24 March 2010

Michael

Yorkshire pudding batter
I don't regret leaving my senior teaching post with all its attendant pressures and responsibilities. To tell you the truth, I have hardly thought about my last school at all. I was there for twenty three years but it almost seems like something I dreamt, somebody else's life.

On Tuesday, I was helping our son Ian greatly reduce the size of a privet hedge that grows between his back garden and next door. We gave it what Ian described as a crewcut. He got me talking about "difficult" schoolkids I had known and I related the story of a lad I encountered in the late eighties during my first couple of years at that last school. Let's call him Michael - well that was his name - so why not?

Academically, Michael wasn't very bright. At the age of fifteen, with eleven years of compulsory schooling behind him, he wrote with all the ease and confidence of a torture victim in some Iraqi cellar. He was placed in my pastoral tutor group and I was also timetabled to help him to improve his very limited English skills in a small class with six or seven others who presented similar literacy problems. It was as if they had all only started to read and write the previous month though a year later they would be out of compulsory schooling altogether.

Physically, he was an imposing presence - barrel-like with thick muscular arms and a shock of chestnut red hair. He had piercing dark blue eyes in which the pupils appeared permanently dilated and therefore unnerving - like he was always spoiling for a fight, always angry.

I knew Michael's track record. He had a file in the school office as thick as the Yellow Pages. Only a handful of these pages covered his academic slow motion, mostly they were about his long history of unpleasant behaviour - bullying and intimidating other pupils, stealing, ripping up school books, never attempting homework, fighting, truancy, refusing to follow reasonable instructions, walking out of lessons, swearing, damaging staff cars etc.. He had been shown such kindness, such goodwill and yet he had thrown it all back. I was determined to win him over and at least, when in my charge, to stifle his old behaviours.

It was easy enough in a very small class. I jollied him along, gave him positive strokes, didn't make a song and dance about little blips in his behaviour, tried hard to make the work fun. Though I say it myself, in my lessons it was working - he was behaving even if his English writing skills remained just above the level of a well-stimulated laboratory chimpanzee. However, in other lessons and around the school, his behaviour was worsening if anything. He was suspended a couple of times and given strong warnings as to his future conduct.

As his form tutor I was asked to keep a detailed record of any behaviour reports I got - pending future action. As if I didn't have enough to do! Anyway, over half a term and unbeknown to Michael, I compiled a list of any reports I received from other members of staff- both oral and written. It was the same old stuff with a few new misbehaviours thrown in - including spitting in the face of a dinner lady who insisted he couldn't jump the lunch queue, setting fire to a bin in Science and, rather disgustingly, standing on a concrete gatepost at the neighbouring primary school and urinating on some five year old girls. Sex was beginning to feature in his catalogue of misdemeanours and I recall shudderingly how he once confided in me that he liked little children - especially girls.

The straw that broke the system's back was when he ripped up his meticulously assembled annual school report. The headteacher asked for the behaviour dossier I had been compiling and I sent it down to his office. Michael was carpeted and informed that the time had come for a parting of ways. He was to be expelled. The Head of Year who was also in this endgame meeting told me that the headteacher had said several times "Mr Pudding has made a detailed list of your wrongdoings... Mr Pudding has written this down for February 5th...Mr Pudding this, Mr Pudding that..."

Instead of leaving the head's office with his head bowed in shame, Michael came looking for me. In his mind I was now the villain - the one who had dared to list his various misdemeanours. I wasn't in my classroom . I was on a free period, printing lesson materials in the school's reprographic room next to the library. Suddenly, there he stood - a barrel of aggression. I said something like "What do you want?" And he said "You know why I'm here!" - his fists clenched at his side, his face flushed, his pupils even wider than usual. Fortunately, the Head of Year also appeared in the doorway and she was able to intervene both physically and with calming words before leading Michael away.

I never saw him again but for a couple of years I was ready for him, ready to attack rather than be attacked if he appeared in my room. The stupid headteacher said, "Oh you shouldn't worry. He was never really aggressive" but some four years later he received a prison sentence for grievous bodily harm - though not, I am happy to say for battering a Yorkshire pudding!

9 comments:

  1. I guess this means you're not coming to Thailand then?...

    There aren't any Michaels here...

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  2. I wondered when (and how) you were going to get to the Yorkshire Pudding batter....

    What I noticed most about this post overall is your excellent writing!

    I hope Michael is getting the help he needs.

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  3. Why do we try to turn everyone into an academic success? I think kids like Michael are more fit to do physical work than mental work, and if we didn't try to force them into an impossible role, they might be happier as kids. I guess no one wants to take the responsibility for making that decision, they're afraid they might miss a late-budding genius or something.

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  4. B.BOOTH I can't see me coming over to teach but perhaps in the autumn I might come out to have a beer or two - depending on our finances etc..
    RHYMES WITH and JAN BLAWAT I totally agree with Jan. In this world there are people like Michael who find the whole formal education thing demeaning. Schools are designed for academic success but for success to mean anything there must also be failure. Is it really surprising that some kids kick against the system? None of us like the feeling that we might be failures. Michael was made for digging holes, building walls and knocking them down and taking home a wage packet at the end of the week. I hope that's what he is doing now.

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  5. I think there are many children such as Elizabeth. As I think there are many Michaels in this world.
    We have a friend who has 2 sons, and a daughter. Daughter is bright. Son 2 is very bright, interested in anything and everthing. Son 1 just does not seem to fit. He is so different, and no seems sure where his apptitudes lie. His father struggles to understand him on a daily basis. We hope he finds his 'niche' in life. At least he is not violent or into crime of any sort.

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  6. The help for Michael to which I was referring was for his mental health, not his scholastic advancement....

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  7. Anonymous5:53 am

    Cunt.

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  8. Dear Anonymous,
    I trust you are referring to yourself.
    Best wishes,
    Mr Pudding

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  9. Don't worry I'm sure Michael wouldn't be reading your blog. You would have to be able to read to perform such an act?

    Or maybe he googles caulking methods, to help with his Broadmoor day release for painting and decorating and came across this blog all these years later?

    Or maybe this was Michael's boyfriend disgruntled because Michael's in a mood?

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.