May the force be with you;Talkback

3rd April 1998 at 01:00
When push comes to shove, Ian Whitwham finds no refuge in official advice on the limits of physical restraint.

Dave Maniac is standing and shouting in the middle of the classroom. He is giving it some. He is a 15-year-old exclamation mark. Dave is enduring GCSE - we are enduring Dave. He has a PhD in disturbance and continues to negotiate his demons at some volume. I can't write down what he's saying - it's in the tradition of early Scorsese.

He is loco, I'm in loco parentis.

Dave Maniac is a rare but increasingly frequent occurrence in the classroom. He has transgressed most received decencies of the Western tradition, but he has muscle - he pumps things.

He is probably tragic. He is certainly angry. It could be lead, red meat, bad blood, the crisis of masculinity, or crisps. Whatever, he advances towards me putting on the frighteners. He tells me there is (fucking) nothing I can do about him, and he knows where I live.

He needs help. I need help. To this end the Government earlier this year sent out draft guidance on the legal parameters of my physical relationship with Dave (The TES, February 20). I can't trespass beyond "reasonable force". Murky territory. It must have him quaking in his Reeboks.

Neckholds, armlocks, tripping, pulling of hair and ear - all are off limits. Holds and locks are difficult moves. Any half-nelson on Dave would unleash a full monty on me. Getting a grip on the infant's neck has never been easy, while tripping seems overly cynical. Maybe I could just go in late.

Tugging of the hair is anyway not going to happen. Dave sports the bald look, and pulling a Dave by the ear or ear-ring is provocative.

All the above may be illegal but they are also life-threatening. My life. And while I am resisting physical combat with the gifted thug, I must "never give the impression of losing my temper". Does this mean I should existentially lose it? Would this traumatise the delicate child? Or do I count to 10 and try the pastoral smile?

How about a bit of reasonable legal stuff? This could include "leading a pupil by the arm or shepherding a pupil away by placing a hand in the centre of his back". But no one leads this erring brute anywhere. He simply won't join in.

The notion of shepherding the troubled nitwit may have been pretty biblical imagery, but it sits ill with the ugly truth. The last time anyone shepherded him, they were shepherded into the medical room. And if I placed a hand on his back, the volatile infant would floor me. Dave Maniac has no truck with the nuances of touch. He regards all that stuff as snake-bite. It irks him, he gets the red mist. I would get bashed up.

When I joined up for this lark I never realised I would be asked to consider the legal niceties of the bouncer's trade or that I would conduct my teaching to the rules of the Marquess of Queensberry.

It might be useful to know those legal niceties. "Reasonable force" might be relevant to most pupils, but with Dave, force, reasonable or otherwise, is irrelevant. You don't touch him. You survive.

Ian Whitwham teaches in a London comprehensive

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