What I’m learning from failure

Since the beginning of my career, I’ve been failing. I fail every day. And that often means that I feel like a ‘failure’.

In fact, feeling like a failure is what prompted me to start this blog. A few months ago, I received feedback from a lesson observation that sent me into fits of tears, embarrassingly in front of my deputy head. Now, the lesson was Good. But it wasn’t outstanding, and it should have been. Not because my deputy got it wrong, but because I had failed.

Now I am not suggesting that anything less than Outstanding is a failure, but sometimes we’re led to believe that in this profession. What I had failed to do was rememver that the observation wasn’t about me, it was about my students. Cynically, I could probably add that it was about a school and government appraisal system and target culture that is fundamentally damaging to the aims it attempts to serve, but that’s the sibject of another blog.

Back to failing, what I learned from the episode is that grades ultimately don’t matter. How my pupils learn and develop does. I’ve reflected recently on my failure to sustain progress with certain classes over previous years. A lot of the reaso ns are out of my control and context-specific, so instead of dwwlling on that, I’ll focus on what I’ve learned from failure.

#1 The medium is the message

Recently, I’ve been learning about cognitive load theory. I’ve come to reflect on the cognitive load I place

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A letter to that Nice Guy I ignored that one time

days like crazy paving

A comic depicting the difference between what a Nice Guy thinks is happening between him and a girl and what is actually happening. a shift in perspective can help.

Dear Nice Guy,

I’d say you probably don’t remember me, but I know you do. I know you remember me the way you remember every single girl you’ve ever latched onto like a leech who also happens to recommend books and carry shopping bags. I know you remember me because this is a small town and people talk and you wouldn’t believe some of the things people tell me you say about me, except that I guess you would because I know for sure that you said them.

I know you’ve waxed poetic at length to anyone who will listen (and a fair few people who won’t) about how I don’t know what I’m missing. And you know what? I guess you’re right. I don’t know what I’m missing. Maybe if, somewhere between the endless offers of a lift home and the free coffees…

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Embrace the beard (and unconventional masculinities) and also ramble about self-entitlement of boomers.

Johnny Harrington in Vogue. Photo: James Mountford

Pretty much anyone who knows me will tell you that I have a bit of a thing for male body hair.  I love it, especially a well-looked-after beard.  There’s been a huge resurgence of the beard lately, along with it’s slightly less attractive friend, the moustache, and with that resurgence there has been a lot of criticism of and about beards. Particularly ‘ironic’ beards.

What the hell is an ‘ironic’ beard? How can a beard be ‘ironic’?

Well apparently if the man cares about his appearance, and expresses his masculinity in unconventional ways, his beard is ‘ironic’.  For example, if a bearded man also has long hair that’s placed in a top knot, and is sympathetic to the feminist movement, his beard may be deemed ‘ironic’, but if a man is a drunk slob who just forgot to shave for a few weeks, his beard is just a beard.

I find it amazing and weird that at a time when many men are embracing painful hair-removing activities, perhaps led by athletes and to an extent, gay men, we also have a huge trend of men fully embracing this ‘natural’ expression of their masculinity. What impresses me most about it is that many of the men I personally know who could occasionally be mistaken for cavemen (if their products were taken away and you forced them to camp in the bush) are often sensitive, comfortable with their masculinity, and comfortable with women.  Men who embrace their own body hair are, in my experience, more comfortable with body hair on women.  On the other hand, men who appear to be more feminine, more ‘metro-sexual’ and remove their body hair tend to criticise women who choose not to remove any remaining vestiges to remind people that we are mammals. In my experience, straight men with hairless genitals are more likely to have old-fashioned attitudes to women, and I would hazard a guess that that’s partly because they aren’t overly comfortable with their own masculinity.  How can you be comfortable with the opposite gender if you aren’t comfortable with yourself?

Some women view it as a perverse feminist victory when men also  submit to cultural pressures to painfully remove their hair. ‘Now they know how it feels!’ they proclaim.  That, in my opinion, is not feminism.  It’s tempting to gloat over the equal oppression of sexuality, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the end-game we were after.  Similarly, some women (not all of them feminists) are denouncing ‘ironic’ beards as signs of ‘self-entitlement’ and as being unattractive – these arguments often centre on the confusing display of sexuality.  These ‘young’ men aren’t traditionally masculine enough, they work in bars making pretty cocktails and spend money on their appearance (something only women are supposed to do, apparently).  To these women, and particularly the ‘feminists’ among them I say ‘Wha???’

