Friday 21 June 2019

A Lesson in eBay Etiquette.

I've been an eBay user since 2009 and I think it's still the original and best way to find particular purchases and sell your unwanted possessions online even with all the more recent alternatives. I think eBay is a simple, straight-forward and no-nonsense online buying and selling platform and when I've had a wardrobe clear out, it's my go-to place to pass on whatever I no longer want or need. However, whilst the website itself is a brilliant platform, it has become more and more apparent to me over the years that people still do not know how to use it effectively and after a few conversations with friends who have found the same, I decided that it's time to pen a few tips and give a bit of a lesson in eBay etiquette.

Disclaimer: I'm by no means an expert or a regular/business user and there are still eBay tips and tricks I've probably not uncovered yet. I'm merely a user who buys and sells things maybe a couple of times a year. These are just common things I've found and my friends have found over the years so if you are in doubt or unsure about anything or have a query, please do contact eBay directly.

1. Ensure your profile details are regularly updated.
Whilst I consider myself to be quite savvy where eBay is concerned, I have been caught out with this one previously. As a buyer this is indefinitely important as you want to make sure your purchases are going to find their way to you at your current address. Whether buying or selling, you also need to make sure the notifications regarding your items are sent to your correct email and most importantly that your PayPal account and associated email are linked properly. I changed my email address last year and immediately went onto all my signed up websites to change it, including eBay. However, at the time, I didn't realise that although I'd changed my email and PayPal details in my account settings, I would also need to change the PayPal account on the listing of each individual item I sold. I assumed that this was done and dusted in the changing of the general account settings and ended up selling a bunch of items and people sending money to the wrong email address. It wasn't as big of a deal as it sounds as I still had access to the old email account and no money had actually processed. As a long-time user with positive feedback, I panicked, felt awful and immediately contacted everyone that had won my auctions with apologies and detailed instructions as to how to rectify the issue. Which brings me smoothly into my next tip...

2. Communication is key.
Whether buying or selling, it's always best to contact the other person involved in a transaction if there are problems or you need to clear something up before processing an exchange of money. In instances where I've been a seller, I've had to communicate more with other users than as a buyer but if there is a fault or problem with anything, I've always been super upfront, polite and apologetic, even in some cases offering free postage or a more expensive postage service as a consolation.
However, whilst communication is key, there are also eBay users who will message the most bizarre requests or queries about items. I have had many messages asking me to measure very specific bits of clothing items, have been asked about materials, colours, where sleeves and hems come up to, my opinion on what sizes actually are and even if items would look nice with others. Some of which are easy to answer and I'm more than happy to, but I don't own a tape measure, many people generally wouldn't and I have in the past had my opinion on sizes used against me in feedback. For instance on a piece of clothing that was let's say a medium, I wrote in the description that whilst it was a medium, I'm a 12 and I found it snug. I then got negative feedback because the buyer did not find this to be the case. People are obviously different! Plus quite a lot of items I sell are total bargains and end at less than £5 so to be contacted with odd requests or things that would be used against me, is quite petty and often not worth the hassle, particularly when like other sellers who don't do this for a living or even that often, I have a full-time job.

3. Feedback helps out other users. Be sure to provide it.
As a general rule, particularly when buying, it's a good idea to check out the feedback of other users before carrying out a transaction. Clicking their username or the number in brackets beside will navigate you towards this. You'll then be able to see how many positives, negatives and neutrals people have from both buying and selling. If there are any negatives or neutrals, don't immediately disregard the user, be sure to read the comment provided if there is one. If the positives outweigh any negatives or neutrals, just consider how much of a red light you consider that to be. Whilst a number of these may signal an inconsistent seller, one or two could simply be a misunderstanding as outlined with my previous cases above. If the seller is a business, you would expect good customer service and reputation as standard but a personal user like myself just selling the odd bit or bob will likely have work, family and other external commitments, so just be considerate of that also. Whilst being considerate though, don't stand for bad experiences if the reason doesn't seem legitimate and the user isn't apologetic or  honest. This is why eBay allows users to open cases against other users if their transaction was not as expected. Always refer back to tip 2 before doing so in any instance though. And most importantly, feedback should be provided for all transactions, even where it was smooth and straightforward. This helps provide a good picture and gives users a higher seller rating.

