, ask for help and actively engage in the work. It’s a nice idea but in practice it isn’t the reality. Once upon a time students were governed by fear and corporal punishment; the teacher free to dispense whatever justice they deemed necessary to control the class and get the learning done. Yes, class sizes were much bigger. But teachers had more control and there were consequences for failure – you did not progress willy-nilly through the grades just because you were a year older. No, you could be 14 and sitting in a class with 8 year olds – a bit of an incentive to pass.

These days there are very few consequences for students who neither learn nor behave. While I do not endorse corporal punishment, the powerlessness that teachers have to contend with does make controlling the unwilling and unable a challenge on a daily – sometimes hourly – basis. The amount of paperwork a school has to amass before a student can be excluded is obscenely excessive. A lot of pain has to be endured by many before a student is removed from education. Students do not need to pass anything on their way through school and in fact in the UK we call anything above a C a ‘good pass’. You can get as low as a G and that’s somehow okay too – it’s a result!

2.School starting age. Students start school very young here and, as noted, there is a push for that at home too. I wonder at this indecent haste to push young people into what could be described as a factory system of education… what are we hoping to achieve? The most successful systems in the world – yes, the Scandinavians – start school later and there is overwhelming evidence that starting school before 7 is more likely to be counter-productive. (see article: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence) Yet, those who have no understanding of how learning occurs, through play, through a wide range of activities; who don’t understand how development works, (hello Piaget) believe children should be forced into more formal learning situations sooner.

So, why do governments push for early school ages? Because so many children, mainly boys, are already educationally behind, because they believe in the holy grail of formal factory style education?? Because you can blame schools for failure but it’s harder to blame parents?

But the truth is that many kids aren’t ready for the sit still, be quiet and comply regime of primary school. Young children need to be playing, learning consequences, discovering boundaries and books in a more relaxed, informal setting. But the family unit is under pressure, families need two incomes, or more often there isn’t a father: we need to face that problem too.

But, back to early starting – which gender suffers most from being forced to sit still, from not playing rough or outside enough? Oh, yes, it is boys. And so they find it harder to conform, to behave. They are being asked to do a range of things before they are ready and are being failed as a consequence. And then labeled. Failure. ADHD. There is a huge range of research that shows that boys tend to develop later than girls across a variety of skills. This doesn’t mean they are failing, or stupid or have some condition. It simply means they aren’t there yet. But most of them will get there: they will make it, if they are given a fair chance.

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3.The testing regime. I’ve never worked anywhere that loves a test as much as the British Education system does. Let’s test them right from the start, which means, let’s fail them right from the start. The range of tests in Primary school takes little account of the variations in student readiness, in the fact that students – regardless of gender or ethnicity – learn at different rates and just because you can’t do something at 4, doesn’t mean you won’t have caught up by the time you’re 7 or 11.

How would you feel if you were being told you were a failure every few years in school? Wouldn’t you turn off, give up, accept the label? This is what the British system is doing to children, and yes, especially boys. Do you think teachers don’t know this? Do you think they are happy about this?

No, teachers are NOT happy about this, they do not support the plethora of changes that are constantly sweeping through education, that do nothing to help students learn and achieve, that demoralize staff and fail students. But teachers are not listened to. The father from the Times article needs to realize that: teachers do not have a voice when it comes to educational policy. We are silenced. Union bashing is used to silence us. Demonizing us is used to silence us.

4.Recent changes – the Gove changes – do not help under-achieving non-academic students. The focus on academic subjects, on facts, on exams, does nothing for modern students. Gove’s changes fly in the face of a modern world. He has denied the Arts, ignored vocational courses; made the curriculum narrow and mean (rather like him, some might say). He, along with many others, has ignored the needs of the students, those who have to cope in a modern world.

We are told to cater to student differences, to differentiate in our planning, while all the time working towards the same final assessment – exams. Never mind if you can’t cope in exams, never mind if you can’t remember quotes or facts, never mind if you are more creative, you still get to sit the same exam. And we all, from primary school through to A level, have to teach to the exam. How wonderful is that?

Yet we teachers have to implement these changes, despite knowing they are not educationally sound. I teach dead-white British male writers (mostly, with a few token exceptions) to classrooms stuffed with students of all colours, cultures and ethnic persuasions. How do these students connect with such out-dated writing, with experiences that they struggle to make sense of? How do they read out-dated language structures when they don’t read anything modern, other than text-speak on their phones?

