Holiday In Hell: Part 2September 25, 2008
Continuing the account of a school trip.
You will need to read this entry first.
I awoke to find the boys from Anna Brown’s form all over their corridor, bags strewn across the floor. I told them that they, and their bags, should be in their rooms, unless they were showering, or alternatively they could sit in the lounge. It appeared that they were at their most energetic and I repeatedly had to make sure they were not wrestling in the lounge, or turning the lights off and playing in the dark. This wouldn’t have been a problem if it hadn’t been for Jon. First, he wouldn’t leave the corridor at all, then he re-emerged into the corridor in his boxer shorts dancing and singing “Sex Bomb”. Soon he was displaying his packet of chewing gum (prohibited by the residential centre’s rules) blatantly while stood right next to me. My requests for him to hand over the gum resulted in him running at breakneck speed down the corridor. I soon discovered that there was an unlocked kitchen at the near end of the corridor when I had to remove Jon from it. Then he joined the other boys in the lounge and realised that if he held the light switch down then I couldn’t switch the light back on. It was a relief when he decided that if I wouldn’t allow fourteen boys to wrestle in a dark room it was no fun and ran out towards the dining room, but by this point some of the other boys from Anna’s form were beginning to kick off.
I asked two boys who were on the verge of fighting with each other to follow me and went down to the dining room. Jenny Goodyear was in the kitchen and I asked if she could keep an eye on the two boys. She said she was too busy cooking and it was my responsibility so I should put them at the end of the corridor. I did this, only to find Jon there running his fingers across the fire alarm. I decided that I couldn’t hope to deal with Jon and the other boys at the same time. I insisted Jenny come out of the kitchen to speak to me, I told her that there was no way I could deal with Jon and the other thirteen at the same time. She said I’d have to and I pointed out that I had already made it clear that Jon was a health and safety risk and as she hadn’t acted at the time then would have to deal with it now. She told me I couldn’t speak to her like that and that Jon was fine. Then she complained that it was in front of the kids (despite the fact there was nobody in the empty dining room and I had asked her to come out of the kitchen for precisely this reason). I told her that the very first thing I’d do when I got back to school was contact my union rep. about how she’d ignored my repeated warnings about health and safety. She then told me she’d take Jon but she’d have to cancel breakfast. Then she declared that she’d have all the boys and stormed down the corridor to the boys’ dormitories and announced to them, “You all have to come with me because apparently you are wild and out of control.” I said that she only needed to take Jon but in front of the students she refused, leaving me alone in the boys’ corridors.
I took the time alone to recover from the shock of this behaviour on her part. A couple of boys (one from my form, one from Anna’s) came and chatted to me until other boys were sent to tell them to return. A brief walk round gave Jenny the chance to ask me to write a list of students and comments to go on their certificates. She didn’t explain what certificates so I didn’t ask and just did my best sat back in the boys’ corridor. Anna was organising dodgeball in the hall and I popped in to talk to some of my form. I lost my enthusiasm for being there when I caught Jon cheating and Anna ignored me when I pointed it out.
After helping with a number of tasks set by Jenny I joined the students in the dining room and sat alone at the staff table chatting to the students until Jenny came in to declare that nobody was allowed to talk across the room and to tell me to go and help Clark load the van. I complied. I returned and ate with the other staff (breakfast wasn’t cancelled). Jenny had now gained enthusiasm for setting me tasks. Unfortunately my willingness to do them seemed to encourage her to set more tasks – now with the apparent aim of forcing me to assert my authority (particularly over Jon) and then watching closely as if to pick fault. First I had to help with the next round of the “people at my table” quiz. Then I was shocked to hear it announced that all students were to join me in the hall for games. Fortunately Clark decided to join me and did a far better job of organising four-aside football than I could have done. We even managed to stop Jon climbing up the walls in the hall without having to ask more than four or five times. Eventually Jenny came and got Clark to leave and then watched me, but with the game in full swing there was unlikely to be a problem. Having watched for a bit she called the students back to the dining room to sort out last minute packing. Jon began climbing the wall in the dining hall next to Anna. She ignored it.
I was then given the task of helping students pack their bags in the hall with anything they’d bought while orienteering yesterday. This task was made more difficult by Jon trying to join us through the other door despite having nothing to put in his bag. Then Jenny began sending students through the hall with boxes to put next to the front door of the residential centre. The second student she sent was Jon, who on discovering the large collection of “circus toys” left by the youth workers near the door began playing with them with little regard to safety. Then a large crowd of students came through into the hallway leaving it overcrowded and making it hard to stop Jon’s latest antics. I asked what was going on and the students told me that Jenny had sent them through to stand by the door. I went to her and asked what was going on and she told me she was packing and told me off for failing to keep students out of the hall, I didn’t believe that over a dozen students had spontaneously decided to try and line up at the front door and tell me that she’d instructed it, but I felt there was little point arguing about it. I sent them back out. I’d got most of the crowd out, but Jon started claiming that Jenny had told him he should be at the door. I told him he needed to go back and he couldn’t stand near the door (even though I suspected he was correct about Jenny’s instructions there was no way I was prepared to supervise him in a room full of circus toys while also holding back a crowd). At this point he pushed me out of the way (more due to my shock at being attacked in this way than due to his physical strength).
