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Pupils I'll never forget

Gina Crowley explains why she'll always remember a hard case with wandering hands

It was 1980: my probationary year in the London borough of Newham. I had waist-length hair and wore political badges and an air of enthusiastic naivety. The third-year English class was what we now describe as challenging. They were mostly male; some of them were skinheads, and all were disaffected. In my first few weeks they had a competition to see who could draw the next erect penis on my blackboard. I pretended not to see them - college had taught me about the effectiveness of ignoring some forms of poor behaviour - although I sweated in case my supervisor looked in.

To my surprise, my methods started to work. The wild behaviour lessened, pupils started writing, and there were no more penises. Until one late Friday lesson. The class was restless; noisier than usual. Suddenly, Darryl stood up and told the rest of the class to "be quiet and listen to her".

And they did, immediately. I realised then that any control I had was entirely given to me by Darryl, the class hard man. They behaved only because he made them. It was a salutary lesson about power relationships in schools and classrooms.

Weeks later I was forced to understand why Darryl allowed me to share his power. I was bending over a desk, helping a pupil, when I felt a hand slide up my thigh. Shocked, I spun round to see Darryl. We both said nothing. I scanned the room. No one else seemed to have noticed.

It hadn't been a prank. Darryl had given way to a sudden impulse. He had no history of harassment or inappropriate sexual behaviour. If I mentioned it, the rest of the class would laugh and become uncontrollable. If I referred it to the year head, I would look a fool and Darryl would be excluded. I said nothing.

After that I taught from my desk at the front of the class. Darryl spent the rest of the year writing about his passion - pigeon-keeping - and if the class got too noisy, he shut them up. I passed my probationary year.

And, all these years later, I still feel a sense of gratitude towards Darryl.

Gina Crowley co-ordinates humanities and life skills at the Cedars special school in Gateshead. Do you have special memories of unforgettable pupils? Write to Sarah Bayliss at the address on page 3 or email

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