How can you encourage a love of reading when a xenophobic Oxford educated white man has taken English back to the 1950s and willfully ignored the modern literary world?

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Yes, it is my job to make the connections, to point out the relevance of Shakespeare today, to show that Jekyll and Hyde still resonates today despite the torturous language and the complete lack of female characters. But my job would be so much easier if there was something a bit more modern that Lord of the Flies, or An Inspector Calls. Yes, the classics matter, but some of them should be from other countries too…

5.The importance of reading. Boys need to read. But a lot of boys can’t. They can’t recognize words or pronounce them. They can’t sit still long enough to read a page, let alone finish a full novel. Is reading really seen as a girly pursuit, as something unmanly? Sadly you would think so in schools. The resistance to reading is palpable – yes, all genders, but especially boys.

Men need to read, to be seen reading, fathers need to read to their sons; head teachers need to support their English departments when they want students to read silently in lessons and not tell the Head of English that ‘silent reading doesn’t show adequate progress, so it must stop’. Yes, I am quoting an actual head-teacher – a man, who told me silent reading was a waste of time, never mind the educationally sound evidence and research.

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6.Fathers need to step up. Whether they are part of the family unit, or weekend dads, they need to take responsibility for their sons’ educations. This means things like reading, like accepting the rules, playing fair, owning their own behaviour; respect for women, especially given that schools – especially primary schools – are full of women. Fathers need to work with schools as mothers do. Fathers need to set good examples for their sons. (Yes, I know, many fathers do and I have known many wonderful fathers, so don’t get offended out there.)

7.Not enough male teachers. Without doubt there is an issue with the gender balance in most schools. Primary schools are traditionally the province of women but secondary schools tend to be female heavy too. In both cases the men tend to hold the senior positions and are not as present in the classroom. This is an issue. Boys do need to see more men in schools. It was similar in northern Australia where Aboriginal people needed to see themselves as teachers, to see themselves in such important positions to help get the message that education was for them too, and significant programs were set up to enable this to happen.

Ask yourself why teaching remains such a female dominated profession. Why do so few men choose not to become teachers, especially primary teachers?

There are some very simple answers here. There has been too much down grading of the profession by politicians (and others) over the years. Teachers are persistently blamed for the ills of society. In English schools teacher are held responsible for the progress of all their students. The students are somehow not responsible for their own progress: no, it is the teacher. How can that be? It doesn’t matter what you have done, you could always have done something else.

The man in The Times article subscribes to this view. The teacher is the problem, the reason he fears for his son’s future. Yes, there are crap teachers, of course there are. But there aren’t as many as you would think. There are also crap students who do not respond to anything, who do not care about their own education or others and who, sadly, are supported by their parents in their destructive ways.

The problem is that young teachers are not staying in the profession and older, experienced teachers are fed up, or being forced out because they are too expensive, regardless of gender. The much lauded Teach-First program has a 50%+ drop out rate after the obligatory 2 years are completed.

The big problem in recruiting male teachers is that the profession has been so demonized, so devalued and relatively under-paid that no male in his right sense would become a teacher, or if he did, remain in the classroom with the students any longer than need be. In primary schools it has been worse, with scare mongering about pedophiles and foolishness about men being too near young children, as if all men are sexual predators.

Men don’t choose teaching because it is not a prestigious or valued profession. If you want more men in teaching then you have to pay more. Female professions are traditionally paid less, and valued less in society; thus it is with teaching. If you want to recruit men and keep them you have to value education in society and stop trying to pull it apart.

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Think on this, those who blame teachers – our Times father who claims to ‘know what bad teachers look like’ – for the ills in education, for failing to meet the needs of students, especially boys. Most head-teachers are men, most PMs and Education Secretaries have been white British men; Ofsted chief inspectors certainly are white British men and yet, as the man in the Times says, the state of education for British boys is a state of national disgrace.

Who should really shoulder the blame for British boys’ chronic under-achievement? This fed up female teacher is happy to point the finger… (Images from Private Collection)

The New 3R’s of Education

October 16, 2016

The New 3R’s of Education.

