As a young man, Mayhew had had a strong need to prove himself worthy. The abuses of his childhood had seen him develop as an adult who lacked self-esteem and the deep personal confidence which enables people to deal with the stresses of adult life. Jeremy knew that he was a good teacher, knew that he could get kids to turn their lives around and achieve positive results, knew that he could convince other teachers of the merits of his thinking and of his methods, but deep inside where self-belief lives, he existed in a state of ambivalence – his confidence constantly battling his fear.
The Maths Master peered above his papers, in a glance taking in the woman and her son, seated on the opposite side of the desk. She was dressed plainly but neatly, her coat well-worn and her thinning hair, already greying, was arranged in tight curls. Given that the boy was thirteen or fourteen, she was probably in her early forties. The worry lines could not disguise the fact that she’d been attractive young woman. The boy wore a blue jumper (not school uniform, the teacher noted) over a school shirt, and his grey school shorts (long trousers would have been more appropriate given the wintry conditions, thought the master). The young Mayhew was slightly built and his black horn-rimmed glasses framed a narrow face (Looks under-nourished, the Master observed. He could do with a haircut as well).
“Thank you for coming Mrs Mayhew. You’ve seen Jeremy’s half-yearly report. I wanted to talk to you about his overall performance and more particularly about his maths results. Now, Jeremy has the potential to do very well indeed. Other boys I’ve taught who have similar levels of ability, have gone on to do very well at university but I’m afraid that, on his present performance, the same thing won’t happen for Jeremy. Now, I’ve spoken with all of his teachers who seem to agree that he is distracted from his learning. He seems to daydream a lot, he’s inclined to . . . . . “
Jeremy had heard it all before, too many times. The singer might change but not the song. He was sick of listening to adults tell him, and too often his mother, that he was wasting himself, that cleverness was a gift which should be appreciated. Sitting here in the stuffiness of the Master’s office, the young Mayhew couldn’t prevent his thoughts from straying to more pressing matters. The rent was due on Friday and so was the gas bill. They had enough money to pay one, but not the other. He supposed that it was more important to pay the rent, since they could live for a few days without the stove or heater, but getting the Housing Commission upset was a bad move. Yes, that’s what he’d do. The Commission had already threatened to throw Mrs Mayhew and her three children out of the house because the grass hadn’t been mowed . . . . .
Promotion to principal was the Holy Grail. Jeremy thought that, as a principal, he would be immune to the doubts and criticisms of others, and that perhaps he could even quiet the doubting voices in his own mind. As a principal Jeremy could prove, once and for all, that he was a worthwhile human being. He had determined that, if he were able to climb the promotions ladder in the shortest possible time, he might secure his ultimate professional goal at about the age of thirty-four.
Mayhew’s plan for a rapid rise had deviated slightly when he met Jenni. She was not what he had anticipated in a partner for life, but it was very quickly plain to Jeremy that she was “The One”. Her fierce independence didn’t fit well with Mayhew’s almost patronising attitude to women. She appeared to be remarkably strong-minded, not particularly caring what Jeremy thought of her or of her views. Whether it was Jenni’s vivacious personality or her striking classic-French features or her apparent love of living, Jeremy would never be sure. In any event it didn’t matter and never would. He found himself totally committed to her, loving her deeply for the joy which she had brought into his life, and within two months they were engaged.
Thoughts of promotion were not forgotten. Jeremy was too driven for that. They simply became less urgent.
The arrival of Damon, and later his sister Erin, presented Mayhew with a challenge which was to become even more important and more fulfilling than any upward movement on the promotions ladder could ever hope to be. Success in his career would certainly help to restore Mayhew’s shattered self-picture, but as a father, Jeremy could prove himself, beyond doubt, as a worthwhile human being and as a man. Furthermore, this was an opportunity for Jeremy to prove to himself that he had not inherited his own father’s irresponsibility gene.
It occurred to Jeremy many times throughout his life as a parent, that, in an odd way, he had been lucky that his father had left home when the boy was only four. Certainly Jeremy had been denied a role model for masculine behaviour, and the sense of security which is critical to the proper personal growth of all children, but he has also missed out on the masoginistic, macho crap that was the hallmark of many incompetent fathers, and the violence and abuse visited by some upon their powerless wives and children. It seemed logical that to have no model at all was preferable to having a model of wrong behaviours. At least Jeremy could start from scratch.
