Why are teachers allowed to scream at kids?
April 21, 2011 8:15 AM   Subscribe

Why is it legal for teachers to treat kids in a way that you could never treat adults in a workplace? And if a parent wants to think about addressing this archaic situation in terms of the system (rather than just moving one's child to another class, for example) how would one even start to think about doing this?

My 10 year old is in a special program for advanced/gifted learners. This means she had to change schools to go here.
Last year her teacher was a nightmare. This year her teacher is absolutely wonderful. And next year, the teacher she's slated for has a history of screaming, humiliating, and even throwing things when kids aren't completely silent, don't seem to be paying close attention, or when they don't immediately hop to follow her directions.
Most teachers think my kid is terrific and treat her difficulties as secondary to her abilities. But from talking to other parents, I know the teacher next year (like the one last year) will not be able to see who she is beyond the quirky parts. And that the way this teacher deals with frustration is to scream and yell. When you walk by this classroom, it looks depressed and silent.
The gifted program is here to begin with because it was legislated that, as a form of special ed, there is a right to an advanced and enriched program. I don't think my kid should have to forfeit that right just to avoid next year's teacher. But she is a quirky, offbeat and spacy kid. She's very smart and creative, but she's not able to be as organized and attentive as easily some others are. DOn't get me wrong. I know the teacher has a right to certain expectations and to have a smooth-running classroom. But just like some kids have a harder time reading, others really, REALLY have a harder time being straight-and-narrow. She's truly wired a little differently. Yes she has to learn to be organized. But she still deserves the education of this public program which accepted her, and to be taught without emotional abuse or humiliation. Her current teacher this year does a great job of this, but last year was a complete trauma. And next year promises to be the same as last.
Please, I don't want this to be a debate about whether my kid should have to tow the line. I believe in discipline. But I don't believe an adult should be allowed to scream, humiliate and throw things in the classroom. If this were any other situation the screamed-at person would be able to sue!
I talked to the principal. She said the teacher is "excellent' and has "high standards" and that she would "talk to her" about the screaming.
TLDR: I want to think about changing the very culture of what's accepted in public schools so that screaming, yelling, humiliating, etc go the way of corporal punishment. It's emotionally abusive and I think it's archaic to blame the kid for abusive behavior. What can I possibly do on a structural level? I can't believe this problem is beyond repair! My child has a community here and I feel she has a right to go to her public school, and not have to change schools yet again, without being screamed at for (nondefiant) quirkiness, spaciness and disorganization (traits that don't stop her from getting 100 on every test, btw -- the issue is about how teachers maintain the order and feel of the class, not about learning.) Again I am not saying that kids should be allowed to do whatever they want and I do empathize with teachers. But I don't think they should be allowed to scream or humiliate. Please help. Practical advice! What can a parent DO?
posted by Tylwyth Teg to Education (52 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
School discipline has come a long way in the last 50 years I would imagine any teacher that is actually "screaming" or being "emotionally abusive" to students would be dealt with. I have never heard of a teacher being the way you are describing.
posted by lakerk at 8:25 AM on April 21, 2011


Are you on your school's PTA? I'd start there.
posted by mkultra at 8:26 AM on April 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


There are plenty of bullying, humiliating adults in the workplace. I've worked for a couple.
posted by Melismata at 8:27 AM on April 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


In many jurisdictions, teachers are considered to be in loco parentis - that is, in the place of the parent. (apologies for misspelling - Latin was a long time
ago).

It gives the teacher the same rights as parents regarding physically restraining children. It's actually very important - without that right, a teacher could not hold a child who was hitting another child or hurting themselves or pick them up and lift them away from danger. Loco parentis used to be the basis for corporal (physical) punishment in schools, but this was dropped from many places while keeping the other rights like restraint.

It sounds like you do have a problem teacher. I don't know if their behavior is illegal - many adults have to live with a boss that yells at them and belittles them. You should report the problems to the principal and the school board.
posted by jb at 8:27 AM on April 21, 2011


Why is it legal for teachers to treat kids in a way that you could never treat adults in a workplace?

It's actually legal for adults in the workplace to yell and be jerks. It's not a crime or even a civil offense, outside of things like genuine bullying/harassment.