As the world shifts and changes and becomes both more amazing and more disturbing we need a new focus in schools, a big focus on becoming decent people; citizens of an ever-changing world, able to survive, manage and even thrive in whatever is to come. So today’s schools must focus more explicitly on Respect, Responsibility and Resilience. Once upon a time this used to be the covert curriculum, and much of this rested in the hands of parents. But now it needs to be front and centre in schools too.

 

Respect covers a range of sins and must be paramount as we become a more uncertain world with borders shifting and changing, identity and gender being more fluid and more open, with religious and cultural differences more defined as we become a global community. It is as simple as respect for yourself and for others. But it is so much harder in practice.

There was a time where we embraced the ‘live and let live’ ethos of a more tolerant and accepting view of each other. But now we seem to feel free to abuse, vilify and attack on the slenderest of reasons. Indeed Social Media and the constant streaming of ‘news’ has to take some share of the blame for the rise in hate in society, but it can’t be that simple, can it?

Why do we feel free to berate and abuse others? Where did that ‘freedom’ come from?

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Schools must be vigilant about respect, and in truth, many are trying to address the constancy of social issues that ever creep into our crowded curriculums. Respect is about tolerance, patience, consideration and kindness. It is being aware that others have different beliefs, customs, ways of living, attitudes and ideas. This is important as we don’t really want an homogenous society where we all think the same and parrot platitudes and dangerous ideas that are never challenged. Oh, yes, too much agreement and similarity is a very dangerous thing.

Thus instilling respect as a central tenant of how to live a decent life is crucial. 1.Respect for yourself, so you keep your body safe, so you can express your ideas freely but thoughtfully without hate and vitriol.

2.Respect for others, so they can get on with their own ways of life, be it of a different colour, different religion, different sexuality, different beliefs and ways of doing things.

3.Respect means understanding that there is no right way to do things, that there are many voices, many ideas, many people and we all have the right to exist peacefully in this world.

 

Responsibility is perhaps the thing in schools and society that does my head in most. For fuck’s sake, get a pen, learn how to cook, stop buying sugar-laden shit and expecting to be healthy, vote in elections, accept when you make a mistake and stop blaming everything and everyone else for your shitty life.

Being responsible for yourself, for your life can start early. Simple things like making your bed, putting your clothes in the wash, doing your homework, packing your school bag for the day ahead. Parents do need to build in these little pathways to responsibility early and naturally. It doesn’t mean you make them self-sufficient by 11 but by the time they get to secondary school most kiddies should be able to do a great many things for themselves.

Responsibility means being responsible for what you say and how you behave – under pressure and under normal circumstances – organizing your own life; owning it and making things happen.

Not being responsible is to expect all sorts of other people to make things happen for you and blaming them when things don’t fall the right way for you. So teaching responsibility early is vital for a human being who is self sustaining, accepts that sometimes things are their fault and doesn’t spend their life blaming, in no particular order – their parents, their teachers, the government, politicians, God, ISIS, Pauline Hanson, Trump, Clinton, etc, etc – for all that is wrong with their lives.

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Loving parents and good schools (even when the system is against them – whose GCSE results are they??? Just ask a failing school…) ensure that young people take responsibility for what is theirs and do the right thing in owning both the good and the bad that they say and do. Responsible youngsters become responsible citizens who take on more than just managing their own lives, who take responsibility for making the world a better place.

 

Resilience became a fashionable term a few years ago and there were various programs designed to help make students better able to cope with their worlds when things went wrong. For my mind responsibility and resilience go hand in hand. A responsible person can accept their own short comings and face up to them and do something about them. They are able to work through the tough times and stay afloat.

A person who blames others, a child who is so cosseted by their parents (and yes, schools too) that they cannot cope with slights, or failures is going to have a very tough life. All this helicopter-parenting, this Tiger-mothering of the young does them no good in the harsh light of the real world.

Resilience is perhaps more important than ever in this world of cyber-bullying, trolling and stalking. Young people are more vulnerable than ever to the slings and arrows of others, piercing their young feather-light hides with barbs and poison that stings to the core. Teenagers are horrendously sensitive creatures, their self esteem balancing on a pin head. Of course they are vulnerable and in the glow of their screens, in the dark of their rooms they are more vulnerable than ever. Recent studies deplore the levels of self-harm and unhappiness that young people feel, not to mention the constant stress of exams and that old faithful, peer pressure.

