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July 12, 2009



Shocking as is this story of violence against a pupil, I realise that I am not shocked. I set this event against one I recall very clearly, when I was outside the room of a colleague at the very moment when he was felled by a blow from a 15 year old boy's fist. He went home that day and never returned to classroom teaching. The sound of the blow, and the subsequent sound of this man's body landing on the (carpeted concrete) floor shocked me more than I would have anticipated.

Schools always have some teachers for whom the job is a nightmare. They are trapped into a situation of constant humiliation and threat. They know they are teaching nothing, for each period is a hell of noise and ineffectual remonstrance. They are humiliated not only by the pupils, but by any colleague who enters - for it is often the case that a mere look at a class by another teacher will produce a silence that the struggling one will never achieve. His reputation spreads, so that no class comes to him expecting other than a riot, and if he lives in a small town - as I do - he will have catcalls and abuse hurled at him in the street. He is highly educated in his subject, but never gets to share what he knows. And the worst thing is that he knows these pupils are not evil or even particularly boisterous elsewhere - it is all because of him.

I have worked beside this hypothetical teacher for 30 years. I was the one who could bring order merely by entering the room. I even tried to help in other ways, by example and by advice. But there was nothing I could do that had any effect. What surprised me in all these years was that there was not violence as a result of the strain on these people. And it was always a relief when the odd one managed to escape, by early retirement or on grounds of ill-health.

This doesn't justify violence - I am a parent as well as a teacher, and would have reacted very strongly to any violence against my children or any others - but it might go some way to make it less mysterious. Your prayers, the prayers of us all, are very necessary.

Jim Gordon

Thanks for this Chris. I've no doubt your expereince, and reflections based on a long professional career, will be shared by many teachers. All your points are well made and well taken. The despair and intimidation suffered by many teachers remains a scandal - in the biblical sense of stumbling block and in ourcontemporary sense of outrageous injustice. Over years of school chaplaincy many conversations took place with staff, some of whom struggled with great courage, clinging to their integrity, but feeling unsupported. And the feeling was often justified. That's why I made no judgements in the post in terms of blame. The human tragedy at the centre of the incident shouldn't have happened - and if blame is to be attributed perhaps it can be placed in the places where policies and politics overlook the human cost of teaching in the divisive social environment those same policies and politicians help create.

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