Friday, 20 April 2012

No compassion allowed

That was a news article I stumbled over, and read again, and again. Teacher sacked after hugging and kissing a student.

Not any old teacher, but my former colleague.

I couldn't believe the words. Cuddled? Vulnerable pupil? Unless black is white and white is black I'd swear that Phil's act was totally in keeping with the man: I'd know him for his generous and impulsive acts of genuine feeling and compassion. And I'd bet my heart that the kiss was a consoling middle-class peck on the cheek, not a French job in a cupboard.

But I could imagine Phil falling into that moment. He'd be visited by a child showing distress over a scrap of GCSE work and he'd want to do something right there and then to alleviate that fear.

Yes, his perspective would be so much wider and wiser than hers: he'd know a D-grade at GCSE isn't going to ruin your life, no matter how the school says it will doom your prospects forever. Seeing her collapse in a fearful, fretful weep, he'd feel emotional empathy, and have a real need to help.

Hugging? I've done it myself. Peter, a wiry and scruffy bruised kid in my form - hard boy image, so a lot to protect - he won't go to assembly, but hangs round, hands in pockets, affecting indifference. When the room finally empties, he crumples to the desk, folds his head to his arms, and shakes with loud, clumsy sobs. His dad's left them that morning. Packed three bags, and slammed the front door. Peter watches in shock. His mother, screaming, throws everything she can reach with fierce and vengeful hands, hurling all objects at the closed front door. Glass shatters. Peter silently picks up his rucksack, slips out the back door, shaken, sits on the bus to school. He doesn't know whether anyone will be at home when he returns. He's frightened. Of course I put my arm round him and hug, because what would any human being do?

But teachers must deny they do the same, and pretend it never happens. Even though schools are environments where staff are placed daily on the receiving end of the raw emotions of pupils who are bringing to school all their needed growing up experiences. Inside this intensive, closed environment, teachers must suppress their feelings, deny their emotions about learning, and pretend affecting experiences are merely intellectual challenges; better to find a policy, a procedure, and a professional guideline rather than a simple human response. And above all, whatever happens, we must never show compassion. This feeling is a weakness, and makes us vulnerable. To cover it over, better show nothing, or mockery and indifference.

Then staff are judged on their ability to play this sleight of hand; how well can they disguise their feelings, cover over these relationships, and smartly deliver the curriculum? Ofsted will no doubt reward those who deliver the learning event to the prescribed outcomes, even if what we're left with is a soulless experience; learning denuded of feeling. It plays to our myth that schools are centres of intellect. 

I had to leave that environment; I had too much feeling, and so lacked professionalism. But even if I failed there, I want teachers like Phil in our schools. In my world view, it's a very great quality indeed, to bring compassion into a job where most of the time you simply have to deny it.


Irene said...

I think we live in a world gone mad. People seem to have no common sense left. This situation could have been evaluated so differently. Who is charging him with what? Can he fight his dismissal? I would if I were him.

MadameSmokinGun said...

Says it all about our society now. I remember Minx's first ballet school - took little poppets from age 2 - the lovely lady who welcomed everyone in for her daughter said they'd be closed down if someone came in and saw her cuddling some little pops who'd got upset, despite all the mums sitting around - ridiculous.

higglepea home ed said...

It's the same in the hospitals. Not allowed to comfort patients in pain, dealing with loss or coming to terms with illness, making it an even more sterile environment :(
Your posts are always an inspiration, which is why I have nominated you for the versatile blogger award. x

Ruth said...

When my children were in school I used to help in the reception class. A little boy's brother died and the teacher asked me to put him on my knee and hug him cos he was inconsolable and she wasn't allowed to touch him. He was 4! It's ridiculous :(

Grit said...

Hello people, thank you for your comments. i think sometimes the fear of being judged weighs far heavier on people than the action, so maybe a teacher should just go ahead, cuddle a distressed kid, and change the judgement.