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If there was more respect for others, more tolerance of difference, of the outsider; if we took responsibility for our words and actions from the youngest age, there would be little need for resilience training for the young. But we must be aware that not all of us have the capacity to deal with the tough times, that not all of us have people who care enough to hold our hands and keep us steady through failure, rejection, self doubt, illness, bullying and harassment.

Resilience doesn’t make you callous, it doesn’t stop you feeling, it allows you to deal with the darker side of life and we need to prepare students in dealing with those things, the things that de-stabilise young people – lack of friends; ill, dead or absent parents, abusive families, drugs, bullying, failing to get the grades we expect, or into the uni course we so desperately want.

 

As a parent and a teacher I can bring these three elements to my teaching, to my dealings with young people. Honesty, integrity and authentic relationships with young people matter enormously. They need people they can trust – parents, teachers, coaches, other adults; people who will listen to them, be there for them, tell them the truth, and offer support in a practical and useful way.

Surely at the end of every day what we want is a better world, full of people who care about each other and themselves and are bringing good to the planet. God knows it needs it! (Images from Private Collection)

Sometimes Your Face Just Doesn’t Fit…

October 2, 2016

Sometimes Your Face Just Doesn’t Fit…

You know the feeling – you’re qualified for the job, your application was first rate, you prepped for the interview, it went well. But you didn’t get the job and really what reason was there? Someone who had the slightest of edges, or simply that you didn’t quite fit with that company, that work-place; it’s ethos or something equally impossible to quantify. You’ll never know and all you can do is move on, get over it and start again.

Sometimes, through no fault of your own you simply don’t fit in where you are or where you want to be. This can afflict all parts of our lives and all stages – work, friendships, and of course, romance. It can be horribly upsetting but all too often there’s bugger all we can do about it, other than accept it and move on.

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Remember school– the in crowd, or a group that you wanted to belong to? You hung about on the edges, sometimes invited into the centre but never truly a part of the scene. How many social occasions did you not get invited to, how many secrets were you not privy to? No, you weren’t the right stuff and more often than not, in hindsight, it’s probably a good thing. But at the time not being part of that group was soul destroying. What elusive element did you lack that made you not belong?

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Work shifts too – are you really incompetent, unable to do your job or is it that there is something about you that management doesn’t like and they can’t quantify it (or maybe it’s illegal to do so – age, gender, race, sexual persuasion)? Instead you are under-mined, excluded, persecuted or over-looked for promotion again and again: effectively pushed, or even hounded out of your job. There may be all sorts of things you can do to address the problem; work harder, seek advice from your line manager; grievances, your union, legal advice, but in the end you have to face the fact that you can’t beat them, they have all the power and you simply have to move on. If your face doesn’t fit, if management don’t want you you’re better off out of there, before your health, self respect and self belief are battered beyond recovery.

A work-place where your face doesn’t fit is one of the most toxic environments you can be in. So, be smart and move on before it’s too late. But you need to remember that it isn’t necessarily about you – it’s as likely it’s nothing to do with your skills or your ability to do your job. (Indeed, I do speak from bitter personal experience!)

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And let us not forget love. How often has our face not been the right face – not the one that the object of our affection has wanted to gaze adoringly upon? How our hearts have heaved and shattered as we see them gaze upon another in the way we gaze upon them. Oh, how devastating is that! But we can do nothing, we can’t change ourselves beyond recognition to make our face fit just to be loved by someone we love, or think we love. How could that ever result in happiness, in a deep and abiding love?

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Your face not fitting is not the end of the world, although it may very well feel like it at the time. Take the time to step back from the situation, from the rejection because really, that’s what we are talking about. Dealing with rejection is always difficult. The adult in us knows that rejection is a normal part of life, but the child in us is always hurt to the core and wants to lash out or hide away forever more. Neither is sensible.

 

What’s to be done then? Take stock, re-group, move on. When things don’t work out the smart thing to do is to reflect on your own actions or behaviour. Is there something that needs to change, are you approaching things all wrong? What can you learn from this rejection? It maybe something small, something you hadn’t considered before but it could be useful going forward. But it may be something bigger, more troublesome, something that you need to address to avoid future rejections.

