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Friday, September 12, 2014

Teacher awarded $1m for teaching feral kids

Peter Doulis




In 2000, Werribee Secondary College in Melbourne divided its years 8, 9 and 10 into five streams - accelerated, high achievers, medium achievers, low achievers and foundation.  Peter Doulis taught 69 of those students in "low" and "foundation" classes between 2000 and 2004.

We don't need to know the details, we know how feral teens behave, we've seen them in action.  They drove Peter Doulis beyond what a normal human is expected to handle and now he will never have to go back into a classroom again.

After he suffered a major mental breakdown, Mr Doulis took legal action against the Victorian government claiming he was allocated the most out-of-control students and given an unduly heavy workload.  His lawyer said they threw him in the deep end and left him to sink.  One student came to school with a makeshift flamethrower and singed another student's jumper.

"I find that breach of duty was a cause of the chronic severe major depressive condition that he now has"  the judge said.  "I consider that had Mr Doulis's workload of low classes and foundation classes been reduced, and if he had been supported in his teaching duties, then it is probable that his psychiatric condition would not have deteriorated."

The decision means that the Victorian government picks up the tab for Werribee College's failure to help him.

When Melbourne storyteller and musician Jan Wositzky went to school in the 60's, he had a teacher with no authority and because of it, went through hell.  This is his story.

I can't remember his name, but he taught at Upwey High School where I was educated in the 1960s, and because he had oily skin we called him Greaser. He lived at Mount Dandenong, on top of the Dandenong Ranges, and because he didn't have a car, Greaser caught the school bus along with the students. His bus went via Belgrave. I lived at Sassafras and had a choice of two buses – Greaser's bus or the one via Fern Tree Gully. I went on 'the Gully' bus and spent the half hour trip telling jokes. 
Then one day my mate Steve, a wild gangly red-headed larrikin, suggested that I come home on the Belgrave bus because 'we have more fun'. 
So that afternoon I sat with Steve, two seats behind Greaser. About five minutes into the journey, as we approached Tecoma, Steve took a large cigar from a metal cylinder and lit it up, drawing in a lungful of smoke. Then he replaced the cigar in the cylinder, re-sealed the lid and blew a lungful of smoke around Greaser's head. Greaser turned, with smoke billowing around his face, and demanded to know who was smoking. Steve, with both hands in the air said, "Not me, Sir".
Steve repeated the routine all the way up the mountain, with Greaser unsuccessfully demanding to know who was smoking. Of course he knew it was Steve, but he didn't have the strength to do anything about it. And I sat there amused and shamed that I was in on the gag.
The next afternoon Greaser stood up the front of the bus facing us. So Steve and others crushed and compressed some paper into wads the size of cricket balls and instructed everyone that upon a given signal we would all make as if to throw something at Greaser.
Standing facing us Greaser suddenly saw fifteen arms appear to throw something but only one wad came his way, hitting him on the chest. He couldn't work out who threw it. But in a moral sense we all did, and this went on all the way home, Greaser defenceless to the humiliation of it all. 
Again I was amused and shamed. He was weak and we were animals after prey. I knew that this was dreadfully wrong and I did nothing except tacitly join in. 
Greaser's next move was to stand in the aisle halfway up the bus, amongst the other kids who couldn't get a seat. This day it had been raining and Greaser wore a plastic raincoat that reached to his knees. As we bumped along one kid behind Greaser took a razor blade and slowly, carefully sliced the back of his raincoat into one inch strips, from the top to the bottom, as we all watched in fascinated horror.When it was finished Greasers raincoat looked like one of those plastic doorways in fish and chip shops. Because I got off the bus before Greaser I wasn't there to see what happened, but the story was that when he got off he walked away with the streamers of his raincoat flapping in the wind.
Next Greaser took to standing up the front again and one day a girl sneaked his briefcase from beside his feet and passed it to the back seat where it was opened. Inside were thirty essays for correction, each about five pages, foolscap, stapled together. The girls separated all the essays into single pages, then shuffled them back into the briefcase in random order and passed the briefcase back to the front where it was restored at Greaser's feet, him none the wiser. 
Greaser's final move was to sit down again, halfway up the bus, where he went unmolested for two days. Then on the third day Steve sat in the seat behind him. I was a couple of seats back, withdrawing from the action but still very interested in what would happen next – which was that Steve produced a spray can of shaving cream and proceeded to quietly, slowly spray the cream on top of Greaser's head. And the cream just sat there because Greaser's hair was thick and curly, a dense two-inch mass on top of his head. So the white cream piled up on his hair, an ever-growing dollop, and by the time Steve had emptied the can Greaser's head looked like a pavlova on a small dog. 
Then somewhere around Ferny Creek the cream finally seeped down to Greaser's skull and I watched as Greaser slowly raised his right hand. As his fingers slid into the shaving cream the entire bus load of us teenagers fell about in hysterics. The driver, as with all the other incidents, did nothing, though I'm sure he knew what was happening.
The last I heard of Greaser he'd had a nervous breakdown and was picking potatoes.
I regret what we did. We were cruel. The problem was that Greaser had no authority and no defence against our behaviour, which is why I now feel great sympathy for him.
As someone who works as a performer in schools, I have sometimes found classes that are totally unmanageable. At the time I've always thought: you can behave how you like but I'm walking out of here with $500. But I feel greatly for teachers who have to deal with such students every day, in the same way I feel for Greaser, who was unable to control us. 




Jan Wositzky is a storyteller musician who performs history and English literature shows in schools.