Talkback

4th May 2001 at 01:00
I am not on the verge of a nervous breakdown, nor am I seeking to exercise some deep-seated cynicism. I am trying to understand why I feel as I do. One incident has evoked a quality and kind of thinking which is outside my experience as a teacher.

As the most senior colleague on duty, I was recently called to deal with a Year 10 pupil who had refused to move from one classroom to be supervised by the head of faculty. The strategy had been pre-planned as he had been challenging in a previous lesson. By the time I arrived, he was aggressive. I knew him well, as his teacher in Year 7 and as a pastoral manager. I believed we shared mutual respect and could communicate effectively.

He was clearly agitated. Nevertheless, he was sitting down in a colleague's office and the situation, although tense, seemed controlled. My attempts to counsel him, to understand his feelings, were not well received. I knew that I had to be careful, so I sat quietly at the desk, giving the boy plenty of space, left the door open, and spoke gently.

However, something beyond my understanding, made him suddenly leap up and lash out. He ripped off his sweater and invited me to fight. I stayed sitting and asked him to return to his seat. He then reached forward, grabbed a large brass bell which served as a paperweight and raised it threateningly. I remained impassive, transfixed, and spoke offering no criticism, no judgments, but asking him to sit down and talk. He screamed and charged out of the office. I didn't know what he was going to do next nor his intended destination - I feared for him and for others. I phoned for the police.

Their response was immediate. They tried to calm the boy and to reason with him. But he was inconsolable, irrational and increasingly violent. In the end, I had to watch him being arrested. This took three officers who had to press him to the corridor floor and handcuff him. I felt a sense of abject failure as he was escorted to the main entrance He was deemed to be so violent that he could not be transported in a patrol car. While suitable transport was on its way, he made allegations of police brutality and the senior police officer asked one of my staff to stand in the waiting room as a safeguard for his staff. I have worked in schools for 26 years and this is the only time I have felt a mixture of failure, regret, frustration and anger.

Some hours later, I was umpiring an under-13s' cricket match. But as I flicked each coin into my pocket to mark the passage of each ball, I knew something was not as it should be. It was as if I was connected to a remote course of energy which was pulsing through at irregular intervals; a surge followed by a period of calm, and then a surge of different intensity. At moments, I wanted to rip the ball out of the bowler's hand and hurl it across the field; at others, I wanted play to be suspended to allow me to ponder the day's event. Driving home, I was conscious of being almost inordinately pleased with myself and then despised myself for the pomposity of the idea.

The actions I took were unavoidable and done as professionally as possible. There will be long-running consequences; the boy was charged, pleaded not guilty and a further court hearing is likely. He has been permanently excluded from school - a hearing before a sub-committee of the governors is needed.

I anticipate having to recount the events in different places for different purposes. I do not relish the prospect. I feel exhausted by it, and the only audience that matters to me is my fellow teachers. Most of all, I want to know that the boy will be the beneficiary of the whole process. He needs help and support ,and the tragedy is that the school he has attended for the past four years cannot provide it. Rightly, it has declared him no longer worthy of a place in its community. That's what really hurts.

The author, who remains anonymous, teaches in a Preston secondary school


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