'Teachers in a 'drunken brawl' on school trip to Barcelona'. That was the headline that I returned to when emerging from a detox retreat (my partner chose not to tell me the 'news' until my 'quiet time' was over to avoid any disruption to my focus on mental and emotional peace!).
A few weeks prior to this, I was sat in a classroom with my son and his dad listening to the intelligent feedback about our son's progress in PE. My son is a football enthusiast: from the moment it was physically possible for him to kick a ball he did. He lives for his sport and PE is the best subject in his world. Needless to say his favourite PE teachers are high on his role models list. The feedback was clear, honest and accurate. His teacher clearly knew my son very well. Let's just say his potential star student was 'easing off' from his usual commitment and excellent attitude. Mr PE gave my son a rallying speech about keeping his standards high, setting his personal best at every opportunity no matter whether he was being graded or not; and what being a leader in sport was really about. It was a genuine petition from a teacher who cared.
So it was a real surprise that this teacher was the allegedly involved in drunken brawl whilst in charge of 78 impressionable young people on a once-in-a-lifetime sports tour to Barcelona. I couldn't believe my ears. Was this the very same teacher who had led an impressive Sports Tour information evening; the very same teacher who reassured all parents that the staff would be vigilant about ensuring our overexcited underage teenagers would be kept away from alcohol; the very same teacher I wished good luck in the early hours on a Sunday morning as they called registers, collected student medication and ensured everyone was in the correct group?
I had asked him that morning how he was feeling and if he'd had any sleep. Of course he hadn't! He'd probably been up all night diligently checking and doubly checking that everything was arranged for his 78 young sporting wards. When the children returned, I congratulated Mr PE and thanked him for the team's safe return. There was no indication that anything was amiss.
Needless to say, as soon as I had read the story in the press, I sat my astute son down to hear his version of events... It was the bowling evening. As expected everyone was having a great time - bowling, playing air hockey and pool; all the cool activities teens love. Yes the staff were having a drink. Who can blame them after supervising the children for a long day's sporting tournament? There is nothing wrong with having a sociable drink.
The details of what happened next are being investigated by the school and no findings have been released. My son is clear that the press articles are blown out of proportion and contain factual inaccuracies. But it seems that a teacher - yes a teacher, a person that I believe has enormous influence on a young person's life - had a lapse of judgement, albeit a temporary one. There are few of us who can claim an unblemished record where alcohol is concerned and who knows if the exhaustion, the pressure of responsibility and the relief that things were now going smoothly contributed to his poor choice to drink too much.
At a time when our kids are at their most alcohol curious, this couldn't have been a better gift. What a superb warning to my son and every school child considering having a drink to look cool. Mr PE has demonstrated the serious consequences of alcohol. Not only has he been the subject of national press coverage which would have been excruciating for him and blemished the school's reputation which it has worked hard to build up over recent years, he is also now apparently undergoing a disciplinary investigation that could potentially destroy his career.
Alcohol is perceived as harmless: it is found on supermarket shelves, is very widely advertised across all media, and it's an acceptable sociable activity in most cultures. But it is dangerous and wrecks lives when taken in excess. In my work with prisoners, I have seen first-hand the devastating effects of alcohol. The violence, the destruction of families, the breakdown of relationships and the despair this brings.
I am devastated that a great teacher, a conscientious, amiable and intelligent teacher may be unable to return to my son's school. But, as the author Catherine Aird said
"if you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning"Think before - and while - you drink!