This strange scene that greeted me as I entered a class over 15 years ago still haunts me as if it were yesterday.For in that snapshot moment,on that grey Autumn day,Thommy (Placid,gentle giant ) Hawken was to surprise and scare the life out of me.
By way of context,it’s important to set the scene about Thommy,aka ,the gentle giant first.Back then,children were still quite dimunitive in size ,and very regular for their age as it were.So this class of ten year olds largely weighed in with similar measurements.Similar,that is,until you factor in Thommy.Now Thommy was anything but similar in weight,height,or stature,in fact,the term giant was apt for him.However,Thommy was ,until this day,placid,gentle,almost serene in the way he deported himself in class,and in everything he did.His disposition ,however,belied an underlining steal that I was to witness firsthand on that fateful day in October 2001.You see,looking back on the whole incident,I can see that I missed it,I didn’t see that underneath that huge bulk of a human being,there was a very sensitive soul crying out for respect.
Thommy excelled at Rugby ,and,in fact,all sports where sheer presence carried the day.He had been picked for the county team,and he was our school captain.All these achievements marked him out in our school as a future head boy.So,maybe I could be forgiven for not seeing any of the signs that later became evident about Thommy.Thommy played lock tight in the Rugby team,and even at the tender age of ten,he had a muscular frame that wouldn’t have been out of place in an under 15team.As I write this,I feel that I’m trying to justify my inertia with regard to Thommy,and his sensitivities.You see,we,or should I say,I made assumptions about him.Because he was good at sport,and because of his frame,I thought that the teasing went over his head.So,what many of us might call classroom banter was,at that time,allowed to continue because it was construed as just that,banter.Now,of course,with the benefit of hindsight,remedial action would have been taken before things got out of hand ,and steps would have been taken to nip this in the bud as it were.
So,back to that fateful day,and the day that would later have profound affects on Thommies life,and of those who witnessed events in the classroom at that time.It was the day when the year 5 pupils were to bring in ,for show and tell as we used to call it then,a favourite object that they had each their made,or something that belonged to them that had a very special meaning.
As the children brought up their objects one by one to show their classmates,there were the usual array of treasured brick a brace in all sorts of variations that the pupils wanted to talk about.Now Thommy was the last to show his object ,and,at first he was tentative to reveal its identity,but,after a good deal of coaxing,he finally came to the front of the class to show it.His object was in a small square box,wrapped in tissue paper.As Thommy took the object out of the box,I noticed just how gentle he was with it,just how careful so to speak.As he revealed the contents of the box and told us all about it,I noticed that his voice began to weaken,and his speech became incoherent.But the object spoked for itself,it was a Victoria cross and it had been awarded to his great ,great,great grandfather.Thommies affection for this medal,and his short speech about it,touched me profoundly,to the point that I was almost in tears.
As the bell for mid morning break sounded,the class dispersed to the playground for their usual activities.As break finished ,and the children went back to class,I was diverted to another matter with a child who had developed a nose bleed,so I would be detained a little from the class room,but thought that the TA would look after the class for 5minutes.Well,those 5 minutes would haunt me in so many ways:as I walked back to my class along the corridor,I could here the sound of the word s”stop Thommy,stop Thommy,stop Thommy”,for in those brief moments all hell had been let loose.As I entered the room,I was greeted by my TA Mrs Giles,struggling with all her strength to try to remove him,to contain him,to subdue him,but to no avail.For in those moments all I could witness was a full blown assault by Thommy,aka,placid,gentle giant ,Thommy,reining down heavy ,uncontrolled blows onto to Phill Brewer.In all my over 20 years of teaching,I had never witnessed such violence upon another pupil by the other.In what seemed an age I grappled to get Tommy off of Brewer,but he was too strong for me,so in a moment I told Brian Booth to sound the fire bell in a desperate effort to get Thommy off of Brewer.
When finally,and with the grateful help of three other members of staff,we finally managed to release Brewer.He was in a terrible state,and was semi conscious.This scene was more like a pub brawl than a classroom.In the immediately aftermath,I felt extremely sorry for Brewer ,who would receive hospital care for his wounds.The atmosphere at that point was one of total shock as the actions of Thommy were so totally out of character to us all.My initial response was of total confusion,as I hadn’t got the previous weeks of banter and the build up in Thommys mind ,and the affect on him of what I would now call bullying in the classroom.
As the dust settled,with parents being called in,interviews taking place,we finally arrived at what had happened ,and it made grim reading for us all.It transpired that Thommy had been the victim of a systematic tirade of verbal bullying in the playground for weeks on end,but his parents had told him to snap out of it,and toughen up,but Thommy had always been placid,and never retaliated.However,on the day when he brought his prize object into school,Brewer had decided to up the anti of teaspoon nag to the point of hiding Thommys medal while I was dealing with the nose bleed.In just a blink of an eye,Thommy saw red,he retaliated,he went for Brewer and caused the poor TA profound distress into the bargain.
To conclude,although violence can’t ever be condoned on any account in any environment,I have regrets about this tragic incident and the fall out of it to this day.Now,15 years later,bullying,although a real ever present problem,is dealt with so much sooner.What we used to call teasing,or banter,is dealt with before it is rears its ugly head.However,it was a salutary lesson for me to learn ,and one that I never,ever forgot.
Unfortunately,the rules of the school were upheld,and Thommy was expelled for this serious assault.He would later join a school where he had no history ,and to which he would have to make new friends.
Thank you for your attention to my account of a past events.All names have been changed.