It’s always useful to step away from a situation, ask for advice from someone you trust – how much of this rejection is down to you, or down to issues with the other party? God knows romantic rejection is a mine-field so be careful about how much self-loathing you indulge in once it’s clear your face ain’t never gonna fit. Sometimes you have to face the fact that you just don’t have the right stuff for this situation – yes, it is you not them! But, before you get carried away with self-indulgent self-pity, it’s just as likely that there is nothing wrong with you, it is simply the situation.

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Once you’ve had a good look at yourself, accepted the rejection, then you must move on. It’s imperative that you get back on whichever horse has thrown you off. But, if you’re wise, if you’re lucky and read the signals right, you’ll end up in a place where your face fits perfectly. Remember most of us have good friends, a decent job and someone who loves us as much as we love them. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of time and place, not a matter of you having the wrong face. (Images from Private Collection)

Un-plug: Be still

September 24, 2016

Unplug: Be Still

I think I must becoming old – I find the relentlessness of watching people being plugged in to things all day long quite baffling. I’m as fond of FB and internet chatting of all sorts of persuasions as anyone but surely you need more down time than most modern people seem to have these days?

There are numerous studies about screen time re-wiring young people’s brains: that attention spans are ever diminishing; that the ability to concentrate for extended times is being eroded. And of course every second month someone bemoans the lack of reading by the young especially (that would be me!!).

There are the dangers of fire, the threat of cancer to long term mobile phone users, there is the damage to standard written English through text speak and the growing inability for people to connect face to face. Why have a sustained conversation with anyone when you can look at something inane on your phone or check a message from someone else? People are losing the art of conversation; young people have almost no idea how to listen respectfully and take turns, not shut people down or shout louder. You can now be connected to your work-place 24/7 so you don’t get the opportunity to walk away every evening, or have a weekend. Work is now always with you. Is that a bonus or a blight?

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People rely on their phones almost it seems to the exclusion of all else. Or a tablet, or a PC or a games console. Yes the mobile phone has been on an extra-ordinary journey and it does an amazing amount of things – we’ve all seen the memes showing all the different items that are now amalgamated into one smart-phone.

But what I wonder about, what I worry about, is how do so many people – the young – turn off their brains. How do they know how to be still, how to be alone and quiet…

At the end of a phone or a laptop or computer we are always a tap and a click away from connection – a message, a like, an emoticon of approval. But how useful to our ability to just ‘be’ is it all?

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Stillness, doing nothing, boredom even, allows your brain to roam, to think, consider; ponder things all on its own. It doesn’t need reference to other people, information or the plethora of mis-information out there. People need space to do nothing, time to recharge their own batteries; time to calm themselves down.

I worry for our future artists and writers. If you are eternally plugged into other people and nonsense how can you dream, how can you imagine other worlds, other realities and want to explore them? How can you watch people and soak up the madness of the real world and write about it if you never pay attention to it? How can you question things if you don’t have the space to think about matters?

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I worry for our young people in a world of increased pressure, exams, appearance; being monstered in the ‘sanctity’ of their bedrooms by friends and by casual strangers who thinks it’s fun to trash some naïve girl’s selfie in a bikini, or that it’s somehow okay to text naked pictures of your girlfriend to the universe. Young people are increasingly anxious, increasingly depressed – perhaps all this connection is playing a significant part?

Being plugged in gives a sense of connection, of belonging. It also brings bullying and trolling. The internet is both wonderful and terrible, in all its manifestations. It has become a central part of our lives. I do not wish it gone: I love it too. But it has become a monster that has over-taken too much of our lives. It is possible to step outside the house without your phone. You can walk your baby without being on the phone. You can sit on the bus and just stare aimlessly out the window, letting your mind roam.

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Take the time to un-plug your connections. Move away from the screen (after you’ve read this) and be still. Talk face-to-face, go for a walk without anything electronic in your pocket. Gaze at the world again and see its wonder and beauty. Be in this moment and not worried about what is happening somewhere else. The message will still be there when you turn on again, the world will not have stopped turning just because you were un-plugged.

Go on, un-plug, let yourself be still, even if only for half an hour. I’m sure you’ll feel better for it. (Images from Private Collection)

Out-Out – Brexiteers, damnation and fear…

June 25, 2016

Out – Out

Out damned spot

Out out brief candle

Out out damned little egotistical island

Little, less, nothing! – and that ended it.