Jeremy’s family gave him unconditional love and a sense of personal fulfilment far beyond anything he had ever experienced. His career plan became less important, and the climb less urgent.
- THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM . . .
Mayhew’s “ladder-climbing” strategy had worked. By qualifying for the king’s job, he was finally able to get appointed as a prince. After two years at Greenway, Jeremy took up an executive position just down the road at Hillside Primary School. It took him very little time to realise that he had really fallen on his feet.
His new principal was Colin Zimmerman, a man in his mid-forties who would have a major impact upon Mayhew’s educational thinking and upon his career path. Zimerman was reputed to be a strong-minded and somewhat fearsome character who would not suffer fools at all. Some of Jeremy’s new colleagues appeared almost afraid of the man. Although not afraid, Mayhew felt some awe of his boss, clearly an extremely capable educator and administrator.
Zimmerman seemed to take a liking to Jeremy, perhaps appreciating the younger man’s enthusiasm and his apparent commitment to the welfare of his students. It was in this respect that the two men shared a closeness. Zimmerman believed totally in the principle that anything which teachers did should be designed to benefit students first. He ran a school which ticked like a well-maintained clock and he could always be relied upon to make thoughtful judgements which considered kids’ needs.
Mayhew commenced his first year at Hillside in a state of excitement, tempered by exhaustion. The effects of the previous year, the strain of the inspection for promotion and the shattering realisation of what his actions had wrought for his senior students at Greenway, continued to impact upon him. He was constantly tired and his doctor had diagnosed an on-going bout of ‘flu, prescribing antibiotics in a seemingly never-ending stream. Jeremy pushed himself through the malaise, doing his best to do his job well.
He managed reasonably well, with the year passing in a positive fashion in all but one respect. For the first time in his twelve year career, Mayhew was confronted by an ugly parent. He had encountered angry parents, confused parents, distressed parents and negligent, incompetent parents, but this was his first exposure to the type of parent who would drive their child mercilessly for the sake of the parent’s self-image.
Moira Black approached Jeremy at a parent-teacher night which followed the half-yearly exams and reports. Mayhew was engaged in a pleasant conversation with a mother and father who were delighted with the progress which their rather shy daughter had been making under Jeremy’s care. Black had been hovering nearby for some time, perhaps preparing for her assault upon the unsuspecting teacher, or eaves-dropping upon the conversation in which her target was engaged. Whatever her reasoning, as soon as the happy parents made a move to leave, Black pounced.
Her voice became increasingly shrill as her agitation grew. She knew about teaching. She had done the training. She only worked as an aide in a local school because she was not prepared to sacrifice her family life to the demands of a full-time teaching position. She accused Mayhew of damaging her son’s academic progress by allowing him to write stories in which Mayhew had not corrected every error, by allowing him to experiement with different ideas for solving problems in maths, and by down-playing the importance of homework. She knew that these were all cardinal sins, since she herself was a qualified teacher. Jeremy was stunned by the ferocity of the attack, by the volume of the woman’s voice, by the increasing redness of her face, and by the fact that her outburst had occurred in the middle of a room crowded with parents and colleagues who now stood staring.
Jeremy, recovering quickly from the initial onslaught, remembered the advice of Bill Sutherland at Meadows Avenue. He allowed Moira to rave, refusing to respond until she had run herself out of energy. He then explained why he had chosen this particular strategy to use when working with her son. Michael Black was a highly intelligent student whose academic achievements placed him at the top of his year group. He was also painfully shy, possessed of no self-confidence or social skill. Michael found it almost impossible to answer questions, even though he knew the answers, or to speak in front of others without turning bright red. He could scarcely initiate a conversation.
Mayhew knew that it would be critical for this boy to have some balance restored to his life. Michael’s computer-genius father had little time for the boy, and his ex-teacher mother seemed besotted with the idea that her remarkably gifted son could achieve the things in life which she had failed to achieve. Moira Black was not only a failed teacher, but a failed parent as well.
The Moira Black incident had a significant impact upon Mayhew. He was still feeling exhausted and the latest round of antibiotics had done nothing to relieve his ‘flu. Jeremy pushed on, doing his best to maintain an acceptable standard of work.
