When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough go and have a little cry in the corner

I don’t often blog about the reality of teaching. It’s what one would describe as a CLM (career limiting move). But despite that, here I go nonetheless. Mainly because I need some sleep which means this scenario rolling around in my head needs to be fed to the ether and go away.

I profess about being fine and dandy in my wheelchair. And to a degree I am. It’s my safety net, my means of mobility, and a damned fine piece of equipment. It’s also a bit of a prison. It makes me physically lower than any child I teach who stands up. It makes me feel vulnerable…. And like hyenas, kids in senior school can smell the fear of a teacher.

This particular class is year 8 (that’s 7th grade in the US), so one of the youngest  years in the school. I’d had two hours of incredible lively and productive lessons with them where they are creating animated videos about how words and images are stored as binary. The kids were lapping it up and I was throwing house points about like it was Hogwarts.

Then it changed. My classes have a seating plan so I know who sits where and I can manage behaviour. These two particular boys were not going near each other (a few weeks back  I’d already had to put myself physically between them as they went nose to nose, and that was going to happen again over my dead body). So anyway, my classroom, my rules.

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Or not apparently. At age 12, we deem it acceptable to shout across the room “I’m not moving, what are you going to do about it?”; at age 12, we deem it acceptable to square up to a female teacher with clenched fists; at age bloody 12, we deem it acceptable to be physically threatening towards a member of staff and then verbally threaten them. What a charmer!

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Because of the physical surroundings & availability of staff at that time, I had to take a decision over whether I backed down and lost authority for the rest of the year with them, or stood my ground and face what I perceived to be the very real possibility of being physically assaulted. (I’ve been working with volatile kids for long enough to tell which ones are mouth & no trousers and which are ready to swing). I trusted my gut on this and ditched any respect – this was the first time since I left youth offending that I’ve felt genuinely concerned for my physical safety. My decision was based very much on the images in my head of the level of damage that child could do. If standing up can take out a hip, what would a punch thrown in anger do? I certainly don’t have the speed or mobility to duck.

And so here I am at nearing 1am with the scenario rolling around in my head.

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Legally & contractually I cannot refuse to teach this child. That’s not the way through this anyway. There is an inception style level of issues that this has raised for me.

Top level: What string of events has led this child to think that it’s acceptable to be physically threatening in order to get his way? I’m angry at myself for backing down as any threat I make now is useless (I threatened management, but they never came).

Dig deeper: What have I missed that could give me the key into a positive dialogue? What if that had been another student he tried to intimate?

Dig deeper: I allowed myself to be intimidated by a 12 year old. And the class saw. Most are just used to him & roll their eyes – how is that fair on them? What if we’re not seeing this happen to others? If I was scared, how does a tiny year 7 feel?

Dig deeper: is this about one child kicking off, or a deeper fear that I don’t have the same authority that I had as an able bodied teacher? Without the same mobility or ability to physically defend myself, should I be teaching?

And there’s the big question. This year I have seen a marked increase in aggressive behaviour, but also a marked decrease in support from parents (gone are the days of a phonecall home resulting in punishment – it’s now more likely that they’ll be a complaint about you picking on their darling little thug
Before you grab your pitchforks, 90% of the kids we teach are amazing. They shine. I love spending my days with them, but that 10% is killing your child’s chances of getting the new, harder levels expected because of all the disruption. If your child is that 10%, I’m here to help you, but if you fight me as much as your child does, the overseas job sounds much rosier, as does developing that app.). If there are not systems in place, not just in school, but at home as well, to demand a level of respect for those adults in charge, is teaching a career for someone with a physical disability? In fact, is teaching something anyone would want to do?

Edit: this took me a few days to post as it shook me. I’m still questioning my personal safety, but moreso my competence as a teacher, because it’s what we do as teachers…. WWW & EBI (what went well & even better if)

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3 thoughts on “When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough go and have a little cry in the corner

  1. I am SO glad you wrote this post. I haven’t been taught for 13 years, and when I did it was 5-year-olds. Certainly a challenge, but of a different kind. My daughter, on the other hand, is now student teaching 9th graders (thank you, BTW for the U.S. equivalent in your post), and deals with similar situations to what you describe here. I feel like I’m living my teaching days all over again through her, partly because she lives at home, we’re close, and she talks to me just about every day, trying to work through this kind of thing as it happens to her.

    I love how you describe your thought process, as you dig deeper into what’s going on in this particular situation. For one thing, you very closely echo how I’ve been trying to process a very difficult situation in my current workplace. And, too, I see such similarities between your teaching (as you’ve described it over time) and the kind of teacher my daughter is. The pair of you are the best thing that could ever happen to any kids that come through your classroms. I salute you. 🙂

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