(with apologies to Shakespeare and Robert Frost)

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So, the people have voted, and in great numbers, but the result is not great. Brexit is not a clear and decisive matter. Oh, yes the UK has definitively voted to leave but the closeness of the contest – 51.9 for Leave to 48.1 to Remain is not really a cause for great celebration. Indeed, the mood has been rather somber since early Friday morning. My ‘ladies who lunch’ were quieter, more reflective, somewhat worried about what it all meant. My year 10s were panicked and frightened – the lesson was lost to politics and history. Even Boris the bouncing shaggy dog of a man was not his usual ebullient self.

What have we done?

In truth, nobody really knows, which is why we are worried and apprehensive in the wake of this momentous, yes, historical decision. I am reminded of how gutted I felt when Paul Keating lost to John Howard, how I felt the loss personally and worried for the country. But life went on and we coped and PJK faded away as John Howard took us back to the 1950s and the rhetoric of hate ramped up – it was the time of Pauline Hansen, remember. (An Australian version of Nigel Farage, for my English mates)

So life here will go on. But just as Australia did, things will shift on their axis. It isn’t the same world it was on Thursday morning. This moment is unlikely to be a small ripple in a pond. This event has the potential to be a tsunami, wreaking all sorts of havoc and damage; destruction not dreamt of, let alone planned for.

David Cameron is slinking away. Having unleashed this all upon the public he will remove himself from the fall-out, play no part in the new world order. One is not sure if he is wise to leave it to others or is just a coward who misread the public dramatically, and foolishly kept an election promise (what politician ever does that now-a-days?) that has divided the country, divided his party and left him as a lame duck – a loser of the first order. What was he thinking, what advice was he taking? Why on earth didn’t he leave the referendum until the latter part of this parliamentary term?

The more worrying thing is who will take his place? Which of the rampant Brexiteers will it be? Bonkers Boris or Malevolent Michael?

Oh, you foolish country, you silly people to allow these too such an easy road to the top. Don’t you know what Gove has done to education, to children’s futures, to teachers’ conditions, to workers’ rights? Do you really think any extra money is going into the NHS, do you really think the refugees will stop, that France will hold the borders in Calais?

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Perhaps the EU is broken, perhaps it needs a radical overhaul, perhaps it’s lost its way… But the UK is not Great Britain, as Gove went on and on and on and on about, like some fervent right wing nationalist on the telly and wherever he could get a platform. He may have made sure that children only read British writers in the brave new English (subject) curriculum, patriotically excising the Americans – Steinbeck, Miller and Lee, etc and the odd other nationality – from the reading lists, but that can not and does not make Britain great. It only leads to xenophobia, racism and an extraordinarily limited and dangerous view of the world.

Maybe the UK needed to leave Europe, maybe Europe needs to re-invent itself but the thing we do not need, not at all, and especially not now in this world of lies and mis-information, in this time of brutality to others and desperation of the many, is to ignite fervent nationalism, to identify the other and scapegoat them. Now the scapegoats are immigrants and refugees, but it wasn’t really that long ago the scapegoats were the Jews and we know what happened then…

Be careful what you wish for…     (Images from google free-site)

a small poem of despair

June 18, 2016

A Small Poem of Despair…

Tis the season to be hateful

To incite violence

From the faithful.

 

Far right, far left

All are quite bereft

Of behaving at their ethical best.

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We should hang our heads in shame

For all of us are to blame

For tolerating extremism

Homophobia and racism,

For allowing too many lies

From our political masters and their allies,

From the unholy mess

That is the national and international press.

 

There is no high moral ground

Simply hatred scattered all around

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So for fuck’s sake make sure you vote

Democracy is on the ropes

And you are its last hope

 

Brexit, Trump and Turnball

An unholy trinity that don’t bear thinking of at all!! (Images from private collection)

 

5 Real Life Relationship Tips

June 4, 2016

5 Real Life Relationship Tips.

Have you noticed how much relationship advice there is on the internet? Well in my FB feed there is! So much about toxic relationships, gas-lighting, signs of this, signs of that. Ah, the plethora of pop psychology is perhaps the bane of the connected world. But in this connected world where relationships should matter more than money and politics and being scared by an increasingly mis-informing media I thought I would add my pound’s worth on relationships – well I do have a degree in Psychology and I have had many relationships (we won’t go anywhere near some of them!) so here is a bit of Swiftie-wisdom on the matter.