4. Pay for items immediately.
This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, as a seller rather than a buyer. As stated previously, I simply list things on eBay on a one off basis, possibly twice/three times a year when having a clear out or getting rid of unwanted or needed things but when I do, the cost of my items are never particularly high. Quite often I begin items at 99p unless they are BNWT (brand new with tags) and a lot of these might only go up to £1.50-£3.00. But every time I do put on a range of clothes as part of a clear out, I can always guarantee that there'll be at least one user that doesn't pay straight away. Now eBay does give a timeframe for people to pay within and you can appeal to cancel if people don't but when items are priced so low, I don't understand why people wouldn't pay immediately, particularly when they must have just been sat at computer or phone to bid and win the auction anyway. Don't get me wrong, not everyone has the money there and then, I appreciate this but at the same time, if this is the case, maybe don't bid or buy things until you do. Similarly, I list items when I know I will have the free time to post them, for instance when I'm off work. If people wait days before paying, this puts days on the seller's schedule and therefore they might not then be able to post straight after your payments due to external commitments. Again, just common courtesy and if it is a genuine one off or something that can't be helped, then its simply back to tip 2 and a compromise or alternative arrangement could be made.

5. Don't bid on things too early.
Another thing I see all too regularly. Someone is selling a dress, its got a full week left, yet one lone singular bid on it. Do not be this person! Just stick the item in your watching and keep your eye on it. Bidding like this will just increase the price for everyone interested. Whenever I've bid or even won an auction style listing, I've always done it by sticking it in my watching and coming back to it on the day that it ends. I'd then place bids in the last few minutes or even seconds before it does end. You don't necessarily need to bid to show your interest, a seller can see how many views, watchers and bids their items have had and can make assumptions from this. I'm not saying don't bid at all until the last 2 minutes but if it still has 10 days left and no bids, leave it that way and come back to it later on.

6. Read the small print.
This applies for both buyers and sellers. As a buyer, be sure to fully read product descriptions for item specifics, locations, postage terms and services to ensure you are purchasing the right thing and so that you don't give yourself a shock because something might not be as assumed, after all you are the one parting with money. As a seller this also stands, particularly when listing items. Check all values, settings and inputs when listing an item as you want to make sure that your item is being sold in the right listing style (auction, buy it now etc.), at the right postage amount and you also need to check specifics such as whether or not you accept things like click and collect, returns, global shipping and that the funds will come to you in the correct format, amongst other things. On this note, if you are a more regular seller, ensure you know all the terms and conditions where things like fees, taxes and declaration are concerned. As a seller, doing the above ensures your feedback stays positive, that you build a good reputation as a seller and that you won't face any bad comebacks where feedback, appeals, complaints or misuse allegations are concerned.

7. Know your postage.
I'm not an expert in all postage services as I normally just opt for Second Class when posting items, unless it's something a little more expensive or somethings gone wrong and I'm offering an alternative as compensation. As I'm usually only selling clothing items, my trick is to fold whatever it is into a small but thin pile, trying not to make it bigger than A4 or too high. I'll squeeze the air out of parcels and even leave them underneath books or something the night before so that they are all nice and flat and thin. This is a useful tip because Royal Mail have size guides which distinguish prices and these are usually slots that they fit the parcel through to see where it sits. It would be super useful if these were available to the public but I've asked a few times and they don't give them out. It's often hard to know how much a parcel will cost you to post and whilst there may be generators online to estimate this, if it's a bog standard piece of clothing I'll usually say anywhere between £2 and £3 depending on material and what it actually is. For instance, anything corduroy or denim is obviously going to be a lot heavier and harder to fold into a small shape. I tend to use brown paper or jiffy bags for posting and make it as tight and compact as possible with loads of tape. Royal Mail will generally ask what is in the parcel for safety reasons as there are certain things that can't be posted so do check restrictions. They will also offer different services if its something worth a lot of money to provide a level of assurance. I haven't used couriers or collect options so can't comment on these facilities but just be upfront with whatever you're offering. And don't be picky if you're the buyer, a lot of sellers will offer free postage but this will do them out of money if they are personal sellers and we can't always be absolutely certain how much it will cost to post. Plus don't discount the fact that we also have to buy the packaging materials and find the time and transport to actually get to the post office too. I've had someone complain before because the postage was about 40p more than it actually ended up costing and just politely reminded them of the above points.

Welcome any other suggestions that might be of use to personal use eBay-ers so feel free to drop comments.
Happy buying and selling!

Wednesday 5 June 2019

An Open Letter to the DFE...

I've been a teacher within the further education system for 4 years now and for the biggest part of that time, I've considered my job to be one of the best in the world.
I also consider it to be one of the most important jobs and one of the hardest jobs in the world.
Don't get me wrong, it's nowhere near on a par with something like our wonderful emergency services, who risk their lives everyday and have to deal with some unthinkable instances, all of course whilst being terribly understaffed and often underpaid. I couldn't imagine the stresses and pressures involved in jobs like these. (If you could pass that on to your relevant pals down in the big smoke also, that would be grand.)
But nonetheless, teaching is an essential yet challenging job and one which requires, quite frankly, a bit of TLC.

