Jumping to Conclusions

I wrote this on 27/9/2008 working as a special education teacher and Year Coordinator

Why can’t things ever just be straightforward? How come it’s never a case of asking “did you do it”, the student saying yes and me handing out the set sanction.

“What, you tell me you have been throwing stones at Year Seven pupils”. “Yes sir I only threw a few”. “Ok then let me look at the menu here. Throwing stones, that’s an afternoon detention. Drive through to the next window and collect your letter. Oh and don’t forget to have a nice day”. If only it were that simple I'd have so much more time in my day.

Dealing with pastoral issues is never this easy and it often involves chasing after students and carrying out cross-examinations to arrive at the truth. Often I meet students who have an uncanny inability to remember things that happened half an hour ago. The other issue is misinformation from members of staff reporting incidents. It’s easy to jump to conclusions when you only have half of the story.

Following is a cases I had this week where nothing was straightforward.

Thursday is usually a busy day. Last Thursday was exceptionally busy as the deadline for sending things off to the inspectorate committee, coming to inspect the school, was Friday.

Just before lunch the language teachers' approach me and say they haven’t organised transport out to a museum they are taking Sixth Formers to this afternoon. They want me to drive one of the buse's out. A drive out and browse around a museum sounds great, but I tell them I'm too busy today. I agree to drop them off and go back out and pick them up. As I finish agreeing to this the YearSeven Head of Year Mrs Dove approaches. I know its bad news as she is holding a list of names and a scratched out story.

Mrs Dove relays a story to me, that two year seven boys have told her, about a potential fight out on the back oval. Mrs Dove has come to the conclusion that the Year Nines have muscled in on the Year Sevens game and then driven them off the pitch. She also adds that two Year Sevens were going to fight and the Year Nines were encouraging them. Adam and John, two year Nine boys, are at the centre of the allegations. John is accused of encouraging the two-Year Seven boys to fight. The report from Mrs Dove also claims that John had said that if the Year Seven boy's didn’t fight each other he would fight them. Instantly I’m thinking that if this is true John should be suspended and I head over the secretary and have her draw me up a letter.

I find John and Adam, "you had better comer with me boys im hearing some worrying stories about you". I always try to go in soft and turn up the heat.I lead them to my office and begin to question them. My line of questioning is quite accusatory, as from what Mrs DFove has told me I strongly believe these boys have been bullies. John tells me the following story.

“I went down to the back field and the year Nines and Year sevens were playing football. It was Year Nines verses Year Seven. This was except for Brendan who is in Year Seven and was playing for the Year Nines. I came down and joined in the game. As I started to play Graham came over and said I couldn’t play. He didn’t give a reason so I said to him that it wasn’t his ball. I asked Henry, who owned the ball, if I could play and he said yes. Graham was still saying I couldn’t play so I said to him that I had more right than him to play. The game got heated and ended up with us chasing the Year sevens off the pitch. The Year Sevens were calling us ‘Gay’ and taunting us. Brendan was on our side and the Year Sevens were calling him names. This Year seven named Brad came over and started to have a go at Brendan. We called Graham a legend and told him that we would back him up. We said to the year sevens that if they started something on Brendan we would fight them. Graham picked up a stick and ran at Brad. We stopped him and this is when the teacher came down and took Brad and Brendan away.”

At this stage the story sounds too convenient to be true and there are contradictions from the Year Sevens who claim that the Year Nines were trying to make the two boys fight. I say to John “That’s not the story I’m getting I have a number of ‘reliable’ witnesses that say you were bullying the year sevens and that you were encouraging the two boys to fight. I also hear that you said to the two boys if you wont fight each other ill fight you”. John does well to hold it together as Mrs Dove lays it on by saying “If need be we can get the whole of Year seven here and it would be them against you. If there isn’t anything you have told us it would be better to say it now. I half expect her to get out a set of pliers and lay them on the table for her next interrogation. John doesn’t crack and he sticks to his story.

I send him out and I call in Graham. To my surprise graham retells the story told by John and now the picture becomes clearer. Graham isn’t a big boy and from what I can piece together he suffers from a small person complex. In this case the support of the Year Nines has made him think he is bigger than he actually is. John by calling Graham a legend has been misconstrued as encouraging him to fight. I give John a good going over and hopefully bring him down to size by reminding him that he is in Year Seven and alienating himself from his peers will eventually come back to bite.

John is called back and I tell him that he isn’t doing Graham any favours by ‘bigging’ him up. John is still on edge from the previous grilling we had given him and he is still unsure if we are going to pin anything on him. I inform him he has been a great help and that I appreciate his honesty. I feel guilty at jumping to a conclusion straight away but happy that the only sanctions meted out were to the two boys in Year seven who caused the whole issue in teh first place.