Beware strangers: they can turn violent

14th February 2003 at 00:00
Just before Christmas I was saddened to read of a colleague who was injured while on duty at the entrance to a school disco. The assailant was apparently not a pupil of the school but felt he should be allowed in.

In the same week, while I was walking up to the buses with my pupils, I met a group of youths, none of whom had any connection with Kilsyth Academy. I advised them politely to leave the school grounds and was met with a hail of abuse. I was even called a baldy ****er. I called the police, who promised to send a car.

The boys moved off. Five minutes later a brick was thrown at one of our buses as it passed a nearby roundabout.

Last week one of our teachers suggested to a girl that she should stop talking and do some work. This upset the girl. In line with our procedures, she was eventually sent to another teacher's room. She later returned and verbally abused the teacher and threatened to trash his car if she was excluded for the incident. She was excluded, not surprisingly. His car is undamaged.

The last occurrence is rare in our school but, unfortunately, incidents like the first two seem to be becoming more common. It seems that we can usually control children we know but those who see us as strangers and as figures of authority feel that they can behave in any way they like, and do.

Why do we, as teachers, put ourselves at risk of verbal or even physical abuse by volunteering to do non-teaching tasks?

In 1980, as a newly appointed assistant headteacher in Kilsyth Academy, I attended a disco (though it was probably called a dance in those days). At the end of the evening I escorted our pupils out of the school to board a bus to the villages. A struggle began at the bus door between a drunken former pupil and one of our current pupils. I ran towards them, unfortunately forgetting that the ground was covered with snow. I couldn't stop and skidded at full speed into the assailant. My feet hit his in a beautiful sliding tackle and we both ended in a heap. After we got up he ran off.

I became famous overnight and as the story became more and more exaggerated I basked in the glory of my rescue attempt.

Why should professional people have to put up with such actions as part of their jobs? Should violence be part of our everyday life?

As old age approaches, my resilience to such violent behaviour declines.

Why should I devote three hours on a winter's evening to doing a bouncer's job at a school disco? I don't even remember that appearing as an item on my job-sizing questionnaire for McCrone. It is voluntary, after all.

I'll answer my own questions. I attend discos because I know that 200 young people will have an enjoyable evening in a very safe environment. I go because I feel it is an essential part of my job.

Other teachers volunteer for the same reason. In my opinion this is true professionalism. Few of us attend these events for personal enjoyment or because we like the music.

Staff in our school organise four international trips per year (I'm including London as being abroad). The pupils are always very well behaved and even those who can be troublesome at school seem to respond well to the atmosphere on a trip. Our trips are always very well disciplined and the volunteers work hard for the full time they are away. Again this is true professionalism.

The only violence experienced on these trips was about five years ago, in Strasbourg, when a group of boys tried to steal a bag belonging to one of our girls. Our side won and the boys retreated empty handed, their ears ringing to some choice Scottish phrases.

I was told recently that our current fourth year pupils were conceived in the Chernobyl accident year (1986). Is this the reason for a violent generation?

John Mitchell is headteacher of Kilsyth Academy, North LanarkshireIf you have any comments, e-mail scotlandplus@tes.co.uk

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