- THE BEGINNING OF THE END.
Ernest turned out to be a bonnet, rather than a mudguard. He was certainly shiny on top, but underneath there was less excrement than you would find with a mudguard like Aern Fracks, or Beau Flashman. Ernest Hamming cared almost as much about his students as he did about the furthering of his career, and he tended not to blatantly use students or staff as a means of promoting himself. He did use students and staff, certainly, but there was some subtlety in his approach.
Jeremy’s return to Banksia House was a very emotional time for many people. Ernest knew important aspects of the history of the Fracks/Blewit saga. He knew that Mayhew had been set up in order to remove him from the game. He also knew that Mayhew was highly regarded by staff and students, and that his return would pose a threat to Laura Norder, Hannah Phylaxis and their allies. Ernest wanted to be seen as an effective manager, and Waldo Garrison would be sure to be scrutinising everything about Banksia. Ernest needed to bring Mayhew on-side, and keep him there.
Laura Norder’s life staggered from one crisis to the next. At least, with the school situation “under control”, she had one less thing to worry about. Hannah was carrying the bulk of the load, as far as administrivia was concerned. Hannah was able to manage bits of paper, draw up rosters and so on, without creating too many major disasters. It was working with people where she fell down so badly, and that was Ernest’s problem. Thanks to Hannah and Ernest, Laura was able to get on with the little bit of work that she could manage, but how would Jeremy’s return affect her situation?
Laura had always been in awe of Mayhew. She had admired his teaching skill and his ability to lead people, without having to drag them along behind him. She liked him, too. Mayhew had supported her for the position of assistant principal, but things had changed dramatically since then. His return now presented a threat. He might expect her to live up to the potential which she had shown in the early days at Banksia, and that was an impossible mission now.
Singer Berger welcomed the return of her friend and colleague, and not for purely selfish reasons. Jeremy’s support was certainly needed, in the face of the constant attacks from Phylaxis and company, but the kids needed Jeremy back too. Perhaps, with Jeremy back in harness, the school could move on from the ugliness of the past.
Of all those associated with Banksia House, Hannah Phylaxis now had the most to lose as a result of Mayhew’s return to the school. After all, it was his chair she had been usurping for the best part of a year. It was his position which she had been using to gain and maintain her power over the other members of staff. She had disposed of Fiona Hamilton (thanks for the lesson, Aern), isolated Singer Berger, had Laura Norder dependent upon her, and she’d made herself indispensable to Ernest by taking on the lion’s share of the paperwork. With Shellby Swayde and Dodie Krutch standing behind her, she held power over all bar Ernest, and he wasn’t going to make too many waves if he wanted her to carry the load.
When Mayhew returned, she would lose her position, and with it, much of her power. Worst of all, she’d be placed back on the same level as the detested Singer Berger, who, through her knowledge and ability, had always humiliated Hannah, just by being there. She would no longer be able to assert her superiority over Berger by using her position of authority, and in any clash on professional grounds, Berger was guaranteed to defeat her. Hannah had been able to strike personally at Singer by taking control Mick Hunter, and by constantly reminding the younger woman of his betrayal, but without the power of her position, Hannah would lose the professional ascendancy which she pretended to have gained.
There had been many staff changes during Jeremy’s absence. Teachers who had become fed up with the goings on had transferred, and, thanks largely to the efforts of Singer Berger, additional teachers’ aides had been employed. Those of the old guard, welcomed Mayhew back warmly, and before long, the new members of staff were looking upon him as a valuable member of the team. Dodie Krutch made an unsuccessful attempt to ingratiate herself with Mayhew, who was able to see through her in short order. When it became plain that Dodie was not going to be able to manipulate Mayhew, she refocused her attentions on Hamming and on Phylaxis, and regarded Mayhew warily and from a distance.
Jeremy had been more than a little scared at the prospect of returning to his school. There were many demons there. He wasn’t so much fearful of Phylaxis, or of anything which she might try to do, rather it was the memories which the place held. As Jeremy walked through the hallways on the day of his return, it was almost as if the evil which had been wrought by Fracks and Legge and by their offspring, had permeated the very walls. He found that his desk was still occupied by Phylaxis. Neat and tidy, it contrasted markedly with Laura’s bomb-site.
Hamming explained his reasoning in allowing Phylaxis to continue to use Jeremy’s work station. Ernest felt that it was important that Hannah be allowed to return to her position as a classroom teacher “over a period of time”. She would need to “re-acclimatise”. Consistent with his policy of being part of the solution rather than part of the problem, where Banksia was concerned, Jeremy agreed.
