Lesson #17 : Images Live to Learn, Learn to Live

The event that provoked that tremendously original remark went something like this.

A sec. 5 student, let’s call her Susan, following an argument with me, her teacher, had left class in a huff, and in so doing had countermanded my direct instruction not to do so. I had stood in front of her to prevent her from leaving which, admittedly, was wrong. Not only that but I went after her and confronted her in the halls, asking her to get back to class. In response, she actually put her hands on me, moved me out of her way, and continued down the hall, screaming “don’t touch me, don’t touch me” which I never did, either in the classroom or in the hall.

Other teachers may have taken another way out and allowed the student to leave the classroom in order to prevent the escalation of this unpleasantness but not me. No sirree. I was always uncomfortable with student attempts, throughout a thirty-four year teaching career, to take action which contradicted what I had told them to do and what was expected of them in certain situations. I believed and still do that successful classroom management depends on obedience to the teacher as the authority figure. I never asked for automatic respect because respect has to be worked for and earned by any authority figure. I never expected automatic respect but I did require obedience in the name of order in the classroom and no I wasn’t a fascist teacher, far from it. Ask any of my students.

I had previously become angry at one of the vice-principals in the school I was working in at the time. I had kicked a student out of class and was surprised and somewhat shocked to see this vice strolling into the same class, that same student in tow, telling me, in front of my class, that I had to readmit that student. We then both left the class and discussed the situation quietly outside the classroom. I was stridently arguing against the student’s readmission basically on the grounds that doing so would have undermined my authority. I stopped when this guy pulled rank, saying that I was being insubordinate, which I was, that being grounds for disciplinary action which I was trying to avoid for obvious reasons. Thus I was forced to allow the student back into class, a very humbling experience. In a different situation, that action could have proved disastrous in terms of my future ability to control the class. However, I got along with the vast majority of my students and there was no blowback from this incident.

Another time in a discussion with this same guy about kicking kids out of class, he argued that in a private school which this was, with parents paying tuition, every child had a right to be in class, to get an education. He was had no comeback when I asked him about the rights of the other students in the class who were being distracted from their efforts to learn by the inappropriate behaviour of the offending student. “What about them?” I asked. What about them, indeed? No answer from my boss. Complete silence. It was school policy – he could have said that – but he couldn’t even get that together.

Like I was saying, I had gone after the student who had defied me by leaving my class because I couldn’t allow my authority to be challenged, let alone undermined. I returned to class, finished the period and headed off to the principal’s office to report the incident. I usually tried to avoid getting the office involved in disciplinary matters between me and my students but couldn’t let this incident go due to the fact that Susan had accused me, loudly during our exchange in the halls, of touching her, a very serious charge for any teacher to have to confront. I can only think of one other charge which, being criminal, would have been more serious.

Turns out that Susan had preceded me to the office and recited her version of the incident, including the fact that according to her, I had touched her. I was therefore forced to defend myself, denying ever having laid hands on her as well as telling the truth, that it was the other way around, that she had in fact touched me. What a fucking liar. Anyway after a few minutes of back-and-forth, I convinced the principal of my innocence, or so I thought at the time. In fact she told me, upon my asking her directly, that she believed my version of the incident so I left the office, feeling vindicated but humbled.

Fancy my surprise when I was called into the principal’s office a couple of days later and told, in the presence of a different vice-principal this time, that her parents, along with Susan had come in and had complained about the fact that I had hit or touched their precious daughter. It seemed that the principal now believed them. When I asked her what had changed her mind, she said it was because the kid had bawled. “You should have seen the tears, Jerry.” The vice then stood up for me and asked why I would have come to the office to report an incident where I had been clearly in the wrong? In other words, why would I have reported an incident where I had actually laid my hands on a student? The principal’s answer: “Sometimes the best defense is a good offense”, a cliché which applied to Susan’s behaviour, but not to mine. Too bad I didn’t think of saying that at the time but what I did do was to refuse to write the letter of apology to Susan and her parents which the principal was demanding from me. My answer was: “If you want a letter of apology, you’re going to write it yourself because I won’t” or words to that effect.

I then stomped out of the principal’s office and that’s the last I ever heard about the this incident. Surprisingly or maybe not.

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