Thursday, November 16, 2017


A dear friend has been working on a memoir and recently he was talking about his experiences as a non-sport interested schoolboy in Australia back in the day. No matter how he tried to fit into the pattern that demanded boys be at least competent at sport and that they should also take an interest in the various sports that dominate Australian conversation he never seemed to get it right. That he preferred to read rather than play sport branded him as an outsider and as a result he was the butt of continual bullying throughout his school days.

As a girl my experience was different but no less unhappy. Things started out well. I loved my Year one teacher and I still have happy memories of that class. The next year wasn't so good. Mrs A frankly terrified me. She shouted at the least infraction and her punishments were harsh considering we were only seven years old. Things looked up when one day in the middle of the year I was sent home with all my gear and a note to my parents saying the school district boundary had changed and I was now to attend another school. Initially I was seriously scared  - Mrs A had severely damaged my expectations of school - but as it turned out my teachers during my time there were a delight and I was very happy.

But then the school district boundaries changed again and it was back to the first school. My class teacher was great and every lesson was a joy - and that was in a class of 65 kids (fairly typical in those early post war days). Things went sour pretty quickly when I met Mrs B. She was the sewing teacher - girls had sewing two afternoons a week - and she took an instant dislike to me and another girl, M. Nothing we did was right. I'd sew something and it was terrible and had to be pulled out and that was the pattern for the whole year. I didn't complete one of the items we were supposed to because I spent the year stuck on the first one. Even worse she gathered a small coterie of girls she favoured around her and they took their cue from her so M. and I were always under verbal attack.

The following year was more of the same - great class teacher, monstrous bullying by the sewing teacher and her cohort of favourites. Then things got worse because in Year Six Mrs B. was my classroom teacher as well as sewing teacher and she extended her dislike to two boys as well as M. and me. We were ignored, ridiculed and made to feel as if we were total failures. Later when this all came out we were asked why we hadn't said anything but when you're a child and someone like a teacher tells you that you're worthless you believe it. It's your fault, you're not trying hard enough, you could do better and so your self esteem bottoms.

This all came to an end when one of the boys she was bullying became seriously ill and in his delirium it all came out. Bizarrely he was the son of one of her fellow teaching staff so why she had thought he was a good target who knows. Although I didn't know until years later apparently the parents were all called in for a meeting and things did improve as far as she was concerned but we remained the target of bullying by the other kids who saw no need to change their ways. M's parents decided to move away but the remaining three of us just had to get on with living. The next year we had a great class teacher in Mr F. but I was still in Mrs B's sewing class and because no-one had told me she had been confronted about her behaviour, I lived in terror of her bullying coming back.

The two boys and I moved on to different secondary schools the next year but we stayed in contact until our lives got too busy in our twenties. We were all lucky because our secondary schools encouraged us to achieve but the bullying has had life long effects on all of us. In those days the after effects of bullying were not understood and I suspect that our parents and the school thought they'd dealt effectively with the situation but the fact that I'm still angry even this long after the event shows they had not.

The friend whose post got me reflecting on my own experience has added a postscript where he speculates about how different his life might have been had he not been bullied and has come to the conclusion that bad as it was he might not have met his wife if it hadn't happened. My view is somewhat similar. I wish I hadn't had to live through what I did but if I hadn't my life choices would most likely have been very different. As a result I wouldn't have the life I have now, one with which I'm very happy.

I should say that I was in two minds about posting this but bullying is serious and those who have not experienced it really don't understand just how much damage it does. If this helps one person understand that it is worth posting about it however uncomfortable it has been for me.



Jo said...

Phew, I don't remember my school days that well Helen. Seems you had a pretty rotten time generally. I have often wondered whether I was bullied or if, horrors, perhaps I was a bully, but I really have no idea. I remember my cousins teasing (bullying me) except when the youngest cousin was there then we all teased him. I suspect it might classify as bullying I don't know.

Bullying seems to be very much a serious issue these days and at least adults know to look out for it.

Helen V. said...

It was pretty grim, Jo. Kids will always tease other kids and mostly it's good natured. Bullying is when it gets nasty - and it can get really nasty. I for one am glad that bullying is taken more seriously now, probably not as seriously as it should be in all cases, but any improvement is better than none.