No right of redress
I was assaulted last month. Not on my way home by a mugger in a dark London street. Neither was it on public transport late at night. I was at work. I am a teacher and the assault was by a child. This may not seem shocking - in fact, such an event has, it seems, become so commonplace and teachers so undervalued that I doubt anyone outside my immediate circle will bat an eyelid.
Resolving violent situations between children is not uncommon. The Government has issued new guidelines on "reasonable restraint" for teachers. But what is reasonable, and which teacher is thinking about the guidelines during an assault?
The child concerned has been in my class for the past two years. I believed I had established a relationship with him. He was never easy and had just provoked yet another fight with yet another child. I attempted to restrain him. I am an adult and I wasn't hurt physically, but I am hurt. I am deeply upset by what happened.
Over the past two years this child has physically and, at times, emotionally exhausted me. He is aggressive and needs help. But psychological help costs money. Any process of removing him to another more specialised school is a long, drawn-out process. If you permanently exclude a primary-aged child, where does he go? He is too young to realise the full consequences of his behaviour. In the meantime, he remains in my class. Having crossed that barrier of attacking me, it is more likely to happen again. In the course of doing my job I am at risk, and I can do little legally to protect myself.
It is disturbing that a 10-year-old boy should even think to punch and kick a teacher, someone who has done nothing but try to help him. It is more disturbing that, beyond my colleagues and the headteacher, no one will really care. I will become a statistic pulled out by the Government when it suits them in a debate about falling standards. For me it is more personal. That evening I went home and cried.
Among my confused feelings of anger and frustration is the sense that this highly intelligent child could achieve so much. I have seen what he can do and know what he is capable of in both his work and behaviour. He is hindered by his own violent background, and a system that doesn't really care.
I became a teacher 15 years ago because I believed it was an important job, if not the most important that anyone could do. Yet, as the years have gone by, I have seen a whittling away at the status of the teaching profession and a huge undervaluing of teachers at every level in our society. We're told what and how to teach by politicians whose only aim is to introduce cheap, populist and superficial measures. There is no commitment to deal with the real underlying problems, part of which lie in a lack of good parenting skills.
We are told we can restrain a child, yet the law will always favour the word and rights of children. Is it surprising then that a child can call a teacher a variety of four-letter words while kicking and punching with a violence that is as disturbing as it is disturbed?
The rights of children are stressed at the expense of those teaching them. You see I am not just a "teacher". Nor am I cold and without feelings. I am hurt and demoralised. I wanted to hit back, to lash out in anger. The boy will be allowed back to school whatever; if I'd stepped outside the "guidelines", it would have cost me my job. As a teacher I am expected to be a punching bag for society's failure, but am denied the right of redress.
The postscript of this incident is that, rather than face up to the problem and take some responsibility for their son's behaviour, the boy's parents have now removed him from the school, blaming the school for his problems. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Cinemas across the country echo to the sound of Tony Blair and other luminaries recalling sepia memories of their favourite teachers: "Nobody forgets a good teacher." Perhaps it should say: "Nobody forgets the first time they kicked a teacher." I will never forget what has happened to me. Someone who abhors violence has become the victim of it. I will now leave teaching. British society's attitude to education is a disgrace. I want no part of it.
* John McMinn lives in south London