Guilty Until Proven Innocent
“Fuck off, I don’t care if you are the principal. Just fuck off, and get out.”
I waited for about half a second, then got up and left the parent support meeting being held in the library.
Normally if I was abused by a parent my initial emotion would be anger, and I would do my best to suppress this.
On this occasion there was no anger, just an overwhelming feeling of sadness.
I did my best to project a grim look on my face, as I walked from the circular table, out the door and continued to my office with my head in full view for what seemed like an eternity. Grim was the best I could muster and hoped it would mask the despondency I felt.
Back at my office I felt hollow, empty.
I sat at my desk and looked emptily through the computer screen. I got up walked around my office, drifted into the staffroom, then back to my office. Empty.
When my colleagues came out of the meeting, they were very supportive, and shared how they called the parent out on her behaviour.
The support was appreciated, but for at least the next week I felt like I was a shadow walking around the school.
What had the meeting been for? It was one of a series of meetings relating to one of her children being violent towards staff and students.
Sadly, this is a common experience for educators everywhere. When did this become the norm?
Now I’m 45, and back in my day when going to school …. cue stories of walking 10 miles both ways, bare foot, in the snow, with my siblings on my back …
In all seriousness, the culture in the house I grew up in was you’re going to get in significantly more trouble at home if you were found to have ‘played’ up at school. The majority of households would have been like this at that time.
Rewind a couple of generations earlier again, and it’s safe to say it would have been close to this approach being unanimous.
In contrast, nowadays, the principal gets berated for bringing it up.
So how did we get to this state of affairs? When did the shift occur? What was the trigger?
A more appropriate, but harder question is how do we rectify the situation?
The current situation is that it is accepted as part of your job that you will be abused, not because you’ve done anything wrong, but because you are fair game.
I know that what I’m writing about is a reflection on society in general.
The signs posted on community sporting pavilions – “Before you complain … have you volunteered yet????”
Guidelines for junior representative teams stating that coaches are not to be approached during, or after games.
I’m sure every profession has some war stories attached to nightmare customers/clients.
However, the narrative is different in education, which exacerbates the problem.
For example, the health system is deemed to be broken, but medical professionals aren’t seen to be at fault. Whereas in education, the blame lies squarely with the educators. It’s not right.
I had more ‘official’ complaints in my last year as principal, than the previous five years combined. Interestingly, none of these parents changed schools despite there being multiple options available to them. In fact, many of them drove past schools in order to get to our school.
This is in a school that was at the pinnacle. Nominated for awards, speaking at international conferences, student outcomes through the roof.
I would hate to think what happens in schools that aren’t performing as well.
If complaints are put in writing and sent to the Department of Education and Training, they become ‘official’. This requires the principal to then respond in writing.
No matter how frivolous; no matter the history; no matter how big the Department of Health and Human Services file is; no matter how strong the educator’s record is; no matter all of the above.
Guilty until proven innocent.
I had history with the parent at the start of this piece.
She was a former student, and I had been one of her teachers. She became pregnant to another student when she was in Year 11 and had the baby. The school and the community supported her to complete Year 12 which she did. We were all super proud of her.
Fast forward and I’m now principal of a local primary school. You can connect the dots.
I had a very strong relationship with her until one of her children was violent towards other students and staff.
She is still a parent at the school, and drives 20 minutes, passed four schools to get there.
So how do we turn this ship around? There is no one single solution to a complex problem such as this. A high-profile advertising campaign aimed at reducing the abuse educators receive would be a start. It would also provide the reboot that the moral fabric of society desperately needs.