Broadly speaking, there are two types of kid who are likely to give you a problem in the classroom: those that have an awful home life, and are therefore suffering some form of neglect or – worse – abuse; and those that have been overindulged by their parents. While, I think we can all agree that it’s important to be as sympathetic, and as understanding as possible, with regard to the former, accommodating the latter can be a problem. A problem, as in ‘why should I?’ If that sounds more than a little flippant then just for good measure I’ll add that I’ve never once found myself in a position whereby I’ve had a colleague suggest to me: ‘You need to go easy on him/her… their parent(s) have spoilt them rotten. I feel ever so sorry for them’.
All of which brings to mind, a classic instance from my own teaching career where I came up against the behaviour of a particularly spoilt individual – a frequent occurrence in his case – and in so doing, finally got the opportunity to deal with his doting mummy, bless her little cotton apron strings.
The individual in question was not only talkative, unfocused and prone to interrupting during class, he was also inclined to answer back when such matters were brought to his attention; all of which was apt to slow the proceedings down, and throw the lesson off kilter. Implementing the behaviour policy invariably had little effect, and many’s the time, having gone through the entire process, I would offer a detention, only to find it left on his desk at the end of his lesson; or worse, stuffed in the tubing that constituted the framework of the desks that we were using at the time.
A neat little countermove on his part, and one that rankled less in terms of the actual manoeuvre, and more from the point of view of finding myself temporarily outsmarted. Although it’s equally fair to say that from the inanimate desks’ point-of-view, already overburdened with all of the chewing gum stuck there, as well as the other notes also concealed within the tubing (detailing assignations the likes of which don’t bear repeating)… didn’t need detention slips adding to the fray. And that’s before we factor in the business of whose responsibility it is to remove the various offending articles from the desks. ‘Not I’ said the cleaner. ‘It’s on my list’ said the premises officer – that’s the caretaker to you and me –meaning of course, at the bottom of his list.
And so it was that the aforementioned caretaker who, in the process of contemplating the awful chore, decided that removing the various desk-related items might make a highly suitable punishment for those detained, on the grounds of poor behaviour; a short-lived venture that was brought to a sudden halt when a parent protested on the grounds that it was demeaning. Rightly so, if we bear in mind that the caretaker gets paid to do as much, but – arguably – a little delusional from the parent’s perspective, in relation to their cherished offspring’s potential in the job market. No disrespect to the caretaker intended.
The upshot of all of this was that I spent an unnecessary amount of time chasing the tube-stuffing detainee, his head of year, and his not-so ‘understanding’ mother, in an attempt to get the child to commit to his – by now – regular half-hour after school. A pattern of behaviour that became so frequent that I, in line with a great number of other school-related activities, had begun to suspect I was living a life akin to that of the antihero in one of my favourite films: Groundhog Day.
Eventually however, things took a turn for the more promising. Having once again, played our respective parts in our ongoing little ritual, culminating in the usual business of the spoilt kiddie in question, leaving the detention slip on the table, there came a point where I was able to pick up the offending article, with more than a little wry smile on my increasingly malevolent features. To wit, had he bothered to listen to, and also, check the suggested date of the detention, he would have realised that the date was a little further ahead than usual: Thursday the following week. He would have also realised that, having just entered Year 9, the timetable had changed, and that according to his new schedule, he was due to attend my lesson on the last lesson of the day, once a fortnight on a Thursday. Back of the net, it would seem.
The school policy at the time, dictated that there was only a requirement to give 24 hours’ notice in relation to a detention. The onus was on the student to notify their parent(s) of the impending event, and for one or other of the parent(s) to sign an accompanying slip acknowledging the fact that they were ‘in the picture’, so to speak. If the student chose, or forgot, to notify their respective parent or parents, it made no difference whatsoever in relation to the prospect of the detention taking place. It’s possible that things are much more electronically-orientated nowadays, and the likelihood of a parent not being made aware of a forthcoming detention much less so, of course.
Finally, the appointed Thursday came around. If anything, the lesson proceeded along relatively civilised lines, with all on board, and work taking place at a reasonable pace i.e. without interruption. It was almost as if someone had realised their presence might be required after the lesson had elapsed and was trying to make said presence as low-key as possible, in the hope that the teacher might either get distracted, or – preferably – forget altogether. Clearly I had underestimated the offending party’s willingness to note the date on the detention slip; or perhaps more realistically, it had dawned on him that he had a detention outstanding, and the likelihood was that this was the day when he would be required fulfil his obligation.
As a consequence, the lead up to the bell had all of the drama of a shoot-out in a spaghetti western; you could split the tension with an Ennio Morricone sountrack. I had no idea there was such professional delight to be had, putting such a plan into action, and watching the events slowly unfold. I had to give the fellow his due for maintaining a level of composure for – in truth – that was the only way he was going to hoodwink his way out of this one. Unfortunately for him, his adversary was also maintaining a similar level of composure, despite an overwhelming desire to let go of a theatrical cackle. Eventually, after what seemed an agonising last few minutes, the bell rang.
