A friend of mine will be hoping that this is a homage to her favourite band, but she will be sorely disappointed. Because it’s not – sorry Mrs C. She might however, be able to help me with my dilemma as she has vast experience of this environment.
I received a text at work today advising me that T has been issued with a detention for “unacceptable behaviour” from his form tutor. My initial feeling was of disappointment. For him. He has a pretty unblemished record at secondary school and this is only the second detention he has had in almost 3 years. The first was for, in his words, “touching a tree”; in his form tutor’s (yep, them again) eyes he was “pulling a branch off a tree”. Pretty innocuous stuff whichever way you look at it. (If he’d then brandished said branch – the jury it still out on whether the branch was detached or lived to tell the tale – and taken someone’s eye out then it would be a different matter). My second thought was to wonder if he was going to be cross because he’d been accused of something “he didn’t do”. Bingo. (I didn’t get as far as a third emotion or chance to ponder as my phone then rang and the form tutor was on the other end of the line).
Let’s back pedal a little here and fill in some background details. T was really pleased in year 8 to find that he had this particular teacher as a form tutor. S(h)e was his IT teacher in Year 7 and they got on very well. However, it seems that being a form tutor was not quite as said teacher imagined and (s)he’s been pretty ambivalent towards the group to say the least. Now, we only have T’s side of the story on this, although his mates seem to be pretty much in agreement, that the teacher isn’t the greatest at dealing with conflict or issues and seems to hand out detentions like they’re going out of fashion. (S)he is allegedly pretty useless on other levels – like relaying important information, passing on messages, not turning up, not knowing students names, etc. Needless to say T is no longer so enamoured with said teacher and finds it all a bit irritating. Basically, he doesn’t have much respect for them. We have tried to explain that even teachers can mess up and that they don’t necessarily make the right decision all the time. We’re all human. Well, most of us are. We’ve done the whole “taking it on the chin” routine when something doesn’t quite go your way. But T is still very black and white about stuff and can’t always see that sometimes things can be a bit murky.
Back to today. The scenario is that the form tutor came into the room for morning registration to find 3 boys booting a football round the room, one of which was T. All 3 received an immediate detention. As I suspected, the form tutor went on to advise that T was rather aggrieved and had protested his innocence, but that they (the form tutor) had stuck by their guns and the detention still stands. Apparently, further negotiations were attempted at afternoon registration but, again, the decision still stands – despite the form tutor admitting that (s)he had undergone a moment of questioning their decision, but decided to be strong and stick with it. I thanked them for letting me know the situation and assured them that I would speak with T. I did, however, reiterate the point that T is of near-as-dammit unblemished character (which they conceded with) and that he does find it difficult to accept punishment when he feels it is unjustified. Basically, I sat on the fence.
I knew that when T came in he would be upset. He doesn’t like to be perceived as ill-behaved but I knew, above all, he would be cross that I won’t plead his case. His version of events? He was standing in the form room, his friend had a ball which was kicked at T’s face and it bounced off as the form tutor entered the room. So, from his point of view not only did he get a ball in the face, he then got a detention to go with it. Cherry on the cake. Now, I’m not saying that he’s lying or that he’s telling the truth. Again, sitting on the fence. But I wasn’t there and so I don’t know. I would like to think that my son wouldn’t like to me, but I am not naive enough to think that he doesn’t, even if it is only to downplay his involvement in a mis-demeanour.
What I had my biggest issue with was the attempts to negotiate with the form tutor and the lack of respect that this shows. I get it that he felt the punishment was unjust. I get it that he doesn’t really feel that the form tutor is up to scratch. But at the end of the day, the form tutor is in charge of a class of 30 plus teenagers and now and again they probably get a bit fed up with all the stupid behaviour that no doubt goes on. But they are in charge and their decision is final. My advice to T was that he had to take it on the chin (unfortunate choice of words bearing in mind his version of events); try and see it from the teachers point of view. I talked about snapshots – how we only see a small fragment of a moment and that sometimes as parents and teachers, and just people generally, we don’t always see what we think we are seeing. And on this occasion his form tutor saw a boy standing up in form with a ball ricocheting off him and (s)he made a decision based on that. I told him that regardless of his personal feelings, he had to accept that the teacher had made their decision and that was the end of it.
I find this issue of respect a tricky one. I was brought up to respect elders, parents, teachers, policemen, figures of authority. As an adult I know that respect is earned and that it is hard to respect someone that has let you down or who you feel is biased or inconsistent in their actions and decisions. And also that no-one is infallible, people are corrupt and people make the wrong decisions. I can’t tell T that he has to do as he is told and not question it – I don’t want him to just meekly stand by and accept what is going on if he feels strongly that something is wrong. I would always want him to question people’s actions/behaviours/decisions if he feels that they are putting someone in danger or causing harm. But, I also want him to understand that sometimes you just have to accept what has happened, as much as you dislike the decision, and put it behind you.He’s not massively impressed that I haven’t reacted as he’d clearly hoped but hopefully he respects the fact that I haven’t taken sides and that I haven’t read the riot act either.
I am sure that this will rear it’s ugly head many more times in my parenting journey and I am not sure I will be any better at dealing with it than I was today.