Donkey was an old teacher. Old enough to see some things become unfashionable twice such as open learning areas and ‘discovery learning’. He gained some comfort that his more ‘traditional’ teaching style was once again becoming acceptable after years of trying to follow the latest pedagogical fad and finding them at best, inefficient and sometimes ineffective. He was saddened to see some changes more linear, like the destruction of a state comprehensive school system and the end of national conditions of service for teachers; he was sure these would not return in his lifetime. Donkey liked teaching and liked children, he found then funny and fascinating though with an endless capacity for frustration when trying to educate them well. He was content to remain in the classroom.
It was a normal Tuesday, nothing unusual had happened for weeks. Donkey had taught a full timetable and was settling down to his usual marking session when the door opened swiftly to admit his Head, (call me) Sue. “Got a minute?” she smiled. “Of course, yours or mine?” he smiled back, his mind clicking through the possibilities of topics that would be the subject of the impending ‘little chat’. “Mine I think, that OK?”. “Sure!” Fully alert now and a bit anxious Donkey really racked his mind to dig up the issue: nothing, he couldn’t guess what was coming. In Sue’s office they sat at the ‘conference’ coffee table and she napalmed him with “we’ve had a complaint and it has also been referred to the Police” all the cliches of stress were made real: time stood still, his heart pounded, the butterflies flocked in his body. “What about?” He was drowning in doubt now; there was nothing, no dispute, no unhappy parents and the Police… “Monday period 8?” she was scrutinising him closely now searching for a hint of his reaction. “Yes?” Nothing odd happened then. “You pulled a pupil to your desk?” “What! No, are you sure you have the right lesson?” “Sam year 9 English?” Yes that was him but there wasn’t any pulling, Donkey was perplexed.
Sue related the substance of the complaint: Sam had said to his Father that Donkey had grabbed him as he walked away and pulled him back to his desk by his wrist. His wrist was sore and the Father had seen marks showing some injury, he had called the police to complain of assault, they had attended and taken a statement but couldn’t see any marks and had suggested he complain to the school. Sue said the police would be investigating the complaint. Donkey was stunned, he didn’t remember any of the event described and couldn’t account for the complaint or any mark. He said so. Sue said she was meeting the Father first thing in the morning and would see Donkey again at lunchtime.
Donkey was dazed, his mind paralysed by doubt, fear and uncertainty. Was he going mad? Did something really happen that he had lost in some amnesiac state? Would he be arrested when he got home? He couldn’t concentrate on anything so he went home. He gazed unseeingly at the television whilst replaying the fragmentary memories of the lesson endlessly. Finally, he sat at the dining table and wrote his own statement: he could not remember any event as had been described but the other pupils must as the whole session was public and none of the pupils including Sam had complained or seemed upset at all. It seemed weak to him, ‘I don’t remember’ is not as strong as ‘it never happened’ but it was the truth, it would have to do.
The Lunchtime meeting was even worse. The information was the same but now Sue went through the ‘procedures’ that would be followed: she would be attending a multi-agency meeting to make a risk assessment of whether Donkey should be suspended “as a neutral act” whilst the complaint was investigated and whether the police would pursue the allegations for judicial action. He floundered with “suspension is NOT a neutral act Sue, it would mark me forever”, she seemed sympathetic and promised to do her best. The meeting would be tomorrow.
He taught in a detached, almost dream-like state, went straight home, no marking possible and went through the motions of life whilst worrying about the ‘morrow. Sleep did not come until the morning and he awoke weary and thick-headed for his day.
Sue came to see him at the end of a dreadful day. “Good news Donkey, if you agree to these conditions” (she waved a paper) “you can continue to work. Oh, and the police aren’t pursuing the case”. Relief came as a flood, overwhelming, but wait, she was continuing. “I will try to complete the investigation as quickly as I can, until then you can swap your Year 9 with Gina OK?” He looked at the agreement. He was to have no contact with the class or Sam until further notice. He signed feeling branded as a risk to children and the truth, offended, resigned and desperately tired.
A week later Sue again appeared: “OK to pop in for a chat after school Donkey?” A week of grinding stress had taken its toll, he grunted the affirmative wondering if this was the Final Day.
He sat down surprised to see another ‘guest’. “This is Tom from HR, technically you are entitled to 5 days notice and a representative but I am sure you would want to waive these to get this over with Donkey hmm?” He wasn’t sure what this portended, was it a sign of finding in his favour or merely grounds for a fruitless appeal later? He nodded his assent. “Well, I have interviewed the class individually, seen Sam and his Dad and I would like to go through it with you.” He went through his statement, somewhat hopeless and helpless in his inability to refute the allegation. Tom scribbled the official minutes. Eventually, Sue unfolded a file and began reading statements from the pupils, after the third or fourth Donkey realised that none of them had said anything about grabbing a wrist or pulling a pupil or anything even unusual. This continued: he was vindicated. At the end she folded the file and said “I have concluded the investigation and determined that no further action is necessary” Donkey wordlessly mouthed like a beached fish. “It’s finished Donkey. Over” Sue shined. Donkey thanked them and left in a trance.
On the way home the tears came, the final release of pent-up emotion had him sobbing in his car. He pulled in, his old frame shaking with a turmoil of sadness, relief and anger. How could all this come from a child’s accusation of simply grabbing a wrist. Later he found that this was the latest in a list of accusations for Sam and his Dad, both of whom were known to the police and that Dad had appealed to the Governors about Sue’s investigation. Sam hadn’t been back to school. Donkey realised that there was another change over the decades: teachers were now seen as a danger to young people unless proved otherwise and the procedures to protect pupils built by repeated past failure were unfair, inexorable and inevitable. All teachers are exposed by them to an intolerable strain whilst the word of a pupil is tested not by a Head in an afternoon but by a group of officials in (if you are lucky) a fortnight. Jaundice not justice.
This is a fictional story. The events didn’t happen and the people are imaginary. This story is not intended to resemble any individual or institution. What is real are Donkey’s thoughts and feelings: they may have arisen from something similar…