A reader of this Rant may respond in one or more of any number of ways. One of these responses may include the formation of the view that the writer is an opinionated, pompous, hypocritical arsehole, another, the raising of doubts as to his sanity, his motivation, and his reasoning in producing this document.
This second potential response is the one that I need to address.
I spent 45 years teaching. Through most of that time, my focus was working with students who had difficulties managing at school. During most of my 28 years in primary school classrooms, my classes would inevitably contain many of the students in that grade who experienced behaviour problems.
In 1998 I transferred to a “Special Education” school, one of several which had been set up specifically to aid students whose behaviours at school were so extreme as to present issues for the learning and personal safety of other students.
During the next 17 years, I worked exclusively with students from Kindergarten to Year 10, whose behaviours presented management problems for their teachers in regular schools.
Feedback from my students, my colleagues and my supervisors indicated that my methods were successful and that my work was sound.
As a teacher and as a school executive member, I placed the needs of my students above all else in my professional life. As an administrator, I considered that the best way for me to promote the education of my students was to ensure that their teachers were able to operate in a positive environment. I believed that, if I looked after my staff, they would look after the kids.
With the exception of two periods, the first during my first year of teaching, when I too often used fear as a management strategy, and a time during 1985, when I was instructed by my, then, senior officer to use corporal punishment as part of his student discipline policy, at no time during my career did I ever take any action that would hurt my students.
Now, some 15 or so years after the event and 3 years after my eventual retirement, I am better able to review my actions and those of the other participants. I can especially examine my own behaviours and determine the extent to which I brought the shit down upon myself.
My Rants constitute a part of the process of cerebral dusting and vacuuming which enables me to reflect upon the journey that I have undertaken during the past 67 years. This particular Rant allows me to do some long overdue housework.
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The document that follows is a copy of the letter which I received on 13th February, 2002. I tried to scan the original document to a PDF file and then convert it to Word, but it didn’t work very well, so this is as good a copy as I could manage.
Redactions have been made in order to ensure the anonymity of some individuals.
CHILD PROTECTION INVESTIGATION
PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL
Mr. Julian May
PO Box XYZ
Dear Mr May
I am writing to advise you that allegations have been made that you engaged in conduct that could amount to improper conduct of a physical nature against students. You are aware that the matter was reported to the Child Protection Investigation Directorate (CPID) of the Department.
The allegations will be investigated by Mr ______________ Senior Investigator, CPID.
The role of the CPID is to conduct fair and thorough investigations. This involves obtaining all relevant information including the specific details of the allegations and the staff member’s written response to the allegations. Should you wish to provide your response in an interview, please contact _________________ who will make the appropriate arrangements.
Please be aware that there has been no finding regarding whether or not the alleged conduct has occurred.
While this investigation is proceeding, you are not to take any action which would hinder its progress. Your conduct must be professional and in keeping with your position and status as a teacher.
It is the practice of the Department that during an investigation, applications for long service leave, leave without pay, promotion, transfer, or teacher exchange, are considered on a case by case basis. This principle also applies to application for separation from the Department and the issuing of a record of employment.
The receipt of such a letter as this can be difficult. The Department of Education and Training provides counselling support for staff under the Employee Assistance Program. You may wish to consider this confidential service. The co-ordinator of this service for your district is Corporate Health Services which may be contacted on 1 800 811 951. Support is also available through the Staff Welfare Officer at Campbelltown District Office, who may be contacted on 4628 1055. There are also two senior counsellors at the Child Protection Investigation Directorate, Mr __________________ and Ms _______________ who may be contacted on 9266 8070 for general advice and support. In addition, you may wish to contact the NSW Teachers Federation on 9217 2100.
As required by the Ombudsman Act, 1974, the Office of the New South Wales Ombudsman has been notified of these allegations. I enclose a brochure for your information.
For information and advice, or if you wish to arrange to be interviewed, you can contact ________________ on ________.
11 February 2002
It might be possible to view the original document by clicking on to these two links:
This rant concerns the process by which allegations, made by an unidentified individual, as protected disclosures, are investigated. I have no argument with the concept of protection for whistle-blowers, having utilised the system myself, but it has always been the case that scumbags can make malicious and unfounded accusations with impunity.
When I used the protected disclosures system I was happy to be identified – in fact, it was my preference to personally confront those whom I had accused of professional mismanagement, but there existed no avenue for face-to-face meetings.
The story which follows is intended to show that the CPID’s government imposed strategy was flawed and that, under this mode of investigation, the accused might readily be seen to be guilty until proven innocent. The fact that I was never proven innocent, and the fact that the accuser had misused the system for her own twisted purpose, without any significant punitive consequence for her, form the basis of my complaint.
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Have you ever been sitting quietly, peacefully reading a book, and had someone sneak up behind you and slam a cricket bat across the back of your head?
No? Neither have I, but I can imagine what a shock it would be.
I opened and read the letter in my boss’ office and my immediate reaction was something like “What the fuck is this?” I was stunned for a brief period, but then the penny dropped. I looked at the boss and knew immediately that I was right.
