I want to talk about something that has been weighing on my heart over the last week that has been trending on social media. You may have seen an article by the New York Times with a secret video being taken of a teacher who is shaming a student during a whole group lesson. I am hoping we can look past the teacher shaming and learn from this viral video.
Looking Past the Teacher Shaming
I think teachers today will all tell you that they are asked to do things with their students that they know (or believe) is not developmentally (or emotionally) appropriate for kids. Whether it’s calling out a student during a whole group lesson or giving a kindergartener a sixty-six question multiple choice test every quarter, we all have stories to share of things that are not right.
The bottom line is that how this teacher spoke to this child was wrong. Her tone and the overall message was both inappropriate and unprofessional. It is 100% developmentally appropriate for a first grade student to not be able to verbally explain their work as they did on their paper sometimes. Their brains are still developing, and this happens from time to time.
Did this child learn anything from the way she was treated? Yes. She learned that she is not safe taking learning risks in this teacher’s classroom. (Not to mention she most likely had a pretty big hit to her emotional well-being.) Did she learn that she needs to accurately tell the class what was written on her paper? Maybe, but true professionals don’t lead through fear.
You see, life is about choices, and this teacher CHOSE to be at this campus where this type of behavior is apparently encouraged. She even CHOSE to be a model teacher, thus affirming to others that she believes in what she is doing so much that she wants to help others be successful like her.
Why do I feel justified in taking this stance?
Why do I feel justified taking this stance? I, too, worked at a school for four years where I was asked to do things that I did not feel were morally correct. I stayed for four years while they beat me down. I stayed while I was expected to do things that were completely wrong to my students. About two years in, I knew that this was not the district for me, that I had a higher standard for emotional well-being than the district did. See, this district was smart. They paid teachers so well that they could not afford to leave, and when they did, it was never comfortable. We all feared the transition. They made us feel as if teaching was like this everywhere and that we were the problem, not the philosophy. However, I found the courage to stand up for what I believed in, and I CHOSE to not continue to teach this way.
The article notes one former assistant principal who stated that “starting in third grade, when children begin taking the state exams, embarrassing or belittling children for work seen as slipshod was a regular occurrence, and in some cases encouraged by network leaders.” Another teacher said “teachers ripped up the papers of children as young as kindergarten as the principal or assistant principal watched.” Are. You. Kidding. Me?! I applaud those former employees for having the courage to stand up and say what they experienced.
Let’s be real here.
Let’s be real – districts have PR departments, and teachers are highly encouraged (if not told directly) what to say on public record. There are some teachers who say that this kind of behavior is not encouraged or condoned, but I do question whether it is true or not. After all, that district has students to serve and lawsuits and students changing schools is not good for the bottom line.
At this point, I DO feel bad for this teacher because she did not ask to be the face of this issue, and I feel like it is a very EXTREME example of what happens in some classrooms. However, it’s out there and you can’t take it back. I am hopeful the teaching community as a whole will take a deep look at the true issue here and that’s the emotional intelligence of kids.
What’s the bigger issue here?
I hope that everyone can look past the teacher shaming angle to this bigger issue, and stand up for what is right for the kids. If you are being asked to do things that you think are inappropriate or wrong, continue to say something, even if it falls on deaf ears. If you are asked to do things that really shake the core of what you think is right or wrong, move schools or even districts. Just like that assistant principal in the article said, she did not like the teacher she had become. I did not like the teacher I had become and so I left. You all have a choice as well.
If you are not an educator and this has struck a cord with you, I encourage you to talk to any teacher you know and ask them what practices they have to do that they feel are inappropriate. Ask them if they have ever seen a student shamed or mistreated by a colleague, and I bet you they will say yes. I know I have many stories I could share, but out of respect of our profession I won’t.
As a parent, would this be OK for your kid?
Let me end with a personal story about my own son. This may explain a little as to why I am so passionate about this issue. My own son was having some learning and emotional issues. We did the right thing and FOUGHT for testing, got an IEP, and had appropriate goals set in his classroom. By the end of his first grade year, he was so frustrated with school that he was having emotional outbursts to the point that our support system (counselors, an advocate, and a doctor) outside of the campus told us to just withdraw him for the last few weeks of school because there was more emotional damage being done than it was worth. I will just say, it was bad, and we had to have some very serious interventions quickly to change his life path. Just thinking about some of the words and emotions that came from his mouth at the age of seven breaks my heart and scares me to this day.
I’ve seen it as a teacher and lived through it as a parent dealing with the emotional repercussions of treating kids this way. We need to look past the teacher shaming and really put more attention towards the emotional effects of some of the practices in education today. The testing, lack of playtime and push for higher achievement have effects that go deeper than what we see on the surface. As a community, it is time for action.
And in case you are wondering, we moved schools and the difference is like night and day. Not one day in two years has he ever not popped out of bed and been excited to go to school. There have been no more emotional outbursts, and he feels safe and secure to learn because of the environment that has been created on this campus. I am SO thankful for everyone who has supported him at this new school- his principal, the two teachers he has had, his special team, the psychologist, his music teacher, and really, the whole staff has helped him to feel safe enough to learn (which is very hard for him).