This has shocked me.
I’m used to seeing and encountering aggression, I’m used to hearing teachers complain of being hit, spat at, bitten and sworn at. I’ve had it happen to me. But just because I’ve come across it before, it doesn’t stop me being horrified that it occurs.
The author of the blog is on the Teach First scheme, which is designed to bring those with Oxbridge degrees into the profession. She has left a well-paid job in another sector in order to bring her skills and expertise into teaching. And this is how she is rewarded.
She’s worked hard, completed an intensive course in teaching skills and theory (whether you agree with it or not is entirely immaterial) and is trying to bring order and intelligence into the classroom.
Under no circumstances has she warranted this.
In many workplaces there are signs stating that action (probably involving prosecution) will be taken against those who threaten or abuse staff.
And quite rightly so.
No-one should be exposed to threats to their safety from others when they are doing a job that tries to help.
I’ve seen variations on this poster in doctors’ surgeries, tube and rail stations, council offices and even in libraries!
But I’ve never, ever seen one in a school.
Why not? What does this say about teachers? About our profession?
I brought this up in conversation with a head once. A teacher had been pinned to the wall by an irate parent because he had given a child a lunchtime detention. The child had failed to show up for it, so the teacher had telephoned home. Instead of supporting the teacher’s attempts to instill some discipline in his offspring, the parent came storming into the school at the end of the day, grabbed the parent by the throat and held him against a wall in the corridor.
The head negotiated with the parent, promising that he would have a meeting with the teacher about the incident (that is, the giving of the detention in the first place, not the failure of the child to turn up) as long as he let go of the teacher. Eventually the parent was persuaded, dropping the teacher with the words ‘My son don’t do detentions,’ and stormed out of the school.
What happened next really surprised me.
The teacher was visibly shaken about the level of aggression he had encountered, and clearly in shock as he was shaking uncontrollably and sweating profusely. It was obvious to all that he needed medical attention. The head calmly put an arm out to him and helped him into the staffroom. The head asked those of us in the staffroom to make a cup of tea for the teacher, whilst he ‘went to sort this out’.
I had expected that to mean that he was going to call an ambulance and the police, after all, the teacher had clearly been injured in an assault. None ever arrived. Instead, the head reappeared after 20 minutes, saying that that things were under control and that he needed to have a quiet word with the teacher in his office.
Those of us left in the staffroom speculated about what this could involve – would the pupil be excluded? Expelled? The teacher given time off to recover? Given support and counselling? We were told to go home, take our marking with us, and that there would be a meeting at 8:00 the following day about the incident, to which all staff were expected to attend.
The meeting was an eye-opener. The head outlined the incident, which had been witnessed by nearly a dozen members of staff. He stated that it had been dealt with, the parent was to be barred from coming on to school premises for two months, and the child was to receive a three-day internal exclusion. We were told that the school took such incidents seriously, and that the head felt it was his duty to protect the staff. He said that other public sectors protected their staff, and that it was his duty to do the same.
It was at this point that I mentioned the signs I had seen in various workplaces, stating that violence towards staff would not be tolerated. I suggested that the school could put one up in the entrance hall so that all visitors knew the school policy on this. I was told firmly, but politely that such a notice would not be appropriate. I did wonder why, but the rest of the meeting made the rationale behind this clear to me.
The teacher had been given one day off, and was expected in the following day. We were told that any discussion of the incident with anyone not connected with the school was forbidden, and would breach confidentiality. Yes, that’s right. No-one outside the school was to be informed of the incident and that included the police.
At that point I contacted my agency and said I didn’t want to work in the school any longer. I had been booked for a long-term supply position for a whole term, but said that I felt the school ethos was difficult to follow, and that I wanted to leave at the end of the week, which luckily coincided with half-term.
I never did find out what happened to the teacher, he didn’t come back for the rest of the time I was at the school. I hope he found another job, because it would only have been detrimental to his health continuing to work in an environment where such incidents are swept under the carpet.
I hope the same thing doesn’t happen to RedPen.