He wasn’t terribly impressed with what appeared to be Ernest’s pandering to Phylaxis, but, by allowing Phylaxis to continue with some of her administrative tasks, Jeremy would also be given time to settle back in. So Jeremy shared workstations with both Laura and Hannah, so that he would have ready access to a computer for most of the time.
This system worked reasonably well for a short time. Laura was dithering and disorganised, but she was cordial towards Mayhew. She didn’t welcome him back, initially, but neither did she set out to make life difficult for him. Phylaxis, on the other hand, was almost belligerent, making little attempt to show her displeasure at Mayhew’s return.
It wasn’t long before Jeremy advised Ernest that the office-sharing arrangement was not working. Mayhew suggested that he might use another room, which housed a computer that was linked to the school’s network. Jeremy also suggested to the principal that a deadline should be set for Phylaxis to resume her normal role, and move her base out of the assistant principals’ office. Ernest agreed that Mayhew’s plan was sound and that it should be enacted.
Under the increased pressure created by Mayhew’s return, Phylaxis began to self-destruct. On one day, several weeks after Mayhew’s reappearance at Banksia House, Phylaxis approached him as he was working alone. She apologised for having been “distant”, and hoped that she had not made things unpleasant for Mayhew. She explained that she was constantly under pressure, carrying so much of the administrative burden for Ernest, as she did, and that she had been unsure of what Mayhew’s attitude towards her might have been. She went on to say how hopeful she was that she and Jeremy would be able to work comfortably together.
Jeremy was amused. He wondered if Phylaxis really expected him to be taken in by her glib tongue and sincere smile. Jeremy explained that any differences which might now exist, or which might have existed in the past, between the pair, could only be regarded as purely professional. He made it clear to Phylaxis that the job was too important and too demanding, to be interfered with by personal issues, and that he had never allowed personal matters to interfere with his work in the past, and that he would not allow this to happen in the future. Phylaxis went away confused and Jeremy smiled.
Mayhew was still well below his best, mentally and physically, but his gradual assimilation into the new Banksia House was being accomplished in such a way as to support him appropriately. With backing from Waldo, Jeremy had made it clear that he would not be prepared to engage in physical restraint of any student, no matter what the circumstances. The horrors of the CPD inquisition were still raw in his mind, and they would never quite fade. Accordingly, an aide was detailed to be with Jeremy at all times whenever Mayhew needed to manage a student. This was somewhat limiting whenever a student needed to speak confidentially, but in Jeremy’s mind, his personal safety had to come first.
Gradually, Mayhew found his feet. Those staff to whom he was the new boy, came to respect his judgement and to willingly accept direction from him. Ernest slowly came to rely on Mayhew’s capacity to pour oil on troubled waters, and to accept his advice on issues relating to student management. Much of his credibility could be attributed to the way in which Jeremy had turned things around for the class that he supposedly shared with Laura. His students were in their final years of compulsory schooling, and their Banksia House experience had been little better than the time which they had endured in their mainstream schools.
This group of half-a-dozen fourteen and fifteen year olds had been in Fiona Hamilton’s care until Fiona had been forced out by Phylaxis. It was testament to Fiona’s ability as a teacher, that her entire class felt a fierce loyalty to her, and when she was forced to leave Banksia they were extremely angry. Although Fiona had said nothing about her difficulties with Phylaxis, these were street-wise and perceptive young people, who were readily able to pick up on the aggravation which had existed between Phylaxis and other members of staff. They knew that Phylaxis was behind Fiona’s departure, and they, individually and collectively, despised Hannah with a passion.
Ernest had then been charged with the responsibility for finding a replacement for Fiona Hamilton. There existed a deficit of suitable teachers for this specialised job, so it happened that anyone willing to take on the job became automatically suitable. Hamilton’s replacement had been willing but incapable and the class chewed her up and spat her out. She went from Banksia House into a period of leave, on workers compensation resulting from workplace stress.
Mayhew had then approached Ernest with a plan, which was designed to cater to the needs of the students rather than the whims of the adults. After Mayhew, Laura Norder was the most experienced teacher at Banksia. Hoping that they would be able to work together reasonably well, Jeremy suggested that he and his fellow assistant principal should share the responsibility of caring for the senior class. However, he had reckoned without Laura’s poor state of mental health. Laura was unable to do anything other than babysit the group, and, after a short period, Mayhew found that he was carrying more and more of the teaching load.
