Today I spend a period locked away in the staff room crying.
I have never felt so belittled, intimidated, and unsafe as I did on break duty today.
It started out relatively normally – wandering around outside the dining hall, talking to some students, asking others to pick up their rubbish, the usual stuff.
Then I see one of my own year 8’s kick a piece of burger across the ground.
This student had played up in our lesson just before lunch, earning himself two bad behaviour logs. I debated with myself whether to confront his current behaviour, then decided that if I didn’t I may as well have not confronted what he did in class.
Over I walk, putting on my friendly, joking teacher face, and ask him to pick up the food and put it in the bin. Realising that he would straight away complain about it being dirty, I offered him a napkin.
Of course he refused. We start the cat-and-mouse game of ‘It’s not mine, why do I have to pick it up?’ and ‘I don’t care whose it is, you kicked it so you put it in the bin’. This is a very usual conversation for this situation, one I’ve had many many times. Most of the time the student grumbles, complains, then complies.
This time was different.
He continues arguing with me about it, all the while I’m trying to explain that he’s turning it into a bigger deal than it needs to be. One of his friends pipes up, saying that he didn’t kick it, so he shouldn’t have to pick it up. I explain, patiently and for what felt like the thousandth time, that I saw him kick it and I’m asking him to pick it up, as I would any other student.
I then ask the kicker if he is refusing to follow an instruction (key behaviour words at our school that basically mean shit’s about to hit the fan if you don’t get on with what I’m saying). He stands there, looks me in the eye, and says ‘Yes’. I tell him that this will now be another behaviour log and it will be escalated.
That’s when it all crumbled.
All of a sudden I have a group of year 8 and 9 boys completely surrounding me, yelling at me all sorts of things about how he shouldn’t have to pick it up, that’s what cleaners are for, etc, getting extremely worked up and morphing into a mob mentality.
I look for a physical way out of the situation and cannot find one. These 10-15 boys, many of them taller than me (and I’m 173cm!) have formed two full circles around me, every one of them with something to say. Since I can’t physically get away from the situation, I try to stay cool and respond to what they’re saying. I explain again the situation, which of course is as helpful as nothing. One of the boys in particular gets quite aggressive toward me, so I inform him that I would be logging him as well if he can’t keep out of it as it had nothing to do with him.
Then they all start saying that I can’t log them when I don’t know their names, and they start yelling out random names.
At this point I’m panicking, having no idea what to do or how to get myself out of the situation.
Thankfully the bell goes, and the boys dissipate fairly quickly.
I all but ran back up to the staffroom, trying not to burst into tears on the way, dodging glances from students and staff alike.
I then spent the whole of my free period (one of 3 for the week) trying to get myself together so that I’d be able to teach my classes in the afternoon.
I can tell you right now it was so difficult to not just get up and walk out completely. I’ve never been in a situation like that in my life, and I never want to again. Some of the boys in that group are in my classes, and I’ll have to face them again in the coming days. I don’t know how to act toward them. We are constantly told to ‘forgive and forget’, ‘give them the benefit of the doubt’, ‘treat each lesson as a whole new beginning’, but I honestly don’t know if I can do that. I shouldn’t have to do that. I don’t know of any other profession where you have to face the same people every day who act like that toward you.
I spent some of my crying time looking through pictures of all the students in year 8 and 9, trying to pin some of them down. I was able to get 5 out of the group, and emailed the KS3 pastoral team, who assured me ‘we are on to them’.
So far all I know is that they were removed from classes for the day and put into internal seclusion, where the original offender made a comment about how I should return to my own country.
I will be following this up with the school again tomorrow.
About the Author:
Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys blogging about her experiences, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine. Emily is currently on maternity leave with her first child. You can read more teaching articles from Emily here, or about her life as a new mum over at Actual Mums.