Response: A Teacher’s Tale

I just read this on my friend’s facebook status and decided that from the other side of the world I should write about it.  As usual, this will be a stream of consciousness so hopefully will make sense! 

 

“So… Some of you will be aware that, between Acting jobs, I work as a Supply Teacher. This past week I’ve been back at a school I regularly work in – no names – teaching a variety of subjects. Wednesday it was PE. Now, PE is a strange one to cover because the kids are not used to me being in anything but a suit and tie however, at least when I teach PE they get to have a practical lesson rather than just sit in a classroom.

“Lesson 3 was a Yr11 (5th year in old money!) lesson in which a number of boys were playing football. Still more boys had “not got kit” (for which they were not reprimanded at all!) but spent the lesson leaning against a wall. At one point, noticing movement out of the corner of my eye, I turned to see the non-participants clustered over at the fence (a tall steel affair with a spiked top – to keep the paedos out! …or, in truth, to keep the kids IN!) One of the boys – a ruddy-cheeked, pretty-boy – had climbed up the fence and as I watched, hawked a great mouthful of phlegm which he then spat at a woman walking past!

“As you can imagine, she was disgusted – as was I! I ushered the boys away from the fence and apologized profusely to the woman – who spoke no English – while the boys jeered and made racist remarks! On taking them “in” I spoke to the Head of PE who had me point out the spitter, who – to my face – refuted the accusation with “He’s a fucking liar, Sir!”

“Now, those of you who know me will, I hope, appreciate the supreme self-control I displayed in that moment by NOT taking the little shit by the scruff of the neck and teaching him a little respect! So, Wednesday was a bad day…

“Yesterday, I was back in the same school. And would you believe it… LAST LESSON FRIDAY (every teacher’s great bugbear) I have this same “character” for a “computer lesson” (work set: research the Sioux). I managed to avoid confrontation for around 40 minutes until, whilst requesting that his friend stop using the F-word quite so continually, he suddenly piped up, “Yeah, he (me) was trying to get me in trouble with Mr. P the other day, saying I was spittin’ at people!”

“You were!” I growled (adrenalin surging through my body)

“That’s fucking bullshit!” He stormed, “I only spat at that one, foreign, woman! You’re a fucking liar!!!”

“Now, gentle reader, at this point, I came VERY close to breaking the law. I threw my pen down and began to rise from my chair. HOWEVER, I controlled myself and forced myself to sit back down. All the while, he continued to swear, whilst grabbing his bag and throwing his coat about him before announcing, “I’m fucking out of here!” and flouncing out.

“As you can, I hope, imagine, I took several very deep breaths and sat grinding my teeth. The rest of the lesson was a complete write-off. Kids swearing, playing games on the computers and kicking tables, chairs, one another!

“I tell you this, not for sympathy, but to say this: This boy is not from a “rough” area. He lives in a sleepy rural town in Middle England! There is NO, absolutely NO excuse for his behaviour. He is a disgusting, foul-mouthed, racist, delinquent. Clearly he is the apple of his mother’s eye, and can do no wrong! We have engendered a culture of tolerance which is going to jump up and bite us, hard. Tolerance of utterly unacceptable behaviour. Excusing this kind of repugnance with all manner of mitigating circumstances!

“Parents. Sometimes your children are disgusting, disrespectful, foul-mouthed, sexist, racist, homo-phobes and that’s all there is to it! Sometimes your children are wrong! Sometimes their behaviour is unacceptable. Sometimes you have to admit this and try to modify this behaviour! Because if you don’t… We are looking at a bleak, bleak future.”

 

This afternoon I met a Malaysian woman here in Luang Prabang.  She began asking me if getting my nose pierced hurt, if I was from London, and if I could answer a question about white people.  She had heard from friends that in England, when you turn 18 you have to leave home.  It’s tricky to try and explain that in some families this is the case – as a Connexions adviser I spoke to loads of teenagers who said they would be told to leave home no matter what they had lined up.  It’s tricky to try and explain that some people really want to leave at 18 and go and explore the world, build up their own home, move away and study. It’s also hard to explain to an inhabitant of Luang Prabang, who considers the city very expensive (my food has been 10,000kip for a meal, which is about 70p) that some people cannot now afford to leave home because there aren’t as many jobs and it’s expensive to live on your own.  I tried to explain.  I’m not sure I did it very well. She laughed and shook her head, because she has 4 children who live with her.  She lives in Laos because her sister married a man from Laos, so they all moved here to be near her.  The extended family share their lives and want to spend time together.  

