The pickpocket: school dynamics - GSO

The pickpocket: school dynamics

Paolo is a bit of a braggart boy, he tends to behave like a bully in the classroom. He’s the kind of person who settles things his way when problems arise. He’s a bit hated and a little loved by his classmates, certainly feared by everyone.

Paolo experiences a profound situation of unease due, first to the illness, and then to the premature death of his father in the current year. The mother is unable to look after a son who, now, in the 11th grade, is angry against the whole world.

Paolo is certainly not the type that appears. He belongs to this kind of people: “It was me, but you won’t find it out!”

The teachers regularly blame the classmates, who change month after month due to the rotation of the seats decided by the class council. The partner changes but the result is always the same: something happens and Paolo is always innocent while his mate is “lovingly” scolded by the teachers.

However, Paolo’s personal situation, due to the passing of his father and his mother’s supplications, predisposes all teachers to harbour a certain understanding of this complicated student.

All of us teachers are positive and we would like to see him more committed, but also the demotivation he shows towards the study of all subjects is, to some extent, tolerated: teachers are asked to be compliant, ready to forgive, to understand, to overlook, to promote.

After the correction of the third test of the year, something weird happens and it gets my attention. The first two tests did not go well for Paolo, they were very poor; the last one, instead, has a completely wrong and a completely right part. I find it rather strange. The result is insufficient anyway, but not as seriously as in the first two tests. It seems like he’s making some progress. I talk to Paolo and ask him for explanations. He tells me, convincingly, that he understood one topic, whereas the other was still absolutely obscure to him.

I recognise the positive signs in this situation and encourage him to keep going.

In the afternoon, however, I receive a call from a person who, knowing the reasons for the anomaly I had encountered, suggests that I pay close attention to the lab hours, especially in the days following class assignments. Indeed, while I explain to the pupils the errors I found in the tests and I am facing the blackboard, someone takes from my bag Paolo’s uncorrected test and then, at the end of the hour, he/she reinserts it a little more complete than when it was delivered.

I’m flabbergasted! A student putting his/her hands in the teacher’s bag? How can you just think of something like that? I, as confident as I was of seeing the boys work in the lab hours, now imagine them in a conspiracy against me in favour of Paolo, to help him solve the problem of insufficiency in Business Management.

I can’t accept it! I need to talk to Paolo. But what do I tell him?

Better to wait for the next test and the following day, in the laboratory hours, I’d observe more carefully the behaviour of the students. This will suggest the best type of intervention.

The day of the fourth test of the term arrives. Everything takes place regularly. The next day I decide to close the bag with the keys and prevent anyone from getting their hands on it.

It is at this point that I catch some class dynamics that I had completely missed before: out of the corner of my eye while I’m pretending to do an important job on the central computer of the room, I see that Paolo orders and almost pushes Mario, one of his best ‘friends’, to take the test from my bag. I see Mario who tells Paolo that the bag is closed and he cannot open it and that the latter gets angry, attributing a certain incompetence to Mario in doing the job. Mario seems deeply mortified but, at the same time, also frightened both by Paolo’s glare and by the fear that I may discover that he put his hands in my bag. At this point I hear Mario, slightly raising his tone of voice, but with a pace and a conviction that leave no space for misunderstanding, tell Paolo to make do, and that he is fed up with being his errand boy.

The scene is on the side of my place, so, for them, I might still have ignored the conversation. I wait till the end of the hour and then ask Paolo to stop. He and I remain alone in the laboratory. Fortunately, there are no classes the next hour and I am free right now. Thus, I begin the conversation with Paolo.

“Dear Paolo, I wanted to talk to you about your last class assignment, the one in which you got 5/10, do you remember? You know I made the reflection that I noticed some progress. This morning, I have seen the test you have just done … I see it’s blank. Why?”

“Well, you know, this time I didn’t study”

“So the other time you were more prepared?”


“You know Paolo, I have the feeling that this isn’t really the truth!”

“Why prof, don’t you trust me?”

“You know, trust is a conquest awarded day by day, and the facts, more than the words, make the tree of trust grow”

“What do you mean with this?”

“I’m waiting for you to tell me the precise facts of how you did your test last time!”

“Like you saw it”

“But I noticed something strange, there were practically two parts of the task that seemed to be done by two different people, what can you say?”

“I did the test, prof!”

“Well, let’s put it this way, what were you and Mario arguing about before, during the class?”

“I don’t remember, maybe we were talking about football”

At this point impatience takes over and I begin to raise the tone of my voice.

“Look, I tend to be a patient man, but I can’t stand lies!”

“Do you want me to tell you the whole scene that I saw today and that horrified me?”

The self-confident boy starts to be less calm and I catch the first signs of nervousness.

“I saw Mario trying to open my bag, and you insisted that he tried again. Was it to take the test and complete it?” I continue.

“What are you saying teacher, I’d never do such a thing!”

At this point, raising the tone of voice even more, I repeat:

“Did you want to open the bag to take the test?”

“No prof” Ignoring his no:

“Did you want to open the bag to take the test?”

“Did you want to open the bag to take the test?”

“Did you want to open the bag to take the test?”

Three times I repeat the question, progressively raising my tone of voice and ending almost to shout it. At this point, I see that Paolo feels put with his back to the wall, and all he can do is confessing. Crying, he tells me:

“I did not want to do it, teacher, but it was the only way to try to recover and make my mother happy, I know I was wrong, I apologise.”

“Trust is won over facts and not words, these excuses will have value if followed by facts. At this point I ask you to take your responsibilities and summon your mother for tomorrow. Then, we’ll see what to do.”

It seems interesting to me to highlight an aspect of trust which it is essential to build the authentic relationship between student and teacher: the awareness of facts.

When you can identify and share the facts, it is possible to act to change the behaviours.

When this identification and sharing is not achieved, everything is useless and it will be impossible to build a relationship of trust.

At this point, the continuation of school activity may be really superfluous.

The teacher has the duty to always grant confidence. A trust based on the authenticity of facts and behaviour. If these premises are missing, we must be aware that the conclusion of the whole affair is not “better to close your bag when in class”. It would be very trivial as a teaching, and perhaps quite useless in the construction of the teacher-student relationship.

The lesson I learned from this experience is that, by identifying the facts and sharing them with the person concerned, I was able to make it clear, firstly on what basis the trust should have been built, and secondly that I was always ready to grant it. The price to pay for trust is called truth. Building a relationship of trust means discovering the foundations on which this trust must be built. And surely, the basis of trust is the truth. Truth of facts, of things that are seen and heard, truth of feelings, profound truths. The hidden truths undermine trust, make it fragile, shaky. When you trust, you can also not see and not know everything, because, in any case, the person you trust will be able to guarantee a good outcome from the action that you expect him/her to perform.

Trust is the basis of delegation and delegation is the basis for the smooth functioning of complex organisations such as schools.

When you don’t trust, you increase the controls. When you trust, you improve the results.

A school based on trust is therefore a school that knows how to give value to relationships among people. And I believe that in a school like this, the teachers who know how to trust the truth are the teacher on whom we can rely, to start the real scholastic reformation: the family school alliance based on trust.

Paolo failed the school year and then went on to night schools. He graduated with the minimum. He worked as a bricklayer for a while, then as a foreman. I never knew if the lesson he was taught was useful. I certainly haven’t given up trusting my students. A trust anchored to truth creates the awareness on which to build the man of tomorrow.

Giordano Casonato

Head of GSO School

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