Now, there are different sectors and different routes into the profession. I can't speak for everyone, I can only speak for myself and those teachers I speak to, day to day. It took me four years to qualify to do this job and about 10 minutes to realise how much I loved it and how much it suited me. Teaching is a profession for those who care, who empathise, who love the notion of learning, who want to impart wisdom, creativity and help people develop and grow, whatever the subject. It's also a profession in which you see yourself develop and grow, in confidence, resilience and just generally, because as good old ‘continuing professional development’ shows us, you're never fully trained to be a teacher.

Whilst my daily step count is nothing to be sneered at, it is just by nature a more mentally draining than physically draining career. It's not manual labour but quite often, teaching can feel like a performance. The classroom is your stage and not in a melodramatic, attention seeking manner but just in the way that you have to give out the energy that you want to receive back from your students. You have to emit this positive, interesting, humourous and approachable vibe, constantly. Even on days where you don't think you have that vibe in you, you are forced to dig deep and find it from somewhere.

One thing that is seemingly apparent amongst teachers is that people don't seem to account for everything that this job is. Not only is it a constant performance as outlined above but there's so much more to it than that classroom act. Teaching is like that image of the iceberg, the top of which, poking out of the water is the classroom part, the huge part at the bottom hiding under the water that nobody ever sees, is everything else that teaching entails. The sad part is, the bit poking out of the top is nowhere near the largest part of the teaching iceberg. The bit underneath is made up of planning, paperwork, emails, phone-calls, meetings, interviews, training, parents' evenings, open evenings, internal moderation, external moderation, exams, invigilation, external visits, inspections, retention, peer practice, targets, data and oh goodness, the marking, who could forget the marking?
 I wish we could forget the marking.

Now, many are brainwashed when it comes to teaching, by that ever popular myth we all love, that it's all massive salaries, 6 hour days and 14 weeks worth of holidays a year but rest assured, that could not be further from the truth, for me anyway. A normal week for me is around 24 hours in the classroom, around 7 at my desk for all of the above and the remainder of my 37 hour week is made up of break times (lunch hours and morning and afternoon 15 mins). As you can imagine though, the phone doesn't stop ringing or inbox filling up, just because it's a lunch hour or break and so a large proportion of these are spent at a computer or on a phone. For instance, lets say we're bobbing to the toilet on one of our breaks or even during our desk time and there's a student sat in the corridor, crossed arms and crying. You're going to stop whatever it is you're doing and go speak to said student. You're going to open up a room and chat to them, find out what is making them upset. You're then going to have to follow this up, maybe its a simple row with a peer, you'd go find the other party and sort out a reconciliation. But let's say its something much deeper, let's say it's a safeguarding issue. You're possibly going to need to bring the student to another staff member, you may even need to then make a phone-call, make several phone-calls or emails just to get this student the help that's needed. But this has taken all of your free time and you now have a class about to start, you're weighing up what needs your attention more, the one student in serious need of help or the 20 odd waiting to be taught. This is a common occurrence. This is an occurrence that quite often might happen even twice a day. And whilst your utmost priority needs to be getting students the support they need, suddenly that 'desk-time' is being eaten up. Making the gargantuan list of tasks above pile up and up. A staff meeting comes up, questions will be raised about the gargantuan list of tasks not yet done. “Oh but by the way, there’ll be observations soon.”

Teaching is a job with a constant to-do list. A to-do list that you can never quite get on top of. A to-do list that piles up and up and topples you with pressure but a to-do list that despite all the stress and anxiety, somehow always gets done eventually. Teaching is a job with constant pressures, from students, colleagues, managers, governers, parents, Ofsted and more. Constantly being judged on facts and figures or just on that tiny bit of the iceberg poking out and no contextualisation of all that exists underneath. Teaching is a job in which you absorb the stresses and issues of those around you. Teaching is a job that shouldn't come home with you but absolutely does. Nowhere near 14 weeks worth of holidays, more like 5 at a push, 5 weeks which often have restrictions as to when they can be taken. But how much of the holidays, evenings or weekends are spent taking home the gargantuan list of tasks? How much of the holidays, evenings or weekends are spent worrying about upcoming events, about observations, about data, about the safeguarding issues you deal with day in, day out? And let's be real, if the holidays, evenings or weekends aren't spent doing all of the above then you'd better believe they're spent asleep by 9PM because you're just that shattered.

