Saturday, March 1, 2014

A day in the life of a teacher

11am

‘F**k off!’ he shouts. John is typical of many of our kids: stunted, undernourished and utterly feral.

‘Come here please,’ I reply, consciously controlling the tone of my voice. Tone is so important. I want it to exude authority, but not anger, even though I am feeling pretty annoyed. I look back sensing another, menacing presence. Ben, a short, portly year 7 with crooked teeth approaches. He walks with purpose. He is clearly disheveled, upset and, dare I say it,seething with anger.

John runs towards the main building, away from me and his larger pursuer, deploying his full arsenal of expletives as he goes. ‘F**k off, you c**t! Your mum sucks c**k! You fat f****r!’ Is he talking to me or Ben? It is difficult to discern; Ben and I are both on the large side.

For the time being, I postpone my indignation and concentrate on Ben. He appears to be the more immediate threat. ‘Stop there, Ben!’ I exclaim.

‘I’m gonna f****n’ kill ‘im,’ he shouts, red-faced and panting.

‘No you aren't, Ben,’ I reply, desperate to maintain a semblance of control.

He continues to steam towards his nemesis. I have no choice but to restrain him. As I do, he turns his ire on me. ‘F**k off, you c**t!’ he shouts. ‘Let go, you t****r!’

‘I can’t let go until you calm down, Ben.’ Honestly, this feels like Groundhog Day. Wasn’t I called a c**t by someone else about 10 seconds ago? Eventually, after a brief struggle, I manage to shepherd him into a classroom and wait for help.

2pm

I am teaching the Atlantic slave trade to a class of year 8 students. We are discussing the treatment of female slaves in the Americas.

‘Some were used for breeding,’ Rachel observes, clearly horrified yet interested at the same time.

‘What do you mean by-?’

‘She must have had a f****n’ bucket,’ Stacey interrupts, crudely guesstimating the size of a slave’s vagina; it is a lewd, insensitive reference to their cruel exposure, through abuse, to sexual hyperactivity. I send her out in disgust.

3pm

After class, I make my way to the hall for our weekly assembly. As I walk amongst the usual bustle and cacophony that characterises lesson change, I discern a sequence of profanities that certainly merits my attention. ‘That’s my f****n’ tit, you c**t!’ I look around, desperately trying to penetrate the sea of student bodies. Who said that? Is she alright - if indeed it is a she?

Suddenly, amid the rowdy mob emerges Ronny, laughing and cradling her left breast. She is a coarse, rather unpleasant character suspected of carrying a genetic defect – the unfortunate consequence of maternal alcohol abuse during pregnancy. She clearly finds whatever happened amusing, so rather than evoke her ire – she is well versed when it comes to abusing staff who question her -, I walk on, determined to end my day peacefully.

3.30pm

Immediately after the last bell, we gather in room 9 for a brief meeting led by our Assistant Head teacher, Robert Standing. He is a tall, bespectacled, balding man in his mid-forties. He is also grossly incompetent, morally dubious and utterly ruthless when it comes to defending his position. The rumour mill certainly churns frantically over Robert’s questionable management techniques. I must admit, I am very wary of him, even though he comes across, on first impressions, as both approachable and charming.

One of the agenda items this evening is the behaviour policy, something for which he is responsible. A behaviour policy should set out clear guidelines for both teachers and students; rules, rewards and sanctions should be transparent and intelligible; and, most importantly, it should be followed and closely monitored. Alas, in short, our policy is unfit for purpose; and it soon becomes clear on closer inspection that Robert, its supposed architect, has not even read it.

‘It states that an Advocacy Team will be called when a teacher needs a student to be removed from class – no such team exists. It also says that detentions will be recorded in a log to be found in the staffroom – no such log exists.’ Rebecca, my colleague, is forthright but measured in her tone and manner. She has been the victim of jaw dropping levels of abuse since her return from maternity leave. She continues, 'We don’t –'

‘I’m going to stop you there,’ Robert interrupts. ‘I’m happy to take on board your points, but feel you’re being quite aggressive.’ He waits for a response. The room is shocked into silence. Rebecca flounders and stumbles over her words. Robert’s defensive, desperate gambit has certainly had the desired effect. The conversation is no longer about his incompetence, but Rebecca’s belligerence.

Eventually, after a shameful, cowardly hesitation, I interject. ‘No, Robert,’ I say tentatively, ‘Rebecca is not being aggressive.’

‘That’s your interpretation,’ he retorts.

‘Yes, you’re right, it is. And whilst we’re on the subject,’ I continue, shaking with adrenaline, ‘your policy also states that the pastoral coordinators will run weekly reports on disruptive students and deliver them to curriculum leaders – this doesn’t happen either. It stipulates that violent or aggressive behaviour should lead to exclusion – this doesn’t happen. It’s very clear that you’re not following your own policy.’ Robert clearly has no idea what is even in it.

‘Look,’ he replies, ‘the truth is that sanctions don’t work.’ I shake my head in disbelief. This is tantamount to saying that our kids do not need rules. ‘You disagree?’ he asks.

‘Of course I disagree. If adults need rules and sanctions, children certainly do. You obviously challenge what has gone pretty much unchallenged throughout the entire course of human history: rules are necessary to ensure freedom and safety; sanctions to ensure that rules are followed. There must be consequences if boundaries are crossed. Without that reality, the boundaries do not exist.’ He looks puzzled. The thought of punishments and sanctions is anathema to his Left-wing sensibilities. That is why the school is more like Mogadishu than a place of learning.

Rajesh, a gentle, mild-mannered geography teacher agrees. ‘If a student is naughty, he must face a consequence, otherwise he’ll do it again.’

Robert wastes no time in censuring him for using a word strictly prohibited in the teaching profession. ‘Can we refrain from calling students naughty, please? I prefer to say that they’re making the wrong choices.’ I despair. This man – a man who does not follow his own policy, who does not agree with sanctions or referring to naughty children as, well, naughty - is responsible for the behaviour management of our school. What hope have our children got?

Also published on www.conservativehome.com on July 31, 2013

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