The Christmas holidays brought a welcome respite and Jeremy was able to begin his second year at Hillside with improved health and increased optimism. The period of relief was short-lived however. Mayhew began a period of several months during which he could sleep for no more than two to four hours each night. His doctor eventually added a heavy-duty tranqiliser to the prescriptions list and Mayhew often turned up for work when it was plain that he was unfit.
Zimmerman had been watching Jeremy closely for some time before he decided to intervene. He could see that Jeremy was struggling to keep himself afloat in the midst of this health crisis and, concerned for his colleague’s welfare as much as for the welfare of Jeremy’s students, the principal stepped in.
Rather than criticising, accusing and threatening, Zimmerman asked the teacher what support he needed in order to recover from the situation. Jeremy was close to tears as he explained the problems with insomnia and exhaustion to his boss. Col Zimmerman listened intently and compassionately, knowing that this was a teacher who needed and deserved to be supported. He invited Mayhew to join him in preparing a plan which would enable Mayhew to manage his classroom and executive duties whilst sorting out the health problems.
Jeremy’s decision to ask Col to recommend a doctor proved to be a fateful one. Zimmerman had been the patient of a young Malaysian-Australian doctor for some years and he advised Jeremy to make an appointment with James Yip at the earliest opportunity.
At his first visit, Jeremy found the doctor to be attentive and concerned, but not unduly worried as Mayhew described his symptoms. Dr Yip sent the teacher away with advice to rest and relax as much as possible, and with an instruction to have some blood tests done as soon as possible. For the first time in more than two years, Jeremy walked out of a doctor’s surgery without a prescription!
With the test results available, Jeremy returned to his new doctor to hear that the blood tests had revealed no signs of a viral or bacterial infection. The doctor explained that there was deficiency in some sort of chemical, but that this should not cause concern at that moment. Dr Yip advised continued rest and relaxation, with an emphasis upon a reduced workload, and again Jeremy walked out without a prescription for pills.
He followed his doctor’s advice, informed Col of the recommendations, and got on with his life. His health began to improve almost immediately and this continued for the best part of three months, before the feeling of exhaustion overwhelmed Mayhew once again.
Jeremy returned to Dr Yip’s surgery, explaining his feelings and telling of his concern for his future health. The doctor listened patiently, clearly concerned that his patient was seriously distressed. He then delivered a diagnosis which was radical for that time, and one which would change Mayhew’s life forever.
Jeremy was suffering, not from ‘flu or any associated infection, but from a type of depression brought on by a deficiency in the brain chemical, serotonin. The blood tests conducted after Jeremy’s first visit had shown this deficiency but the doctor had needed to gather more evidence before he was prepared to make a diagnosis of an illness which was, in the early eighties, rarely diagnosed at that time.*
Mayhew was overwhelmed. He had been privately terrfied that he was losing his mind and the doctor’s diagnosis brought with it an enormous flood of relief. With the relief came tears. Jeremy sobbed uncontrollably for several minutes, his doctor waiting patiently for the shock to pass before describing the course of treatment which he proposed.
James Yip prescribed a medication which, he hoped, would bring Mayhew’s brain chemistry back into balance, or at least into better balance. The side effects should be minimal and the benefits considerable. Jeremy didn’t care about side-effects. Anything would be be better than the hell through which he had been living during recent months. Grasping his prescription, Jeremy left the surgery feeling optimistic for the first time in a very long time.
*Endogenous depression may be compared to an electrical fault. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain which enables the transfer of messages through the brain’s “electrical circuit”. When serotonin levels are appropriate to an individual’s needs, the brain functions normally for that individual. If the chemical is deficient, it makes it very difficult (perhaps impossible) for the brain to function at an appropriate level of efficiency for the individual’s needs to be met. The “electrical wiring” isn’t sufficiently strong as to carry the load. This inefficient or ineffective brain function can lead to feelings of constant mental fatigue, a lack of motivation, and depression so serious as to result in suicide. Medication can help to maintain serotonin at the necessary level for an individual, but the condition is not “cured”. Effective management of the condition often requires education of the individual and members of his/her support network, as well as significant changes in lifestyle.
Within a few months the whole world had changed. Jenni noticed it perhaps more than anyone else. Relatives friends and colleagues had only ever seen one side of Jeremy Mayhew. The public face was always cheerful, always active, forever positive, but the private side, the one reserved for Jenni, Damon and Erin, had often been very different. Erin was still a baby and was probably little affected by her father’s mood swings. Damon, a tall-for-his age boy with a wicked sense of humour, didn’t appear to be suffering. His dad still had the time and energy to coach his soccer team and he was usually available to kick a ball in the backyard. Still, the impact of a parent’s mental illness upon his children, may not be immediately apparent and may never really be known.
