I’d been teaching for ten years in tough inner city primary schools. Though still a class teacher, I had won respect, credibility and authority – hard earned in that context I can tell you. My colleagues would ask me for advice and support especially on behaviour issues, local inspectors asked me to model lessons, television and radio featured my classroom for cpd programmes. I felt on top of my game.
This particular year I’d taken over a challenging class of 10-11 year olds with a group of boys that had made life very difficult for their previous (and numerous female) teachers. I was known to be empathetic but took a ‘no-nonsense’ approach to teaching. Though this was a tough class no mistake, the compensation was that it included a very nice group of intelligent and amenable girls.
Within a few weeks – through a mixture of my tried and tested ‘carrot and stick’ techniques acquired over the years – I thought I was on top of the situation. Colleagues and parents paid me compliments.
One day when I was feeling particularly self-satisfied about my natural talents as a charismatic teacher, one of the more troubled boys in the class, a well-known bully with a short fuse, was again involved in what I interpreted was his thuggish behaviour toward one of the girls.
I bore down on him in my well-rehearsed domineering masculine way that had served me effectively with boys like him many times before. I towered over him, fixed his gaze, gradually raised my voice in an increasingly threatening tone, wagged my finger and tore a strip off him in no uncertain terms. He visibly cowered and started to cry.
To be honest I thought “Good. A taste of your own medicine might teach you a lesson.”
During the lunch break, I was called to the Head’s office. I had no idea why and unconcerned, I arrived to find the lad again in tears as the Head explained that he had run out of school. “Why did you run out of school?” he asked the lad. After a moment to compose himself, he pointed at me: “It’s him! He never tells the girls off – it’s only ever the boys”. Then staring straight at me, he shouted: “You’re just a bully!”
It was the most shocking moment I experienced in ten years of teaching.
I realised more from that incident than any other that I had been a role model in more ways than one.