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1.Relationships take work. No matter their origins – a slow gentle coming together of like minds and bodies or a passion worthy of Cathy and Heathcliff – all relationships, including friendship, need work and effort to keep them going and to make them actually work. In fact of all the bits of relationship advice out there this is the only one to remember. All of the following points are really just a sub-set of this.

We seem to have some sort of romantic notion that once we fall in love and get married (or commit to someone) then the happy ever after takes over and we’re fine. But as anyone who has been in a long term relationship will tell you that’s bullshit. You won’t like everything about your partner/friend, you won’t agree with everything they say and the decisions they take, especially when they affect you! This is where compromise kicks in, where you need to talk about things, need to keep in touch with the other person, make sure you do still know them and what matters to them.

This is where we have to toughen up and get through the hard times together, and a life together does mean a share of hard times: having children, money, moving/buying houses, extended family, friends, career choices all impact on your relationship. Life takes the romance out of love, it changes everything and if you are to continue together, continue feeling the love then you have to work on things. Together. Sometimes the vows taken in church do have some real life applicability: love and honour; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health. These are the testing areas and you need to work through them. Together. Working through the tough times makes your relationship stronger, your love deeper and truer. Nothing worth having comes that easily, and so it is with relationships too.

 

2.You must be kind. This means being patient, forgiving and taking the time to listen to your partner/friend. Kindness is a simple and under-rated activity. A simple act of kindness can undo all sorts of wounds and hurts. Making a cup of tea for someone, knowing how they like their coffee brewed, asking them about their day and listening to them, not shrugging off their issues, or rushing to give advice or tell your own stories. Little things show you care, kindness is about awareness of the other person – that they’re tired, upset, need some space, some time to themselves. A small act of kindness is its own reward but it will etch into your partner’s being and they will love you more for it, grant you kindnesses too and let your relationship recover from injury or remain as smooth as possible.

Kindness is often over-looked because it seems too small scale to make a difference. But it’s not and it’s one of those things that if you practice it daily then it becomes a habit and a good habit that builds a positive attitude between you. Kindness is awareness of the other person and their needs: it shows you are paying attention. It’s as simple as thank you for dinner, washing up without being asked, going with them to the doctor’s, buying their favourite flowers, or chocolates for no reason at all.

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3.There needs to be balance – give and take is a central plank of good relationships. It’s not always entirely equally proportioned but the relationship cannot be too imbalanced for too long. We do not want to be Frida Khalo to Diego Rivera, we need to be Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Robert Browning. We do not want one partner to subsume their life, their passions, their needs to the other, to the exclusion of their own needs. This is getting close to ideas about toxic relationships. If you are doing all the giving, all the caring, making too many sacrifices for your partner it is a poisonous mix. Over time you will feel resentment that will grow into bitterness that will kill the relationship.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t devote yourself to your partner during some periods of your life together. When one is seriously ill, when one is consumed by a particular project, be it study or art, or during other times of life. There are times when one person needs more than the other, and that’s what love and kindness is all about. Balance is not about strict equality, it’s about ensuring each person is giving as well as taking. But if you’re the one giving all the time…

Make sure you are listening as well as talking, make sure you are cooking as well as eating. Make sure you are doing things that he/she likes as well as you – watch the movies they like, go to places they want to go. Let them make decisions, don’t run everything; listen to them, ask them questions about their life, their world that shows you care, that you are interested. Make sure your life is as important as theirs.

 

4.Don’t lose yourself in the other person. This is related to the give and take, the ebb and flow of relationships. It’s so easy at the beginning to merge, to be some sort of two headed, one minded being. You begin to think the same, finish sentences, know what the other wants before they do, know how they will respond to a given situation. This is wonderful, it makes you feel connected, as if you have found your missing bits: it’s as if you’ve finally met the person who gets you. But too much togetherness can be dangerous too. Especially if you lose your connections to the rest of your life. This is where the famous gas-lighting can creep in. A wicked controlling partner will take advantage of your devotion, your closeness, your sameness and they will manipulate you and you will lose who you are, which could be fatal, as we know from many real life horror stories. Togetherness is wonderful but you can’t function in a relationship if you lose yourself. You must keep your friends, your interests, your family, your self-respect. You need some distance.

