The Corridor of DeathOctober 25, 2006
The worst news in teaching seems to arrive at the most inconvenient times. Friday afternoon, while preparing for an imminent lesson with bottom set year ten, is not a good time for anything. But that was when my Head Of Department at Stafford Grove School, Mertha, decided to tell me I was changing classrooms. This meant:
- I would have to spend hours moving.
- All the preparation of my own room that I had already done was a waste of time.
- I would have to use a room with an incredibly inconvenient lay-out.
If I thought I’d had a choice I would have refused point-blank. It turns out another member of the department had refused and threatened to leave rather than move down the corridor. As ever, I accepted my lot.
I knew the corridor through the department was unruly. I’d raised it at the very first department meeting of the year. In particular I’d pointed out that:
- The “one-way system” in the corridor was never obeyed or enforced.
- The lights were constantly being switched off.
- The corridor was being used by approximately half the school population during lesson change-overs.
Of course my comments were ignored by Mertha and by Claire, the Deputy Head, who was also at the meeting.
It was only after I’d moved to the middle of the corridor that I learnt just how bad the situation was. Right away I discovered that my year 11 classes had no intention of going the correct way down the corridor and that at the end of the school day children would congregate outside my classroom in front of the fire escape. A few weeks later, I discovered that the fire escape was the main method of entrance to the building for students skipping classes and ex-students sneaking on to the site for purposes of petty theft. I discovered this when another teacher left my door unlocked and I returned to find my desk had been kicked in and every item of value removed from the drawers (admittedly that consisted only of chocolate bars and gel pens I’d been storing as bribes …. I mean prizes for my form). As a result I also learnt that although there were CCTV cameras at both ends of the corridor, there were none on my room or the fire exit next to it. In a similar way, I would later learn that bolting the fire exit to stop students breaking the rules by coming into the building through it was a violation of health and safety rules. Because different year groups had lunch at different times this guaranteed that during any lesson taught for one year group during another year group’s lunchtime ten or twenty kids would accumulate loudly in the corridor outside my classroom, waiting for whichever lessons would follow mine.
However, the repeated disruption and the many incidents of theft and vandalism that my classroom was subjected were not the worst part of being in the middle classroom in the Corridor of Death. The many inconveniences of the classroom itself, such as the seating arrangements that prevented students from being clearly visible, or the Interactive Whiteboard that didn’t actually work were also not the worst part. The true threat from the corridor was a more simple one: violence. Not long after moving rooms I saw a couple of the most emotionally disturbed students attempting to go the wrong way down the corridor when it was at its most crowded. In the resulting scrimmage a couple of more experienced members of staff actually took part in the physical restraining of the two students (to the shouts of “you can’t do that” from Lunatic A and Lunatic B). A few weeks later my own efforts to convince my year 11s from taking a short cut by going the wrong way down the corridor soon established that other people’s year 11s would just push past me. As the weeks went on I realised pushing and shoving of teachers was commonplace in the corridor. One tall male pupil pushed a female teacher up against the wall and held her there. Teachers began hiding in their classrooms.
As ever in teaching the first rule of behaviour management applied: “Whatever is normal is acceptable”. The corridor became the place to cause chaos. At the bottom of the corridor there was a door to the roof, and before too long it was broken open and it started to became my duty to remove students from the roof. The violence became so normal that I looked up the rules on using physical restraint and began weighing in, physically pushing kids out of the fire exit when safety and order required it (as ever to the cry of “you can’t do that”). One year ten boy started turning up after school, standing outside my classroom and pushing and shoving to get in. After the third incident in which he assaulted me I managed to get him suspended. It turned out that nothing had been done about the previous two incidents – I’d foolishly reported them using the school discipline system.
The assaults from this boy were a key part of my decision to leave the school. Once I’d got a job elsewhere I felt far happier to ignore the chaos outside my room. The school’s Senior Management Team (SMT) didn’t care – I’d seen the Head let kids walk the wrong way down the corridor – so why should I enforce the rules there? However it was only a matter of time before SMT would notice the violence in the corridor and look for teachers to blame. I was eating my lunch in the department office when the Assistant Head turned up to say the noise in the corridor was interrupting his lesson. He suggested that two colleagues and I give up our lunch to take shifts patrolling the corridor. I pointed out that:
- It was not our job.
- We had lessons to prepare.
- None of us were being paid to organise lunch duties.
- Every person who was paid to manage the department was safely hidden on the other side of the school as they were every lunch break.
He left, and the following day Claire called me in to her office to complain about my lack of cooperation. I pointed out that I’d raised the problem of the corridor at the start of the year. I pointed out that nobody patrolled it during my lessons. I pointed out that I was not being paid to organise lunch duties. Somehow, her efforts to tell me off ended up with her agreeing to raise the issue of supervision of the corridor at the next SMT meeting. Of course, nothing will ever actually be done. But with me long gone the Corridor of Death becomes the responsibility of the next generation of teachers in the department at Stafford Grove School. Curiously they mainly seem to be supply teachers on temporary contracts.
I can’t imagine why they can’t retain permanent staff.