Teachers are people, too

17th April 2015 at 01:00

Dignity should always be uppermost in our minds when we deal with others. But that needs to apply to the shepherds as well as to the sheep for which we care; staff as much as students.

In the first week of my teacher training, a kid told me to fuck off. Not in a coughed-under-the-breath way. Not in a squeak or a mumble, but in a full-throated, face-to-face, oh-yes-I-did-just-go-there way. Eyeball to eyeball, in the manner of someone seeing how hard they can push your button. He was taller than me, and I'd just crossed him unforgivably by asking him to stop passing weed around the back of the classroom. I'm not even lying, blud.

That kind of naked aggression can be intimidating. It can madden and frustrate you in equal measure, because in most other walks of life you could react to it in a way that made sense. Not in teaching, where you are rightly held to a higher standard. It's like you've signed up for the seminary. If you go for the full Marsellus Wallace from Pulp Fiction reaction and break your foot off in their ass - as God and the universe surely would approve - you'll find yourself a P45 heavier. In fact, if you simply said the same thing in response, you'd be the darling of cautionary tales for ever more. Which is right, and proper.

The problem is that some schools make it very obvious that the rights of the child don't just matter (as they do), but are more far important than the staff. The dignity we accord to pupils isn't always extended to the adults who look after them.

I once knew a teacher who had the misery of being pushed against a wall by a teenage boy who then touched her thighs and made salacious comments. When she reported it, the school panicked and did nothing. Literally almost nothing.

The boy was at a difficult stage in his behaviour continuum, detentions weren't an effective deterrent, and so on and so on - the usual shameful indecisiveness. Not only was the boy not removed from the school but the teacher was expected to take him back into her class after the incident. Can you imagine?

Fortunately, she had more brains and guts than the whole of the senior leadership team and called the police, who unsurprisingly didn't think that sexual assault should be overlooked. Some time later, she had the satisfaction of seeing the boy convicted. As sad as that situation is, we see similar things happening all too often. We see it when teachers are routinely expected to absorb the kind of grief and emotional grapeshot that they would be sacked for creating. We see it when we ask for students to be removed from the classroom and they are returned publicly and in the most humiliating way. We see it when a kid tells their teacher to fuck off and school leaders wring their hands, worrying about how a telling-off will impact on the child's delicate self-esteem.

And worse, we see it when teachers walk out of a profession that could easily be beautiful. No one expects a teacher's life to be charmed and fragrant - we're paid to take one for the team sometimes. But we aren't paid to eat dirt.

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