What keeps me awake at night - It's dangerous to leave an empty suit in charge

4th October 2013 at 01:00

I teach at a seaside school and the community is a melting pot, ranging from academics to ageing hippies. Some children come to school smelling of the smoke from their parents' "recreational" activities. It's that sort of place.

The students' behaviour often reflects their parents' attitude to authority, so you have to be a strong teacher. For example, when I started at this school, some 12-year-olds taunted and threw apple cores at me. This set the tone for what to expect in the future.

The principal is a slovenly, greasy-haired character who has been resting on his laurels for a number of years. He avoids confrontation with the parents at all costs and never supports the teachers when a problem occurs. Laughably, he is a teaching principal. Each week, his class runs amok. Discipline is a foreign concept.

I had the dreaded job of teaching the recorder to his class. On one particular day as I walked in, I saw that they were busy finishing an art project that required the use of Stanley knives. I could see they were enjoying it, and when they caught sight of me, they groaned.

I was annoyed, because the principal had just left the children to continue with their art instead of finishing the lesson in preparation for me. I was left with the job of persuading them to clean up.

One of the boys walked right up to me. He swiped the knife across my throat, and yelled, "I can kill you at any time!"

I was mortified but was able to calm him down and continue dazedly with the lesson.

When I reported the incident to the principal, his only reaction was that he wished it had been a different boy whom he wanted an excuse to get rid of.

No action was taken until the board insisted that the child be suspended for three days and apologise to me. By that stage, it was far too late for any punishment to be meaningful.

The writer is a teacher from New Zealand.

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