I have been thinking a lot about how people experience school. I don’t tend to dwell on schools, because we don’t use them at the moment and that’s that. But reading a blog that Gill has linked to has stirred up some memories for me. The blog in question considers the violence that is going on in schools, and the fact that threats, assault, and so on, are directed at pupils and teachers.
I had a vile time at secondary school – a big comprehensive. In my day it was streamed and I was in the top stream – the X band. At the end of my second year in the school my sister was killed in a road accident. During my last two years at the school I realised that I was a lesbian. So, I guess you could say that I had particular issues to deal with. But, let’s just say that the school didn’t help! I had one great teacher, who became a friend in a way that most teachers wouldn’t dare to today – respected me and listened to me. But every day I went in to school I was struggling with the place – and my feelings about the place.
When I was at university (about four years after I’d left school) I wrote down some of my school memories. I think I realised that I was at a moment when I might start to forget them. Anyway, I dug out the bit of paper and found that violence was very much a theme. It is worth remembering that I was at secondary school more than twenty years ago now – between 1983 and 1987 – so maybe all this violence is no new thing.
Here’s a selection of the things I wrote back in 1990 when the memories weren’t so dusty.
Every pair of shoes, because of staring at my feet.
Morning registration – calculating the minutes left that day.
Anger, fury, rage – utter indignation.
The noise, never happy.
Shouting, always shouting.
The filthy floors and litter covered fields.
Spitting, hitting, being so tense I’d ache.
Fear of belonging, or becoming part of it.
Wanting to escape. Dreaming of, longing for, a quiet sunny place to cry in.
Feeling invisible, feeling inhuman, feeling abandoned.
So much ugliness.
Stupid, futile punishment for simple human error.
So much tyranny and behaviour they couldn’t justify.
Naked aggression – assertion of power from pupils and staff.
My contempt for all of them – pupils and teachers.
How I stopped being kind – ridiculed people and wanted to hurt them.
Constant exhaustion and inertia.
Getting stoned at lunchtime – the relief of the haziness taking the edge off the afternoon.
I don’t think that it is ok that teachers are fearful or ground down by their work place. I think everyone should be able to go to work free from the fear of assault or ridicule. But when I read the complaints of teachers on blogs, or the TES staff room, I am taken back to the way I felt at school. This violence, these feelings of powerlessness and depression, are not new. I would suggest that many children have always felt that way in school – and I’m sure that they still do. Perhaps the difference now is that the teachers are feeling it too?