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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 127 - Frayed nerves in the classroom's feral underworld

READERS who turn to Albert Morris’s Schooldays, will find details of my fight for survival in a rigorous world of sentence parsing and verb declensions, the Pythagorean pain of geometry and the exquisite agonies of algebra, all made worse by flailing leather belts on pupils’ pink palms and hurts to one’s pride with school report entries like: "Mathematics - could be worse, but not much."

That book, which is incomplete, will reveal my early madcap ambition to become a teacher in some august establishment resembling Greyfriar’s School as featured in the old boys’ comic, The Magnet, which included Billy Bunter among its illustrious, fee-paying pupils.

I saw myself, wearing gown and mortarboard, being greeted by fresh-faced, school-uniformed lads who would doff their caps deferentially as I passed, a figure of awe and affection, stern but just.

Alas, my didactic dreams were not only from another time but also, one could say, from another planet. Nowadays, I would as soon become a teacher as picnic on the lip of a near-active volcano. The daily routine in some schools resembles a cross between the Bolshevik’s storming of the Winter Palace and the last charge of the Confederate Army at Gettysburg.

A growing number of today’s pupils, it seems, are boorish, bad-mannered, bellowing and ill-tempered - and these are just the girls - for whom education is a bore and classroom discipline an ill-natured laugh. Their behaviour can bring chaos even to the best-run schools and their anti-social behaviour can spill outside as exampled in the recent tragic case of Linda Walker, a Manchester children’s special needs’ teacher, who was jailed for six months, with her career in ruins, after firing a pellet pistol six times at the feet of a youth, one of a teenage gang who, she believed, had subjected her home to a year-long campaign of vandalism, burglary and malicious phone calls, causing her tolerance bonds to snap.

WHILE that was not a squalid, anti-social, school saga, it mirrored perfectly what teachers, many reaching their frayed tether’s end, are enduring among growing numbers of near-feral creatures of the blackboard jungle. Half of Scotland’s schools are facing a worsening disciplinary crisis, fuelled by widespread truancy, according to a survey which painted a disturbing picture of a breakdown of respect between pupils and teachers, although pupil disruption in the classroom is a growing UK-wide problem. Great golden rule days; children as young as five, who were probably, as babes and suckling, cuddling coshes in their cradles, are assaulting teachers, and the same age group are asserting their "human right" to do as they please, it was claimed at the annual conference of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers.

Latest reports reveal that, in Scottish schools last year, there were over 9,000 indiscipline expulsions, with a teacher verbally abused or physically assaulted every 12 minutes. And teachers are not safe at parents’ evenings where, according to the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, they face a rising onslaught of verbal and physical assault.

There is a growing number of reports of teachers, goaded beyond endurance, charged with assaulting malcontents. Many involve incidents that, 20 years ago, would have hardly caused a ripple of adverse comment. A teacher in England with a 33-year unblemished record, was sacked when, in exasperation at a disruptive pupil’s refusal to leave the room, flung the boy’s bag at him, causing, the boy claimed, neck injury and parental complaint. He was reinstated after massive support from pupils and parents.

A CARDIFF special needs’ teacher who taped a boy’s mouth when he refused to stop talking, escaped criminal prosecution after a police investigation, and a Dollar teacher, in the dock for allegedly assaulting seven pupils, was found not guilty amid claims that the children involved may have concocted the allegations.

Nowadays, teachers are ill-equipped to maintain class discipline. They cannot, as last resorts, use belt or cane; even shouting is frowned on. Punishment exercises are often inadequate and, teacher friends tell me, appeals to heads and parents for support can be as futile as a clock ticking in an empty house. As a result, teachers increasingly take early retirement or get less stressful and more financially rewarding jobs.

Unpromoted teachers earn annually, on average, £26,500 and have ten weeks’ holidays. For those dedicated, hard-working teachers, many operating in classroom conditions where a lion-tamer’s whip and protective chair might be appropriate to impose discipline, I say they are worth every penny. As one who, had he become a teacher, might have taken to drink in chapter five, I salute them.

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