The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Friday, October 22, 2004

Today was the second time in ten years I actually lost my temper in a classroom.

Teaching is a circus; you pretend to lose your temper twenty times a day - or at least pretend to threaten a simmering temper, interspersed with humour and amusement and reproach. Should you actually lose your temper, you lose control, and you lose the job.
I remember feeling utter sympathy for a fellow teacher who struck a thirteen year old boy hard across the face. It was at one of the roughest inner city schools I've ever worked at, in Haringay, and the context was that said boy had picked up a computer monitor, held it threateningly over another child's head, then slammed it into pieces on the ground next to her.
I can totally relate to the instinctual response of slapping a child who is endangering themselves or others. I don't condone it, but I've walked a mile or two in those shoes, and instinct is strong.
The teacher, who'd worked without blemish on her record for thirty years in the borough was suspended, investigated, and 'encouraged' to retire, to avoid a scandal. The unions didn't respond, as there was no union rep. (The last seven union reps had been fairly obviously hounded out of their jobs, and we were all too scared to follow them.)

What had tried my patience this morning was a twenty minute interview with Joel, asking why he'd run away from yesterday's lesson, followed by an hour long meeting with the deputy head about supporting Joel, finding strategies to prevent his bunking, raise his grades to the A's he should be getting, then an appraisal where I was asked the million dollar question ("where do you see your career going, Lectrice?" ... "this is a career?"), topped off by an hour of watching Joel wind up everyone else in the exam hall, reaching its crescendo when he bounced, giggling, on his chair just hard enough to snap the thing in two, causing uproar.
So today became a replay of a day eight years ago, when Ross (now twenty four; left school with two grade F's; catchphrases "this is rah-bish" / "how am I?!"; later homeless, then joined the navy; remembers me as his best teacher) had pushed me to tears of angry frustration.
This time, as then, when I felt the tendrils of genuine anger wrap themselves around my temples, anger enough to damn well punch Joel ... I walked swiftly to the door of the room, eyes down, along the corridor, into an office, where I proceeded to kick the shit out of a filing cabinet.

Four minutes. Return. Quiet voice. Steady eye. "I'm calm now, Joel. If you make another sound, I shan't be."
Back to the showmanship.