That epitome of the Boomer generation, Elizabeth Farrelly recently wrote a confusing and somewhat confused diatribe about (against?) ‘ironic’ beards that also somehow explained what’s wrong with young people these days and our drinking culture and king/coward hits. Elizabeth Farrelly is clearly confused by these beards, she writes:

“Talk about mixed messages. Part Amish, part lumberjack, part Victorian dandy, part spaghetti-western barman, the single common thread is nostalgia; a retro drift to circa 1890, and the wish that the 20th century could be disappeared.

But even the nostalgia is not simple. The New Beard, while explicitly heterosexual, is also painstakingly ironic. So its accessories, far from reinforcing masculinity, deftly defy it.”

She then goes on to differentiate between the masculinity that produces steroid-taking young men who punch other young men in the streets after having too much alcohol, but ties both masculinities into a central argument that my generation are too spoiled and self entitled, bringing the over-availability of porn and violent video games into the mix to prove that really she is quite old, doesn’t know any twenty-somethings and wants to go back to simpler times when everyone loved each-other and protested against the Vietnam war. And worked 12 hour days from when they were 6 years old. Or something.

Firstly, I don’t think that my friends who are very sexy and have lustrous, well-maintained beards are trying to ‘defy’ their masculinity. Trim away at it? Reshape it? Perhaps.  Secondly, while she vaguely waves a critical hand over the picture of today’s youth and recognises that maybe some of the reasons we are so ‘self-entitled’ as she puts it is because her generation made us that way by molly-coddling us, she at the same time concludes that my generation drink too much and fight a lot because everything has come too easily for us. Never mind that overall crime and violence is down at the moment. But it is true that mixing alcohol, steroids and other drugs is probably not a good idea.

The self-entitlement that Farrelly complains about may well exist, but I don’t think it’s as simple as she paints it to be.  Firstly, it’s a product of affluence, which suggests a lot of other good things about this generation: we work, we have good jobs that pay good money because we are well educated, and the economy supports it (although there are also those who have the money because their parents don’t kick them out of home and make them pay rent, but whose fault is that?).  But we are also quite caring too, and politically-minded, despite what the media says.  I don’t want to get bogged down in describing the ways in which Baby Boomers are at as least self-entitled than us (low-density NIMBYism and Asylum seeker policies, anyone?) but self-entitlement is not this generation’s biggest problem.  Maybe we should look at over-stimulation, continual mixed messages, and severe cut-backs to the social progress that has been made over the last few decades.

If recent random violence has come from a crisis in masculinity, it’s not well-educated ‘self-entitled’ bearded men we need to worried about.  The kind of masculinity that is producing street violence is one that is very traditional and very stuck in a fast-changing world.  It is likely to be perpetrated by men with a history of domestic violence (an issue that gets far too little hand-wringing for the comparative cost of life).  The men who punch people on the street don’t do it because they’re drunk, or because they feel self-entitled, but because they are angry and afraid. They do it because they are not comfortable with their own masculinity. My bearded friends are physically affectionate with each other.  They share their feelings.  They are friends with women, They are accepting of difference.  They also play sport and drink and laugh at crude jokes.  They get drunk and sing at the top of their lungs to 80s power ballads. But they don’t go around punching each other in the head for  no reason, or any reason, really.  If our generation has problems with its identity it may be because the whole culture does.  We are caught up in a rip-tide between currents of progress and backwardness.  No wonder we are confused and we drink so damn much.  But to  Ms Farrelly, and the other women out there who are confused by forward-thinking men with backward-looking beards, I say: Embrace the ironic beard!  Traditional masculinity is so 1965.

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If serious relationships make you the kind of person that needs friendship less, then maybe I don’t want that in my life.  But I guess that if everyone gets into serious relationships and needs fewer friends or takes their friends less seriously, then you don’t want to be the only single person who needs a lot of friends.

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Rewriting Romance

In our personal narratives, Love and Romance take on their own special qualities, are almost their own characters, rather than events or experiences. This perception occurs particularly in hindsight.  A feature of human psychology is that we notice patterns in events, and the interpretation of these patterns can lead to a characterisation of the events into a narrative to make them easier to process.  I think this is partly why a few failed romances of similar ‘character’ (if not with similar people) begin to form an image of what kind of person you are. And whether or not you are ‘worthy’ of love.  On the flip-side,  multiple failed romances can also lead to seeing dickheads and arseholes everywhere you turn.  The problem is not that all the men you dated were dickheads and arseholes (or ‘crazy bitches’), the problem is that people need a villain and a victim (or a hero) in our personal narratives and the villain can never be ourselves.   The other problem is that once all your exes have been rewritten into the dickhead/arsehole/crazy bitch archetype, you have built a framework of bitterness and wine through which all future romantic partners will now be viewed.  You begin to expect dickhead behaviours and anticipate them, and behave accordingly. More exes pile up that confirm your theories about the opposite sex and voila, congratulations on entering bitter singledom.  You are unloveable now.  That’s ok, though, everyone else is jerks anyway.
We rewrite romance and structure it into a clear narrative that follows generic conventions: girl meets boy, they have lots of fun and sexy times, boy inexplicably dicks over girl, girl cries and vows all men are bums and escapes into a fantasy world of SATC and romantic comedies.  But obviously it doesn’t always work out this way.  Some people have their happily ever afters and others are the bad guy in the situation.  So how do we step out of the romance remix?

