... A male teacher was on yard duty at Langwarrin Secondary College when a group of girls aged around 16 started yelling at each other.
Students surrounded the girls, and a few looked at the teacher - who watched on from behind them - to see why he wasn't trying to calm things down.
One said he heard him say of the girls being attacked: "B's a smart chick, and she knows what she's going to get herself into."
Editor : he probably meant that he believed that she was too smart a girl to get involved in a fight.
Another said he was smiling as if enjoying the show, although the judge and the VCAT colleague decided he was probably just smiling because he was nervous.
Teachers are instructed / required to smile in all circumstances.
For three minutes - as measured by surveillance cameras - the teacher hung back, behind the circle of watching students.
He would have been observing what was going on.
He probably thought that it would inflame the situation if he got involved.
The shouting then suddenly turned into a brawl between eight girls, which lasted for 30 violent seconds.
Suddenly - you see - suddenly.
It turned into a brawl suddenly.
And then the brawl lasted for thirty seconds.
It was "vicious", the judge said, even though no weapons were wielded, bones broken or blood drawn.
One girl had tufts of her hair pulled out and her head pushed into an iron railing and was later taken to hospital.
The judge and colleague said although the girl hadn't been badly hurt, the fight could have been "potentially very serious".
So, what did the teacher do during this?
He claims he waved his arms and yelled at the girls to stop.
He claims he sent two year 8 boys to run for reinforcements from the staff.
But no witness heard him shout, saw him wave or send for help.
They weren't looking in his direction. They were looking towards the fight.
And as the security cameras showed, he certainly didn't step forward and try to separate the fighting girls.
Nor did he later check the injured girl or offer to help her.
It was her friends who took her to the sick bay.
Who was watching the security cameras when the girls were brawling?
What was the point in having security cameras installed if there was nobody watching them, ready to call the alarm?
My understanding is that the security cameras were introduced because the school had a history of playground violence.
My understanding is that the security cameras were switched off because they "distracted people".
Is this correct?
Who decided to turn the cameras off?
If you have security cameras because the school has a history of playground violence, isn't it negligent to turn the cameras off?
None of the teacher's excuses - that he was waiting for help and that stepping in could have inflamed things - impressed those who should matter most here.
As the judgment noted: "(T)here was significant ill-feeling between the (teacher) and other members of staff as a result of this incident."
What was the evidence to support this statement?
Where were the other teachers who were supposed to be on duty?
School parents were furious, a community meeting had to be held and even students abused the teacher.
Furious with the teacher!
Of course they were.
Parents often blame the teacher when their child behaves badly.
And students always blame the teacher when they behave badly.
"He should have stopped me brawling, after all, I'm only 16!"
The principal, a man with 40 years in schools, was also appalled - his vast experience no doubt telling him a reasonably tall and experienced male teacher could and should have broken up a fight between eight girls, none of whom was known to have ever fought before.
If they had never been know to fight before, how was the teacher expected to know that they would actually start fighting on this occasion?
And would the principal have expected his women teachers to have involved themselves in the brawl?
Had the staff of the school been trained to break up vicious brawls between 16-year-old girls?
As he said: "Most teachers would . . . get in there or would start raising their voices, you know, pointing fingers and that sort of thing, where there was nothing like that."
The brawl lasted thirty seconds.
There wasn't a lot of time to do very much.
That was the verdict of experience, and one shared by others who'd spent decades teaching children and running schools.
Does this principal do playground duty on a regular basis?
Or does he just sit in his office, well away from the children?
A lot of administrators keep well away from children nowadays and they do not (want to) "know" that behaviour problems are increasing.
That's why the Education Department sacked the teacher - a decision backed by the Industrial Relations Commission - and the Victorian Institute of Teaching cancelled his registration.
Only the judge and her VCAT colleague, of all the authorities asked to rule on the teacher's dereliction of duty, thought he was fit to teach, and should be free to.
But the judge and colleague were, arguably, also the least qualified of all those authorities to say how the teacher should have acted and whether he should be trusted with students.
No, they aren't.
They are used to dealing with violent fights among teenagers and they have plain common sense.
How can you say that this teacher should not be trusted with students?
It was the students who were brawling, not the teacher.
These authorities want to punish this teacher to distract attention away from the behaviour problems of the students.
Again, I am not saying the judge made the wrong call at all.
But in some ways the decision was exactly one a lawyer, more than a school principal or good teacher, would make.
How many classroom teachers did you ask before you came to that decision?
How many vicious brawls between 16-year-old girls have you tried to break up?
The judge said the sacked man hadn't been given guidelines on whether or how to break up such a fight, and wasn't at all incompetent for having failed to do so.
After all, he shouldn't be "required to risk his physical safety" by stepping in every time.
To which there are two obvious answers.
The first is, if guidelines really are needed to get teachers to break up cat-fights, the judge had a chance to set some by insisting the teacher should have done what many senior colleagues agreed was his duty.
What about this male teacher's duty not to touch his female students?
What about a pregnant woman teacher? A frail old teacher?
Are they all supposed to be responsible for breaking up vicious brawls among 16-year-old students?
These administrators are trying to distract attention from their own responsibility to provide a safe working environment for the teacher.
Had the school provided teachers on duty with the means to call for assistance - for example, had this teacher been provided with a mobile phone? A personal alarm?
Had the teacher been given any training in security duties?
Schools have a responsibility to employ trained security staff to protect children against these sorts of violent attacks during their lunchbreaks.
... The second problem is this: which book of guidelines could substitute for the judgment of experience?
How could guidelines even tell a teacher when it was safe to step in and break up a fight and when it was better to hang back?
Put on the spot in the 30 seconds of a fight, a teacher consults his gut, not a handbook, and veteran teachers and principals say a male teacher who won't separate a few brawling girls hasn't the instincts to be trusted.
That's the call of people with years behind them of keeping order in schools.
No, it isn't and they haven't.
These administrators probably have years of hiding in air-conditioned offices, well away from children.
It is disgraceful that this teacher's career has been ruined by 30 seconds of poor student behaviour.
It is easier for administrators to blame classroom teachers than to deal with the student's behaviour problems, their parents, the media, etc.
Stand these administrators in the hot sun on playground duty for thirty minutes of their lunch break, listening to the endless arguments and complaints of the students.
Let them try breaking up a few vicious brawls between groups of 16-year-old girls.
Then send them back into the classroom to try to teach 30 hot, junk-food-filled and over-excited attention-seeking students.
No wonder recent research suggests that teachers work with a feeling of profound sadness.
The Herald Sun, 2002