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5.Walk away if you have to. We don’t live happily ever after, even those who want to, who work for it, who do their best. Sometimes relationships fail. Sometimes they simply run their course. A violent, abusive relationship is not to be tolerated. But a relationship that makes you unhappy on most days isn’t any good either. I’m not saying give up when the relationship gets tough, no, not at all – I believe in working at it. But sometimes there comes a time to call it a day. Be brave, you will know when that time comes, it will feel right. To walk away from a failed relationship does not make you a failure. It means you are free to try again. But make sure you learn from the relationship’s failures and don’t hook up with the same person in a different skin and walk the same path.

 

Look after your loved ones. Take care of your family and friends. Work at your relationships, be kind, be yourself and most of all nourish what matters to you. Mostly, I’m sure you’ll find it’s the people in your life. (Images from Private Collection)

Synchronicity – endings and beginnings

May 28, 2016

Synchronicity

Another end of term, another section of life completed, compartmentalized and put away. This time a good term, a successful chunk of time. Which led me to this end of term three years ago, which was anything but the end of a good time. It was a miserable rainy cold day, an appropriate bit of pathetic fallacy as the storm clouds had been fierce and intense for some time at that particular vile and vituperous work place. It was a good place to be out of, and the over-whelming feeling was one of profound relief.

It was an odd time, a very strange weekend, for literally had I stepped away from that pit of vultures, removed that poison from my life, than my father died. Yes, literally the next day. On the other side of the world he had a heart attack while driving and hit a telegraph pole, wiping out the power in the area for some time, and killing himself. It was interesting timing on many levels, as it was also my long dead, much missed mother’s birthday.

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You cannot ignore such coincidences, such synchronicity in the universe. It does seem as if there is a higher presence of some sort, a game master playing with us, making us stop and think, stop and wonder. Indeed it made me think as I winged my way home across the hours and miles to bury a father I’d not always loved, not always found easy. In the aftermath of his death there was another curious moment of synchronicity – only known to a few but spotted by one such person and relayed to me. My father’s accident was reported on the local news, as you might expect. But it followed an item about the demolition of a hotel in the middle of Hobart, where a woman had fallen to her death in the late 70’s. Yes, that woman was my mother. The news people would never in a million years have known the connection between the two accidents, but there it was. Both parents died in accidents many years apart, but there they were abutting each other in death in a news bulletin.

And now there is some peace in the world. After three years I only think fondly of my father, but fortunately at the time I was able, along with my brother, to bid him farewell in our own way. We went to his house, stood on his river bank, drank his champagne, ate party pies and as an eagle soared above us in the fading light, said our farewells.

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My beloved eldest daughter was with me during the whole Tasmanian death days. It was appropriate: she was the grandchild most fond of John, most able to dote on him and make him laugh, able to call him ‘foolish’ without a storm front moving in. She helped clean and sort the detritus of a long life, a life of hoarding and not a lot of order. Oh my, did we find a lot of wine, pills and bullets! When we left we thought it was the end, the house, after being in the family for 50 years, would be sold and an important part of my life would be incontrovertibly over.

But the universe has stepped in again and now my daughter lives there: yes, the one who came to help, who perhaps felt the same love for the place I have always had. My tall blonde, fierce, Amazon daughter has settled there on the river bank with her fiancé: her English man, who is ten years older than her, a man who can turn his hand to all sorts of things, a remarkably useful fellow, who is devoted to her. What synchronicity is here, I hear you ask? Well, her mother met an Englishman, who was ten years older than her, remarkably useful in an intelligent and handy sort of way, and settled in a house on a riverbank in Tasmania many years ago.

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I sit here this morning a world away from my own riverbank, from John’s and Phoenix’s riverbank and marvel at how the world turns out. Three years ago the world spun off its axis for me. Things shifted and changed and although I could not see it at the time, it has turned out to be very much for the better. I am in a much better work-place: one where I am valued and appreciated by students and staff. One of my lovely year 11s yesterday brought me chocolates and a card and thanked me, telling me I had rescued them. It was one of those sweet moments in a teacher’s life.

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My father’s house, which had been my grandfather’s house is now my daughter’s house. And I can only be pleased with that. We live, we die and others move the world on and so the house that Hector bought is the house that Phoenix will take to the next level and sooner or later fill it with more than baby chickens and German Shepherd puppies. A house that was the happiest place I ever spent with my father will now be a happy place to spend time with my darling daughter (when I eventually get back to my own river bank…) (Pix from Private Collection)