Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Poison Teachers: Do Teachers Bully Students?

Poison Teachers: Do Teachers Bully Students?
By Jill Jenkins 

            Roger Water’s from Pink Floyd’s album, Another Brick In the Wall, “We Don’t Need No Education,”  states:
“We don`t need no education,
we don`t need no thought control,
no dark sarcasms in the classrooms.
Teacher, leave them kids alone.
Hey, teacher! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it`s just another brick in the wall.

We don´t need no education,
we don`t need no school control,
no dark sarcasms in the classrooms.”
            Poison teachers who use “dark sarcasms in the classroom” and seem to want to humiliate students to feel more powerful create huge problems for students.  These are the teachers who watch for students to cheat so they can pounce on them.  These are the teachers who stand at doorways waiting for the child whose dress is too short so they can sneer at them and haul them down to principal’s office like they have captured the biggest fish in the lake.  These are the teachers who brag in the faculty room about the number of students who have failed their classes.  These are the teachers who make education an uncomfortable and humiliating event in a child’s life and destroy any possibility that this child might even consider to further his education after high school.
            Learning should be a joyful and fulfilling experience to a child.  As teachers, we shouldn’t be trying to control a student’s mind, but enrich it with many opportunities to learn.  I remember once a former student popping his head into my class and saying, “I knew this was your room when I heard the class cheering and clapping.  I don’t think they cheer for assignments in any other room in this school.”  This is the kind of enthusiasm we need to be fostering in our students.  Students need to believe that teachers want them to succeed and will do whatever they need to do to help that child be successful.  If a student believes that every assignment and activity is designed for them to fail so the teacher could taunt them and make them feel incompetent, they are going to stop trying.  Amazingly these poison teachers are still in our schools.  How do we reform them or get them to find another profession?
            Take for example a recent homecoming dance.  The school has a dress code for the young ladies that up until this year was never enforced, so students rented prom dresses from a local company that have been acceptable at past dances, but this year, the administration firmly applied the rule and turned away students who did not meet the code.  The girls who were in violation were forced to sit in chairs outside the dance waiting for parents to bring them different attire while all of the other students paraded by to enter the dance.  This was a humiliating event for most of the students.  Certainly schools should be allowed to create dress codes, but if a change is made in how a rule is enforced, perhaps more communication is in order.  The students had already paid for admission and their money was not refunded, nor were they allowed to attend.  What is the purpose of dances, but to create a happy, cooperative environment in the school, but instead they have created a humiliating and negative environment.  In one inner-city school where I taught, a parent asked a teacher at parent-teacher conferences, how they could help their struggling son.  The math teacher replied, "Nothing could help your son except retroactive birth control." The father punched the teacher in the face.   In another school where I taught, another math teacher only allowed his students to ask three questions per class period.  If a student asked to use the restroom or for a pencil, two of the classes three question limit were gone.  I don’t think this teacher was communicating that he wanted his students to succeed. In another school, a boy’s hair was placed in pigtails because the teacher felt his hair was too long.  The parent sued.   Correcting a student in a hallway or privately is less damaging to a student’s self-esteem than making the child a target of others ridicule.  In my daughter’s middle school, girls were not allowed to paint their fingernails.  I allowed my eighth grade daughter to paint her nails on weekends, but she remove the polish before going to school on Monday. On one busy Monday morning, we forgot to remove the nail polish.  My daughter was sent to the principal’s office and carpet cleaner was applied to her nails.  The cleaner was so harsh it inflamed all of her cuticles and took weeks to heal.  She was not only humiliated, but physically in pain.  I was appalled. I know there was a better way to deal with it.  Yes, she violated a rule, but how important was that rule.    This is an extreme case, but when teachers behave like bullies they do extreme psychological damage to students.  Teachers should be behaving like models, not bullies. 
                Maybe we need to hold in-services on what is the purpose of education.  Teaching is a form of coaching.  A coach wants his team to win.  He not only trains them, but builds up their confidence with inspiring speeches.  Teachers should want their students to win.  They need to inspire them as well and instruct them.  I am not saying that school rules should not be enforced, but when a student violates the rule, it is important to explain to the student what he did wrong instead of humiliating him.  It is all in the delivery.  The punishment should match the crime.  We should never do physical of psychological damage to a child.
             Sometimes methods of education that were used by past generations seem innocent, but actually do real damage.  In fifth grade, our teacher put a large tree on the wall.  Each student’s name was placed on a leaf.  When we took a test, she placed our leaf bearing our name on the tree.  Those who earned 100% were at the top of the tree and I remember I was on the ground under the tree with the student in the class who threw his test in the garbage.  It didn’t encourage me to try harder; it made me reluctant to go to school.  Lucky for me, my best friend offered to tutor me and I moved up the tree, but the damage was done.  I hated math after that.  When I taught in a high school, there was a math teacher who arranged her seating chart based on the students’ performance on tests.  The best scores sat in front and the worst scores in the back.  I wonder how many would-be Einstein’s were lost.  
            Students are like fragile egg shells.  The words and attitude of the teacher has a strong influence on students.  Be cautious and courteous.  As teachers we need to be cognizant of how our words and actions affect a students’ attitude toward learning, self-esteem and psychological well-being.  Teachers are more powerful than we believe.  Let’s use that power to build our students, not tear them down.