His face was ashen and he was sweating profusely. He was obviously guilt ridden, and could say nothing. I left him standing in his misery and went home.
I don’t remember any feelings of panic, or even of anger. I think that I recognised this as just another episode in the saga that had been playing itself out over recent months. This would eventually prove be the beginning of the final episode.
I rang the CPID investigator in order to get more detail, but he would not, or perhaps could not, tell me more. So, I knew that I had been accused of improper conduct of a physical nature against students, but I couldn’t find out immediately what this involved. Was I being accused of physical assault or sexual assault? When and where had these alleged offences occurred? How could I find out and how could I respond to the charges? I didn’t know, and no one would tell me.
I was left hanging, and for a very long time.
I knew myself to be innocent but the fact that I could easily guess the identity of my accuser and understand her strategy, coupled with the certainty that I would have no difficulty in refuting the charges, did not really make the situation any better.
When Jenni arrived home from work, I gave her the news. Her response went something like, “The fucking bitch!”
I have no desire to be thought self-serving – that’s not the purpose my Rants – but the background to this incident is lengthy and convoluted, and also essential. I apologise in advance if it is exceedingly boring.
After 28 years teaching in primary schools, in 1998, following an interview, I transferred to a “special school”, one of several which the NSW government, in a knee-jerk reaction, had instructed the Department of Education to set up, in response to increasing abusive and violent behaviours in schools. I was well suited to this environment, having gained broad experience in managing students with behaviour problems.
For me in transition, the learning curve was steep but manageable, thanks largely to the leadership by example, set by the principal, and the advice offered by colleagues more experienced in this type of setting.
Physical contact with students and, at times, their physical restraint, were inevitable occurrences in a learning environment that was often emotionally volatile. Irrational adolescents, out of control, were more than capable of doing themselves and others serious injury.
On numerous occasions, I was called upon to intervene physically in situations, in which non-intervention would almost certainly have resulted in injury to a student by an irate student.
The training that I had been given, in the first instance by the principal and secondly, in specific in-service courses, enabled me to undertake interventions that required physical contact, safely. At no time during my tenure at MySpecial School, did a student suffer injury as a result of an intervention in which I, or any other staff member, took part.
All instances of physical contact with students were documented, with the inclusion of witness statements where practicable. Interventions which had occurred during a day were discussed in depth at de-briefing sessions at the end of that day, with a view to determining if the procedures had been correctly followed, or if any changes to procedures should be considered.
Given my knowledge that I had followed correct procedure in all cases in which I had been involved, and that there existed documentary evidence to establish that fact, I had no concern that I would be able to refute the allegations. In addition, I had sufficient documentary evidence to support my view that the allegations had been made in a malicious attempt to have me removed from the school.
Why someone would choose to slither at that incredibly base level makes an interesting story. This is it:
The boss at MySpecial School had been an assistant principal in an already established special school and I suspect that, although experienced in the teaching of students with behaviour problems, he had little knowledge of how the checks and balances of administrivia worked. I had had personal experience of such a situation when, as acting principal for a period of several months, I had needed to rely heavily upon my excellent administrative team.
He needed an experienced and capable senior clerical officer to support him, and one was appointed. He probably came to depend heavily upon her skills in administration. She was extremely efficient and knowledgeable and without her input it would have been incredibly difficult to make the school function. Initially, all staff members appreciated her work and she was given due recognition.
The change occurred gradually and at first involved the subtle assumption of minor responsibilities that were outside the scope of her job description. The role of clerical assistant specifically does not include the management of student behaviours, especially in crises, nor does it allow for the management of teachers. In the early days, no one objected to the “assistance” which she provided.
However, beginning in the early months of 2001, the assumption of “extra portfolio” responsibilities became more rapid and far less subtle. The clerical assistant made it plain that she considered herself to be a vital part of the staff and student management systems, based upon the fact that she was privy to the boss’ thoughts, which she then communicated to staff.
Over time, her attitude towards staff and students became increasingly authoritarian and supercilious. She would give both staff and students instructions, implying, and in some instances even claiming, that the words came from the boss, and any adverse reaction from staff was treated with disdain on her part.
The boss had inadvertently created a monster.
The progress of this destructive set of circumstances might have been halted there and then, if staff had felt that they could approach the boss and tell him that they were unhappy, but he had created a parallel situation which precluded this.
There had been staffroom speculation, dating back to 1999, that the boss and his senior clerical assistant had been having an extra curricula relationship.
Suspicion was aroused by several of her behaviours, including her willingness to work unpaid overtime, when only she and the boss were on the school premises, and the fact that she would usually drive 40 kilometres, from her home to his, in order to transport him to and from staff functions, despite the fact that he could have driven himself. On occasions, she would accumulate 150 kilometres, or more, whilst conducting her taxi service.
Regardless of the accuracy or otherwise of the speculation, the result was that staff did not feel confident that they could approach the boss with criticism of the clerical assistant’s workplace behaviour.
