Some things happen in schools when you need to put on a united front with your fellow staff.
You would imagine that, if a child swears, trashes the classroom or physically tries to harm someone else, that this would be the time when the headteacher steps in to deal with the dangerous behaviour and explain why it’s unacceptable.
However, this is not always the case.
As an NQT, I had a particularly challenging child in my class, who made day-to-day teaching a struggle.
Regularly, this child would defy adults, mock everyone around him, swear, bully other children, tap stationery on the table incessantly, interrupt people, try to leave the classroom and randomly hide under tables.
Tearing the classroom apart
Obviously, these things grate on you, your support staff and the other pupils in the class.
At the time, this behaviour was managed by dishing out warnings and sanctions, such as contacting his parents.
These would subdue the low-level disruption temporarily. But, when more severe behaviour occurred, I expected unquestioning support from those senior leaders around me. I believed there would be an unequivocal offer to help tackle such behaviour.
But this was sorely lacking.
After one incredibly unbearable morning, I’d had enough. I kept the child in at lunchtime, read him the riot act, informed him that his parents would be coming in after school and that he wouldn’t be back in the classroom for the rest of the day, or possibly longer.
Suffice to say, the child didn’t take the news well. His face turned to steel immediately and, with all the force of an active volcano, he started tearing apart anything that wasn’t nailed down.
Pencil pots were thrown against the walls, displays were torn, chairs were tipped upside down. A number of weary-looking books from the book corner perished in the destruction.
Letting the demolition unfold
Rather than try to apprehend the child, I let the demolition unfold. I was the only adult nearby and didn’t want to risk physically restraining the child, in case this could be used against me.
After what seemed like hours of onslaught, and with the help of some brave support staff, I managed to get the child to the headteacher’s office. I thought this would be a zone of relative safety, and a place where I would have a chance to offload and share the burden.
We entered the office, the child reluctant and me relieved to be able to get back-up from senior leadership.
I explained the disaster that had just befallen the classroom as calmly as possible, outlined the behaviour that had led to this, and explained that I wasn’t prepared to have a child in my class who would be a danger to the environment.
I waited for confirmation.
To my astonishment, the headteacher, in a soothing, compassionate teacher voice, proceeded to explain calmly to the child that his behaviour was not good enough.
The head asked the boy why he had done this, reminded him of the school’s value words, and asked if it would happen again.
Obviously, the child said no. The head then let him out to lunchtime, and told him that he would be able to return to class that same afternoon, after a cool-off period, if he could show a change in attitude.
Grow a spine
Needless to say, I was truly shocked by this. I would certainly have told the headteacher where to go if this had happened once I’d had more experience with these situations. I wouldn’t have gone to the head at all, if I had known they would react like this.
They certainly didn’t have my back. Later, I found out that the head wanted to appease the boy’s parents, who were concerned that their child was being singled out and treated unfairly by staff.
What a load of rubbish. The head should have grown a spine and laid out the truth: that this child is an annoyance and a danger to his classmates.
That child destroyed my classroom, which I then had to sort out with the help of my support staff. The head offered no help whatsoever.
Even worse was that the child was back in class later that day, doing the same annoyingly low-level stuff he had been doing for the whole year.
I’d like to see this headteacher try teaching this child for a week and see if they would be as sympathetic then to the parents.
It’s easy to distance yourself from the situation. But backing your teacher’s judgement in a situation like this is so important.
This incident made my teaching life more difficult in the short term. But it also left me disillusioned for a while about the profession as a whole.
The author is a teacher in South London
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