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Monday, 11 July 2011

Miss Rusty's Book published - with her account of being sacked from Calder High along with ideas on working with disaffected teenagers

Stop! Don't Read This

This week the book by a Calder High teacher, which created national and international attention, is finally published and may now be freely bought and read by anyone.

Interspersed with the book Leonora Rustamova ('Miss Rusty') originally wrote for her class is her story, of how she came to write for a group of disaffected teenagers and how she has coped with the suspension, sacking, the worldwide media distortion and trivialisation, the Employment Tribunal, the aftermath and unemployment.

The book is Stop! Don’t read this - the story by Leonora Rustamova. There will be a signing session and Leonora will read from the book on Saturday 16th July at the Hebden Bridge Bookshop 12-2pm.

The HebWeb has covered the remarkable saga of the sackings of Leonora Rustamova and Steve Cann since it kicked off in January 2009.  Those who wish to learn about the background to the story, the demos at the school, the public meeting and more should read the extensive coverage in our HebWeb feature which has links to most of the news items and extensive forum discussions.

The saga is a story of two exceptionally talented and popular teachers being given the Kafka treatment by Calder High, our community comprehensive. It is a story of injustice, enforced silence, invisible charges, hypocrisy and double-dealing by those in authority, and lost opportunity.

Leonora RustamovaMiss Rusty’s account of what happened to her reads like an episode from Waterloo Road with the difference that in Waterloo Road commonsense, justice and decency usually prevail at the end.

Leonora Rustamova faced a challenge. There were groups of teenagers who were so disenchanted with school that they learned nothing and had little chance of passing exams.

“There are constant complaints in the media, in schools and in our communities about the endless problem of disaffected teenage boys, and yet there is still no national strategy for helping them. They are despised, blamed, feared even, and they are still our children.”

She decided to write a book about one group in the hope that if it were a book about them they would be encouraged to read at least this one book.

Ms Rustamova points out that the Head had approved the content of the book in glowing terms and had “heartily encouraged me to continue with my book”. When sending a copy to the Head for his approval, she wrote a note of explanation: “. . . sorry about the swearing, the outrageous liberties I’ve taken with the building and the familiar approach to my students . . . I felt I had to step into their world to be any use to them at all.”

The Head replied, “Leonora, thanks for letting me read this . . .  You’ve done a superb job with this. Let me know if I can help.”

Calder High was one of the very first comprehensive schools in the country. No teacher had ever been suspended before. During the suspension, Miss Rusty was not allowed to talk about the issue to colleagues, parents, students or the press and she was not to be contacted except by her union representative, Steve Cann, who was soon to receive the same treatment.

“if you’d just killed someone and made bail, you would be allowed to talk to your mates at least, but not if you are a teacher who has contravened an Internet policy which the school hasn’t written yet.”

On 19 January 2009, Miss Rusty returned home after being told by the Head, Stephen Balls that she was suspended to find two letters; one congratulated her on her recent promotion, the other confirmed her suspension.

At the Tribunal hearing, none of the parents’ and students’ testimonials and letters of support were presented. When asked why not, the Head explained that he would not give the opinions of people who not professionals.

Like much of her teaching was, the book is innovative in its structure. Interspersed with the chapters of the book she wrote for the boys are chapters written for wider readership, explaining her thoughts, feelings and philosophy of teaching. And when necessary, Miss Rusty will comment on the paragraph she has just written or will throw in a verbatim e-mail exchange with one of the boys or other student.

As you might expect from an English teacher, there are references throughout her writing to novels and novelists - All Quiet on the Western Front, Shakespeare, Robbie Burns, Jane Eyre, Stendhal alarm,  Harry Potter, John Steinbeck, Muriel Spark, TS Eliot, Ben Okri  and more.

The reputation of Calder High has suffered immeasurably because of the school's treatment of Leonora Rustamova and Steve Cann. Such treatment would never have happened under the stewardship of Stephen Ball’s predecessor as Head, David Scott who would undoubtedly have had a quiet word with the teachers about how the matter could be resolved in the best interests of the students, the school and the teachers.

This book is published in a week when we have had endless revelations about News International and the police, a week when the public have been shocked at the arbitrary and sordid way those in power are capable of behaving. Now that Calder High is once again under new management, perhaps steps might be taken to repair the damage and injustice of the sacking of these two teachers, and make the school once again a place of learning in which the whole community can all be proud.

If, however, one positive thing has come out of all this, it is this book, outlining fresh and different strategies for dealing with teenagers who are alienated from their schools - it should be on the reading list of every student teacher.


Stop! Don’t read this - the story by Leonora Rustamova will be available this week from local bookshops and online from Amazon

See also

HebWeb News: 'Inspirational' Teacher Steve Cann cleared (July 2011)

HebWeb Feature - Don't Read this - the sacking of teachers Leonora Rustamova and Steve Cann

HebWeb coverage of the sackings of Leonora Rustamova and Steve Cann

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