Jenni had borne the brunt of Jeremy’s illness. There had been days when he was his old self, laughing, clowning around, and full of love for his family which they saw in everything which he did. Then there were the other days. These were times when the cloud descended, no longer hanging above his head, but closing around him. These were the times when it was impossible to communicate with him, when he seemed so isolated and untouchable that Jenni cried with fear that he might not return from within the cloud, with frustration that she was unable to take his hand and lead him into the light, with anger that her family should be injured in this way, and with sadness that the person for whom she felt such love and so much compassion, could be suffering so badly.
Joyce Dorothy Mayhew had “one of her heads”. The third pain-relief powder for the morning was unwrapped and swallowed with a glass of water. She wasn’t addicted, but there were days when she might consume ten or more of the aspirin based concoctions. Of course, that only happened when her head was really bad, when the thoughts wouldn’t come, when her head felt as if it would explode, not so much with pain as with frustration, and with fear that she really couldn’t cope. That wasn’t every day. It was just most days.
She’d had a lot to contend with. Had she married Clifford Mayhew as a way of escaping the burden of her perpetually-ill mother, or as a payback for the cruelty of her oh-so-upright English father, or was it that this flash young man with his good looks, and his “hundred miles an hour” motorbike, had simply swept her away? Whatever the reason, Cliff had departed when the going got tough. All style, but not much substance, Clifford couldn’t deal with the idea that he had three children and two of them would be legally blind. Only the middle one, Jeremy, had escaped the cataracts which had destroyed his brother’s and his sister’s sight, and Jeremy was a sickly child, afflicted with asthma.
Joyce had been forced to manage on her own. Poorly educated, a legacy of her withdrawal from school at the age of eleven to care for her invalid mother, she had had some support from one of her four brothers, but was largely reliant upon welfare. Cliff had been required to pay maintenance for the children under the terms of the divorce, but he was unreliable and the payments were most often late, or failed to arrive at all. Since she was supposed to receiving this financial support from her ex-husband, Joyce was not entitled to the usual welfare payments for divored “widows”, and there were mamy times when, thanks to Cliff’s lack of concern, Joyce’s purse was empty and so was the fridge. It was actually a relief when Clifford stopped making payments altogether. At least now Joyce could apply for the full welfare benefit which was considerably less than the maintenance payment, but which arrived every second Thursday.
Her head was giving her a lot of trouble today. Her eldest child, Ross, had been in trouble at school, the Housing Commission inspector was making noises about the length of the grass, and she couldn’t see any way of stretching the budget to accommodate all of the bills. Perhaps Jeremy could work out a solution to the money problems. She’d ask him to look at the situation when he got home from school. And she’d have to try to help him with cutting the grass. Pushing that ancient mower with the blunt blades was difficult enough for a nine-year-old, but Jeremy’s asthma always made it that much worse. Maybe they could buy a motor-mower. As soon as the lounge-suite was paid off, they could use that money to get a petrol mower and then pay that off. It wasn’t right to expect her younger son to try to mow a yard full of paspalum and blackberries with a push-mower. She’d have to ask Jeremy when he got home from school . . .
The medication brought amazing changes. After some juggling with dosages Jeremy was finally able to maintain the mental energy which he needed to manage his life and retain some equilibrium. It wasn’t perfect, the depression would perhaps never be cured, but it was managed to such an extent that life returned to “normal”. Jeremy believed that James Yip had saved his life, if not preventing Jeremy from disposing of himself, then certainly returning to him a quality of life which had been missing from that which he shared with Jenni and the kids. Mayhew would be forever grateful for Col Zimmerman’s recommendation.
While Zimmerman had been feared by some of his staff, Dolores Palin was almost universally despised. Dolores was Col’s deputy, and she relished her position of power as the executive in charge of infants’ teachers at Hillside. Some of her charges made it plain that Dolores was intensely disliked, while others made a show of outward respect whilst keeping their real feelings well hidden.
Cold, impersonal, inflexible and bound by the rules and regulations, Palin had not one creative bone in her body. Her educational leadership consisted of quoting the “handbook”, regurgitating the conventional wisdom proposed by others, and giving her life entirely to the job. It was said that she worked thirty hours a day, eight days a week, and that she expected everyone under her supervision to do the same. Officious rather than efficient, Palin was not a good leader.