Teachers have different styles, and some of them insist on a certain amount of classroom conformity so that "everyone is on the same page" for their lessons. And the thing is that your child is always going to end up dealing with teachers who don't match with your child's learning styles. The best advice I can give is that you need to work closely with your child to monitor her progress and make sure she doesn't turn this potentially bad experience with the teacher into a reason to start faltering academically.
posted by deanc at 8:28 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


...that you could never treat adults in a workplace?

I'm not sure what industry (or country) you're in but I know plenty of people who work for employers who scream and humiliate them and throw things. While I'd never put up with that sort of behavior from my boss, I'm not in one of those highly competitive businesses.

I'd imagine the advanced\gifted program is much the same way...more kids than slots, so teachers hold students who are given that opportunity to very high standards. That's no excuse for the teacher's behavior however.
posted by JaredSeth at 8:28 AM on April 21, 2011


Why is it legal for teachers to treat kids in a way that you could never treat adults in a workplace?

Because children aren't adults and school isn't work. They're not comparable in any meaningful way. Try to keep in mind that a lot of teachers are overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated.

Maybe start by thinking of the teachers and the school as partners in your child's education rather than obstacles that need to be dealt with. Engage with them and join the PTA as mkultra suggests. You're never going to make any progress for your child if your plan is to take on the entire system because of how one teacher behaves. That's simply quixotic and unrealistic. Think more along the lines of, What can I do here, to make things better for my child?
posted by clockzero at 8:29 AM on April 21, 2011 [17 favorites]


This is such a wonderful question. I agree that children, even high school age kids, are not granted the same basic human rights that adults are. I would start looking into this as a human rights issue. Framed that way, you should be able to formulate, along with other parents, a list of basic rights that your children have.

Here's Amnesty's page on the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

And UNICEF's report on the state of the world's children 2011.
posted by jardinier at 8:30 AM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Getting as directly involved as you can in your kids' school has a lot of benefits, and one of the nicest ones in my opinion is getting to know the teachers and staff better, as people. You may find you feel differently about the teacher once you have more context to base your feelings on, instead of just what you've heard from others.
posted by padraigin at 8:32 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why is it legal for teachers to treat kids in a way that you could never treat adults in a workplace?

Because they're children. I mean, it sounds like you've got a real problem on your hands here, but applying labor law and anti-harassment law is not the way you want to go about this. You'll get zero traction. Besides, it isn't illegal to scream at employees, and there's absolutely no right to not be screamed at. It's just bad business (and pedagogy).

What can you do? Talk to the administration. It looks like you did this already. Great. If you aren't getting the results you want, keep talking.

None of us here know your kid, nor the teacher involved. Having been a teacher, I can testify to the fact that what a kid tells his parents is happening in class may bear little relation to what actually does happen in class. Knowing that, combined with the fact that you seem to be forming a judgment about a teacher your child has not even had yet makes me reluctant to offer any more pointed advice than to continue to work with the administration. You are, essentially, complaining about something that hasn't happened yet.

I want to think about changing the very culture of what's accepted in public schools so that screaming, yelling, humiliating, etc go the way of corporal punishment

They basically have. Teachers can't easily get away with this sort of thing in most of the school districts with which I'm familiar. Which is not to say that it doesn't go on every day, but that teachers can already get in hot water for it. If it happens--and it hasn't yet--work with the system.
posted by valkyryn at 8:35 AM on April 21, 2011 [17 favorites]


If the principal of the school supports this teacher, then you are in a tough spot.

Your reasons might be valid, but other parents have grudges against teachers that are not valid. School officials, not parents, should be the ones deciding staffing issues.

If you want to make an impact, get involved in the local PTA and local school board.
posted by Flood at 8:39 AM on April 21, 2011


On preview, I do agree with the idea expressed above that sometimes a teacher will not match the child's learning style, and you have to teach your child to deal with that.

But, assuming you really do have a bad apple teacher here:

First of all, you have to be sure of your facts. Do you know anyone from this year's class with Bad Teacher who can document screaming and bad behavior incidents? The more parents you can find that are willing to lay out the facts, the better. Just you, as one parent, taking offense at something you overheard, without knowing the context, can easily be dismissed.

Then you need to approach the principal again with your backup parents en masse, or at least with a stack of letters detailing these incidents. Demand that she address the complaints. And by "address", you need to be willing to detial what you want (Do you want teacher fired? Reprimanded? Told never to scream again?) And you have to be willing to negotitate compromise.

