Today I met Shelby.
If you’ve ever been to the school I was at, I’m sure you’ll have met Shelby too. In fact, I imagine every teacher within a ten-mile radius has met Shelby.
Supply work is always thin on the ground the first few weeks of a new term, so when my agency asked me to travel nearly twice my usual maximum distance, I really had little choice – that, or no work.
I arrived at school to be greeted with an ominous warning, “You’re in room C3 all day. That means you’ve got Shelby for a triple period.” As it turned out, I didn’t, but that was down to Shelby, not the timetable.
The first two lessons were fine, the children were generally well behaved and they completed the set work. I began to think that the day was going to be a good one, one where I could actually teach, rather than spend my time on crowd-control. In the staff-room at break I chatted to some of the other teachers, a number of them had come to the school as supply teachers and had stayed on as permanent staff.
The third period was, again, a good lesson. At the end of it, one of the children came up to me and said “Good luck, Miss. You’ve got Shelby next!” I began to wonder just how bad this child was, if other children were warning me about her.
As the Year 10s filed in to the classroom, I was struck by the look of utter dejection on the faces of some. A look that said they were worn out and worn down, and there was nothing they could do to alleviate it. A look that you really shouldn’t see on the face of a 15 year old.
The children sat down and I started to take the register. They weren’t chatty or fidgety, which is how children normally behave when meeting a new supply teacher. They just looked utterly exhausted. Not one of them stood out from the others in any way, so I began to think that Shelby wasn’t in the class.
And then I reached her name on the register.
As soon as I had called it out a whirlwind burst through the door and shouted “Yeah, I’m here. Who the f**k wants to know?” Apparently Shelby had been hiding round the corner, waiting to make her big entrance.
She flounced in, waving her bag around and made her way to the back of the class, hitting a boy on the head as she went by. He didn’t look round or complain, he simply rubbed the part where the bag had hit him with one hand, and took his pencil case out of his bag with the other. None of the other children looked up, they just kept their heads down and sat quietly. Shelby, it was clear, ruled the class, and the other children were cowed by her.
She sat down and noisily rummaged around in her bag before bringing out an ipad. She waved it around in the air and told everyone to look at the new cover – wasn’t it lovely? Weren’t they jealous that they didn’t have one? I told her to put it away, that the lesson was about to begin and she was expected to take part. At this, Shelby stood up and declared that she would only take part if she wanted to. That I couldn’t make her and she had a right not to take part. One of the boys told her to sit down and shut up, to which she replied “f**k off!”
The school behaviour policy stated that if a pupil swore in class they would get a detention, no matter whether it was aimed at a member of staff or another child. If their behaviour didn’t improve, or they did it again, they were to be sent to the exclusion room. But I’d been told to keep Shelby in the class, so the only sanction I had was a detention. I told her that if she swore again she would be getting a departmental detention, hoping that the threat would act as a deterrent – I knew that once I had actually issued the detention I had no other sanction I could impose. And so, it turned out, did Shelby.
I looked at the clock. Two minutes into the first period, and she was meant to be there for three, the first one before lunch, the remaining two after it. I felt that this was going to be a very long lesson…
The class had been set a test for the first period, and this was to be completed in silence. As soon as I gave the class the instructions I knew that Shelby wouldn’t be following them. I handed the papers out and asked if everyone was ready. Shelby was silent.
I told the class to begin, at which Shelby stood up, stretched and darted forward snatching a pen out of the hand of the girl opposite. The girl cried out, and Shelby threw it back to her, hitting her in the face. I asked her if she was hurt, but she just shrugged her shoulders and carried on. I told Shelby off, but her reply was “What the f**k am I supposed to do then? I don’t have a pen – give me one.” I told Shelby that I didn’t have pen, and that she really should come prepared to lessons. This caused a stream of expletives, peppered with the occasional bit of coherent speech. It turned out that she was trying to tell me that the class teacher kept a stash of pens in her desk and that I should hand her one of those. I looked in the desk, sure enough there was a box of pens there. On the lid they were labelled ‘For Shelby’.
Ordinarily, I would send a pupil out for behaviour like that, but I’d been told to keep her inside the classroom so she had a chance to complete the test. The fact that keeping her inside the classroom was having a detrimental effect on the other pupils’ ability to complete the test didn’t seem of any concern to SMT. I looked again at the behaviour policy, and issued the detention. Shelby responded by swearing loudly and saying that she wasn’t going to do it. The other pupils kept their heads down and tried to continue with the test.
