When I cracked and lost my temper with a pupil, I realised I had been too cutting

8th March 2013 at 00:00
I failed my own acid test: I would never have behaved that way if another adult happened to be in earshot

This is the story of an apology made to a pupil some time after I was less professional than I would have liked to have been. He was a third-year boy in my first third year for a number of years, where there was a critical mass of rebels. Another explanation is that I had become deskilled, having been seconded for the previous two years.

"You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilisation from barbarism," wrote John Buchan in The PowerHouse. "I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass. A touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reign of Saturn." If the sheet of glass hadn't shattered in 3E, it was certainly cracking, and so was I.

One day, to my shame, I lost my temper when I asked a boy to step outside for words in the corridor. My intention had been to give a theatrical display of displeasure. It wasn't theatrical, rather, a full-blown, beetroot-faced, ill-considered rant. It didn't work, either. A discussion with the boy's mother, prompted by a comment on a report, did, helped by the removal of another lad to a colleague's class.

When things were better, I spoke to the boy. I told him that I wasn't sorry I had told him off for poor behaviour. I know I did him a favour in that respect. The sheet of glass had been thinnest in my class, but it would have cracked elsewhere sooner or later. But I was sorry about the time I had lost my temper. He nodded.

I've said before that I don't believe there is such a thing as being "politically incorrect". It is invariably a synonym for being wrong. My acid test as to whether something I might say about another race, religion or minority group is the right thing to say is whether I should come out with it in the presence of someone of that race, faith or group.

Actually, that's not true. Being in a mixed marriage, I had great fun, especially with my much-missed mother-in-law, saying things that, out of context, would have sounded pretty off. I remember fondly her mock outrage when I replied to one of the children who asked who Tiny Tim was.

I realise that there is a similar test I could have applied that would have helped me avoid foaming at the mouth in front of a wean. It's simple. Would I have said what I said, in the manner that I said it, in front of another adult? In the case of the incident described, the answer is no. I'm sorry. I hope we can move on.

Gregor Steele, Scottish Schools Education Research Centre, can think of plenty of other things for which he should apologise.

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