Red mist descends

4th May 2012 at 01:00

Wednesday, 10.30am. I was lingering over my five-minute coffee pit stop and avoiding the gaze of Outlook: a Jenga tower of emails with "ACTION REQUIRED" in the title. Capital letters can be so aggressive.

In Foundation Learning, we keep the staffroom door open so that if the less independent students with learning difficulties need our help, they can knock and wait at the door.

A student trudged up to my desk, gazing at the floor. "Sarah, Sarah, Sarah." He is a relentlessly cheery learner, requiring a lot of attention. This is not due to the complexity of his needs; he just likes the spotlight. I wasn't prepared to have my precious minutes stolen and barked at him: "Let me finish my break, then we can chat. And don't come wandering in next time."

He lifted his head. He was crying. Flushed with guilt, I asked why. He told me a "big boy" had called him horrible names. He told me the names. They were the words I hoped they wouldn't be. This sort of incident rarely occurs. Most students in college are kind and patient. All derive great benefit from integration.

I saw red mist leaking into the room. When? Where? Who? He and I walked to the canteen. We passed the big boy and my student discreetly identified him. He was indeed a very big boy, taller than the door and almost as wide. I took my student to our department and set off, justice bound. Striding up to Goliath, I extracted him from his groupies and asked to have a word.

The student listened calmly and silently as I punched accusations at him. He gently told me that he wouldn't do that and I must be mistaken. I was blindsided, backtracking in my head. I continued to push him. Mid-sentence (mine of course), he turned round and swaggered off, shouting over his shoulder, "Whatever. You're making me late for class."

Wrong-footed, I boomed down the crowded corridor, "I WAS SPEAKING TO YOU," taking the trouble to shout in capital letters. Jim, a member of the security staff, appeared from nowhere and apprehended and disciplined the student for behaving disrespectfully towards me - he continued to deny the other charge. Jim's calm expertise made me embarrassed at my own (uncharacteristically) combative approach. I tried to chip in. Jim held up his hand. I shut my big mouth.

I wondered why Jim wasn't a teacher. He would clearly be better than me. I apologised for my unhelpful approach to the situation and expressed regret that I'd pinned it on the wrong man. "Wrong man?" Jim laughed. "He's lying through his teeth. Don't worry, I'll look at the CCTV. I'll take it from here."

Sarah Simons teaches functional skills English in an inner-city FE college.

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