If I Ran The School

So it’s probably no secret that I had a hard time at school. The environment at my school, at least through my eyes, was toxic. By the time it came for me to leave secondary school the place had gone downhill with teachers either too afraid or flat out refusing to do anything about any sort of bullying. I once had a chair thrown at me in a classroom where the teacher was watching and all he did was tell the student to “sit down”. That was the extent of the punishment in my school.

We did have these things called conduct marks. Basically you had ten conduct marks each week and every time you misbehaved or broke the rules the teacher could take one away from you (I can’t remember if they gave them out or took them away, but either way it was a tally system). At the end of the week, when you got your Planner signed by your tutor, the amount of conduct marks you had (or had lost) would indicate your punishment; detention or meeting with headteacher usually. The problems here were that tutors were far too lazy to check Planners and so a lot of people got away with misbehaving and no repercussions.

So this is where the title comes in. If I ran the school I would make some changes.

First and foremost everybody would be treated equally. I know teachers try to do this but I’m talking on a wider scale. The drama kids are treated the same as the sporty kids, the same as the arty kids or the DIY kids. It’s all the same. If any achievements are to be celebrated then all of them will. At my school it was far too obvious that sports were favoured over anything else. The assemblies always had sports awards and sports news and stuff about the school sports teams. It was horrific for anybody who wasn’t interested in sports. Do away with that and make everything fair. You talk about the local sport success in assembly? Then you also talk about the viewing for students’ artwork or the auditions for a school play.

The major change I would make is to discipline.

You have three chances in the first phase basically. If somebody puts in a complaint about you misbehaving, breaking rules or bullying then they need to be investigated. If the investigation proves you have misbehaved or broken rules then these are the three-step punishments to be followed.

Step 1 – You receive a warning. (If a severe punishment is needed then you receive detention). (Offer help if the infraction may have been due to a mental health issue or biological problem).

Step 2 – You receive a detention (If a more severe punishment is needed then you receive a suspension).

Step 3 – Suspension.

When you return to school after your suspension then your three chances turn into two.

Step 1 – Detention.

Step 2 – Expelled.

These cover most of the infractions within school boundaries. Bunking off school? Refusing to listen to a teacher? Non-Physical bullying? They are all classed under this scheme.

However, there is an alternate scheme for serious infractions. This category is for use in the case of physical violence (of any sort) or carrying a weapon and other serious issues.

Step 1 – Expelled. The Police will be involved if it would be considered a criminal offence, had it been outside of school property.

Zero tolerance. This is what zero tolerance looks like. It’s expelling people when they need to be expelled.

Follow these rules and the school will be a much better place for those that do want to be there.

But, I hear some people say, these people who were expelled will suffer down the line when they leave school with no qualifications. To that I say “So?” If you cannot be a civilised human being in school towards other students then I have very little sympathy for you. What school doesn’t do now is reinforce consequences. Nowhere will take you if you’ve been expelled from every school in the area because, and rightfully so, you will be seen as trouble.

This is brought on by the fact that I witnessed an awful lot of physical bullying in my school. Not just towards me, although that is the stuff I remember most vividly, but across the entirety of the school. And guess what? Probably only between 1 and 5% of these cases were ever treated seriously. Some of them weren’t reported because they knew teachers wouldn’t do anything and those that were reported were mostly just dismissed after a meeting with parents (which is considerably unhelpful for everybody involved).

Parents don’t currently take it seriously. If this rigid guideline were in place then you know the severity of the infraction because it relates to the punishment. Parents would have to take it seriously when physical violence is seeing their child kicked out of all schools within the area. They will need to take action instead of claiming excuses for their child. Because that’s what we need more of, more action and less talk.

A school needs to start being treated like a workplace. I know that the rules I have suggested are the rules that my company obeys. As such we have zero physical violence, I’m not afraid to go in there in fear of being assaulted and because we understand there are consequences to actions. If we seriously broke rules then we would be looking for another place to work, the same should be said for a school.

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Body Image Issues

Now it’s probably no secret, after the previous post, that I have body image issues. I was going to address this as an eating disorder and the signs and struggles of it but on reflection I didn’t want to diagnose myself with something I personally don’t know much about in fear of misrepresenting those that do suffer with it. Instead I decided I would talk about my body image issues and the story behind them.

As far back as I can remember food has always been a problem for me. I was a fussy eater from a very young age. Now I know people will be reading this thinking “you just haven’t tried the foods enough” or thinking I gave up after one mouthful. No, I went through the whole “you’re not getting down from the table until you clear your plate” thing as a child and it lasted a long time into childhood. So let’s just admit that I knew from a young age that food wasn’t going to be my friend.

One of my earliest memories is my mother bringing home some clothes and asking me to try them on. I couldn’t have been very old, probably only about seven or eight. So, as I was getting changed to try these t-shirts on, my mother says the words “put your belly away, you look like a pregnant duck.” Not offensively and not chastising me for anything, just in a jokey way, but jokes still mean things. I’ve never forgotten those words and they do still echo in my head whenever I try on clothes or try to find a comfortable outfit.

