Tracy Ann Oberman
ACTRESS and writer
1. What was your school like?
My primary and secondary schools were very draconian. Full of rigid rules and scratchy uniforms. Girls only and a hot bed of competitiveness.
2. What is your favourite memory of school?
My reception school teacher Mrs Kettlewell. I was very young for the year, a bit overwhelmed, an early reader, hated the school from day one and she was incredibly kind, nurturing and gentle.
3. What was your favourite school meal?
Spaghetti bolognaise and palm pudding.
4. How did your school experience influence your career?
I don't think my early education helped or influenced my career at all. Other than making me realise that my type of creativity was what I was good at and what the school didn't encourage or appreciate. Once I got to Sixth Form College for A levels that's when everything changed. Then I flew!
5. Did you experience bullying at school?
I felt an outsider. I didn't fit in for sure. The school didn't value what I bought to the table so my peers didn't either. On day one, aged four, my break time snack was thrown around the lunch hall and that was it. I sniffed out that this school was mean and I needed to watch my back. I was bullied but also by a teacher!! She seemingly took great delight in singling out one or two kids a year and making their life miserable. It tainted my junior school experience. In that respect school has made me brave. I always stand up to what I see as injustice.
6. What was the lowest part of the bullying?
Feeling powerless. Feeling it was unfair. Having to go in every day to a group which I didn't want to be part of with a teacher who was mean and unkind and having no control, or say, over being there. Waking up every morning thinking 'I don't want to go to school!'
7. What advice would you give to young people who are worried about going back after the holidays?
Be your own best friend and ally! Know your own unique skills and value them. Have friends, interests and a world outside of school. Remember that school is ultimately about working hard enough to get an education to give you a choice about your future and also about learning constantly from what goes on around you with your classmates. Learn from your mistakes. Learn from their mistakes. Try different techniques to cope with problems. Involve a trusted teacher or older pupil. Don't suffer in silence. But most importantly trust yourself and your decisions.
8. Was there anything you worried about when you went back to school after the holidays? How did you overcome this?
The feeling of being trapped again. Of how the teacher would be. Of how the class dynamic would play out. Would the Mean Girls still have the power. I overcame it as I got older by getting a life outside of school and realising the Mean Girls were a bit pathetic. Most of them had parents who were in crisis or too many siblings to get much attention. Or a sibling who was bullying them. Or an insecurity of their own that played into their need to control others.
9. If you had to go back to school again, what would you change?
I'd value myself more. I’d realise mean people (kids and teachers) are mean because they have a problem somewhere in their life. No one is mean who is happy or well adjusted. I'd stand up for myself more by caring less. I'd also be more open to being involved in school activities. I'd take more risks. Put my hand up more. Work harder! Take advantage of all that was on offer re extracurricular activities. Shake of the small stuff much more quickly. It's taken me years to learn this but I'd love every school child to get it early on.....You only don't have power when you think you don't!
10. As a parent, what advice would you give to parents to help ease their child back into school after the holidays?
Make your child feel loved and valued at home. Get your child to have interests and friends out of school. Give your child the confidence to know that you trust them to be able to deal with the year ahead, but that you are always there to listen and if they need you to intervene - you will. School is a means to an end. It doesn't have to be all rosy and bright. It can be difficult and challenging. But if it continues to be because of persistent bullying then the school must step in and take control.
11. What advice would you give to parents whose child is worried about going back to school because of bullying?
You are there for them. Hand quietly but firmly in their back supporting them from the sidelines but your child knowing that if they ask for help, if they need it, then you will give it at that point. The holidays are long and people change, bullies change. Your child has to hold their head up high first day and keep a mindset of self-value. The bully is the one with the problem. Not the child being bullied. Whatever a bully says or does, doesn't change how important and valuable your child is.
12. What difference would an Anti-Bullying Ambassador have made/make to you/your child?
To reinforce not to be friends with the 'cool set' if they are mean, cliquey, bitchy and take pleasure in putting others down. There's nothing 'cool' about meanness, no matter how pretty, talented, funny and clever those kids seem. Only hang out with people who make you feel good. Also to reinforce that a school should create an environment where bullying behaviour becomes the pariah behaviour. The person being picked on is no victim.