YouTube taught pupil who was beyond teaching

24th September 2010 at 01:00

You may have seen one of our old pupil's claim to fame - it's been a YouTube hit since last year. A CCTV recording of Swansea city centre on a Friday night. The sort of occasion any right-thinking person would do their best to avoid. Jake's special moment is there for all to see. A drunken yob, bare-chested, sees men walking past him, dressed as cartoon versions of women: short skirts, high heels, strappy tops and bizarrely coloured hair of tight curls. These men are clearly an affront to his rigidly constructed world-view. He knows very clearly how men should behave. This is not it.

He and his friend mock them, hurling insults. They ignore him. He chases them and swings a punch. On reflection this may be something which he now regrets. Because he had attacked a member of a local cage-fighting team, dressed for stag-night celebrations. It is over very quickly. In the blink of an eye Jake and his friend are on the ground and their intended victim is picking up his handbag and walking away.

You can't help but get an unworthy thrill of pleasure in these peculiar circumstances. Jake, who tried to destroy the opportunities of others through his disruption of lessons and his permanent hostility, is brought down so suddenly by his target. To see him thus humiliated - and publicly so - has made the staffroom smile. Is this a professional reaction? I don't suppose it is, but it is a human one. It has the welcome simplicity and shape of a work of fiction. A swaggering oaf who unexpectedly finds his moment of fame in a most appropriate manner.

We all enjoyed that moment of revenge, of summary justice that we had all secretly yearned for. None of us could ever support such violence, but it represents the sort of thing we would like to do. All teachers will know that sometimes when we have been pushed to the edge once again, stepping into a simpler set of responses appears so seductive. Events like this bring a proper immediacy to the consequences of your actions, which previously Jake struggled to understand. Now even he could connect the inevitability of action and reaction.

Teaching Jake always was a pointless activity, but it is what we did in the vain hope that we could somehow mitigate the future cost of his behaviour that society would have to face. It is what we do. An obligation drives us which runs deeper than the motivations of those who look down on public service.

We continued to try to do our best for Jake even though what we could offer was constantly rejected. His limited ability was compounded by his hostility. Teachers spent their days cajoling him, encouraging, supporting. It was always futile, but we kept it up, lying to ourselves that he could be redeemed. It can be hard to confront a tide of unreason. We display patience and a calm which can shock outsiders. They do not understand how we put up with the things we have to deal with in the classroom.

We do it because that is what our job is. But it can be very difficult at times because success and gratification are often deferred. We just keep on setting a good example and hoping that somehow or other it will have a positive effect. It hasn't yet had any effect on Jake. He has always regarded our values and our patience as weakness. His world is one where casual unprovoked violence is expected, where casual or accidental eye contact is perceived as a threat. His is not a world that I would happily inhabit. As Jake's actions illustrate, it is a world where surface details are all that matter. The real world, though, is much more complex and he has had to confront it in a painful way.

After all the hurt and pain he has tried to cause others, Jake now has something to carry with him that won't readily go away. Among his peers he is now marked by an indelible stain.

For the cage-fighting team, instant celebrity. Interviews. Transatlantic fame. And for Jake? The shame of being mocked by others who gather outside his house and chant, "Cage fighters!" into the early hours. For Jake this is a bewildering turn of events. When he was in school, he possessed a remarkable insularity - a fear of the richness of the world and its variety. He lived his life through all our complexities and systems - meetings, counselling, support workers, project workers, social workers - and remained untouched by it all. He had no curiosity or interest in anything beyond himself. Instead he believed that he had a right to interfere with other people's lives simply because he didn't like them.

I find myself finally agreeing with Jake's view of my profession. Teachers never had anything to offer to a boy whose claim to fame would be to stagger bare-chested through town until he is thumped by a man wearing a woman's clothes.

Geoff Brookes is deputy head of Cefn Hengoed School in Swansea. All names have been changed.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today