Let’s move on to school. Hold tight because this is where it gets personal and difficult for me to talk about (given that the only person I’ve mentioned this to before is the school counsellor). My group of “friends” at the time were awful. You can read about them in other posts I’ve made but trust me, they weren’t nice people. I only hung around with them because I had nobody else and sometimes being ridiculed and mocked was somewhat preferable to being known as the kid with no friends. But anyway, these taunts took aim at my appearance. Let’s take a look at some of the things on that list;

  • “Mushroom” hair – because apparently my hair resembled that of a mushroom.
  • Fat/big lips
  • Big feet
  • Overweight – coupled with as many chins as they could count to that day
  • Too big/tall

All these things might not seem like a big deal but there wasn’t a day that went by where I wasn’t reminded of every single one of these things by the people who were supposed to be my friends. I would even find little pictures passed to me depicting me as some sort of giant fat ogre with a big round head, grotesque fish lips, huge clown feet and wild/unkempt hair.

Let’s mention here that my way of dealing with the bullying was to basically eat my feelings. I may not have liked vegetables but I can put away chocolate and donuts quicker than most. Especially since I have an addictive personalty in itself and so good food means a good mood which resonates in my head next time I’m feeling down or next time I see a box of donuts in the shop.

I lost a lot of the weight going through puberty which I’ve been told about but I’ve never personally noticed myself. Whenever I look at my reflection I still see that overweight kid staring back at me, the one with the big paunchy belly who is too tall with double chins.

Let’s add on top of this that the body shaming doesn’t stop there. Through the ages of sixteen to twenty-five I had long hair; various lengths but primarily shoulder length. I loved having long hair (which I have talked about before) but I was about the only one who did. My brother’s hated my hair and nicknamed me Worzel Gummidge and every member of my family would question when I would get it cut and say that it looks dead and lifeless and has no style to it.

But this wasn’t saved when coming into my sexuality and guys would tell me “you’d look better if you cut your hair” or how some people would laugh and compare me to Nana Mouskouri which I had to just brush off as “banter” but really was quite hurtful. At University, where my hair was a main hatred of pretty much everybody I encountered, somebody else managed to find something else to bring to my attention. When talking to him about guys and how I don’t seem to get noticed by guys he suggested “try losing the glasses” which then just made me paranoid about how awful my glasses looked.

But this is actually a major point. Not the glasses thing, that guy was a dick (although I do still hate my glasses), but the idea of getting attention. Never have I been approached by anybody who thought I was attractive. The only attention I get on online dating websites are from men who are usually 50+ and that doesn’t help my self-esteem when they’re not entirely picky (seriously, I feel like a name on a mailing list). But I can count on one hand the number of times I received compliments about my appearance and they are always from friends who say it when I’m feeling rather self-pitying and down. I’ve never been the kind of guy who people find attractive, I’ve always been the kind of guy that people find “interesting” which is just what they say to ugly people to make them feel better (like telling the fat kid he plays with a lot of heart, I got that a lot too at school).

(Oh and don’t get me started on the gay community who looked down on me whenever I went to a gay club because I wasn’t 5’11 with tanned skin, Toni & Guy coiffed hair, designer shirts and tight abs. Or because I wasn’t ultra skinny. Seriously, being considered “plus size” and unattractive for it is the only thing that makes me wish I could change my sexuality.)

The Things We Don’t Say

Today was my grandmother’s funeral.

She was diagnosed with lung cancer and then it was only a week or two before she could barely lift her head and wasn’t eating or drinking anything. My dad would tell me that when he went down to visit her all she would have would be three half tablespoons of tomato soup and a sip or two of water to keep her going for the entire day. Despite having spent a couple of years on an oxygen tank I didn’t expect her to go so quickly after her diagnosis.

I had never doubted that my grandmother loved me. I never for a moment believed that she thought anything but positive thoughts about me and the rest of my family. She was a woman who would fight staunchly for her family and loved us with all of her heart. This was no secret and we all knew how proud she was of us. She never played favourites and made sure that everybody was always treated equally and fairly. She is actually one of the few people I can say that I felt never judged me. I knew she would accept me regardless of who I turned out to be. If I succeeded she would always be there with a congratulations and if I failed she would always be there with helpful words to try and pick me up out of the funk. To me she didn’t have a mean bone in her body.

But over the majority of my life I have been struggling with unemployment, depression, anxiety, trust and acceptance issues and my motivation to leave the house had slowly been dwindling to almost non-existent quantities. When my parents and I moved away in 2012 it became increasingly difficult for me to spend time with those people I cared for because now they lived so far away. For these reasons I didn’t get back to my old hometown as much as I would have liked. I didn’t get to visit my grandmother as much as I wanted because my brain wouldn’t allow me to make the two and a half hour drive (including motorway driving) down to my old hometown.

Now I bring this to light because of something somebody said to me at the wake. I hadn’t visited my grandmother for a few years and simply remarked that a picture on the front of the Order of Service book didn’t look like the grandmother I knew. She had gained weight from inactivity and I simply remarked that I never saw her like that. This prompted somebody else to comment “You didn’t visit her? That’s awkward. You probably don’t want to be saying that too loud around here.” This simple comment hit me harder than a full-speed truck.