Recently I had a romance that failed due to a myriad of good reasons and we reverted back to being friends, a decision that I was accepting of but not overly enthusiastic about.  When discussing the break-up with friends I found myself being drawn into a villain-victim characterisation of a relationship with someone whom I respect and admire, and I realised that this was something that had become a pattern in my romantic life since a big break-up a few years ago.  Part of the reason this pattern had formed was because my  early dating experiences post-break-up ended bitterly and in (my) confusion.  ‘What’s wrong with me?’ I’d ask, and later after many wines, ‘what’s wrong with them?’

Text history would be obsessively re-read and re-interpreted, things said and done would be worked over in my mind and in conversation with others until I became an expert at recognising warning signs in new relationships and drawing back at the first sign of danger. Sure, some of these guys were total dicks. But a lot of the time it just didn’t work out.  It’s comforting though, in periods of self doubt, to recast someone as having wronged you because it cushions you from having to criticise your own actions in a relationship, or examine the ways you act early on.  Unfortunately, dating is a game with messy unwritten rules and clear winners and losers. No matter how  much you try to reject this by thinking that just being yourself and honest will lead to a well-founded happy relationship and that ones that fail quickly due to honesty weren’t worth it anyway, you can’t help but feel that somewhere along the way, you lost the game. At least not after about 10 or 12 attempts in three years. So to avoid that pain of feeling like a loser, you focus on how terrible the opposite sex are and how you don’t want them anyway.  You love being single. It’s so great just having breakfast on your own, and the whole bed to yourself, and listening smugly to people complain about the annoying things their partners do, and playing with other peoples’ kids and being able to hand them back.  And you have all these fulfilling friendships that you wouldn’t have half as much time to nurture if you were in a serious relationship. How great is single life?

But what happens when you’re in this mind-set and someone comes along and blows all that out of the water?  That’s happened to me twice. I’ve met someone so amazing that I could imagine settling down with them; where we have formed a deep connection based on honesty. Both times that has happened it has ended almost as quickly as it began. But those times are so special that even when they end you still have hope that maybe you will find someone else to have that kind of connection with and the timing won’t be so bad.  It is those times that help you to see that you have re-written your other romances too. You have downplayed the special amazing parts and emphasised the other person’s bad qualities in your mind.

How do you go on from this point, and learn positive lessons from these failed romances?

One of the things I’ve tried is to think of them with more love and kindness.  Concentrating on what you learned about yourself and others, and on the nicest parts of the relationships, while letting go of the shit is the best way to refresh yourself for future romance, and remain hopeful that one day you’ll find one that sticks.  Then relishing all the best parts of being single again will help you through just in case you don’t.

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Ruby Hamad nails it again: An explanation of rape culture and its real effects on women.

Ruby Hamad nails it again: An explanation of rape culture and its real effects on women.

Ruby Hamad explains how rapists are repainted as victims of circumstance, while their victims are tarnished as ‘whores’.

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Shock! Horror! Myley Cyrus has featured in another suggestive video that adds nothing original to pop culture, life, the world or anything.

Tina Turner fellated a microphone on stage… blah blah blah, Miley Cyrus is unoriginal… blah blah blah. So what if Miley is unoriginal. So what if her idea of feminism is totally naive and under-developed? Do you know what is awesome?  Normalising female masturbation.  Know what else rocks? Sex.  Miley knows, and she can’t wait to tell us all about it. So far the two (fairfax-affiliated) stories I’ve read covering this video have been if not positive, at least not sententious.  Hopefully people are remembering that pop-stars have been keen to share their sexuality with us before. Remember this ? Britney knew what was going on – that champagne in the crotch?  METAPHOR. Just like Miley’s money-shot spray in the face at 3:57.

