Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

Yesterday I was on the receiving end of a tough phone call with a parent. To say that I wasn’t responsible for the tone of the conversation would be lying, but the parent and SLT have to take some of the blame. The problem is I now don’t know where to go next. However before I tell you about the phone call, I need to tell you about the past.

8 years ago I was successful in obtaining a job at my current school. Three weeks into my job I had just finished school on a Friday night at 6.30pm. I’d run an after school rugby practice, set up the kit bags for Saturday and had swept the changing rooms clean. I was just walking out the school when a silver BMW pulled up next to me. A parent that didn’t introduce herself asked if she could talk to me about her son. I kindly said that I was just leaving for the night and would happy to speak to her on Monday, perhaps she could email me over the weekend with more details. She lost her temper, said I was rude and drove off. I didn’t give the incident another thought until I was called into the Head’s office on Monday morning. He told me a complaint had been main against me, by a parent, for my rudeness. I tried to explain what had happened, but he didn’t listen. I was ordered to write a formal letter of apology to this parent ‘to make it go away’. Looking back on this now I realise how incredibly naive I was. I shouldn’t have written the letter, I should have sought advice from my union. I was three weeks into a new job, grateful to the person who had given it to me and wanting to make a good impression. Even though he was new to his post, I was let down by him. This one action gave huge power to the parent and undermined any authority I had.

I ended up being the tutor to her oldest son, and it was a very tricky situation. I was constantly contacted for anything. I received complaints everyday. A boy did this to her son, another boy said this to her son, why wasn’t her son form captain, why wasn’t her son picked for the house cricket team, why was another boy captain of the house football team when he isn’t very nice. A day didn’t go by when I wasn’t contacted for 5 years. I was relieved when he left.

Last year, on a very busy and stressful day, I came round the corner to see her younger son punching another boy repeatedly in the side of the head. I broke up the fight, and asked what they had been doing. They said it was some fun, however the other student was in a state of shock and in floods of tears. I took them to the member of SLT on duty. When they got there I asked them to repeat what they were doing. They said they had been play fighting. This is where I lost my professionalism. I shouted quite angrily at them both. Screamed at them in fact. Not for what they had done, for the fact they stood there lying to my face. I lost control and I had to be sent away. This was not my finest moment as a teacher and one since I have reflected on at great length and still do today. The next morning I received another complaint from the parent about my behaviour. She said in her complaint that I had given her son ‘nightmares’ and that I was a ‘violent and abusive’ man, who was ‘unfit to teach’. I had misjudged the situation, had called them liars, when all they had been being was ‘boys being boys and playing’. I’ve witnessed many play fights and real fights in my time as a teacher, I know what I witnessed and that I had to force them apart. Different Head, same outcome. For the second time in my career I was forced to apologise for my behaviour. This time I felt it more justified than the first, I was embarrassed about my conduct. I was so mortified about the whole incident I just did whatever I had to do to make it go away. Two days later her son came to find me and apologised for lying. I apologised to him for shouting and explained my reason why, but it didn’t justify my actions. The incident left a bitter taste in my mouth about a great deal within the teaching profession, including my own conduct. I vowed to make some changes in my approach to a variety of things.

Yesterday I had to phone her again. Her son, in my lesson, verbally abused a boy. The abused boy, who I will call Jim, suffers from severe Aspergers. Jim is socially awkward and is a target for other students because they think it’s amusing to get him to react violently. Her son, in the middle of the lesson, shouts out ‘Jimmy likes to bum men’. I calmly withdraw him from the lesson. I follow school procedure, getting statements from him, Jimmy and other students. He doesn’t lie this time. We have a very grown up conversation about what he said, what it means and why he said it. He even goes and apologises to Jimmy. I feel we have patched up our relationship, and I feel happy in myself with the way I dealt with it. I ask him to go home and inform his parents about what he said and that I will follow it up. I pass all documents onto SLT and they ask me to ring home. I do so with some trepidation. From the moment his mother answered to the moment she slams the phone down I am shouted at. All my ‘previous’ is thrown in my face, all the times I have ‘misdealt’ with her and her family. I know she is deflecting, because she doesn’t once mention the current issue. I’m at a lost what to do next. If I follow this up, all the previous issues are going to be raised. I don’t feel I have the energy to go through that again. If I don’t, it’s going to way heavy on my conscience. I’m trying to act on my values now, with more integrity then I have in the past. I feel I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t.

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4 thoughts on “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

  1. Firstly you should be praised for your honesty and your sharing. Many, perhaps all of us, have been in these circumstances. Your case is quite severe as the history is so long and ingrained with this parent and the family. I applaud you for facing your own errors in the past and acknowledging that you are not perfect.

    When I read the post my overriding feeling was of a colleague who needed a senior teacher to listen and to support them. That doesn’t mean to back you up to the hilt and to blame the boy and the mother but to understand what you are going through and to recognise the stress of this situation for you. All teachers/workers/colleagues need that support and if you haven’t got it yet then ask for it again. If a senior colleague was to hear from you what I just read they will help you out – they will have to help you out.

    Finally I believe that you should take the positive decision about your next step. What would “following this up” mean? But, more importantly, this following up should be done in collaboration with a senior colleague who can act objectively and empathetically in support of the boy, the mother and you.

    As always,

    James

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  2. Why haven’t you left the school yet? 8 years long enough to stay in a school anyway, but to stay in a school where you have unsupportive leadership doesn’t seem conducive to a happy career. Let the angry parent say what he\she likes behind your back as you leave – it won’t matter. There are other schools.

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    1. Hi Madeleine. Thanks for your comment. I wanted to give the new leadership team some time. After the previous Head left there was a wave of optimism and enthusiasm for the new appointment. I got carried along with everyone else. Things are much better, but perhaps you are right, it is time to move on. It’s difficult to walk away from a school thought you are settled, generally happy and enjoy working with most of the students and teachers. Perhaps I am a little scared of change and that means i put up with things I shouldn’t.

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