She found Jeremy to be somewhat alien. Mayhew’s colleagues liked and respected him. Students were glad to be in his class. Parents were happy to have their kids learning under Mayhew’s care. Col Zimmerman thought that the young teacher was very capable. But Mayhew lacked the necessary rigour to manage an executive position. He was too flamboyant. He took too many risks in the ways in which he taught. How could Col have so much time for Mayhew? Dolores knew that the younger man would never really amount to much.
Jeremy found Dolores to be impersonal to the point of absolute rudeness, and inconsistent with it. On any one day he might pass Dolores in a passageway and offer a greeting which was met by stony silence and a contemptuous stare, whilst a short time later, Mrs Palin might respond most amicably in a similar situation. In a meeting of the school executive, or of the whole staff, she might belittle a colleague with a cutting comment which seemed calculated to assert her superiority. Mayhew tolerated her, in much the same way as she was forced to tolerate him.
It came as a great surprise to Jeremy then, when after four years of mutual tolerance at Hillside, on a bright October morning, Palin not only engaged Mayhew in conversation, but informed him of an up-coming vacancy which she had heard of, for an assistant principal at The Hermitage Public School, several kilometres to the north. Jeremy had been very happy at Hillside. He was highly regarded by the students and by their parents and he valued his working relationship with Col Zimmerman, but the prospect of eventually leading his own staff in his own school was very attractive. He decided to apply for the vacancy at The Hermitage.
The excitement of receiving the promotion was very much tempered however, by Jeremy’s distress at the news that Col had been diagnosed with cancer. Even during the short period before Jeremy left to take up his position at The Hermitage, Col’s condition deteriorated to the point that he was unable to work. Jeremy visited his mentor at home and was shaken to find Col gaunt and weak. Palin took the reins at Hillside and before long Jeremy was almost glad to be leaving.
- TROUBLED WATERS . . .
Mayhew had never been any good at playing the political games at which some of his colleagues excelled. These people knew and used the strategies to gain quick promotion, kept an ear glued to the grapevine, and established “networks” with other individuals whose first concern was their own promotion, with the welfare of kids too often coming in a distant second. Jeremy might have been accused of being a self-righteous fool bcause of his refusal to play the game, but, although he enjoyed and thrived upon the affection and respect of his students, of their parents and of his colleagues, and gained immense personal gratification from having the power to make a positive difference to the lives of others, building his ego was always secondary to the joy of working with kids.
Had he had a network of his own, he’d have known what to expect at The Hermitage. As it was he’d heard only some minor rumblings and he took up his position knowing almost nothing about the place. Not that it would have made a difference anyway. Mayhew knew that he had the experience and energy to tackle any task, and he’d have taken the job regardless. As events transpired, Jeremy’s self-confidence and naivety were to prove his undoing.
The death of Col Zimmerman within weeks of Jeremy commencing duty as assistant principal at The Hermitage, hit with force of a physical blow. It was not until he was seated at the funeral, surrounded by a group of his former students, and with tears streaming down his face, that the true value of his relationship with his mentor really hit home.
This had been a bad way to begin the new year, but worse was yet to come.
- STORMY SEAS . . .
To say that The Hermitage Public School was a jungle would be unfair. In a jungle there are rules which the inhabitants follow, whether they be human or beast. Failure to follow the rules results in consequences which may be very serious indeed. At The Hermiage, Mayhew found that only one rule applied – the principal was not to be disturbed!
Jeremy met Chauncey Fauntleroy on day one, greeted with a sardonic smile and a limp handshake. The principal was not a particularly tall person and Jeremy stood back a little so that Fauntleroy did not need to look up in order to meet his eye. Jeremy observed the tweed jacket, knitted tie, rumpled shirt and especially the shoes which were so highly polished that they resembled patent leather. When Chauncey spoke, his diction was distinctly careful and his sentences were clipped with precision. He reminded Jeremy of a pompous British politician – smug and self-important.
Within days, Jeremy was concerned about the principal’s “leadership”, and it took only a few weeks of observation to confirm that, with good reason, Fauntleroy was not highly regarded by the staff.