And when considering the pressures of a job like this, let's not forget the fact that horrifically, education is a business. And somewhere, someone is totting up figures. How much is lost if students don’t achieve? How much we need for equipment and resources? And the fact that it often seems that to those people totting up the figures, teachers are dispensable. Teachers are out there doing all of the above on zero hour contracts, teachers are out there doing all of the above and then being made redundant or being restructured because of the overall funding crisis. Teachers are out there doing their job and someone else's all in the name of cutting a few quid. Teachers are out there spending their pittance of a wage on their own resources because it's just not worth asking. Teachers are out there working themselves to the bone and getting very little appreciation or acknowledgement. Don't get me wrong, we're not looking for certificates, cards and presents. Teachers are best rewarded with support, gratitude, understanding and just being cut a bit of slack by students, colleagues, managers, governers, parents and Ofsted. Because we have a hell of a lot to do and such a small amount of time every single year to do it. Look at further education as a whole, we bridge the gap between high school and university/employment. But we're also expected to fill in the gaps where any predecessors might've fallen down. Where schools and universities have 5 or 4 years to get their jobs done, we might have one or two depending on the particular student's choice of qualification and overall journey. Yet we often get the least funding out of the lot. Why, why is there no parity when we all work together, why is there no consideration for this?

The students are always the priority for any teacher, or at least they should be. But time and time again I hear the phrase "I failed because the teacher didn't like me" and every single time I wince. And I always answer with the same response, that it's not their job to like you, it's to help you get a qualification. And the teachers want to be given more time to be in the classroom, to be with the students as their utmost priority. Chances are, when that INSET day comes up, the teachers would rather it not be there because they are losing curriculum time, hence giving them and students more work to do. But whilst students are the first and foremost priority for us, parents sometimes don't understand that when you teach about 25 students at once and well over a hundred a week, one particular child can't be our number one priority all of the time. That actually, that priority has to be shared between all of those in the class. And that the teacher constantly faces a balancing act of what needs their time most in that particular instance. The cohort every year comes with such a brilliantly diverse range of students, some who love learning and genuinely love to be in that classroom, some that are here because they feel that have no other option. Some with complex needs and who therefore require extra support, some that are harder to guide due to their behaviours or attitudes and some that might have been through some unimaginable things and are therefore just crying out for a stable and consistent source of empathy, care and support. To know and learn all of these little attributes for hundreds of students and manage their different classrooms effectively, making considerations and adaptations for each and everyone of them is an adept skill. But it is quite obviously exhausting and we are just one singular person, at the end of the day. As such, our compassion is a well-honed quality, it stretches further than the average person's, we know how to look at things from different points of view. But all of this really takes its toll. To the point where I remember sitting at my desk, uttering the phrase, "yes, we look after the students, but who in turn is looking after us?!"

In the last year or so, the stresses and challenges of this job have been far greater than any year prior, for differing reasons. I have colleagues who agree and some of them have been in the profession for decades. It seems that teachers are constantly squeezed for more and more but with less support and less resources. And year on year we are faced with these pressures but we get on with it. We exhaust ourselves mentally, we run ourselves into the ground, we spend hours fretting about things but it all gets done. We are completely and totally taken advantage of and constantly expected to fulfil so many expectations. People forget that we are humans, that we come in and do all of the above when we have our own stresses and pressures, when our family members are ill or have passed away, when we are ill, when relationships breakdown, and even with our own people to care for. We come in and put on that classroom performance, we come in and still attempt that gargantuan list of tasks, we come and get judged and observed, we come in and face the teen angst, the teen attitude. Because it's not a job in which you can hide yourself away and have that peace and quiet and that alone time to just mill through tasks at your own pace. 

This is a job that is undervalued, underappreciated and continually running on fumes. It's a job in which the very core importance and purpose has been dwarfed by all of those fruitless, menial burdens on the gargantuan list of tasks. And this is not in isolation, this is not a one off case, this is the state of teaching across this country, particularly in further education. Whilst I can't speak on behalf of absolutely everyone, the articles I read about teacher burn-out and the conversations I have with teachers from differing institutions all the time, confirms to me that it's a common theme. The fact that people are struggling for basic resources like pens/pencils, the ability to print their resources, in many circumstances, even things like chairs for students to sit on or a computer to work at. It's a sad state of affairs and it needs to be properly addressed. Changes and decisions in this sector, both FE and education as a whole need to be made with the students and the teachers in full consultation and consideration. We are the experts, we are the ones there in the classrooms. We are the ones with a million and one questions when the latest qualification reform happens or the latest budget comes out. We are the ones jotting down questions about learner support, funding, resources, guided learning hours, progression routes and a whole repository of other considerations that only we would think of because we deal with it all, day in, day out. 
This is a line of work that was once thought very highly of, that was esteemed and commended and one that would instill a sense of pride and honour in those who pursued it. 
Now, it seems that the pride, satisfaction and generally rewarding nature of the job has been suppressed by the exploitative, demanding nature of what it has become.