In more than a decade of classroom teaching, I’d always had a certain confidence and presence in the classroom. It’s a necessary requirement in teaching, where force of personality is needed to keep control, as more formal sanctions and school procedures become ever more watered down and unsupported.
One of the greatest compliments I ever received from a student was many years ago, just after I told a class I was moving on to another school. One relatively boisterous kid told me that he’d miss me, as I’d always been: “Strict, fun and fair.” It’s a formula for behaviour management that I have always tried to uphold. No fear or favouritism.
It is amazing, though, how quickly this wall of confidence tumbled… And there was nothing I could do about it.
Out of the blue it happened. I was told to immediately go to the head’s office. I had no idea why. On entering the head’s office, I saw another member of SLT there and knew that I was not there for a pat on the back.
A student had accused me of inappropriate behaviour. Fortunately not of a sexual nature, or I’d probably have been met by the police, too.
I was given a letter informing me that an accusation had been made and that I was suspended, pending an investigation. I was refused any details of the supposed "crime" and told not to talk to anyone about it, other than my union.
I felt, in effect, "guilty until proven innocent". I understand the need for child protection, especially in the knee-jerk panic of a post-Jimmy Savile era, but there was a twist to this tale.
It seems that some students have discovered that, if they contrive a situation where they are alone with a member of staff, they can make an accusation. I was informed that social media has been used by students to share this information and some kids are definitely playing the system.
'You can't be alone with a child'
Nowadays, at any time you are not in the presence of another adult, you could be a target. It could be in a classroom, a corridor, a playground…the message is DO NOT BE ALONE WITH A CHILD, not even for a moment.
Even though I knew I had done nothing wrong, I was utterly devastated by this event. The huge anxiety of not knowing any details, and therefore not being able to refute what I had been accused of, drove me over the edge.
I ended up having a week of sleepless nights, the effects of which culminated in me taking an overdose of prescription medication in my desperate desire to sleep/escape/to end my suffering. I am still not sure exactly why I took the overdose.
The next thing I knew, I was being rushed in an ambulance to the local A&E, where some fantastic NHS staff looked after me overnight, and made sure I was safe.
Quite some time has now passed since the malicious accusation and the overdose. I have not "recovered" though. A degree of permanent damage has been done.
I feel afraid.
I feel afraid that if I were ever to go into a classroom again, I could face a similar situation.
All it would take is another vindictive student, aggrieved at being told off, and I’d find myself back where I am now. Only I am not sure I’d live to tell the tale.
I have decided that teaching and I are parting ways. I’ll never be able to ensure discipline in a classroom again without the fear that it could make me a target.
For me, teaching just isn’t safe any more.
The author continues to attempt to rebuilt his life
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