This proved entirely beneficial to the students, whose behaviours improved dramatically, but it was very draining for Mayhew, given that he was still undergoing the rehabilitation process. His spirits were buoyed by encouragement and praise from Ernest, and by expressions of appreciation from Waldo, who visited regularly, keeping a close watch on the Banksia situation.
Whilst Mayhew flourished, Phylaxis became increasingly aggressive towards staff and increasingly punitive where students were concerned. Hannah could take a minor problem and turn it into a major crisis within minutes. Her demeanour was not improved by the fact that, fed up with Hamming’s procrastination on the issue of removing Phylaxis’ executive status, Mayhew had given the principal notice of his intention to return to his desk in his office, rather than continuing to operate with reduced efficiency from his alternative workstation.
Ernest had greeted the news with barely concealed anxiety. He knew that Mayhew was absolutely justified in his stance, and that Phylaxis had become a problem of his own creation, but he was torn between his need to have her continue with the mundane administrivial tasks for which she was responsible, and his need to ease the growing crisis in student management, a product of poor strategy selection by both Phylaxis and Norder. Ernest knew that he had to make the change, but he was also smart enough to predict the outcome.
Laura was now caught between supporting Phylaxis, who was carrying a good deal of Norder’s administrative work, and maintaining some credibility with staff who were now becoming openly hostile towards Phylaxis. Laura’s failure to manage the team situation with Mayhew, added yet another stressor. For Laura Norder, the end was fast approaching.
A series of student management crises brought the situation to a head. Phylaxis had been waiting with a group of students at the school gate for the special student transport to arrive. A number of the waiting students were clowning around and, when spoken to by Phylaxis, one who hated her particularly, reacted strongly, pouring forth a torrent abuse. Hannah was struck, almost as if by a physical force, and she lost her composure entirely. It was unfortunate for Singer Berger that she was one of several staff to witness the exchange.
Phylaxis was livid and turned to Berger, directing her to escort the student back into the office. Berger was not impressed. Not only was she being given an order by someone who had no authority to do so, but the suggested action was totally impractical and could only lead to further conflict. Singer suggested an appropriate alternative, which was supported by the other staff present, and Phylaxis stormed off in tears to complain to Ernest that her usurped authority had been challenged.
On the following day Ernest was absent from the school, attending a meeting. Before he left, he had explained to Mayhew that, although he was acutely aware of the fact that Jeremy was the better qualified of the two, Ernest would give Laura the responsibility of the acting principal’s role for the day. This was being done for the purpose of minimising the likelihood of further distress for Norder and Phylaxis, whom he expected to react badly if Mayhew were placed in charge. Mayhew assured Hamming that he couldn’t care less. Status and power were not acquired by position, they were earned through proven performance.
During the recess break, a serious incident occurred in the playground. A fight between two students escalated into an unmanageable crisis for the staff on playground duty and all staff were called to the scene. Mayhew arrived to find several conflicts occurring. Phylaxis was standing, watching as one of her colleagues tried to keep one student from attacking another, and Laura was trying valiantly to keep another situation from escalating from abuse to violence.
A third conflict was mobile, with one of the senior girls screaming abuse at a teacher who was following her towards the front steps of the school building. Mayhew intervened, assuming management of the situation. He spoke first to the teacher, quietly informing her that, since she was the target of the student’s anger, she must remove herself from the scene. With that done, Mayhew then turned his attention to the still-screaming student and the small but attentive audience. Jeremy instructed those students whose behaviour was still rational, to accompany staff into a quiet area, at the same time directing his colleagues to escort the watchers away.
As this was happening, and as the remaining student’s anger was beginning to subside, Hannah Phylaxis arrived on the scene. Hannah was on a mission. This particular juvenile had been close to Hamilton, and had given Hannah hell since Fiona’s departure, and this would be an ideal opportunity for Hannah to ensure that the student was given the maximum sentence for her current behaviour. Without pausing to make any sort of assessment of the situation, Phylaxis launched herself upon the student with threats and abuse. Mayhew broke off from speaking with the student and told Phylaxis that he was managing the situation and that he would call upon her if he needed assistance.