 

We seem to have lost that in Britain.  We are so caught up in ourselves that wee are building a sense of entitlement into our young people which will only be passed on to future generations. We give our children the latest gadgets because otherwise they might feel as though they missed out. 

 

When I was younger we were not rich.  We did not go abroad for a fortnight every year.  My first trip abroad was when I was 10 and we went to France, drove the whole way to the Dordogne because we could borrow Dad’s former boss’ pigeon house before he lost it in a divorce. I was taught to hold doors open for people, step aside to let people ass, say please and thank you, to not barge in when adults were speaking.  We only got a computer because Mum used my and my brother’s money to get one when I was 11.  We could have lessons in sport or music and books.  We had toys but not all the time and they weren’t always new.  

 

I would never have dared to answer a teacher back (partially because I have a crippling fear of being told off) because I knew that if I was in trouble at school, I’d be in trouble at home. I would never think of spitting at a person, I can’t even stand spitting in the street, I used to get really angry with my ex-boyfriend for doing it. 

 

The a selfish entitlement culture seems to be developing, I think, because of a number of things.  Firstly, people are afraid to speak up against poor or bad behaviour. I’ve been told off before for telling a child that i think they are being naughty.  I will still do it though.  So for example, once at a birthday party one child kicked a bucket of water at me for no reason.  His parents laughed, I told him off. Another child was constantly interrupting an important conversation so I asked her to wait until we were finished. Her mother agreed. 

Secondly, I think we are afraid of upsetting our children.  No one wants to purposefully hurt a child with what they say, but sometimes it will happen.  Children need boundaries and to know what’s right and wrong.  I don’t think this is just down to parents.  As a teacher it’s important to give the distinctions of what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.  It’s up to friends and neighbours, the wider community. 

Thirdly, the boy thought it was perfectly acceptable to have spat on a foreign woman.  Why is this the case?  I don’t know him, I don’t know where exactly he came from but I do know what it’s like living in a multicultural city, in a relatively homogeneous quiet country town and also know what it’s like living as a minority in a different country. 

There is racism in Newcastle, no doubt about it, but on the whole people seem to get along there.  You can eat at Persian, Japanese, Polish, Chinese, Italian restaurants.  There are students from all over the world, refugees, asylum seekers, it’s not as multicultural as London, but few places are.  In my home town, most people are white.  Walking around in the summer I did notice more people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, but mostly people are white.  There’s nothing wrong with that but I did feel unease when I wrote a piece about a racist comment and asked for feedback.  There are a few people who thought it was ok to call people Pikeys and make sweeping statements about them and their culture.  

It’s a fear of the unknown again. It’s the need to always kick someone lower than yourself, which involves deciding that someone is lower.  For this lad at an un-named school, someone foreign is below him.  She didn’t even register as a person.

“Yeah, he (me) was trying to get me in trouble with Mr. P the other day, saying I was spittin’ at people!”

“You were!” I growled (adrenalin surging through my body)

“That’s fucking bullshit!” He stormed, “I only spat at that one, foreign, woman! You’re a fucking liar!!!”

 

Do you ever challenge someone when you think that they are behaving badly?  I don’t always, sometimes you have to be aware of your personal safety.  But I do think that it is our responsibility as adults to help guide and teach children the way we would like them to behave in our society.  I do think that if you can instill ideals of respect and politeness then we wouldn’t have such issues with teenagers.  Of course some of them will still be dicks but we can but try, eh?

 

 

What do you think?

 

Please leave your comments below. 

 

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2 thoughts on “Response: A Teacher’s Tale

  1. I agree with everything you say, but I’m a coward and don’t always speak up where I should. I really worry about the way kids are growing up, to have no respect for anyone, people, animals, etc. I mostly think it;s down to parents. Not sure what can be done.

  2. Well said – as a teacher I do correct such behaviour and I am in a school where things like this aren’t brushed under the carpet. Nonetheless in a very white middle class school in the Home Counties there are feelings of xenophobia and some racism. Parents are the key and you can tell the students who don’t have the parental support.

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