Therefore, they came to me instead.
I knew that their complaints were justified. Although, in my role as acting assistant principal, I had not been subjected to the same level of abuse as had other staff members, I had witnessed her inappropriate behaviour. On a number of occasions, I had counselled colleagues either to speak to the boss themselves, or to authorise me to do so on their behalf. Initially, fear of reprisals meant that staff would prefer to take no action, preferring to de-brief confidentially with other colleagues, or with me.
I, at first, tried to alert the boss to the deteriorating state of staff morale in an informal and restrained manner. He indicated that he was aware of “a situation” but appeared to do nothing to bring about a change for the better. After several of these conversations had failed to produce a desirable outcome, I made the decision to present to him my concerns, in writing.
Here are excerpts from my first set of briefing notes. All names have been changed:
Notes prepared June 18 2001:
Discussion with The Boss:
My concerns –
- since my return from sick-leave last Tuesday, I have detected increased levels of staff stress and some friction. . . .
- apparent causes include matters related to the Jones ( a student) situation and, arising from those matters, a probable breakdown in staff cohesion. . . .
- During the week preceding my sick leave . . . de-briefing sessions focussed heavily upon staff concerns re Jones. The Boss was not present to discuss issues but they needed to be aired fully. There was discussion of the need to seek advice from (the Teachers’) Federation but . . . no suggestion of industrial action, or of Federation action on our behalf. Susan (acting executive teacher) and I both expressed the view that such action would be ill-advised . . . and there was general acceptance by staff, of this advice.
- On the Thursday it was agreed that to continue discussions, without the benefit of The Boss’s input (he was absent for a period of time), was unproductive. Staff expressed a desire to advise The Boss of their fears. I suggested that those wishing to, should put their thoughts on paper . . . (staff not wishing to be or to appear to be intemperate, confrontational or “industrial” in the expression of their views). Their notes would then serve as a point of reference . . . This suggestion was adopted and the notes were prepared (by two volunteers, Laura and Mick).
- . . . all staff expressed the view that they did not wish any discussion with The Boss to be seen as fostering disharmony or creating negativity. I expressed the opinion that The Boss would not take the view that staff were following a negative course of action, and that he would appreciate the forthright expression of concerns without taking personal or professional offence
- Two staff members . . . preparing the notes which were presented for discussion at de-briefing . . . on Friday afternoon. My reading of the notes, . . . . . gave me no cause for concern as to the mode of expression. I was certain that The Boss would not find the contents or wording offensive and gave the proposal, that staff would speak with The Boss a.s.a.p., my full support. I expressed regret that I would not be able to attend the meeting myself.
- I was visited by Bob (a colleague) at home during my sick-leave. . . . Bob mentioned that The Senior Clerical Assistant was very concerned that the notes. . . . represented a serious threat to staff unity. The Senior Clerical Assistant . . . felt that The Boss was under attack, without having the opportunity to defend himself. If these were The Senior Clerical Assistant’s views, . . . . they are entirely contrary to my assessment. . . . staff acted in a most professional and appropriate manner . . . (the discussion notes) could never be construed as a reflection of dissatisfaction with The Boss’s leadership.
- Having detected signs of unease amongst staff last week, I canvassed several members . . . As well as confirming my feelings that a number of staff were unhappy, I found some facts which I believe to be relevant in understanding their position.
- I believe that Laura (a colleague) received a phone call from Susan on the Sunday night following the preparation and presentation of the discussion notes. . . . it was suggested that the discussion with The Boss should not proceed, as the language of the notes was emotive and that they would need to be re-written. . . . . As far as I know, no meeting was ever held and, as a result, The Boss has not had the chance to hear from staff.
My observations –
- An exchange of words between The Senior Clerical Assistant and Jill (a colleague) in relation to the procedure to be followed in supervising Carla (a student) . . . . . . . . Jill was being told by The Senior Clerical Assistant that Carla was to do something which was contrary to the known arrangement. Jill became angry and apparently offended The Senior Clerical Assistant when Jill disagreed with The Senior Clerical Assistant’s direction. I believe that Jill apologised to The Senior Clerical Assistant for her behaviour, but that The Senior Clerical Assistant may not have been satisfied with Jill’s apology. I believe that the situation is currently unresolved.
- I observed The Senior Clerical Assistant’s apparent agitation when I asked at de-briefing for clarification of the procedures regarding Carla’s supervision. I later detected some coolness towards me.
- . . . . there is a reluctance by staff to use de-briefing for its intended purpose and that there is a growing tendency for small group de-briefing in the carpark.
- I find that, since my return from sick-leave and following my management of the Jones situation in The Boss’s absence, including my support of staff in their desire to speak of their concerns to The Boss, I feel a little isolated from the executive group.
Upon receipt of these notes, the boss looked as though he’d been hit by a truck, and went back to playing with his computer. Despite my repeated attempts during the following weeks to engage him in discussion of the issues, the boss allowed the situation to deteriorate even further, until the crunch came.