The Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal has found that Wairarapa College teacher Lesley Davies committed “serious misconduct” when she put her hand on the head of one of the students in a Year 9 maths class to stop him banging the other student’s head on the desk.
(Left) A teacher at Wairarapa College, above, has been censured for putting her hands on a student’s head to stop him banging another student’s head on a desk. Photo / File
“We find that the respondent’s decision to apply pressure to a student’s head in circumstances where he was pushing another student’s head to a desk is conduct which reflects adversely on her fitness to be a teacher and may bring the teaching profession into disrepute,” the tribunal said.
Post Primary Teachers Association president Jack Boyle expressed concern about the case, which comes less than a month after another teacher was censured for carrying a child to a school principal’s office after the boy was accused of hurting four classmates.
“On the face of it, one student banging another student’s head on a desk would seem to be causing harm, and stopping that with reasonable use of force would appear to be fine,” Boyle said.
“It appears in this case that the Disciplinary Tribunal has concluded that the use of force wasn’t reasonable. We’d be concerned if this had the effect of further discouraging teachers from ever physically intervening, as in our experience they’re already very cautious about doing so.”
Davies, who was made redundant after 10 years at the college soon after the incident, said the college never told her how she should have dealt with the two boys.
“I literally acted on the spur of the moment to stop one kid banging another kid’s head on to the table. I didn’t think, I just acted,” she said.
“In hindsight, I’d let the kid bang the kid. I wouldn’t get in the way.”
The incident occurred in the first term of 2015 but the case has taken more than two years to reach a conclusion, partly because it was seen as a borderline case.
Davies was initially accused of pushing three students’ heads on to their desks, throwing a whiteboard pen at a student and, in a separate incident, swearing at a class.
An agreed statement of facts accepted the swearing incident, but stated that Davies only “put her hand on a student’s head” in the first incident.
“Two students were banging each other’s heads against their desks,” the agreed statement said.
“The respondent approached the students. She put her hand on a student’s head to stop him banging the other students’ head on the desk.
“She put pressure on the student’s head and he pushed back against her hand. She then realised what she had done and removed her hand.
“The way that she touched the student’s head damaged her relationship with the boy and other students in the class who witnessed the incident, although she did subsequently undertake restorative processes.”
Davies told investigators that she was under stress “due to her extremely difficult work relationship with her head of department”.
In the second incident, in May 2015, the agreed statement said she swore at her Year 13 economics class.
“She said, ‘Shut the f— up’ or ‘I’m f—— sick of you disrupting the class’ or words to that effect,” the statement said.
“She apologised to the class immediately after this incident occurred. This took place on the day she found out her uncle had died.”
The Education Council’s complaints assessment committee considered that the two incidents amounted to “misconduct”, but felt that they were not “serious misconduct” because the student in the head-banging incident was not harmed, and that in both incidents Davies was affected by “external stressors”, immediately recognised that her actions were inappropriate, and engaged in restorative processes.
But the tribunal has found that both incidents did constitute “serious misconduct”.
“In our view, the application of force (of any degree) to a student’s head is a serious matter. We were concerned that, had the student not resisted, there was a risk of serious harm,” it said.
“We do not find that the respondent’s actions were truly preventative. Replication of a student’s behaviour is not a preventative action.
“Prevention might have involved putting herself between the students, or using some form of restraint, such as if she had held the arm of the student to prevent him pushing the other student’s head.”
The tribunal censured Davies and placed a condition on her teaching certificate that she undertake professional development in classroom management, including personal stress management.
Davies, who was in hospital when contacted today, told the Herald that her teaching registration had been on hold for more than two years because of the case.
“Prior to this occurring I had 11 years of no hassles with teaching,” she said.
“I do not feel that an incident like this should actually stop a teaching career, especially when we apparently have a shortage [of teachers]. But that looks to be the effect it’s had.”