Terms of engagement;Further adventures of Morris Simpson;School diary

28th May 1999 at 01:00

A difficult weekend: Gail was away until Sunday lunchtime on a planning venture for next session at Rockston Primary. It was quite an innovative touch from her headteacher, because she'd been able to vire some unused absence cover money from the last financial year to pre-pay a hotel for the break. As Gail pointed out, it wasn't much of a break - they worked until 9pm on Friday, and spent all of Saturday getting through as much planning as they'd usually need to spend over at least four planned activity times. But, for once, she felt they'd been treated like professionals.

"We weren't herded into some hall and given instructions from on high, then told to hurry off and get on with things. Instead, we were able to spend some quality time making proper provision for next year, in attractive surroundings without any external distractions."

It was all very well for her to speak, I pointed out over breakfast this morning. Because I'd had plenty of external distractions! I'd been left at home in sole charge of Margaret, our three-year old, expected to get the week's shopping in and do several loads of washing and ironing.

"So who usually does those things at the weekend, Morris?" Gail queried, but I deflected the question masterfully.

"Plus I had to arrive at a near-final collation of crisp tokens for Mr Tod, and ruddy Florida tokens for you!" She had no answer to that one, so I closed the discussion and set off for work. What a relief it was to get back to school!


'Tis the season of report cards. Or report portfolios, I should say. We used to be able to give a reasonably fair assessment of our pupils' achievements and potential with a few subject-specific grades and a couple of ticks for effort, but now parents apparently require a wealth of information about peer-group interaction, behavioural attitudes, personality inventories, leisure activity prowess and - occasionally - the odd subject assessment performance.

And all of it has to be positive. Ms Lees has even produced a computer-generated report system which enables us to "cut and paste" a veritable cornucopia of comments, all educationally sound and progressive in content - if completely vacuous in meaning.

Thus, for my guidance comments, I have been able to describe Stuart Monteith's frequent instigation of playground brawls as "highly charged energy which would benefit from being channelled in a more positive manner", and his constant and unpleasant bouts of swearing as "colourful use of language, but requiring greater supervision in selecting an appropriate register and context for the use of certain phraseology."

It all seems a long way from the truth.


Got my report portfolios finished at last - some several hours after Mr Pickup, needless to say, who speeded up the process dramatically by hitting the "paste" button completely at random for most of his comments ("None of the parents read comments about RE anyway"). Conversely, I found myself trying to select from the comment bank with as much care as possible, and cursing the frustrations of not being able to say what I really wanted.

In Damien Steele's case, this has been particularly irksome, because there just isn't a phrase in Ms Lees's lexicon to explain that I think the boy has serious leanings towards psychopathy, and is in danger of causing grievous bodily harm to someone before the academic session is complete.

Only this morning I found myself in loud disagreement with him after he suggested that I "stick" a recently-issued punishment exercise "where the sun disny shine, Batman!" And his displays of bad temper and aggression are becoming legendary. Last week, he and Ms Honeypot had a stand-up shouting match over a line-call during volleyball that nearly ended in blows, wherein Damien told her that she was (and I quote) "a jumped-up wee tart wi' eyes in (yer) arse!" It's all very wearing.


Damien Steele tried to pull a weapon on me this afternoon. He arrived 10 minutes late for class, then slouched at his desk, hands in pockets and a derisive sneer on his lips. He refused point blank to take any books out of the polythene bag that purported to carry his learning materials, then decided to leave the class five minutes before the end of the period.

"Just a minute!" I raised my voice sternly. "Where d'you think you're going, Steele?" He stopped, turned sideways and looked me up and down, then proceeded to draw a two foot piece of wood with a nail at the end (a vandalised section of schooldesk, so far as I could make out) from inside his jacket pocket. "Ah'm gaun' where ah soddin' want tae, Simpy. Okay?" As he walked away, I took a deep breath and bellowed after him: "No it is not okay! Get back here at once." But he just kept walking.

I think the class was quite impressed by my show of defiance, but I can't help thinking that the whole incident will have affected my disciplinary relationship with them.


I've called in Jack Boyd about Damien Steele. Having explained the case to our educational psychologist, he took me slightly to task.

"Certainly, I'll see him, Mr Simpson," he agreed, "but it sounds to me as if you've not been handling his aggression properly. Pupils like Damien Steele don't react well to being shouted at, y'know, and if you've been trying to impose authority on a boy who doesn't understand the meaning of the term, then is it any wonder he reacts the way he does?" I started to respond, but he brooked no interference.

"Ask yourself if you've been raising your voice, making repeated requests or demands of him, or invading his personal space? Ask yourself if you've really tried to understand Damien's emotional state? If you've used de-personalising language towards him, or even given him cause for concern by facial expressions that convey anger?" "Well, of course I..."

"And if you can answer Yes to any of those questions, then I think you'll begin to see the root of the problem, Mr Simpson. It's you. What you need to do the next time Damien suffers an outburst, is initiate a programme that will de-escalate the aggression."

"Such as?" "Maintain verbal interaction. Maintain eye contact. Identify what's triggered his anger. Offer him some problem-solving triggers of his own and ensure that your own body posture and tone of voice remain completely neutral and non-threatening."

A loud guffaw erupted from the other side of the staffroom. Mr Pickup, no less. "I should think that Simpson's body posture will be completely non-threatening at the end of all that: Damien Steele's likely to have laid him out on the floor by then. My God, Boyd," he shook with merriment, "if there's one thing I'll miss when I get out of here, it'll be your platitudinous claptrap about defending the bunch of louts and morons that make up half our school population!" Boyd bristled, drew his breath in sharply, and informed me that he would arrange to see Damien Steele within the next fortnight. At which point he left, looking pointedly away from the noticeboard announcing Pickup's retirement party.

Once he'd gone, Pickup burst into further gales of laughter, and called me over. "Come and have a look at this, Simpson. The local rag's got wind of your little woman's junket at the Parkland Plaza."

And so it seemed. The Parkland Gazette's main story for the week concerned an "In-Service Junket for Teachers", wherein the paper claimed that teachers at Rockston Primary enjoyed an all-expenses-paid stay in a luxury pound;100 a night hotel (omitting to mention the pound;40 per head deal negotiated by the school), while their school remained "apparently starved of books and proper teaching resources".

I sighed and shook my head as I read the one-sided and sensationalist account of what the Gazette claimed was a weekend of hedonistic excess.

For once, Pickup was in sympathy with the education authority. "Ach, it's not right," he slammed the paper on the coffee table. "Look at it! Two reporters to write the story, a photographer to take a picture of the hotel - and you can bet your life that's all they did that day, yet they'll still come up with an expenses bill that makes my wage slip look like a contribution to Oxfam. And what do they do? Concoct a story around the one perk those teachers have had all year. It's a disgrace - and you can tell your little woman I said so!" I thanked him, and assured him I'd pass on his words of support to Rockston Primary and to Gail herself. Except I think I'll leave out the bit about my "little woman"...

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