Phylaxis was struck dumb. Red-faced, she turned and left, only to return minutes later with Laura Norder in tow. Confused, distressed, anxious and fumbling for words, Laura, as acting principal, took over management of the situation, which Mayhew had just defused. The student, who knew of Laura’s close connection with Hannah, and who therefore had no respect for either woman, saw Hannah standing back, arms folded across her chest, waiting for the punishment to be administered, and exploded again. Having been relieved of the responsibility for managing the situation, there was nothing Mayhew could do. Not wishing to increase the stress, which Laura was clearly feeling, by observing her floundering, Jeremy left the scene and went to assess the situation in the rest of the school.
Mayhew briefed Ernest upon his return to the school next day. Hannah had called in sick. Hamming was then able to fully understand the reason for Hannah’s absence. Shellby was also absent, and neither Ernest nor Mayhew was surprised by that. Laura was sullen and appeared to be struggling to maintain her connection with reality. Next day, Laura, too, had joined the list of injured.
Waldo phoned to say that he was on his way to Banksia and that he would need to meet with Ernest and Jeremy.
Garrison was obviously concerned as he faced the two men across the table in Ernest’s office. His news was not surprising, but it was disturbing. Phylaxis, Swayde and Norder had taken sick leave and would be claiming workers compensation due to stress arising from working at Banksia House. He didn’t state it openly, but Waldo made it plain that their claims would allege mismanagement on the part of Ernest Hamming, and that Jeremy would be implicated in some way. Garrison also made it clear that the trio had sources inside the Banksia team, who would be supplying information to them. The name Krutch came to Mayhew’s mind.
Waldo’s revelation created considerable anxiety in Hamming, but it scarcely seemed to trouble Mayhew at all. Jeremy wondered if this were because he had become blasé about the frequency and the seriousness of the crises that had surrounded him on his journey through the system. In truth, it was likely that Mayhew had been numbed by the events of the previous two years, and that he was unable to recognise a threatening situation when it presented itself.
Waldo left the school, having instructed Ernest, and especially Jeremy, to be extremely cautious about their management of the school, particularly in respect of violent students. It did not require a high level of intelligence to understand that Garrison was concerned about a possible re-run of the Fracks strategy for removing troublesome teachers. Phylaxis was just dumb enough to repeat Fracks’ actions and expect to be given credibility. Waldo and Mayhew both knew that another complaint to the CPD would immediately be seen through, but it would have to be taken seriously and the procedures followed, and this would finish Mayhew completely.
With Phylaxis and Norder absent indefinitely, executive replacements were needed. Again, these were seconded from other places. One of the replacements was Lydia Potts, the assistant principal who had displaced John Fairley from his promised position as leader of the district behaviour teachers’ team. Lydia and Jeremy had met whist Jeremy was still working in the district office, so they were not strangers.
Lydia felt comfortable enough with Jeremy to reveal that she hated teaching. She had, as she explained it, only taken the behaviour team leader’s position in order to escape from her previous school, and unfortunately, her new job had turned out to be less than she had hoped for. Lydia was happy to spend some time at Banksia House, sorting out the mess, while she looked for something better to do.
The revelation, coming as it did only days after Lydia had joined the Banksia team, surprised Jeremy somewhat, and he decided that he should not look to Lydia for support above and beyond the call of duty. As it turned out, his wariness was justified.
Ernest was leading his troops forward towards greater glory. He had involved the school in a scheme which might have worked extremely well with troubled students in a mainstream school, and could have had a major positive impact on Banksia’s students at a later time, but which was causing enormous management problems in the already volatile Banksia environment. Jeremy was given the responsibility for supervising the activities – a very demanding role – and this, along with his in-school management role and the on-going uncertainty regarding the actions of the Tormented Trio, steadily drained his already diminished energy levels.
The holidays at the end of term three were most welcome.
Term four began with no further word on the fate of the Trio. Norder, Phylaxis and Swayde were all accommodated in various jobs based in district office, and it became known to Jeremy that Waldo was hopeful that employment away from Banksia might be found for each of them. This was good news for Ernest and for Jeremy. However, the situation was still explosive, as Waldo revealed to Jeremy at the end of the first week of fourth term.
Their meeting took place on a most memorable day.
During third term Jeremy had elected to take on a full-time teaching role with the class which he had “shared” with Laura Norder. These students had been used and abused by Phylaxis, as a weapon in her war against Hamilton and Berger. They had then been subjected to a teacher who was unable to control them, and finally they had been provided with two “part-time” teachers, the first of whom was still struggling to regain his physical and mental health, and the second of whom was spiralling downwards, with her life out of control. They were badly in need of stability and consistency, even if it was wrapped up in Jeremy Mayhew.
