In Australia, it is welcome back to another school year, with students, teachers, and administrators alike buzzing to ensure everyone’s year of the unknown ahead settles down into a comfortable rhythm. Unfortunately for one school in the west of Melbourne, there has been concern over a school principal’s treatment of a primary age student. The school principal was videoed while what appears to be ‘dragging’ a nine-year-old boy to the office. In defence of the principal’s actions, a school councillor described the boy’s behaviour as a ‘danger’ to other people around him and that he ‘needed to be removed’. This story is not to make judgment or interrogate what occurred at the school in Melbourne’s west, but it did prompt me to ponder the situation.
One reason why judgment or interrogation into this case of ‘dragging’ a student is imprudent is that we, as in ‘the public’, will only ever have access to part of the story. As Jean Clandinin and Jerome Bruner detail, a story told is never simply that. There is a story lived, a story heard a story retold and so on, and each story is nuanced. It is now the Department of Education and Training’s responsibility to piece together the stories to make sense of them. What we can do as individuals—as parents, students, teachers, principals and administrators—is inquire into our own similar stories.
I was reminded of a couple of stories. One story I titled ‘The Scared Teacher’ that was featured in June 2017 on this blog. ‘The Scared Teacher’ exposes the fear that can be evoked by such experiences and consequently affect teacher-student relationships in unknown and ongoing ways. After such an incident, the story does not end, and it can take some time to settle on a comfortable ‘plotline’.
A second story captures one of my experiences working in a private primary school. My students and I were working away, and outside of our classroom window, we could see a neighbouring classroom with year four students flooding out of the doors. One of the students came to me to let me know that a boy had had a meltdown and was throwing chairs around the classroom. The boy’s teacher was still in the classroom with him and the principal had just been informed. Very soon after it was morning break time and I was scheduled for yard duty. The principal found me to let me know that the meltdown boy had escaped the classroom and was on a rampage in the schoolyard wielding a cricket bat. He was chasing down children to hit. The principal asked me to help him find the boy and contain him. So, off I ran, and I found him. I approached him calmly and gently asked him to put the bat down. He held the bat firmly in his grip and pulled it back over his shoulder as though he was getting ready to strike. He was about five meters away from me. He lunged forward and quickly halted as though he was testing my reaction. I was petrified but stood firm, while talking to him as sweetly as I could, wondering whether my head was about to be bashed in with a cricket bat. He ran at me, and as he approached, I lunged forward and stamped my foot as a bull might do as a warning, he turned and ran in another direction.
I have no idea what choice I would have made if he kept running at me, but I doubt I would have just stood there to accept a beating from a cricket bat. Luckily, no children were hit with the bat, but the principal was, and it left many people shaken and fearful. Many years later, I am still shaken recalling the story. All I can say about that experience is that in-the-moment, logic and reasoning escaped me, emotion took over, and sensible or not, I did what I felt I needed to do, which at the time was absolutely necessary.
Whatever the outcome of the inquiry into the ‘dragging’ incident in Melbourne’s west, I hope that teachers, administrators, students and parents can support each other through the experience to settle on a more comfortable plotline.