Apalled by the assault, I left the hall through the crowd, finding Anna in the dining room. I asked her to take Jon away immediately as I’d been assaulted. She said, “I’m doing this, you have to sort it.” I couldn’t believe that anybody could take that attitude about a member of their own tutor group and told her: “You don’t tell a teacher who has just been assaulted that they have to sort it themselves,” and left for the calm of the boys’ corridors, which were now cleared and being cleaned, to recover from what was by this point quite an extreme level of stress. After a few minutes a crowd of boys appeared at the door of the connecting corridor. “Miss Goodyear sent us to stay here,” they told me. Fortunately it was mainly boys from my own tutor group and they quickly went back when I told them the rooms were being cleaned. However, I did have to stop to take two sponge balls away from students who were playing with them, unsupervised, at the top of a steep set of stairs.
The cleaner saw I was less than happy and encouraged me to sit in the lounge. I did so, only to see Jon, in the corridor, grabbing at my bags and possessions, presumably because of the two sponge balls beneath them. I sent him away and the cleaner locked the door of the corridor to keep him from rejoining us. Jon appeared to be utterly unsupervised at this point and free to seek me out despite what had happened.
Eventually I heard that it was far quieter outside and I left and was able to join my tutor group in the mini bus. Overall I had actually had a positive time with my tutor group and even most of Anna’s.
However I felt that I had been repeatedly undermined by having my warnings about Jon – based on my own direct observation and professional judgement – ignored and by the way I had been spoken to, particularly in front of my tutor group. I also felt I’d been undermined by being put into a situation where the only meaningful consequence for poor behaviour was one that I couldn’t deliver and where my requests for others to deliver it were ignored.
I felt that students had been repeatedly endangered by being left with Jon, as had Jon himself, and by being in a situation where it was not possible to adequately supervise them. During large parts of Friday morning it appeared that Jon was free to run around doing whatever he liked. There seemed to be no constraint on where he could go unsupervised in the building and even potentially dangerous behaviour was being ignored. I am also concerned about the hygiene implications of asking students to remove litter from bins of dog mess and cleaning up vomit unsupervised. There had been no guidance on health and safety given to staff. Had I known how the two days were to be run and how little control I’d have over the environment my tutor group were in I would never have agreed to attend.
I felt that the way Jenny had treated me personally was not just unprofessional but had become a form of bullying. The use of the technique of announcing what I was going to be doing in front of the students without telling me first placed me in a situation where I had to choose between putting myself in further stressful situations or arguing with another teacher in front of the students. In particular the repeated efforts to get me to supervise Jon after I had explicitly told her that I considered him to be a danger to himself and others seemed designed to cause me ever increasing amounts of stress. Jenny was willing to send Jon to “help” me with washing up but both she and Anna appeared unwilling for the most part to have Jon in the kitchen with them and used the fact that the were carrying out tasks in or near the kitchen as a reason Jon should be supervised by me rather than them.
I felt that I’d been unsupported even when going through the stress of having been assaulted. The cleaner who had locked the door of the corridor to the dormitories to keep Jon out while I composed myself after the assault had told me that I looked physically ill. She saw me in distress and sat me down, locked the connecting door and checked to see if I was okay. My teaching colleagues on the other hand had ignored my distress, and Jenny had even attempted to send all the boys to me while I was in that state. Only Clark asked me at any point during the trip if I was okay. I am still feeling the physical effects of this level of stress.
It’s probably not a shock to discover that nothing much happened as a result of all this. Jon had already got himself (temporarily) excluded for beating up another child in front of a teacher and a room full of children so there was no point trying to get him excluded for his assault on me. Jenny and Anna had rushed to the head first to complain about me (God knows what for) and if any action was taken against Jenny I was not told about it. Nor did it stand in the way of their subsequent promotions, although unconfirmed rumours in the school suggested that Jenny’s meteoric success as the school’s chief appeaser of naughty boys, came to an end after a dispute with a member of senior management.
On the other hand, it didn’t seem to do any permanent damage to my relationship with my form, or my ability to manage their behaviour (which was often positively commented on a couple of years later when they were causing trouble for other members of staff).
The incident also served to educate me in the dishonesty of appeasement. Jenny and Anna encouraged and praised Jon, they ignored awful behaviour and gave him lots of attention. At times this seemed to please him, but ultimately it made no difference; they could not contain him which was why they repeatedly dumped him on me. Appeasement simply doesn’t work for very long, it is a strategy used only to survive long enough to blame somebody else for the resulting mess.
A final note: I cannot imagine going on any school trip where I haven’t handpicked the students for their obedience. Otherwise school trips are simply not worth the risk. The following news stories all involve students being killed or maimed in circumstances where students disobeyed teachers:
Please notice where the finger of blame is usually pointed.