If The Hermitage had been a jungle, the animals would most certainly have been in charge. Classrooms and playgrounds were centres of violence and abuse. Each of the sixteen classes contained several students who flatly refused to follow a teacher’s reasonable directions. In some cases, a student was able able to dominate his or her class by the use of threats or through actual violence. Aerial chairs were not uncommon. Mayhew’s class contained one of the more serious offenders.
Mayhew’s first contact with Darren Moon happened in the playground on the students’ first day at school following the Christmas holidays. The young thug was bullying a smaller boy when Mayhew intervened. Moon was careful with his response. He possessed enough street experience and rat-cunning to know that he should find out a bit about this new teacher before he tried anything. Moon skulked away and Mayhew made a mental note to keep an eye out for this individual.
Jeremy made mention to Chauncey, in passing, of this incident. The principal looked up from his typing and made a grunt of acknowledgement, then returned to his work.
Mayhew’s Hermitage colleagues were somewhat wary of the newcomer, especially when it appeared as though Jeremy was supportive of Fauntleroy. And Jeremy was supportive of the principal. As an assistant principal, his job was to support and advise the principal. The fact that the man was a blatant fool did not diminish Mayhew’s responsibility to provide support.
Jeremy tried hard, very hard, for about three months, to ignore Fauntleroy’s stupidity, his rudeness, his smug display of superiority and his mistreatment of teachers. Jeremy learned very quickly that, if he wished to implement an initiative which was designed to improve the learning for the worthwhile students at The Hermitage, he should refrain from running the idea past the principal for his approval, and simply go ahead with it. If asked, Fauntleroy seemed to feel obliged to make some destructive criticism of the idea and change the plan so that any action appeared pointless. If, on the other hand, he were not asked, Chauncey simply didn’t care. He didn’t want to know. So Jeremy left him to is typing.
Mayhew’s own class more or less fell into line within a couple of weeks. Moon had obviously assessed his teacher as a source of imminent danger and, for the most part he brooded quietly in his chair, preferring to keep his anti-social behaviours for the playground.
Most of the teachers were able to maintain some control in the classroom. However, in the playground the situation was very different. One of his colleagues later disclosed to Jeremy that, before Mayhew’s arrival at The Hermitage, she had actually been afraid of suffering a physical assault whilst on playground duty. Jeremy made two important decisions before the end of the first school term. The first was to target violent and abusive behaviours in the playground, as a starting point for changing unacceptable student behaviours across the school, and the second was to deliberately circumvent Fauntleroy when decisions and action had to be taken. Fauntleroy had made it patently clear that as long as he was allowed to get on with his typing, undisturbed, he didn’t care what happened.
At a staff meeting which was not attended by the principal, Jeremy outlined his plan and asked for comment. It was at this point that those of his colleagues who were still uncertain as to where the assistant principal’s loyalties lay, decided that he could be trusted.
With input from the staff, Jeremy’s draft plan was modified and improved and then implemented. Teachers who had feared the wrath of Fauntleroy for upsetting parents by tackling their ill-behaved progeny, began a campaign of identifying and recording unacceptable behaviours, and imposing carefully chosen sanctions. The forest of paperwork generated by this strategy was something of a burden at first, but it did one very important thing. Accurate and irrefutable records of violence, abuse and just plain bad behaviour, were available to use as evidence when the parental complaints began. And Fauntleroy was given no choice but to act.
Teachers who had been afraid of incurring Fauntleroy’s displeasure trusted Jeremy to stand between them and the principal. Parents of the kids who had been intimidated and bullied and whose learning opportunities had been largely destroyed due to Fauntleroy’s incompetence, supported their teachers and made it plain to Mayhew that the new initiative was well-received, and past due.
Fauntleroy, faced with overwhelming written evidence of his school’s shortcomings in the area of student mangement, was unable to attack staff, as he had previously done, for their refusal to accept inappropriate behaviour. Instead, he was forced to face reality and to actually deal with some of the more serious cases himself. Chauncey was not at all happy with Mayhew. His typing time was adversely affected, and he actually had to deal with parents whom he had previously placated.
Peter Fowler and John Pollett were two teachers who had experienced Fauntleroy’s displeasure as a result of their unwillingness to accept abuse and theats from students in their classes. Both were young and capable teachers who were inclined to think about their work, to ask sensible questions and to challenge the school’s ineffectual management pratices whenever they felt that this was justified.
