The author is a teacher. Joe Baron is a pseudonym.
I sat opposite Lucy’s mum, pensively listening to her concerns. “Sometimes she comes home feeling miserable. I’m just lucky she’s willing to speak to me about it, I suppose.” Her eyes began to glaze as a tear gently navigated the surface of her cheek.
I felt overwhelmingly guilty. Mrs Hewson’s daughter has been the victim of bullying throughout the year. I am ashamed of the fact that some of it has taken place in my classroom, and that I have been unable to prevent it.
“Normally Lucy’s so bubbly, so happy,” she said, wiping her eyes. “I just can’t believe this is happening.”
I attempted, somewhat disingenuously, to comfort and reassure her. “Try not to worry. I’ll speak to the college office and we’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.” Deep down I knew I couldn’t stop her tormentor. I continued, this time a little more truthfully, “Lucy is a wonderful student; a pleasure to teach. She should be full of confidence, just as she was at the beginning of the year.”
As Mrs Hewson got up to leave, I felt another surge of guilt, tempered by the acknowledgement that I am, for all intents and purposes, powerless to act on her behalf. “Surely I can’t be completely to blame,” I thought, “I haven’t got the authority to stop it.”
This fact sickens me. Lucy is an innocent, sweet-natured 12-year-old girl. In many ways, she is a model student: intelligent, kind, effervescent and voraciously enthusiastic about learning. These remarkable qualities – qualities you would hope celebrated and coveted among her peers – have directly led to her victimisation. One student in particular – a student as unpleasant as he is brainwashed by his sociopathic, feckless parents – has taken it upon himself to relentlessly harass and intimidate her.
This is a student with a disturbing record, especially when one considers his brief time at the school. (He’s only been with us for nine months). He has chalked up 79 “recorded behavioural incidents” so far this year, many of which have been violence-related: he has physically assaulted fellow students, and even attacked members of staff; his parents intimidate anyone with the courage to discipline him, and the school leadership cravenly refuses to act. How else has he managed to avoid permanent exclusion?
Indeed, he could be described as one of our untouchables – a student so fiercely recalcitrant that nobody dares discipline him. From my perspective (and I suspect that I speak for many of my colleagues) I simply cannot control him. He refuses to attend any detention I set, and his parents support his stubborn refusal to accept responsibility.
Call me naïve, but shouldn’t the school leadership be making it clear to his parents that he must, like every other student, comply with the school rules? Alas, this doesn’t appear to be the case. He remains at school and his parents continue to intimidate us, and through their son, students like Lucy.
Just prior to my meeting with Mrs Hewson, I had a long conversation with our Head teacher. “We work in a challenging environment,” she said, “It takes a unique character to work here.” As I listened, conscious that it was my boss talking, and that I have a mortgage to pay, I thought, perhaps unfairly” “you mean a character willing to silently watch as children are victimized and bullied by their peers.”
She continued: “I just can’t bring myself to send some of our most challenging students home; some of their homes are so awful.” Again, I remained reticent, but felt deep sorrow at her myopia. She seemed genuinely unable to extend the same compassion and sympathy that she clearly felt for our most feral students to the majority, and, among them, our most vulnerable. Students like Lucy, tortured and afraid, are neglected and forgotten. And I can’t do anything about it.