Lesson 40 on The Importance of Leaving an Escape Clause
At Mandy’s school, we had certain rigid rules in the interests of basic safety. These were – no fighting with other pupils; no verbal or physical violence towards staff and no bullying.
The punishment system was simple and inflexible. A culprit had the option of apologising immediately and being given timeout working at a desk outside the school office or being sent home. They could then only come back when a parent or guardian brought them in to apologise.
This did not take long. Sometimes people were brought straight back by an irate mother in their slippers. Nobody lived more than a few streets from the school.
If there was no parent at home, the unrepentant lawbreaker would be kept out of class till a parent or guardian could come up to school to collect them.
The system worked well, because the pupils hated to be out of school and the parents hated them to be at home. School was where you had to be if you wanted to keep up-to-date with the daily dramas played out on the estate. There were no mobile phones in those days.
Josephine’s parents, however, were notoriously hard to contact. Nobody was quite sure who in the large extended family lived where.
So when Josephine broke a rule, in the course of her guerrilla warfare against authority, she came to work in my office.
I was frightened of Josephine. She was big and strong and fierce. I was little and cowardly. I knew, and she knew, that I couldn’t make her do anything. But she quite liked being in my office. Groups came for “Remedial” English, and there were visitors on various errands. If I had to make confidential phone calls, she had to go next door and sit with Nurse in her room and that was always interesting.
Josephine didn’t exactly converse, but she began to use me a useful source of information.
What’s that little box on the wall?” she asked out of the blue one day.
It’s a thermostat,” I explained. “It makes the heating go on and off.” I showed her how it worked.
“We’ve got one in our house. If I do that, will the heating go on?”
“It should do, as long as your gas is working.” Josephine nodded. Having no gas or electricity was a fairly familiar situation.
As the days went by Josephine gradually took on an unofficial PA role in my life. “Mr Deputy came round. He says can you come and see him about the registers.” Or “You’ve got to meet Mrs Educational Psychologist after break.”
And still no parent appeared. Josephine just shrugged if questioned. Everyone except me seemed quite content with the situation. Everybody else was glad of a break from Josephine in their classroom.
The trouble with non-negotiable, inflexible rules is that you can’t get out of them. I couldn’t see how I would ever be free of Josephine.
In the end she stayed with me till the holidays, when we invented a new rule that said the punishment period expired automatically at the end of term.
That allowed the rules to be seen to be upheld.
Thus saving everybody’s face.