Each of these men was responsible for a class which contained as many as eight students whose behaviours were very destructive of a learning environment. Neither man was prepared to put up with the nonsense and, before the implementation of Jeremy’s whole school plan, they had decided to commence a lunch-time detention session for students who refused to behave in an acceptable manner. The unfortunate students who had suddenly found that they would need to abide by the rules, complained bitterly to their parents, who in turn interrupted Chauncey’s typing.
Fauntleroy carpeted the two teachers, separately, and accused each of unprofessional conduct. This disgusting abuse of power left both young men extremely distressed, seething with anger and searching for support. It wasn’t surprising that they chose to throw their weight behind Mayhew’s plan to deal with the issue of student behaviour.
Over time, Mayhew was to discover much about his “superior’s” methods of staff management. One of the senior teachers who had already endured two years of Chauncey’s “leadership” described an exchange which she had witnessed between Fauntleroy and Mayhew’s predecessor, Bob Symes.
Bob had been on playground duty when he was approached by Fauntleroy who was very fired up. A parent had interrupted Chauncey’s typing to complain about Bob giving a consequence to a serial thug and bully. In keeping with his policy of blaming teachers so that parents would leave him alone, Fauntleroy tackled Symes in the playground, in front of numerous students, and demanded that Symes apologise, not only to the parent, but to the student as well.
Bob Symes had been teaching for twenty or more years and had spent the last decade as an executive in several schools. Experienced, committed and caring, he had endured two years of Chauncey without a major argument. On this occasion he’d had enough. Raising his voice distinctly, Bob told Chauncey that he would not apologise to anybody. Fauntleroy was livid. Symes had never spoken to him in this way before. Red-faced and loud, Fauntleroy told Bob that he would do as instructed, that Fauntleroy was his superior officer and that Bob was obliged to do as he was told. Bob again refused, turned his back and walked off to continue his supervision.
Spluttering to himself, Chauncey made his angry way back to his typewriter.
He’d never been one to rock the boat but on this occasion Bob could not let the incident pass. A complaint to the Teachers’ Union resulted in departmental bureaucrats taking a closer look at Chauncey. They did nothing, other than instruct the District Inspector, Chauncey’s immediate superior, to monitor his performance. She did this by attending staff meetings, an entirely inappropriate and inadequate strategy.
The education department had no will to dispense with lousy principals, even those as incompetent and destructive as Chauncey, but Chauncey was less inclined to belittle his school executive members in front of students after that.
Old habits die hard, however, and Fauntleroy decided that he would try the attack strategy once more, towards the end of Jeremy’s first year at The Heritage.
Mayhew had been a source of disturbance and aggravation to Chauncey since his arrival. Mayhew had refused to pander to disruptive students, or their angry aggressive parents. He had continually referred serious incidents of unacceptable behaviour to the principal, had in fact caused the unfortunate Fauntleroy to take the cane from the cupboard where it had lain unused for two years, and use it to discipline four of Peter Fowler’s students who had truanted, gone shoplifting and returned to school, breaking into an empty classroom and using it to hold a party.
As a result of Mayhew’s interference, Chauncey’s typing had been regularly interrupted and the thesis which he was preparing for is Master’s degree was now behind schedule. Chauncey resolved to put the upstart in his place. Chauncey was Mayhew’s superior and he would remind him of that fact.
Jeremy was a little surprised when Chauncey invited him into the office and asked him to close the door. He’d become used to Fauntleroy’s exclusive style of management and he had adapted to being told what would happen, rather than being asked for his views, but perhaps, on this occasion, the principal was going to talk with him about some important issue. Mayhew need not have become excited. Chauncey was still being Chauncey.
Seated behind his immaculately tidy desk, the silent typewriter sitting to one side, Fauntleroy puffed himself up, almost choking on his self-importance. His finger tips met precisely, left hand to right, and Chauncey blew a whispering breath across their extremities. Leaning forward from his semi-reclined position, Chauncey propelled his chair towards his desk as he nodded at Jeremy in a silent invitation to be seated. Jeremy’s temporary illusions about a management discussion were blown away immediately.
With fingers pressed deliberately into the desk-top, the dictator leant forward, face twitching, and began his address. Carefully chosen words and precise phrases leapt across the desk to attack Mayhew, who was, at the same time, stunned and curious. He wondered how many times the other man had rehearsed his lines, and whether the gestures and facial expression were choreographed or spontaneous. However, his curiosity couldn’t conceal his dismay at Fauntleroy’s words or at the deliberate cruelty in the man’s eye.