Mayhew had returned to work following the break, suffering badly from flu-like symptoms. By the Friday of that week he was barely able to think straight, but he chose to go to work and to remain there for as long as he could. He told Hamming of his plan, and Ernest was glad just to have him at school. By the end of the first teaching session, however, Jeremy knew that he could not see out the day. He told Ernest, who asked him to arrange for Lydia to take over his class, and who also asked him to stay for an urgent meeting with Waldo Garrison.
Lydia wasn’t amused at the prospect of taking Jeremy’s class, but since the request had come from Ernest, there was little that she could do to avoid it. Waldo was due to arrive for the meeting at eleven o’clock, but he hadn’t turned up when lunch began and Lydia returned to the office where Ernest and Jeremy were waiting. It was obvious that she had not had a pleasant time with the senior students, a suspicion reinforced by her vociferous attack upon Mayhew.
Lydia demanded to know where Mayhew’s teaching programme was, accusing him of incompetence and unprofessional behaviour. Mayhew was amazed at the ferocity of her manner, her near-hysterical behaviour being quite excessive in the circumstances. Jeremy let her rant for a moment or two and then, amazed now by the calmness of his own manner, informed the woman that he was not prepared to engage in a conversation with her whilst her demeanour was so aggressive. Potts, still operating at full throttle, responded by demanding to know why Mayhew would not speak with her. Unable to resist the temptation, Mayhew explained that he did not feel sufficiently strong as to deal with her without resorting to abuse.
Throughout the entire encounter, which had taken about three or four minutes, Ernest Hamming had sat, looked and listened while one member of his staff verbally abused another member of his staff. He had made not even the slightest attempt to intervene in order to put an end to this unprofessional behaviour, preferring to let Mayhew sit and cop the lot. Mercifully, a phone call from the administration office warned Ernest that Waldo had arrived, and this put an end to the farce.
Waldo entered Ernest’s office just as Lydia was leaving. He appeared not to see the thunderclouds that hung above her head, but it is likely that he was preoccupied with more urgent matters. Garrison told the two remaining that he would need to speak with them together, and then with Mayhew alone.
Waldo Garrison was most often a serious person, but his manner on this occasion was more serious than usual. The information which he carried, bode well for Banksia House in the long term, but its impact upon Mayhew in the short-term was a different story. The Trio was now most unlikely to return to Banksia, but negotiations were at a critical stage, and it was crucial that nothing should happen to interrupt the process. Having heard what he needed to know, Ernest left Waldo and Jeremy together.
Mayhew was feeling lousy, physically and mentally. He was tired beyond belief. When, he wondered, was this nonsense finally going to end? The cleaning out of Banksia House should have been done with a bulldozer, not with a pair of surgical tweezers. If that had meant that Mayhew himself had been shown the door, so be it. Under the present strategy, the agony was simply drawn out, and the suffering of both adults and students extended.
Waldo reiterated his view that a resolution to the crisis was at hand and impressed upon Jeremy again, that it was absolutely crucial for the waters to remain calm. Garrison seemed to think that Phylaxis and her allies would be only too pleased to launch an attack upon Mayhew, and that this was being prevented only by providing each of them with a preferable option.
Despite the fact that none of the three should ever have been allowed to teach in a school again, political expediency deemed it necessary that they should instead be rewarded for their disgusting behaviour. Jeremy was fed up, but he assured Waldo that he would do everything within his power to keep things calm.
The meeting over, Jeremy went home and slept.
- THE END OF THE END.
Drifting inexorably towards another episode of depression, Mayhew decided that he had had enough. He was far too close to the dramas, which had been played out during his years at Banksia House, to claim any sort of objectivity, but he really couldn’t see how he might have been responsible for the circumstances in which he now found himself. Without knowing whether or not he was seeking self-justification, Jeremy went over the major events in his mind.
A hundred “why’s” and “what if’s” tangled with some “if only’s” before Mayhew, personally diminished by incredible fatigue, decided that post-mortems only served a purpose if they helped to prevent further deaths, and he let his sorry brain rest. There was nothing that he could do to improve the situation at Banksia. Regardless of his knowledge, and despite the experience which he had gained, he did not have, and never would have, the power to bring about the necessary changes which would perhaps enable the school to work for its students.