I suddenly felt like I had let her down. This was woman who had shown nothing but unconditional love for me and now I felt like I didn’t deserve to be called her grandson. I felt like a fraud, a failure and a horrible human being. I still do. But that’s why I write this, because I missed my opportunity to tell her how much she meant to me.

This was the third funeral in my lifetime and I have never felt emotion like this before. The other two funerals I had been to – my grandfather and my other grandmother’s – didn’t leave me devastated like this one because I had no doubt that they both knew how much I loved them. Even if we didn’t always agree on things, even if we argued, there was no doubt that they knew I loved them and I knew they loved me too. This one doesn’t feel the same. This funeral felt like I didn’t belong because I felt like she didn’t know I loved her. I feel like she left this world thinking me ungrateful and disrespectful and she won’t ever know how far from the truth that is.

I am currently a mess of tears and tissues because I’m trying to find the words to explain why I didn’t visit her. Some people don’t understand the crippling pain of anxiety or the inability to do anything when faced with depression. It’s paralysing. I didn’t want to visit her because in my mind I thought she didn’t want to see me. On clearer days I could see how stupid this was but in the midst of depression you don’t see or think clearly. I also thought I had more time with her. She wasn’t seriously ill until she was and then she very quickly deteriorated until we got the phone call telling us she had died.

But there’s nothing I can do anymore. I understand the ultimate-ness that is death. I know that however much I cry or pray she isn’t going to come back just so I can tell her all the things I wish I had told her. But that doesn’t stop me from wanting it. It doesn’t stop me from finally understanding all those songs where people wish for just another day or just another hour, or even just a minute. I finally get it. Because now I feel like she won’t ever know.

I don’t often find myself looking for solace in religion. I have never considered myself a man who would turn to religion for anything. But during the service the Reverend would talk about a day when my grandmother would be reunited with everybody once again. I don’t know if I believe it but I know I want to believe it. I want to have another chance to apologise to her. I want to have a chance to tell her all the things I wish I could have told her and how much I respected her both as a person, a woman, a mother and a grandmother.

I also want her to be reunited with my grandfather in whatever afterlife there may be because I know how badly she hurt when he died.

One of the last things I remember my mum telling me my grandmother had said was how she wished she could see the sky and the trees again before she died because from her hospital bed she couldn’t see anything. The bed she died in had a clear view of both the sky and the trees.

Not Until You’re Thirty

So do you ever have those days where you feel like your best years are all gone? I’m 27 and to a lot of people that isn’t that old, but to me it’s getting on past my prime. In fact it seems that with every day that goes past there are younger and younger celebrities. You know how they say fifty is the new forty or whatever? Yeah, I’m starting to feel that 27 is the new 87. I feel old, past it and done with. I’m not even sure if this is a mental health thing or whether it’s just a general thing that most people will feel at some point in their lifetime.

I think it’s because I haven’t reached where I wanted to be when I got close to thirty. I thought I’d already have something published, I thought I’d have already achieved some sort of fame and success. Perhaps these were just the innocent boyish dreams of a teenage boy who hadn’t quite seen adulthood and it’s responsibilities yet.

So here is something that I occasionally like to do to make me feel a little bit better. A brief list of well known people who didn’t achieve their huge success until after certain ages.

30 – 40

Hugh Jackman – Was aged 31 when he starred as Wolverine in the X-Men films.

Jon Hamm – Was 36 when he starred in Mad Men.

Sean Connery – Was aged 32 when he starred as James Bond in the Bond franchise.

Oprah Winfrey – Was 32 when her television show went National.

Alan Rickman – Was 32 when he appeared in Die Hard.

40 – 50

Simon Cowell – Didn’t receive mainstream attention until he was 43 and created American Idol.

Vera Wang – Opened her first design studio at the age of 41.

Steve Carrell – Was 43 when he landed his role on the American version of The Office.

Samuel L. Jackson – Was 41 when he appeared in Do The Right Thing.

Julia Child – Was 49 when she published her first cookbook.

50 – 60

Betty White – Was 51 when she appeared on The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Morgan Freeman – Was 52 when he appeared in Driving Miss Daisy.

Richard Adams – Was 52 when he published Watership Down

Regis Philbin – Was 57 when Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee was syndicated.

Kathryn Joosten – Was 56 when she began her acting career.

60+

Colonel Sanders – Was 62 when the first KFC was franchised.

Frank McCourt – Was 66 when he published Angela’s Ashes.

Laura Ingalls Wilder – In her 60s when the Little House series was first published.

Daniel Defoe – Was 60 when he wrote Robinson Crusoe.

Dame Judi Dench – Appeared in theatre before but not on screen until her 60s.

 

(I am still also searching for any well known people or professionals – of various fields (YouTube, Country Music, Gaming, Mental Health) – who would be interested in conducting an interview with me about their lives. Please share).