He had seen that look before. Mayhew had discovered four of Peter Fowler’s students having a lollie and soft drink party in an empty classroom whilst the rest of the school was at sport on a Friday afternoon. Hearing the scuffles inside the demountable building, Jeremy had knocked on the locked door and immediately ducked around to the back of the building where he apprehended the four as they escaped through a window. Under questioning they admitted to having left school at lunch time, gone to the local shopping centre and enagaged in a shoplifting spree.
As had become his custom, Mayhew reported the incident to the principal, the offenders in tow. Fauntleroy snapped. His anger was palpable, but rather than raising the roof, he clenched his fists in a cold fury, turned from his desk to the cupboard behind, and withdrew a cane. In Mayhew’s presence he proceeded to strike each of the four boys twice on the outstretched palms of each hand. As he meted out the four strokes to each boy, the look on Fauntleroy’s face suggested not only anger, but a twisted enjoyment of the power of violence.
That look of smug satisfaction, of absolute belief in his own superiority, appeared again on Fauntleroy’s face as he clinically dissected Mayhew behind the closed door of the principal’s office.
In a carefully planned display of calculated abuse, Chauncey accused Mayhew of being the least-efficient assistant principal it had ever been his displeasure to know. He complained that Jeremy had not kept up to date with his paperwork because he spent his recess times in the staffroom, talking with teachers instead of being in his office doing his clerical work. But this was not the worst of Mayhew’s crimes. Two further misdemeanours were even more serious. The first related to Jeremy’s habit of establishing friendly relationships with parents and, shock-horror, actually calling them by their first names. This was totally unprofessional and was likely to blur the important line of distinction between parents and teachers, but it was not as serious an offence as Jeremy’s encouragement of parents to call Jeremy by his first name. This had the potential to destroy the vital barrier which must exist between the parents as lay people and the teachers as experts with professional status.
Having delivered his broadside, Chauncey returned to his first seated position, semi-reclined, fingers pressed together, thumbs touching his pursed lips, and awaited the inevitable explosion from the younger man.
The explosion never came. Chauncey was astounded. Chauncey was distressed. Despite having given the assistant principal both barrels in an attack which should have moved Mayhew to outright rage, his target appeared undamaged, and, as if the missiles had simply bounced off, Mayhew had simply thanked the principal for his advice, asked if there were any more matters for discussion, and receiving no comprehensible reply, Mayhew had quietly left the office, leaving the door open behind him.
More than twenty years on, that image of Fauntleroy and his attack on Jeremy still lived vividly in Mayhew’s memory, along with a curiosity which puzzled him. How had he managed to restrain himself? What had prevented him from leaping across the desk and choking the bastard where he sat? Without devoting wasted hours to the consideration of these questions, Mayhew was able to draw some feasible conclusions.
Jeremy came to suspect that it was primarily his reticence in challenging authority which had saved him. Years and years of subjugation by the school system, both as a student and later as a teacher, and by the social welfare system, had reinforced the critical lesson of his childhood – “he who bucks authority (by not paying the bills on time, or by letting the grass grow too long in his Housing Commission back yard) gets shafted”. Even at the end of his teaching career Jeremy was still reluctant to tackle the system, but given his experiences, perhaps this was not surprising.
He also came to believe that, even as Fauntleroy was attacking, Jeremy could remember the Bob Symes incident. Fauntleroy had clearly tried to bait the assistant principal in the hope that Symes would react strongly, giving Chauncey the chance to wield the power of his position. Mayhew had been careful not to fall into that trap.
Then there was the fact that the charges which Chauncey had levelled were so utterly ludicrous as to be unbelievable. While Fauntleroy abused and accused, Jeremy had had the distinct impression that the whole action had degenerated to farce, and that he could not really take it seriously.
But perhaps the most significant factor enabling Jeremy to withstand the onslaught, was the fact that Jeremy knew that he was right, and that that Chauncey was a pompous, pathetic fool. Chauncey had proven himself to be so inept in all aspects of his professional life, that he could be ignored with impunity. Jeremy knew that he had the respect and support of every other member of his staff, a fact borne out by the reactions of the group when they heard the story of Chauncey attack, and this sustained him not only on that occasion, but through many difficult times to come.