Remembering the past had, as always, produced more questions than answers and he knew that this would always be so, but he had one immediate certainty to sustain him. He knew that he would never return to teaching at Banksia House.
The depression was debilitating, but not life-threatening, and Mayhew managed it reasonably well. His application for workers compensation, stemming from the cumulative effects of the past years, was initially incorrectly processed, with the result that the NSWIO was obliged to accept provisional liability, which covered Mayhew for the remainder of fourth term. When they finally sorted out what was happening and sent an assessor to interview Mayhew and some of his colleagues, the assessor decided that Mayhew’s “psychological injury” had not been primarily caused by events in the workplace, and any further compensation was denied.
It never ceased to amaze Jeremy how a person, who had no knowledge of the incredibly complex circumstances surrounding Banksia, could decide in a matter of hours, what outcomes might or might not be attributable to the tragedy which was Banksia House.
Jenni and Jeremy spent a month of the Christmas holidays touring the High Country of Victoria. The air was fresh and clean, and hot days were spent soaking in mountain streams, while cooler nights allowed blissfully peaceful sleep. Jeremy was in reasonable condition when he reported for duty at the district office at the beginning of 2004.
Mayhew’s application for transfer had been approved, but there were no vacant positions for him. He was determined that, for whatever time was left to him in teaching, he would continue to work in the field of behaviour disorders, having proven himself more than capable of helping kids who couldn’t manage a regular school placement.
Waldo was understanding and supportive and he promised to find a suitable placement for Jeremy. As good as his word, within a week, Garrison had arranged for Jeremy to be attached for one year, to a school that could take advantage of his particular skills. This was how Jeremy came back to The Hermitage Public School, scene of the mid-eighties madness perpetrated by Chauncey Fauntleroy.
Nineteen years after his first appointment as assistant principal at The Hermitage, Mayhew found that little had changed. Student numbers had declined significantly, which was a blessing, the demountable classrooms had been removed and the tall fence, which Jeremy had unsuccessfully agitated for in 1988, had been erected.
The community which The Hermitage served, still featured single-parent families, poverty, neglect, abuse and the use of violence as a problem-solving strategy. Many inter-family disputes, which had their genesis outside school, were carried into school. The cultural mix had changed considerably, but the one thing which had not changed, was the dire need for male students to have some contact with positive adult male role models, and before Jeremy’s arrival on the scene at the beginning of 2004, the staff members were all female.
This phenomenon was a creation of a number of circumstances. For decades there had been a steady decline in the number of men who had been prepared to sacrifice the opportunity of earning a decent income, by becoming teachers. This had resulted in a shortage of male teachers in the system overall. A second factor lay in the fact that The Hermitage was renowned as a school to be avoided where possible, so those male teachers who were seeking transfers, chose to ignore The Hermitage. A third, and critical factor, lay in the leadership of Dolores Palin.
Dolores had been principal for ten years and during the earliest days of her tenure, those male teachers who had remained after Mayhew’s departure for Greenleaf Public School, had all transferred to more “male-friendly” pastures. Male teachers who spent any appreciable length of time at The Hermitage during Palin’s reign, were generally those who had no other choice, or who were casual teachers. At one stage, with only one male teacher on staff – a casual, as it happened – Dolores created sufficient problems for the fellow as to encourage him to leave the school and take his considerable talents elsewhere – to Mac Vale Primary School as it happened, where he and Mayhew enjoyed working together for several years.
So, in a community where a positive male influence was often found lacking, the school was unable to attract and keep male teachers. By the time Mayhew re-joined the staff at The Hermitage, the “anti-male” circumstances of the Palin era had vanished. Mayhew’s new boss, Sharon Winning, welcomed him, as did his new, all female, colleagues.
Sharon had inherited a very difficult school from her predecessor, Shirley Hamming, wife of Ernest. Shirley Hamming had taken over from Dolores following her retirement, and many of the problems which were being addressed during the sadly abbreviated leadership of Mal Chambers, and which had resurfaced during Palin’s rule, were still strongly in evidence. Shirley hadn’t stayed long, using The Hermitage as a springboard to a more salubrious position in a much “classier” community.
Sharon Winning was committed to making a difference. She was determined that the educational illnesses afflicting The Hermitage upon her arrival, would not be in existence when she ultimately moved on. A woman of vision, compassionate and people-oriented, Sharon had a huge task before her. Bringing about major cultural change in any organisation is fraught with difficulty, but the problems existing at The Hermitage were deeply entrenched. The damage done in two decades of mismanagement would likely take two more decades to reverse.
