Recently, things have been heating up at school. We've always had stories of kids threatening teachers: a common threat here is something along the lines of "I'll kill you and your family", and that happens pretty often, especially when a kid has received an exceptionally bad mark or has perceived something as extremely unfair. Various teachers have been called names, or had their car tyres deflated, or a car window broken.
A month or two ago, a sports teacher was hit by a student: the teacher had asked the student to take his headphones off, the student had refused and started walking away, and the sports teacher had grabbed the student's backpack to force him to stay. Which escalated, of course, into the student hitting the teacher's wrist to get him to let go of his backpack. This got everybody up in arms, and the sports teacher spent two weeks on "depression leave" before coming back with a big white bandage, looking sorry for himself.
Last week, another sports teacher decided to separate two fighting students. It looked as though one of them might hit her. So she told everyone she had just missed another lethal attack, and walked around looking sorry for herself and making sure everyone was sorry for her.
I don't really agree with all of this. I understand that a student should not be allowed to hit a teacher, and I can fully support that. However, in the first case, as far as I'm concerned, the teacher started it. It's the same relationship of strength and power that average civilians might have with the police force, for example. If a policeman said something that you considered unfair or insulting, you would be tempted to retort, but more often than not, you wouldn't say anything because the police have the power to give you a fine if they can find a reason to do so. With students and teachers, it's the same: even if the teacher grabs a student's backpack, insults him, hits him, whatever, the student is not permitted to retort because of the power difference. I'm not saying students should be allowed to retaliate. I'd rather the confrontation didn't start. But if it does, then I feel you can't really go around screaming that you've been attacked, when you started it and the student is naturally (if physically) defending himself.
There have also been other attacks, which I find much less acceptable. Two teachers have had stones thrown at them on their way out of the school area. They were driving scooters, which made the whole event that bit more dangerous. Our main security and discipline guy has had stones thrown at him too, while he was at work. A supervisor has been insulted, as well as her sister and her family. A third sports teacher (they get it much more than the rest of us, as they're outside all day) tried to stop some lads climbing over the fence and was physically pushed to the ground and restrained by said lads. We're up to an official count of fifteen attacks since the beginning of the school year, plus all the ones that the victims don't say anything about in case they're branded "bad teachers" or "can't control your class".
My colleagues have decided to react against this. On Tuesday, when the sports teacher tried to separate the fighting kids, everybody stopped their lessons as soon as they heard about it. All the teachers herded their pupils into the playground and stood there, refusing to teach... until the headmaster came out to see what was going on, at which point everybody filed meekly back into their respective classrooms and tried to get the kids back on track. The next day, the same kid who had nearly hit the sports teacher decided to threaten a supervisor. He's about twelve years old, by the way. Everybody stopped their lessons again and sent the kids home this time, then we had a two-hour meeting to try and decide what to do next. It was decided that the following morning, no teachers and no pupils would enter the school, and they would campaign outside the gates until they got to talk to someone higher-up who could do something about all of this.
As it happened, the deputy head was waiting for them. He "allowed" them to have their fun campaigning and shouting for two hours, then said that they must come in and resume lessons. They didn't like that, and unanimously decided to suspend lessons for the day, saying that they would come back on the Friday under the condition of being able to talk to someone with authority on the Tuesday following Easter Monday. They filed press releases and talked to TV and newspaper journalists. They also stated that they would not hesitate to stop lessons again at the next sign of an attack from a student.
Some of our students at school find this very amusing and revel in the idea that ninety teachers can be scared of a twelve-year-old kid. Others were horrified to learn that several of their teachers would not be coming back next year, partly because of that. They even made posters for us, as you can see above. My students asked me if I would still be there next year, to which I said no, I wouldn't, but it wasn't because of the violence. I now have some very upset students, who for some reason expected me not only to be there forever, but also to carry on up to the secondary school with them until the Baccalauréat, so that they would always have me as an English teacher. It happened to be the day I finished a series of lessons on South Africa with that class, so I gave them a song gapfill and they happily sang Shakira's "Waka Waka" for half an hour. One girl danced, too, as you can see from the little figure waving her arms at the back of the class.