Teachers must stand together

6th October 2006 at 01:00
Of course, this didn't happen to me, but to a friend. Though I'm wondering if other teachers have had a similar experience.

Here's what happened. A pupil made a derogatory remark about a classmate.

It was crude, nasty and guaranteed to cause distress. My pal gave out a punishment exercise, and was smugly presented the next day with a letter from the girl's parents, explaining that, although their daughter was embarrassed by what she had said, she hadn't meant it and it was a shame to spoil her unblemished record.

The matter was referred to a senior member of staff who accepted her story, that she hadn't said what he thought she had. Apparently, two of her friends backed her story, so he must have misunderstood. And, of course, she didn't do the exercise.

Now, maybe he's blowing this out of proportion. Except he didn't misunderstand. His class has become a nightmare. It seems that they now feel they can do or say anything - and he doesn't feel he can stop them.

There are two reasons for that. First, they enjoyed watching the performance. It was amusing to see his distress, his anger. Incredibly funny, because what's wrong with saying what she said anyway? Especially to that particular pupil.

But second, and more importantly, he feels he has no backing, no support.

He's lost the confidence which allows a teacher to win in a confrontation.

If he is knocked into in the crowded corridors, he doesn't react. If someone shouts at him, he pretends he doesn't hear. He liked his job - and used to feel he did it well. He's not sleeping well, he dreads going in, and he finds it hard to react properly to other small incidents.

If he'd been wrong, he would admit it. But I'm tired of the attitude that what the pupils say is taken as gospel, before the teacher is given a chance to give his or her side. There is no doubt in my mind that that incident was one of verbal bullying, that my friend was right to have punished the girl, and that there is no way she should have been allowed to talk her way out of it.

I also know that unless we stick together as a staff, we are lost. We should support one another at all times. There are times when teachers get it wrong but, even then, it is important that it is resolved without humiliating us.

If they were both adamant that they were in the right, then mediation should have been used, giving them both a chance to explain.

I don't think the girl feels smug now. Maybe she recognises that, although she got away with it, it wasn't worth the victory.

My mate? I question if he will trust senior management again. He's counting the years, months, weeks until he can retire - and wondering if he will last.

Penny Ward is a secondary teacher

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