Jeremy devised and implemented a learning programme, which aimed to have troubled students address the issues that caused their behaviour to be unacceptable in classrooms and in the playground. This programme also taught ways of dealing with the day-to-day problems, which they faced in their lives at school and away from school.
Assisted by Linda Merchant, arguably the most skilful teachers’ aide Mayhew had ever worked with, he was able to bring about significant changes in the behaviours of several “habitual offenders”. In addition, Mayhew acted as a source of advice to teachers, and as a detached observer, who was able to stimulate thinking among members of the school’s executive team. On more than one occasion, Sharon expressed her appreciation of Jeremy’s contributions to professional discussions.
Mayhew found that, while his desire to contribute much to the task of improving The Hermitage was very strong, he lacked the necessary mental energy to apply himself consistently to the job. Short bursts of worthwhile high output punctuated his perpetual feeling of malaise, an almost never-ending depletion of spirit. The events of the recent few years had seemed to suck all of the energy from him, leaving him generally listless, dissatisfied and cynical.
Jeremy Mayhew, whose teaching career had been more of a vocation, and who had begun, thirty-five years before, as an immensely energetic and positive person, had deteriorated to such an extent that negativity and critcism now flowed as strongly as optimism and vitality once had.
Mayhew had lost much. Even during his last year “in the job”, his physical health was very poor, and, despite further psychiatric treatment, the depression which afflicted him was only managed rather than reduced. The factor which kept him grinding on throughout that final year, was the knowledge that it would eventually end.
Jeremy’s personal loss was significant. At times he would have used the word “tragic”, but the greater loss was, in fact, borne by the system which had, to a large extent, created him.
Mayhew had gained a wealth of experience and expertise as an educator during a period exceeding three decades. At age fifty-five he should have been a valuable resource, too valuable for the school system to lose. His knowledge, his understanding of the needs of students and of his colleagues, should have made him a productive contributor to the welfare of students for at least another decade, but, at a time when he might have been making his most significant contributions, Mayhew was a spent force, yet another wasted resource.
The true tragedy of Mayhew’s experience as a part of the school system lay, not in the suffering which he was assisted in inflicting upon himself and upon his family, sad though that may be, but in the frustration and disillusionment of the committed and excellent teachers who constantly strive to push water uphill with a rake, and in the myriad lost opportunities which children and young people experience every day as they are subjected to a school system which lives to benefit its bureaucrats and their political masters.
There are thousands upon thousands of teachers who, if their voices were heard, would be able to bring about change, which might make schooling a valuable part of the process of education. There are many thousands of students, who started school with a zest for learning, imaginative and creative, enthusiastic and fun-filled, who have been ground down until they are submissive, obedient and without fundamental purpose in their learning.
Mayhew’s thoughts were with them as he signed the papers which would formally end his teaching career.
“This is the way the world ends,
This is the way the world ends,
This is the way the world ends,
Not with a bang but a whimper.”
“The Hollow Men”, T.S. Eliot
A LAST WORD.
When I started writing “Fools of the Trade”, in about 1994, I was very angry. Bitter and twisted would probably be a more accurate description. During the intervening ten years, I’ve remained bitter and twisted, to a greater or lesser degree.
Anyone who has had the patience and persistence to read the entire work, will surely have formed opinions about the story and about its writer. I certainly have. The problem is that my opinions are still subject to change, dependent upon my mood. It’s impossible to be objective, in any way, when your life’s least appealing experiences are under the microscope, and you’re the one looking through the lense.
I think that my original intention in telling the story was either to channel my anger into something constructive, or to exact some form of “payback” for what I perceived as the system’s abuse of me primarily, but also of my colleagues who endured the attentions of people like “Chauncey Fauntleroy” and “Dolores Palin”.
I believe that I was also concerned to show how the school system in NSW fails to provide true education and equality of opportunity for its students. The disparity between the services provided to kids in public schools on Sydney’s north shore and those who attend public schools in Sydney’s public housing areas, can only be truly appreciated by someone who has experienced those disadvantaged schools.
My writing sat idle for years at a time, particularly following the compensation case resulting from my experiences at the hands of “Fauntleroy”, “Palin”, “Flashman” and their system. I suppose it was because I didn’t want to re-live those episodes of mental illness, and because my nine years at “Mac Vale” with “Carl Hanwood” had been comparatively happy ones, but the feelings and the ideas which were being created by my experiences were never far from my mind, and it was always my intention to finish the book.
