Lesson 52 on Trusting
Martine was a dreadful bully. She was only in the first year at Mandy’s school, but she was big built and strong. She literally threw her weight about. Her particular prey were weaker girls with few friends, from whom she extorted their dinner money.
We used up all our sanctions, guile, persuasion and practical ploys in the attempt to deter her. We restricted her movements at break time, so she couldn’t trap her victims. We kept her back for ten minutes after school so the others could get home without harassment, but Martine always found some way to continue her campaign of terror against the vulnerable.
One day a deputation from her class turned up at my door. They were sick and tired of her behaviour. They had talked it over and decided. They didn’t want her in their class assembly. They wanted me to tell her. They had had a vote on it and, if I said Martine had to be in the assembly, then they didn’t want to do it. Some other class could have their slot.
This was a massive sacrifice. The class assembly took place once a week in the hall, and pupils could choose whatever they wanted to do, so long as it had some sort of vaguely moral message and everybody had a part.
There was a termly rota on the board, so classes began planning weeks ahead. Teachers played very little part, except to vet the dress rehearsal for acceptability, a bit like the film censor. The only constraint was the time slot allowed. There could be singing, dance routines, gymnastics, dramatic productions or any combination of performance skills the class could muster. Think Britain’s Got Talent.
I agreed to see Martine.
Martine was distraught when I told her. She instantly promised to change, but I pointed out that she had promised this before to no effect, and now nobody believed her. She would have to demonstrate her words through her actions, if people were to have any faith in them. And she would have to do so without any assurance that her part in the assembly would be restored.
Next day Martine’s Mum turned up in my office. She was hot and wheezing after the shortish walk from home. She was not well. She was also desperate. Martine had cried herself to sleep.
Mum could not credit that Martine was so horrid at school. She relied on her totally at home. There were numerous little siblings, and Dad was often away for long periods. Martine was her rock, a veritable saint of the hearth. She cared for the others uncomplainingly when her mother was incapacitated, which was often.
I thought to myself that it was no wonder she picked on the small and vulnerable at school.
None of this solved the situation, however. I promised to do my best, but made clear that Martine had to stop bullying and Mum could help by reinforcing the message and by finding ways of relieving some of the pressures at home.
In the end I requested an audience with the class, while Martine stayed out of the way with Nurse. I suggested that they allowed Martine a period of probation. They did not have to give her one of the major parts that she had been pressuring for. Anything small would do, if only she could be part of it. No mention would ever be made of the bargain by anyone. Everybody had to promise. Martine would just come back and there would be no more bullying.
They agreed. The assembly went ahead.
And Martine took the chance to reinvent herself. She had been given an excuse to be good.
On my last day at the school, I was accompanied by a ritual procession of pupils carrying all my boxes, books and leaving presents to the carpark. Many of the pupils enjoyed a good sob and a grand hanky waving farewell at departures.
It was Martine who gave me the biggest goodbye hug.