Take Braidon, for instance. Not an easy boy by any stretch of the imagination, with a considerable talent for causing problems in the playground and then moving well away to avoid shouldering any blame when a teacher arrives on the scene. Because he was intelligent, we managed to steer him into positive activities most of the time, but I remember the morning when a local sweetshop owner came to see me, distraught at Braidon's behaviour. Braidon had been caught stealing and asked to leave, whereupon he spent the next half an hour throwing snowballs into the shop, smothering customers and stock with snow and mud. I offered to phone his mother, who curtly said she'd look into the matter. Shortly afterwards, I heard that she'd charged into the shop, hurling abuse at the shopkeeper and saying her son wouldn't do anything like that. Braidon stood behind her, grinning.
You wouldn't think it, but even a relatively minor offence such as being late for school is ripe for a challenge. Alex's mum came to see me, waving the letter I'd just sent her saying Alex was late for school far too often.
She took a very dim view of letters like that, she said. After all, didn't statistics show that children who were late for school were more successful in later life than those who weren't? I pointed out that whatever the statistics said, it was her legal duty to ensure Alex came to school when he was supposed to. Unimpressed, she strode off down the corridor. I didn't have time to voice my other concern: the six-inch kitchen knife she'd packed in Alex's lunch box for peeling his orange.
At least Alex didn't damage school property. Lennie did. Lennie was a Year 1 infant who was destined to be a plumber, though unfortunately he spent most of his time dismantling things rather than putting them together. Sink drainage systems would suddenly leak in the washrooms, toilet seats would be unbolted on one side causing the occupant to swerve wildly, and door locks would be fiddled with, even though the firm who fitted them had assured us they were tamper-proof. Lennie, it seemed, could unscrew the inscrutable. Then, while removing the chains from the playground lavatories, he pulled one too hard, causing the cistern to break away from the wall. His father, when summoned, inspected the damage sniffily. "Oh well," he said. "Boys will be boys." When it was suggested that he might make a contribution towards repairs - or at least stop Lennie's pocket money - he was astonished. "What on earth do we pay our rates for?" he said.
All this pales beside the comment made by Piers Morgan, former editor of the Mirror, in one of his columns. After stating that school nativity plays are often tedious affairs, he quotes with pride his own son's comment when coerced into playing a shepherd. "Shut up, you freaks!" the boy shouted on stage to the cast. "Now that," said Morgan, "is what I call a star!" If that's to be admired, is it any wonder that teachers spend so much of their time battling the current yob culture?
Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.