With a pen in her hand Shelby was relatively quiet, and started reading the test paper. She waved the pen over the page and I thought for a moment that she might actually be writing something constructive. When I looked at her paper though, it was clear that she had other ideas. Instead of the diagram she was meant to be drawing, she had drawn what appeared to be a camel. This was labelled ‘Tobyz c**k’. I told her that wasn’t appropriate, and asked her to hand her test paper to me. She refused, saying I was trying to make her fail. I handed her a new test paper and again asked for the one she had drawn on. Shelby refused to hand over the first paper, but decided that she needed the second as well, and snatched it out of my hand. She settled down again and I kept my fingers crossed this would last until the end of the lesson.
After a while, Shelby got bored of turning the paper over and over, and decided to do something else. She tried pulling some of the pages out of the test paper, probably to make paper aeroplanes with, but she ripped the pages as she tried to free them. She took all of her pencils out and carefully sharpened each one, heaping the sharpenings onto the middle of her table. Having completed all this, she got her ruler out and measured the height of the pile of sharpenings, before blowing them into the face of the girl sitting opposite her.
At this point I decided that enough was enough, Shelby was preventing the other children from concentrating, and she would have to leave the room. I didn’t expect her to go to the exclusion room when asked, so I sent one of the other children to fetch a member of SMT. I explained what had gone on, handed over the remaining complete test paper, and Shelby was escorted out. As she left she grabbed a test paper from one of the boys and ripped it in half.
She had been in the room for a total of 12 minutes.
During the lunch break, I sat back and evaluated what had occurred. I thought about the difficulties of supply teaching, and how that differs from being a permanent member of staff. If that had been my class, I would not have tolerated such behaviour. I would have put the needs of many above the needs of one. Shelby wouldn’t have had the opportunity to disrupt the test for the other pupils because I would have put her in another room from the outset. If needed, I would have defended my decision to SMT, but somehow I don’t think there would have been much objection, given that she was collected so swiftly.
And if I had been on the SMT that day? I wouldn’t have given a supply teacher a test to administer with Shelby in the room. And I certainly wouldn’t have told that supply teacher that she must keep Shelby in the room so that she could complete the test. It doesn’t make sense, no matter which way you look at it. If the aim was for Shelby to complete the test, then, knowing she was disruptive and easily distracted, why provide her with the opportunity to be distracted? Why not keep her in isolation so she had no stimuli which might provoke bad behaviour? If the aim was to keep her in the room (and no, I didn’t discover why), then why set a test, knowing that she was likely to be disruptive?
SMT seem to forget that the M stands for Management – they are meant to manage. Providing impossible instructions which provoke an unworkable situation, is not management, it’s mismanagement.
I looked at the school behaviour policy again and my heart sank. Sending a pupil out of class only applied to that one lesson unless it was a double lesson. Triple lessons which have a break in between counted as one single and one double. In other words, Shelby would be back after lunch.
As the class again entered the room, I kept an eye out for Shelby. She was nowhere in sight. She didn’t appear for the register, and I secretly hoped that she had been sent to the exclusion room for the afternoon. I sent the register down to the office with a note about Shelby’s absence.
I began the lesson, and as it was in my subject specialism, I actively taught the topic that had been left. The class were engaged and well-behaved, asking pertinent questions and giving sensible suggestions to questions I posed. There was still no sign of Shelby.
Twenty-five minutes into the lesson, the class were working quietly, when there was an almighty BANG on the window. Everyone stopped working and looked round. Moments before the window had been perfectly clear. Now it showed the spiders-web like pattern of shattered laminated glass, across which, angry black tendrils of paint crept slowly.
Standing a few feet away was Shelby.
She had gone into the caretaker’s shed and had found an opened tin of black paint. Her no-show in class had been noted by SMT who had gone round the site looking for her. Hearing her name being called, and realising why, Shelby had decided to ‘teach the supply a lesson’, and threw the paint tin at the window.
At the end of the school day I went into the staffroom to get a cup of coffee before leaving. The window shattering had made me jump, and I needed the caffeine. One of the SMT came in and we discussed the incident. Apparently it wasn’t the first time Shelby had smashed a window, and, like the last time, they didn’t think her parents would pay for the damage, claiming they couldn’t afford it.
Finishing my coffee, I left, with the final words of SMT echoing in my ears as I crossed the car park, “It wasn’t your fault, Shelby doesn’t do Supply.”