The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Sorting through drawers and old papers, I discovered a photocopied document squirreled away sometime in 2000, that outlined the incident which five years ago made me leave the school I later returned to:
I was working alone in [fourth floor rooftop portakabin classroom] at lunchtime. As [portakabin] was vandalised every day last year, and as no staff man [other rooftop portakabin, which functioned as school repository for emotionally disturbed / unmanageable children at risk of expulsion], I work there each lunchtime so that students know a teacher is around in case of trouble.

At 1.10pm a large, four inch keyring flew through the door and hit me on the back. Ryan, Alex and another boy were in the doorway. It didn't look to me as though Alex had thrown the object.

Alex asked for his keyring back. I picked it up and told him he could have it back at the end of the day. He walked up to my desk. He proceeded to shout "can I have my keyring / hand back?" at me for the next fifteen minutes, about fifty or sixty times, throughout the rest of the incident.

Alex walked over to the fire escape [read: unlocked door opening straight onto the roof], and Ryan followed. The other boy stayed outside. Ryan (or Alex, possibly) said "I'm going to throw myself off the roof."
They opened the door to the roof and Ryan put one foot outside.

I got up and walked fast to the door, warning them that if they stepped outside, I would work hard to see they were excluded [temporary expulsion; usually one to five days].
I moved behind Ryan and put my arm across the door, trying to get between him and the exit. I was worried that they really were going to endanger themselves on roof, as I know they're [school repository for emotionally disturbed / unmanageable children] regulars. Ryan kept hold of the door, so I pulled him away from it. He started shouting "don't push me." I continued to put my hand on his shoulder - I didn't do anything more than apply gentle pressure.

Ryan continued to yell "don't push me," but when it became clear I wasn't going to move away from the door, he backed away.

My [sixteen year old] students had left a stick of glue and some scissors on a desk at the back of the room. Alex moved away, laughing, but Ryan headed for the scissors. I continually asked them to leave the room every minute. I followed Ryan, intending to shepherd them out of the door.
Ryan turned in the aisle in front of me, held the scissors towards me at stomach height and said "I'm going to fucking stab you."

I think I replied along the lines of "don't be silly." I was unsure about whether he was going to do it or not - it certainly wasn't an empty threat. After a few seconds, he laughed and turned towards the door. He carried the scissors with him. I think he placed them on my desk as he passed it.

Both boys were still shouting at me "give me back my hand / key ring" or "don't push me" / "don't fucking push me."
Ryan started shouting to the other two to witness that I had "pushed" him at intervals, too. I escorted them out of the room, and to the top of the stairs, with some difficulty, as they kept turning and shouting "no."

Alex stood at the top of the stairs, shouting and Ryan stood in the landing alcove shouting. The third boy stood halfway down the stairs, laughing, throughout. He didn't enter [portakabin] at any point or behave aggressively other than this. Miss H came up the stairs to see what the noise was, and obviously recognised the two boys. I asked her if she would come up to the top landing, as I was seriously worried about the boys attacking me.

Miss H reasoned with Alex, who shouted less often, but continued to shout. He then moved to the next landing. Ryan stood with his face buried in his arms on the bannister. He refused to move for either of us and continued to shout "you shouldn't push me!" and swear. He also said "I'll do a deal. You go back in your room and then I'll go." I told him I would not do any deals.

I stood between him and the wall and asked him to move. I again put my hand on his shoulder in the same way. He calmed a little, but would not move. As he was not displaying aggression towards Miss H, I asked her to stay there with im while I phoned for assistance. The other two boys were on the stairs shouting "bastards."

When I got to [the nearest phone, two floors down], I could get no response on [the emergency number]. While I was ringing the main reception, I asked Miss B to go upstairs, so that Miss H was not alone, then asked reception to get the deputy head on duty urgently to [rooftop portakabin].

Miss H came down at 2.20ish. She had succeeded in persuading Ryan to move - however all three boys had gone to the first floor and continued shouting.

I had spoken calmly to the boys throughout the incident, but now was so shocked by it that I could not phone reception again. Mrs S phoned for me, and asked again for a deputy head to come urgently to the room. She said it was to do with "a boy stabbing Miss Lectrice with scissors."

I asked Miss B to send a pupil to the pastoral head , to cover my registration group, as I was too scared to return to [rooftop protakabin]. No one arrived.

By 2.35pm, Miss H accompanied me up to [rooftop portakabin], as still no assistance had arrived, and I was too scared to collect my things alone. She then accompanied me down to the deputy head on duty, who knew nothing of the incident.
And there is the story of the first and last time a student levelled a formal accusation of assault at me. I recall my response at the time was 'yes, I did push him. I'd push him again. I'd push any child who was threatening to kill himself, away from the roof.'

I'd forgotten the key detail, though. The rooftop shared with a unit for emotionally damaged children. The doors with no locks, serving as 'fire escape'. The isolation from the rest of the school. The fear that a child would harm himself in front of me. The sheer shock of seeing a cherubic face snarl and brandish a weapon.

Most of all, the one detail that made me leave.
The receptionist who, when erroneously told I'd been stabbed by a pupil, did nothing.