If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Losing it

I feel desperately sorry for this guy.

Not many facts are in the public domain as yet, so any comment would have to come with a health warning that it is based on limited and possibly biased information. But it looks to me as though the guy has just, finally, once and for all, lost it. I doubt if anything was premeditated - just a sad case of a decent man being pushed too far, once too often.

I got out of teaching 14 years ago. I believe that I left at the right time. I started in 1977, when in retrospect things in education were very rosy. Children were generally well-behaved - or at least could be persuaded to behave well by a modest amount of coercion. Parents generally supported schools. Government generally trusted teachers to get on with it. Teachers generally were competent, well-intentioned and respected. (I am aware I have used 'generally' a lot there. Education is always a complex issue, but that is the picture I retain of how it was then.)

I never had any difficulty with discipline, and (at least judging from the number of contacts I get through various networking sites) seemed to have been reasonably popular. And yet by the early 90s, there was a new atmosphere. Pupils were no longer willing to listen or co-operate. and strategies to get the teaching done came to rely more on pleading, coaxing and bribing the kids into working, rather than expecting it because that's what schools were for. Parents were much more demanding and hostile. And school heads were working to inspections, targets and budgets that meant they were more often against their own staff than supporting them. From my point of view, it had stopped being fun, and something isn't fun, you don't do it. I had to take a break due to a serious illness, and took that as the opportunity to duck out permanently. I don't regret it one bit. (Well, I regret losing the holidays and the pay. It was only last year that I managed to get a private sector employer to pay me more than my last teacher's salary, fourteen years later. The holidays were wonderful, but then I was working 70-80 hour weeks in term time, so I suppose it evened out.)

I have only been into a school once since then, when my employer asked me to represent the company on an Industry Awareness event in a local school. I was meant to go and help them with information on how to apply for jobs, what employers would be expecting of them, that kind of thing. I was appalled. Any sense of order was absent, and pupils simply refused to do things if it didn't suit them. The teacher I was paired with was clearly a very intelligent and capable young woman, but she was utterly impotent.

So here's my take on the story above:

Good teacher, well-liked and capable (according to one source I heard, parents were passing his solicitor notes of support even in the middle of court), likes children and loves his subject.

Awkward pupil, awkward age, silly hairstyle, cheeking teacher and refusing to co-operate to make all his mates laugh. Quite possibly been in trouble before with the same teacher, and found that the head and the system favoured him when push came to shove. And says or does just one more thing that pushes teacher over the edge.

Years of frustration, low morale, lack of respect, poor conditions, unrealistic expectations, carrying the can for headteachers' ambitions and politicians' experiments, a decent guy brought to snapping point, and just one word or gesture ...

And he decks the little bastard with a blunt instrument.

I never did anything like that, or even came close to it, but I can understand, and I can sympathise. Dealing with teenagers who know they have you over a barrel makes you lose all self-respect.

So one teacher will probably go to prison, and certainly will never teach again. And one little scrote, assuming he recovers (and despite all the above, I hope he does) will return a hero, and no-one will ever dare to tell him what to do ever again. Which lesson will be keenly apprehended by all his mates, and everyone who reads the story in the press or sees it on TV.

Teachers are powerless.
You can do what you like.
There are no consequences.

And they wonder why there is a recruitment problem. Good luck, Peter Harvey.

Juliette has a good post on the subject here.

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