Posts Tagged ‘power’

An Allegory: The Cowboy and the Idiot – Part 1

November 9, 2013

Once upon a time in a place that could be nearer than you think and not so long ago as you’d like, an old cowboy looked around the town and wondered how the new sheriff was going to cope. The town was still a bit rough, a bit ragged around the edges despite the years and the various waves of change sweeping through, but its heart was in the right place and most of his work was done here.


The new guy was less than prepossessing to say the least. Crueler people, and there were many in the town who cheerfully called a spade a spade and a fool an idiot, would not find it possible to see what it was that had elevated this man. The cowboy looked at the sheriff, peered into his pale watery eyes, failed to find a chin, or anything defined about his face. His complexion was pale; pasty really, and his hair was mousy and dirty-blond under his new black ten gallon hat that sat uncomfortably on his head. His colourless lips quivered over his over-bite and the cowboy was put in mind of a blobby jellyfish. How would he survive in the heat of this place?

‘You’re one of my heroes,’ the sheriff said to the cowboy.

The cowboy nodded. He was used to being admired. But not liked very much, well by a select few but that didn’t matter: he had a job to do and all that mattered was that he did it well. He looked to the horizon, to where he needed to be sooner rather than later, to where his new boys were waiting for him.

‘There’s a lot to be done,’ the sheriff said looking around the dusty town, at the saloon, the bank, the store; down the street to where the church sat, seeming to watch over them all. He didn’t really like that he would be able to see the graveyard from his desk. ‘Will you be staying long?’

The cowboy shook his head. ‘Need to be moving by the morning. Be out of your way then.’

The sheriff’s hands shook a little as he rested them on his skinny hips, standing with his legs astride in what he hoped was a dominant pose. ‘I thought you might be around for a bit so we could chat. You know, shoot the breeze about how to tame this place, make it the promised land like the boys at home want us to, like those other places are.’

The cowboy almost smiled. ‘No. It’s time for your sort of law enforcement, you were elected to sort out this place, so you need to begin as you mean to go on. I’m not the sheriff, just a lone cowboy doing his best.’

The sheriff allowed himself a smile. ‘Ah, Mick, you shouldn’t under-rate yourself. Between us we’ll turn this county around and show those boys back home in the big smoke how to run things. And then, who knows what triumphs will follow?’

The cowboy nodded. ‘Yep. We’ll make a difference. But you here, in your way and me out there in the wilds, in my way. From time to time our paths will cross but for now I’ll let you settle in and get the measure of the town yourself.’

The cowboy gave the sheriff one last look up and down and wondered what would become of the place. How aligned were they? Could this weed of a man make a difference or was he just bolstered by his devoted supporters and his own rampant ego? Mind you, as the cowboy well knew, a big ego could take you a long way. If he was to give the sheriff any advice it would be to trust his own instincts, not to listen to the nay-sayers and especially not the hedonistic, ne’er do wells in the saloon. If he had his way the whole place would be blown sky high. This land, this hot, dusty inhospitable environment was a place for work, hard work and no shirking. It was a place for devotion, for determination, for sacrifice and courage. He knew these things as truth and expected others to come to that truth as well, willingly or not. He knew his single minded approach to law enforcement, his own maverick brand of justice was the right thing. He guessed that as the new sheriff was a fan then he would be in accord with the cowboy and they would make the land over in their own image.

wyatt earp

The idiot watched the cowboy fade into the sunset and felt a shiver of determination wash over him such that he stood a little taller in his shiny new boots and stretched his giblet neck to assume an altogether bigger posture. He would shake this town up like nothing on earth. He knew, as sure as eggs were eggs and the sun rose in the east that this town was gonna change. He smirked, as he was wont to do, these townies hadn’t a clue what was coming. He knew what he wanted, and this place bore no resemblance to the sort of town he wanted.

For a moment his vision glimmered in the heat: he saw the golden age, a place and time when the world was as he wanted, where it was just like where he grew up: where things were good and right. He would have that time again. (Images from Google Images)



Don’t Stand so Close to Me

October 7, 2012

So sang the Police many years ago about a young teacher and a sexy pouty teenage student. He was tempted, there was gossip and tension, wet bus-stops and warm cars, and it was a great song. But it’s not a great story in the real world.