To some extent, my reasons for writing have changed over the years. It might be more accurate to say that, while my original intentions haven’t altered significantly, their order of importance has. In addition, some new and extremely important motivations have emerged.
My disaffection with political interference and bureaucratic meddling in a system which should have had the welfare of students as its focus, was kindled during the mid-seventies, grew throughout the eighties and reached full-bloom during the nineties. Since the turn of the present century, it has grown into a passion (no, not an obsession!) as I have seen, at first hand, the ways in which the system will manipulate people and situations to protect itself, and how the “ladder-climbers” will do anything and everything to promote themselves.
Education (not schooling as it is carried out in NSW schools), holds the key to the survival of mankind, but our short-sighted and self-centred “leaders” refuse to accept this essential truth and to invest the necessary financial and human resources in making real education happen for kids and young people in this state, and probably in this country. I’ll say no more on this matter for the time being, but I feel that there’s more than enough material running around my brain for another book focussing upon these ideas.
The amount of reflection and consideration required to record events with as little bias as is humanly possible, has brought about a number of new realisations for me.
Being depressed isn’t easy to put up with. In fact, it’s inclined to get you down at times. It’s easy to become very self-absorbed and self-indulgent, and it’s very tempting to simply sit and feel sorry for yourself. What isn’t easy, is to appreciate what is happening to those who love you. Being depressed seems to limit your own ability to empathise and it certainly makes it very difficult to step outside yourself and to see what your behaviour is doing to others.
My writing has forced me to consider and re-consider the impact which I have had upon my family and close friends. As with many illnesses, I believe that, with respect to depression, it is far easier to be a sufferer than a carer. Jenni, Damon and Erin (in chronological order) must have at times felt utterly helpless and frustrated as their best efforts to help me to recover from dark episodes have seemed to be wasted. An important reason for my completion of this book, has been to assure them that none of their efforts were ever wasted. The fact that I am able to function today is testament to their courage and devotion.
With the completion of this book, and my retirement from full-time teaching, should come the opportunity for me to put much of the anger and bitterness behind me. The sense of injustice may never leave me and my management of it continues to vex me.
The realist in me, reminds me that true justice is a false concept – it does not exist. Life is not naturally fair, and I’ve just had an above-average share of bad luck. (Fortunately I’ve also had more than my share of very good luck, so on balance, I’ve done ok.) The cynic in me remembers that justice in any form, is simply a commodity – it can be bought and sold – and the wealthy can buy it, whilst the poor can not. The idealist in me tries to focus upon natural justice as the consequence for the ways in which we live our lives. Karma will ensure that “Aern Fracks”, “Hannah Phylaxis” and their like will reap the rewards earned by their behaviour towards others, as I have for mine.
I don’t know whether my analytical mind-set is genetically acquired, or if it is a natural outcome of my early life experiences, but it is a “quality” of character which can be both a blessing and a curse. I try to restrict my tendency to analyse, to only those situations where a positive outcome will be achieved, and applying this principle now leads me to some significant conclusions. The following, not in any particular order of importance, are those which will shape my future:
- My earliest life experiences are those which have most affected my attitudes, values and behaviour as a growing adult. In this sense much of my adult behaviour has been “pre-programmed”, making it difficult, but not impossible, to control.
- The genetic disposition to depression, whilst beyond my control, does not give me an excuse to behave badly towards others, and especially towards my loved-ones.
- Wondering what “might have been”, had I not been disposed towards mental illness, or exposed to the damaging experiences of my personal and professional life, is a total waste of time.
- I must accept responsibility for the decisions that I have made in my life, and for the outcomes which those decisions have brought. No-one ever demanded of me that I should allow my passion for my work to over-ride my sense of self-preservation. I made the conscious decisions to fight the system where I felt that I could make a difference.
- My work as a teacher has allowed me to experience the greatest imaginable personal joy, second only to that of becoming a husband and a parent. There are many hundreds of people whose lives I have positively affected, who may have become happy and successful, partly as a result of our time spent together as teacher and student. I set out to make a difference to my students, and I have succeeded where it really matters.
- The fact that I am still a husband, father and now grandfather, and that I am loved by my wife, children and grandchildren, is more than enough proof of the fact that my existence on the planet has not been without merit.
Julian May (2005).