Getting “Terrored”March 18, 2007
At the Metropolitan School “terror” is a verb, not a noun. “To terror a teacher” means to subject a teacher to a continual stream of intimidation and abuse with the intention of causing the maximum amount of stress. The main purpose of this is to intimidate the teacher into giving up on any attempt to enforce the rules. Also it can be used to attempt to drive the teacher out of the school, or as a way for students to assert their status or authority with their peers. Consequently it is aimed largely at teachers who are new to the school, or at least new to the class, although if a class is arrogant enough it will be aimed at any teacher who expects them to behave.
Terroring begins with low level disruption. Admittedly everything at the Metropolitan school begins with low level disruption. However, if you are getting terrored then any effort to prevent the disruption or enforce the school rules will lead to escalation through the following stages:
Stage 1: Argument
This begins with “We are allowed to…” or “But you….”
- “We are allowed to drink water in class.”
- “We are allowed to sit where we like.”
- “We are allowed to keep our coats on.”
- “We are allowed to listen to music in the lesson.”
- “We are allowed to talk if we want to.”
- “But you haven’t given me a pen”
- “But you haven’t told us what to do”
- “But you can’t make me sit on my own.”
- “But you can’t make us do work if we don’t want to”.
All of which will be said in the most aggressive tone imaginable and in defiance of all the facts. The intention is to start an argument. Whether you give them the argument or not makes no difference as to what happens next.
Stage 2: Accusation
- “You give us detentions for nothing.”
- “You don’t help us.”
- “You don’t explain nothing.”
- “You gave me a warning for asking for help.”
- “You never told us what to do.”
- “You pick on boys.”
- “You pick on girls.”
- “You pick on me.”
- “You make everything complicated.”
- “You don’t explain things properly.”
- “You don’t know how the rules work.”
The accusations will be repeated by several students and any effort to point out the facts will lead to a different accusation being made.
Stage 3: The Strop
One of the ringleaders in the class will soon lose their temper. It will happen regardless of how you have responded to Stage 1 or Stage 2. Triggers can include:
- Arguing with them.
- Enforcing the rules.
- Reminding them of the rules.
- Asking them not to interrupt you when you are talking to another child.
- Setting work.
- Correcting their mistakes.
- Asking to see their work.
- Looking at their work.
- Talking to them.
Once triggered the strop, delivered at high volume, often while standing, will contain the following three elements: accusation, threat and abuse in any order.
- “You didn’t help me (accusation). I’m complaining to my parents (threat). You’re a knob (abuse).”
- “I’m going to get you fired (threat). You’re a fucking wanker (abuse). You gave me a detention for nothing (accusation).”
- “My Dad’s going to batter you (threat). You’re picking on me (accusation). You smell (abuse).”
The verbal abuse and threats will not shock the class. Many will be very entertained and be waiting for the next stage.
Stage 4: The Appeal to their Peers
In this stage the aggrieved child will seek and receive support from the rest of the class, particularly their friends. The support is automatic, they wouldn’t seek it if there was ever any doubt that it would be forthcoming. The child will ask others to support their accusation, to agree with their opinion, to express their disapproval of the teacher.
- “He’s lying. Put your hand up if you think he’s lying”
- “Everybody hates you”
- “You will all back up my story won’t you?”
Alternatively they might ask others to join in with their behaviour:
- “We should all get sent out”
- “We should all walk out”
- “What are you going to do if we all refuse to work?”
Stage 5: The Copycats and the Stressmongers
When you have done your best to deal with the ringleader (usually by getting them to leave the room, which they will do as slowly as possible, with extra abuse along the way, and comments about how they will not be punished for what they are doing as it’s all your fault) then you will be faced with two twin threats.
Stressmongers will say things to you to make the situation seem even worse:
- “You can’t control us can you, Sir?”
- “Are you having a bad day?”
- “Why are you looking unhappy?”
- “Did you know nobody’s doing any work?”
- “What are you going to do when Kelly’s Dad comes in to batter you?”
- “You got terrored.”
Copycats will wait their turn to also lose their temper in the style of the now departed ringleader. If you ask them to work they will strop. If you let them sit doing no work they will start breaking rules (eg. leaving their seat, getting their phones out, getting their lunch out). The moment you remind them of the rules they will become irate and you will be back at Stage 3. If you just ignore their rule-breaking they will start throwing things or hitting one of their friends. You now have a no win situation. If you tell Chelsea to stop throwing things at Damien then Chelsea will lose her temper. If you don’t, then Damien will lose his. Alternatively somebody else might start doing something dangerous (swinging on chair, sticking their pen in a plug socket) so you have to intervene and give somebody an excuse to lose their temper with you. There is no way to stop the copycats any more than you could have prevented any other of the steps.
So what can you do about being terrored?
I’ll tell you: you can get used to it. It’s not going away. Until schools are allowed to adopt a policy of permanent exclusion for verbal abuse of staff the feeling of power terroring a teacher gives a child will outweigh any deterrent value of any punishment. The best you can hope for is that SMT have their act together enough to act after the first time it happens. Otherwise it will probably happen every lesson and you will be told it is your fault.
Of course if it does start happening every lesson and you are on supply this is the point where you quit, and if you are a permanent member of staff this is when you start to call in sick with stress. However be aware that if any of the class ever see you again, even in the street, their first words to you will be:
“You got terrored”.