A bit of a disturbing story coming out of the Northern Territory today; a long serving Teacher, possessing an excellent record, has been placed on a good behaviour bond (and can never teach again) because a student sustained the grievous injury of … a swollen thumb. There are many things wrong with this story and fault lays all over the place – but to think a teacher’s career can be ended instantly (as you’ll see below) over such an incredibly minor instance is mind-boggling to say the least.
Judging from the various sources available, this seems to be the order of events (please note, summary is based solely off the various below news sources):
An 11 year old student came to school and misused a piece of sporting equipment. The teacher in question, Mary Louise Michie, told the student to get off the ‘scooter board’ and bent down to pick it up. At this time the girl’s thumb came into contact with the board though this seems hard to understand how exactly. The student commented that the Teacher had hit her, supposedly with a cheeky grin. At lunch that same day Michie was called to see the Principal and, after a short interview, was told to pack her bags and that her career was over.
We have here a teacher who had impeccable references from other staff and served, as the judge admitted, as an excellent teacher for 33 years. Her career is ended because of one rather small mishap in the yard with the possibility that the the student in question blew the matter completely out of proportion. Was the incident intentional? There is absolutely no indication of such. Was it accidental? This seems far more likely. Either way, would it be worth a charge of aggravated assault? It was a swollen thumb, apparently fine after being treated with an ice pack, not what could be labelled a life changing injury by any stretch of the imagination.
This seems to be a case of something that is unfortunately an increasing occurrence with today’s generation of children. It has often been said that the children of today are so incredibly protected from any adversity that they should be called the ‘Cotton Wool Generation’, this is a notion I find myself in agreement with. How would such an incident be handled ten or twenty years ago? The child might be told to suck it up and not misuse equipment again, a brief word in the staff room maybe or (worse comes to worse) the parents might come and sit down and everyone talks about it over a beer or coffee – almost certainly with the conclusion that incidents invariably happen in any school yard and injuries will be sustained. It is just part of growing up. Yet somehow we have managed to instil such a feeling of privilege in today’s children that they have absolutely no resilience in facing difficulty and that usually results in educators taking on more and more responsibility. And yet they wonder why people are leaving the teaching profession in droves, one of the reasons is simply cases such as this.
Now who seems to be at fault in this particular case? The Principal certainly failed to stand by a member of staff in any perceivable manner, effectively firing her instantly without any sort of investigation. The child certainly has a share of the blame as her parents probably do as well. The Judge is at fault for relying on the statement and notes of one person, the Principal, over the statements given by the defendant which seem to be backed by an incredibly good record and testimonies by her fellow staff members. As noted by the Judge, the Police certainly needed to clear the matter up when it happened and not eight weeks later – but then perhaps they thought it was truly a frivolous matter as it seems to be.