Look, MTV, Miley is pushing no envelopes here, and that’s actually ok.  Maybe we can stop our pearl-clutching, let the girl get on with her sexual awakening, and let it be ok for young girls to see her and think – hey, sex and masturbation are ok.  The problem with Miley Cyrus is the reaction to her bland, done before videos and music, not the girl herself.  Miley is a savvy product of a porn-obsessed culture, who is getting on with life. The mass media should probs just get on with reporting the actual news, or something.  

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A note on the friend zone

A note on the friend zone.

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A note on the friend zone


This meme has popped up on my wall once or twice and it’s prompted me to say something about the ‘friend zone‘.  A lot of things have been said about the ‘friend zone’ before and many more things will be said about it after.


The first thing that is wrong with this image is the idea of ‘He did it,’ That the man in question had simply been playing a game with his ‘best friend’ the whole time and placed enough ‘nice guy’ tokens (to borrow a phrase from someone I know) in the girl to ‘give it up’.  I don’t know the context of this relationship, and neither do the ‘nice guys’ over at 9Gag, but I truly hope that the couple’s relationship has developed from a deep emotional connection, rather than through manipulation .  Storgic love (in my opinion the best kind of love) develops slowly over time through friendship. It’s the kind of love based on deep knowledge  and understanding, and furthermore, respect for a friend that has developed into romantic feelings.  It is a far more beautiful thing than gaming a girl into sleeping with her by pretending to be her friend.

This post suggests that the feelings the young woman and man have for each other are shallow and not to be valued.  It suggests women lack autonomy in their romantic decisions and can be played like video games, and that the right cheat code or button combination will magically open up her legs to reveal the forbidden fruits within.  It, and all ‘friend zone’ memes suggest that progressing a friendship to a romantic relationship is the ultimate goal of all female-male relationships and if that’s the case then it cheapens all of my deep, meaningful, intellectual friendships with amazing men.

The second thing wrong with this meme is the original post itself.  The girl says “i (sic) finally found a boy worth keeping, and he was disguised as my best friend the whole time!” Ok, where do I even begin? Let’s start with ‘disguised as my best friend’.   This, leading on from my earlier point, suggests that men (young men in particular) connive to be friends in order to progress their sexual intentions.  This is not necessarily a problem in the context of this individual girl’s life, but when turned into a meme it becomes one.

My secondary problem with this post is the ‘I finally found a boy worth keeping’ part.  ‘a boy worth keeping’?  Really? Because men are pets, right? Look, I know I’ve probably used similar phrases, most people have, but bear with me here.  Just as the friend zone suggests women are objects to be obtained, this also commodifies men and cheapens the benefits of strong romantic relationships.  This is not an MRA-sympathetic view on the matter.  When men and women see each other as objects to be obtained after much searching or ‘nice-guying’, relationships and people become disposable playthings that have to fit into a certain set of expectations, play by specific rules, or be deemed not worthy.  This poor girl has probably just had a few boyfriends or love interests who acted like total dicks. But the expression ‘boy worth keeping’ grates me, just as much as the idea that the young man has been striving all along to get ‘out of the friend zone’

The cultural trope of the ‘friend zone’ makes women suspicious of men’s intentions.  It is a spectre that hovers threateningly over many friendships.  The experience of having a valued friend declare romantic feelings at you can be confusing and difficult.  Sometimes those friendships become damaged beyond repair. Sometimes people just need to get things off their chest, and both parties move on.  Feelings of unrequited love are difficult to manage, particularly when friendship is involved and that friendship is valued.  But if you’re ever describing yourself as being in the ‘friend zone’ perhaps you should take a moment to think about you attitudes to the other person.  Do you really love that person? Or do you love the idea of being with that person?  I tend to think that anyone who would use the word ‘friend zone’ to refer to a relationship they have with someone they are interested in probably doesn’t really know that person very well.

Friendships can and do turn into amazing and fulfilling romantic relationships, and the best ones are fulfilling either as a friendship or as romance.  But if they never progress and you have romantic intentions, just, deal with it.  The friendship is better off if you do.

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On Feminism, Anti-Feminism, and the Things That Mystify Me

This is absolutely wonderful!

Kelly Barnhill

I am ten years old. I am riding a banana seat bike through the alleys. I am allowed to go as far as 31st Street, and then I have to turn back. Words cannot describe how much I love this bike. It is turquoise with sparkly flower decals and I ride back and forth through blocks of alleys singing the entire “Mary Poppins” soundtrack at the top of my lungs. My knees are scratched. My hair needs a comb. I probably haven’t brushed my teeth.

A man in a car pulls up. He opens the window. He asks my name. I have been well-trained. I have learned about good touches and bad touches in school. I know that good people don’t drive up to children on bikes. My teachers have been very clear. I take a good look at his face. I notice his red hair. I take…

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