I should have done something sooner. That’s what my neighbour said. Best nipped in the bud. A good hard slap across the face will shut her up. Said she never had any trouble in the playground after that. But my best friend’s husband was right about me. I’m a coward. And cowards cower. They don’t punch or slap. I found that out about myself in my old school playground. Now I was a teacher with a demon of a boss who had never outgrown the playground thug.
I was working at a new school. The kids were friendly and polite. The principal had vision. And I didn’t mind that my classroom was a leaky old hut that was sinking on its stumps. I had a pleasant view of rolling pasture. I made friends with the other teachers. Soon it was obvious the principal had taken a shine to me. And that was probably how it all began.
First it was a dismissive wave of her hand. Or a bollocking when I forgot to return the text books. I would swallow my humiliation. She was, after all, my boss.
She drew me into her warped little world, made me her ally and included me in her plots and schemes against her enemies. She even warned me off making friends with the entire geography department who were all loose cannons according to her. I can’t believe I never made a friend in geography. I love geography.
I should have done something when she stormed into class and yelled at me in front of thirty kids. I froze where I stood with the whole class staring until she left, slamming the door behind her. She apologised later but it’s hard to trust an apology when you know she’ll do it again.
I should have done something when my class of year twelves used my lessons to complain about the way she treated them. You should be the head, they’d said. We like you. Which was nice to hear but it didn’t change a thing.
I should have done something when she locked all the resources in the departmental storeroom and kept the only key. She’s nuts, I thought at the time and my union rep, who had a key for everywhere, helped me steal paper and exercise books from other departments. He had a weird way of dealing with things.
I did complain to the deputy principal and was told all department heads were the same and to take no notice.
Maybe I should have done something more but only the kids would believe me. Or more likely no-one wanted to hear it.
So I left. I left not before I slapped her – that was never going to happen. I left before she slapped me.
It proved a wise move. She left too, not long after, for slapping my successor across the face.
That slap had my name on it.
The thing my best friend’s husband doesn’t know is that cowards don’t just cower. They also walk away. And that takes courage.