Monday, April 26, 2010

"When we grew up and went to school..."

Roger Waters described a brutal, abusive teacher hammering his students in Pink Floyd's The Wall:

When we grew up and went to school,
There were certain teachers
Who would hurt the children anyway they could.
By pouring their derision upon anything we did,
Exposing every weakness, however carefully hidden by the kids.

But in the town it was well known
When they got home at night
Their fat and psychopathic wives
Would thrash them within inches of their lives

Perhaps when Waters was in school back in the 1950s this was how it was: abusive teachers battering the children. By the time I was growing up things were shifting back the other way. The teachers were being rendered impotent as their ability to discipline children was gradually removed by frantically protective parents.

When I taught teenagers in Japan I was amazed at the weakness of the teachers' arsenal in dealing with student disruption. I had classes where we teachers stood by with fixed smiles, practically waiting for the disruptive students to decide to stop messing about before we started to teach. The class was dictated by the bullies, not the teachers. Meanwhile the disciplined students were sitting there, doing nothing, morale and interest slipping away.

My Japanese students were mostly harmless enough and the disruption tended to be pretty innocent. How such a tolerant system would work in a rougher school I can't imagine. But I understand that teachers are placed under immense strain sometimes to somehow control the disruptive students without reverting to abuse, and still engaging the brightest students too. I also know that some students delight in tormenting teachers, safe in the knowledge that their constant, low-level abuse isn't enough to provoke any serious response.

And then, this happened...

Nottingham Crown Court was told students were filmed calling Mr Harvey a "psycho" moments before the attack.... after a girl with behaviour difficulties started being disruptive it was alleged he kicked her, Mr Rafferty said.

He added: "She left the classroom in a state of tears and some of the class took exception to the way she had been treated and started calling him a psycho.

"He didn't seem to respond to that and told the class to get on with their work."

The schoolboy victim then started waving a wooden metre rule and a metal Bunsen burner about in "high jinks" before he was attacked, the court heard.

Mr Harvey chased him round the classroom and the boy swore at him, the jury was told.

Mr Rafferty said: "That seems to have lit the blue touch paper because Mr Harvey grabbed him by his collar and started dragging him out of the classroom.

"He threw him to the ground and armed himself with a 3kg dumbbell and began to hit the boy about the head with it.

"He struck at least two blows to the head which caused serious injury, really serious injury.

"At the time the blows were being struck Mr Harvey was only heard to say one thing.

"What he was saying was 'die, die, die'."

I guess this teacher was emotionally unstable to start with. But his mad burst of violence is easy to understand as the final revenge of a bullied victim. The tables are turned in many schools now, and when teachers are denied legitimate, safe ways to discipline students some kind of unhealthy reaction (confrontation with or capitulation to the disruptive) may ensue.

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