Day I was hit by a pupil

16th April 2004 at 01:00
Writing anonymously, one teacher wonders why she was made to feel responsible for being assaulted by a teenage boy in her classroom

I didn't feel anything physically when the punch hit me; adrenaline kicked in. I had seen the fist coming, seen the look of utter fury and hatred glitter in his eyes and stepped back as the blow flew.

As such it struck me just below the jaw on my upper shoulder. When I say punched I do mean punched, not shoved or pushed. Hand rolled into a tight fist aimed like a boxer at my face. The force used was determined, deliberate and intended. This was no accidental mistake.

At least a dozen witnesses looked on in silence. I knew my assailant well; in fact I had been teaching him for two years and been his form tutor for one at the specific request of his mother as he got on well with me.

How I never hit him back is still a miracle. A voice in my head kept telling me to stay calm and remember that he was a child, a 13-year-old child.

The pupil in question had been in the process of punching another pupil in the head and bashing his head up against the wall as he entered my classroom. I took the decision to place myself in front of the injured pupil as I could see blood coming from his head. What I never expected was a torrent of verbal abuse to get out of the way so that the assailant could continue his assault. When I refused he struck.

After a senior member of staff came and took the pupils away I was left shocked and stunned in front of the class that I was then expected to teach.

No one came to cover for me thought I had having clearly informed them that I had been hit. I sat at my desk feeling incredibly cold, a surreal moment made more so when one of the class quietly came up to me and gave me a biscuit.

The next morning I saw both boys in school as if nothing had happened. What message was that giving out? I refused to go to my room. The senior team scuttled into action muttering about a breakdown in communication.

The boys were whisked away. On my desk was a poem and three custard creams from a saddened and silent class. We stoically carried on as if nothing had happened.

I naively assumed that exclusion would follow. Instead they sat outside the head's office for two days, same sanction for both boys. I defended my corner and asked questions. I was offered time off but felt confused that I was the one being asked to be out of school when my assailant was not. I refused the offer. The boy who hit me was then excluded for two days. At this point the nightmare deepened.

The pupil's mother claimed that, as her son had never hit a woman before, it must be my fault. When told that, at my request, her son would be moving tutor groups, she complained that the school was jeopardising his education, unsettling him and complained to the governors.

I contacted my union, finding myself having to defend my actions. Meeting after meeting followed and more information was presented. We learnt that the mother forgot to tell the school that she had decided, without consulting his doctor, to simply stop his medication for the emotional and behavioural problems he suffered to see how he got along.

Most meetings took place without me and I spent anxious days and fretful nights not knowing what was going to happen, having to ask to be kept informed and questioning why I was a teacher. Profoundly upsetting.

My upper shoulder hurt as each day passed, throbbing in reminder of what had happened. I suffered the humiliation of having my bruises photographed by a college using a tape measure to show their size.

Had an adult done this to me what would I have done? Filed for assault? It was only my counter claim of a civil action against her son that brought the matter to a close. Despite advice, the mother forbade her son to write a note of apology or meeting to discuss the matter, claiming that to do so would be an admission of guilt on his part. It remained my fault for not managing his behaviour properly.

Checking through primary school files we found that this was not the first time. His father told us that during the summer he had hit a man on holiday for no apparent reason. Yet still his mother refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing by her son.

For the rest of the school year he and I tried to politely ignore one another. It pained me to watch him scuttle away if he saw me. We both needed some form of closure.

At the end of the school year I left, not because of the actual assault but because of the political situation that forces teachers to face such abuse.

Given the research highlighted by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers suggesting that acts of abuse against teachers occur once every seven minutes of the school day, perhaps I should have been expecting to be assaulted.

But I thought that it was the sort of thing I read about in The TES and that it would never happen to me. Yet it did. One term later he hit another teacher.

The name of the author of this piece has been withheld at her request. She now teaches in the independent sector

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