As we watched the story of the Maths teacher and the 15 year old student unfold we knew it could only end badly. It is not the thing of great romance or tragic suffering: an intimate relationship between a teacher and student is always wrong. Every time, no matter the situation, the orientations of the players or the reasons. All wrong. All ways.

A teacher’s role is one of privilege, of responsibility, of care and due diligence. It is normal for students to have crushes on teachers. God knows, my daughter has had a crush on her wonderful English teacher for three years. My best mate at school had one on our hockey playing, Holden driving Science teacher, such that we trawled the A block corridors at lunchtime hoping for a chance encounter and a smile. It all came to naught, as it should.

Yes, some teachers marry their students. Yes, affairs do happen. Remember the case from the States several years ago where the PE teacher became pregnant by her 14 year old student lover? She ended up in jail. At the moment there is another teacher-student relationship storm brewing in the USA and the case of the runaway Maths teacher from Bournemouth is yet to run its sorry course.

What was he thinking? He’s twice her age. He’s in a position of responsibility – in loco parentis, it’s called, where teachers act in place of a parent. To wit they care for the child, keeping them safe and relating to them appropriately. Let’s leave aside the fact that many parents do not relate appropriately to the their own children and look at why cases of student-teacher relationships are and should be taboo.

You can’t get away from the immense imbalance in power. A student is young, vulnerable, highly impressionable. They may not be all that innocent, and they may be very compelling and sexy and tempting but they are young, unworldly and unknowing. The teacher is the adult and must remain so at all times. If you don’t understand that a distance must be kept and that you cannot indulge in an intimate relationship then you are in the wrong job.

Parents, students and the wider community trust teachers with the young people in their care. It is an awesome burden, but one we should be proud of. Remember that the public rate us in the top 3 of trusted professions: this matters. It matters because it is about the future of our society, that we do make a difference. Thus we cannot abuse that trust.

That’s not too say that it can be hard keeping that professional distance. When you teach in deprived areas, or have students who are more vulnerable than others it can be all too easy to form close attachments to students. Sometimes they need an adult in their life who cares for them, who goes the extra mile: someone upon who they can rely and trust. It is right that teachers fill that role. But at the end of the day, the teacher must go home to his/her life and so must the student. Phone calls, text messages, FB etc are not on. The line in the sand must be observed: the relationship has to remain professional, even if extremely caring. The teacher is the adult and must remain the adult, in control of the situation, aware of their own feelings and the students.

As I’ve blogged before relationships are what matter most to students, what affects their learning and their lives. But teachers who go beyond the ‘rules’, the expectations of a caring teacher, do a great deal of damage: to the student – now and later in life; to the school and to the profession at large.



How do you avoid the trouble Megan’s Maths teacher got into?

1. Be aware of your feelings, know they have become inappropriate and deal with it – transfer, or get help from someone before it’s too late

2. Never be in vulnerable situations – don’t see students alone if you suspect their feelings or your own; never ever meet them out of school

3. Do not share your contact details with students – work emails for assessment purposes is one thing, private contacts another altogether

4. Thus avoid being friends with students – current and recently former on FB – be wary of how the student is connected to others who may be in school still and privy to private info about you that can compromise you

5. Do not share Twitter accounts for the same reason, or home emails, or blog connections. Remember the electronic world can be an evilly connected place –who knows who is watching and for what diabolical purposes??

6. Finally, if you know or suspect something unseemly regarding a colleague you have to report it. There will be someone in the school looking after CP (child protection matters) who can advise you and ensure something untoward does not happen, either to the student or to your colleague.

We know teaching is a minefield. Students can and do lie about teachers. Teachers can and do abuse their positions of trust. Many of us deal with needy and vulnerable young people every day. They do not need to come from impoverished backgrounds to be needy. We need to know the lines in the sand. We need to observe them at all times, to reflect on our interactions with young people, to ensure they are safe and able to navigate their way (often with our help) through some challenging times.

Remember, never stand too close to them… (Images courtesy Google Images)