When I first left university I decided to work as an unqualified teacher. I wanted to make sure that teaching was for me before I went and completed my PGCE. However, it hadn’t occurred to me that working as an unqualified teacher means that you are sent to the schools which qualified teachers refuse to set foot in: the challenging schools.
Learning on the job
I learnt a lot in those months of working as an unqualified. I saw the best and worst of teaching. I was also sent to one school where my then boyfriend was also working as an unqualified teacher. I found out that he had taken his extracurricular duties very seriously as he was busy shagging the French teacher- ooh la la. Anyway, I digress.
Two types of school
Working in schools meant that I saw two types of educational establishments. There were the schools where the teachers had worked there long-term and all came together as a team and supported each other and supply teachers (some schools took that support very seriously, as in the case of the ex-boyfriend). Then there were the other schools which were so fractured that there was no hope for anyone.
You just prayed that you made it out alive.
You kept your head down and you got on with it. At breaktime and lunchtime you would find the staffroom barren, apart from the small group of supply teachers huddled around the kettle all looking shell-shocked, or there were the ones making frantic calls to the supply agency informing them that they never wanted to be sent to that school again! You felt very alone in those schools.
Working as an unqualified meant that I’d had no training, I was simply thrown in the deep end. I had never taught before and I didn’t know how to manage behaviour, yet I found setting guidelines, showing kindness and having compassion went a long way. I was never assaulted deliberately but on numerous occasions I witnessed fights breaking out. One time during a maths lesson (anyone that knows me will realise that me teaching maths is hilarious) I heard a pupil screaming for help from the classroom opposite. My natural instinct was to go and help. In there I found a boy being punched and kicked by 5 boys, the rest of the class were revelling in the fight. Tables had been pushed aside and an angry mob stood on top of them, baying for blood. I was unable to get to the boy to drag him out so I ran to the classroom next door where I knew that a permanent teacher was working. I asked for his help, his reply was:
“It’s not my problem.”
He refused to help. I ran to my classroom and sent one of my class down to the main office to get someone to come and help. No-one came. In the end I had no choice but to get in the middle of the fight and drag the boy back to my classroom. This boy was bleeding and needed medical attention yet still no-one came.
Would a bodycam have helped?
A camera might have helped the boy above, but what would have helped even more was if the class had a teacher in the first place and if the aforementioned permanent member of staff had been willing to help. If the school had been a supportive environment then I suspect that the classroom attack would never have happened. I worry that the use of body cameras might replace trust and understanding. I worry that it might cause a toxic environment in schools. Will cameras really help in schools where trust is already worn away? When I later qualified as a teacher I learnt behaviour strategies, I learnt how to manage and control a classroom. This meant that I never had issues with classroom behaviour and I never felt the need for a camera.
Yet, like any teacher I still faced challenges. My very first teaching position was in a school that was challenging to say the least. As I stood in front of the class in my very first lesson as an NQT, knees knocking, a boy, who was easily 6ft3, came up to me and shouted in my face that he was going to rape me and teach me a lesson. He ranted that I should be at home, tied to the kitchen sink, I shouldn’t be working. That boy was known to have issues with female teachers yet there was no paperwork on him and no-one had warned me. I reported him but to no avail as he was in my next lesson with a smirk on his face. He knew that he was untouchable. Would a camera have helped me then? I would have had proof but also it would have enabled me as an NQT to reflect on how I had handled the situation. However, that is what being a teacher is like. As an NQT you have experiences that will shape you as a teacher and from which you will learn. I don’t think me wearing a camera would have stopped the boy from saying those words to me. Again, this was a school that was lacking a support structure. What would have helped me was if I had been prepared for that run-in, if I’d had support after the incident. There was nothing and it was a very rocky start to my teaching career.
On another occasion, at a different school, I was hit over the head by a pupil. His actions were completely unexpected but he was obviously having a bad day and wanted to demonstrate this. This time the school had evidence of the assault as there was a camera on the corridor and the situation was dealt with swiftly. However, I felt this incredible amount of guilt over the boy being expelled. Yes, he had a long history of challenging behaviour and this was the final straw, and yes you can’t let a pupil stay when they have hit a teacher as that sends the wrong message but I knew the boy behind the camera and his school record and I knew the troubled home life he had. Even though there was nothing I could do, I blamed myself.
How I feel about bodycams
My gut reaction to bodycams is that it shouldn’t have to be like this. However, logically I realise it might actually help in some situations. It could be useful for training teachers and it could help supply teachers. Still, I do believe that instead of spending a fortune on body cameras we should be looking at making some schools more supportive. The last school I worked at was the most supportive school I had worked in. People shared ideas for managing behaviour, you could buddy up with other teachers and you could always ask for help. This was more effective than any body camera would have been.
I worry that using body cameras will take away the compassion and kindness.
Also, what message is it sending to the children? That anytime there is the threat of something kicking off we turn a camera on. What does that say about resolving conflict?
Every school is different and, therefore, every school has different needs. If the school feels that there is a need for a camera in the classroom then perhaps a static one would be better as that would be less intrusive. For me, I just feel sad that this is the way the education system is going. Schools are like a micro society and I’m not sure I like a society where Big Brother is constantly watching you.
For me cameras are a no, I would be turning mine off.