Descent into dark world of pupil gossip

11th May 2007 at 01:00
I work in a world awash with rumours and gossip. It is the glue that holds many schools together. Usually, it is nothing more than a quick bitch in the corridor. But when a story is told by pupils, it can be a different story.

Paul left school a couple of years ago. His explosive temper and aggressive behaviour had dominated the classroom. He was unpredictable, confrontational and dangerous. We knew he was a heavy drinker and a drug-user. We were glad to see the back of him.

Then, one Friday afternoon, it emerged that Paul had hanged himself. Some of the younger boys had been with him the previous evening and were terrified. Girls were crying, unsure why.

Then there were fights. Samantha's response to the news was a nervous laugh, so Emma hit her for making fun. A fight between two boys over who was Paul's best friend broke out.

Teachers were shocked by the sense of waste. They saw Paul's life as unfulfilled. He had thrown away the most precious thing he had in a miasma of social dysfunction and anger. They felt guilt as well, reflecting on all the times they had argued with him. They remembered him as a young pupil, all bright-eyed and uniformed before his world fell apart.

The truth is that Paul descended into darkness when his father walked out.

He took it badly and changed his surname - an attempt to disown him. His mother couldn't handle him. From then on, Paul spiralled out of control. He would steal. He would ransack the house. Everyone was powerless to stop it happening - apart from his father, who was not around.

There was another fight as the children went home. It was a difficult afternoon and we all went home with a sense of waste and regret.

But Paul wasn't dead. The wild rumour had raged like a bushfire. We know this because when the head of year went round to see his mother to offer condolences, Paul answered the door.

The truth was that another drug dealer had stabbed him in the head over a territorial dispute that had now been resolved.

But the myth of Paul lives on. There is status to be gained from saying you know him. We were relieved that he wasn't dead and cling to the vain hope that he can save something from the wreckage of his life. However, as far as I am concerned, this was just a dress rehearsal.

Ian Roe is a pseudonym. He teaches in North Wales

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