‘Ok everybody, let’s go… all except for you, young man. In case you’ve forgotten, you’ve got a detention with me’.
He let out a gasp of genuine annoyance, ‘But sir, my mum will be waiting. Can I go and tell her?’
‘I’m afraid not. I gave you the detention slip a week and a half ago and you should have told her then’
‘But sir… ‘
‘Save your protests. Your mum will eventually realise that you haven’t come out. She will approach the office, and they in turn will contact me. Don’t worry, your mum will soon be in picture. Now let’s find something for you to do’
Sure enough, it wasn’t too long before a member of the admin staff appeared at the door, inquiring about his presence, the gravity on their face suggesting they’d already taken something of an ear bashing from ‘Mum’.
‘Mum’ – or ‘Dad’– in this context is an all-purpose term that teachers and school staff use to objectively convey a parent’s sentiment or state-of-being, whilst seemingly remaining detached with regard to the aforementioned sentiment or ‘state-of-being’; the same way that TV coppers talk about the mothers of suspects and victims, on Monday night dramas. As in ‘Mum is being very helpful’, ‘Mum is not being very helpful’ or in this case, ‘Mum is very concerned’. Meaning ‘Mum’ is throwing an utter wobbly in the reception area.
Admittedly, it would have been highly unprofessional to gloat in these circumstances, but no one ever said you couldn’t do so inwardly, and so I acknowledged the situation, and continued to point my face in the direction of the work I had set about, so as not to convey any such facial registrations. And thus it remained, a silent tone set for the rest of the designated time, except for the occasional excursion over to the detainee to make sure that his work was proceeding in the way that had been requested.
The next day, I thought it might be a good idea to have a word with the individual’s Head of Year in relation to the possibility of further interaction on the part of ‘Mum’ and promptly ascertained that there was a very real likelihood.
‘I’d expect a phone call’, he said, eyes rolling.
Sure enough, the phone call dutifully arrived. It arrived right at the beginning of the break via the staff room telephone. Clearly, we were dealing with a player.
‘I want to know why you detained my son without informing me’, she asked, getting straight to the point.
‘The onus is on him to inform you; hence the fact the detention notice contains a slip to that effect’ (I’m pretty certain you know that already but let’s play along)
‘He forgot, so you should have let him go’
‘School policy states that we’re only required to give 24 hours’ notice’
‘But I’m telling you he forgot’
‘As I say, school policy states that we’re only required to give 24 hours’ notice’ (He didn’t forget, he’s playing us off against each other. Or if he did forget it’s because he didn’t anticipate that he would be seeing me on the last lesson of that particular day. You’re repeating yourself, I’m repeating myself, and this is getting tedious)
‘I was waiting in the car-park. Don’t you think he should have been allowed to come and tell me that he had been kept in?’
(Do you think I was born yesterday?) ‘I’m not required to do so, especially as that involves a risk that the student might not return.’
‘Are you saying he can’t be trusted?’
‘No, I’m not saying that.’ (That’s precisely what I’m saying).
‘So you don’t care that I was kept waiting for an hour?’
(Not really, no. The truth is that despite my professional façade, I was struggling not to revel in the sensation). ‘That is unfortunate…’
‘What if there had been an emergency?’
‘Depending upon the circumstances, I would have let him go. But there wasn’t an emergency, and so based upon the aforementioned school policy, he can be detained in such a way, having been provided with sufficient notice.’ (How long is this going to take? I am on my break after all).
‘I don’t like your attitude.’
‘Then you are free to take the matter up with his Head of Year, or the Headmaster himself, should you wish. They will tell you the same thing with regard to procedure.’ (I know this to be true because I’ve already checked with one of them, I’m pretty certain the other will concur and I really wouldn’t be relating any of this had I not covered my backside).
‘You really fancy yourself, don’t you?’
(More than I fancy you) ‘I’ve no desire to get involved in name calling. If you wish to take the matter further, feel free to do so.’ (Please do, I look forward to a satisfactory outcome in which I am completely exonerated).
‘Don’t worry, I will.’
And with that the phone went down. I don’t really think there’s any moral to this tale other something about ‘just desserts’ or some such, but I can say that the rest of the day went with an absolute swing; my enthusiasm for the job renewed by the fulfilment of a long standing desire to have something with which to proffer in relation to any undesirable behaviour on the part of the detainee.
And if all of this seems a little petty, and a little weak-minded, I dare say it probably is, but I know at the very least, if anyone did wish to take issue with the attitude on display here, there is one person who would back me up, pretty much without question, and that’s my own dear old ‘Mum’. After all, what greater insight is there to be had – in some situations – than that of one’s own similar experience?