If that doesn't work, your next step is probably the school board. School board meetings are generally public, and you can attend and ask to speak regarding your concerns.

But... unless you have a group of parents willing to take the same stand as you, unfortunately you will probably come off as a "that parent" trying to get special treatment for their Special Snowflake Child. (Not saying this is true - just saying that that is how it may be viewed by administrators.)

Also, you're running out of time to do anything before next year. Get started now.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:39 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have personal experience with this both as a parent with a similar situation, and also as a kid having gone through this.

As a parent, the inclination is to attempt to completely avoid or eliminate any social hardships or problems the child has, and give them a pure clean environment in which to grow.

As a kid, I went to a school for 'gifted' kids, and took Latin for many years. In the last year, I was put in the class of a teacher that had a really crappy temper -- screaming at the class with eyes and veins bulging when they made a dumb mistake or were caught goofing off, throwing chalk at students who weren't paying attention, even belittling students viciously in front of class. He was known for this; the principal did nothing, and everyone in the school knew that his class was socially very difficult and demanding. My parents were desperate to do something to help me get out of it, and they tried getting me switched, everything.

Thing is, when all that failed, I still survived. Yes, I got my share of abuse. Yes, I felt super low some days when I had forgotten some rare declension or mistranslated some passage and was singled out for treatment. And yes, it was cringeworthy and upsetting to see a grown man scream until spittle flecked his lips because some poor motherfucker a fourth his age didn't do their homework.

But at the end of the day, I learned a number of important lessons. First, people are not all goodness and light; not even adults. There are people who, for whatever reason, are socially broken and difficult to deal with. This is obvious in your peers but it becomes glaringly important and lifechangingly meaningful when you see that adults are not immune to that either, that 'being a dick' is not something that you just grow out of.

Second, coping strategies work. In my case, I found that as long as you satisfied his requirements, he would leave you alone. The requirements were stringent attention to the details of learning Latin. Way more stringent than any other teacher I had ever had, but there it was in black and white. And in a scholastic environment that's actually quite reasonable and sensible to comply with, regardless of how stupid the punishment was for failure. And, I also found ways to detect the bad mood and defuse it, with humor, or disarm it with directness ("sir, I want to admit up front that I misjudged my time last night and didn't get to this passage to translate. I apologize and will do better next time."). Learning how to deal with bullies and shitty people is something that you don't want for your kid to have to do, but which is nevertheless an important life skill.

At the end of that class I had learned a truckload of Latin; I had matured emotionally; and I was ready to deal with any number of malevolent fuckers with lousy interpersonal skills. So really it was probably the best class I've ever taken.

Malevolent fuckers with lousy interpersonal skills are thick upon the ground in the real world. You can defend against them only so long until you have to start integrating them into your worldview.

All that said, there was one hyper-abusive teacher in the school who went even further. The parents banded together (so no one kid was singled out) and had a confrontation/intervention with the teacher and the principal. It solved the problem.
posted by felix at 8:41 AM on April 21, 2011 [32 favorites]


I'm curious about the screaming/throwing/humiliating business. Is this what your child reports or what you've seen? If other parents are saying this, where is their information coming from?

IME, "good" kids can experience stern-but-normal teachers as scary and threatening because 1. the kids feels powerless 2. the kid wants to be "good", which is emotionally different from "I want to be a good employee" or "I want to get good grades", much more about morality and emotion 3. it can be hard for the kid to judge their own behavior if they tend to overthink things.

This is actually a reason for teachers to dial down the sternness, but would it help to talk your daughter through some of her specific fears? I was absolutely terrified of ever, ever being corrected by the teacher, even though I was a tractable kid and a good student.

Can you meet with the teacher and talk to her about your daughter? If the teacher is bad, maybe active parent involvement will get her to leave your kid alone; if she's stern-but-normal, maybe you can work out some plans.

If the gifted program was only created reluctantly after a court case, then maybe there is some resentment and a poor choice of teachers.

I think that adults forget how scary teachers can be, especially when kids are under about fifteen. A teacher who throws things once is forever after "the teacher who throws things". And kids don't feel like they have a lot of recourse--in a worst case scenario, you can quit your job, but the kid can't quit school. Also, there's a lot of moral propaganda around teaching - teachers are wonderful, teachers are selfless, good kids pay attention in school, good kids learn well and easily. For an especially impressionable child, it can be really difficult to believe that a teacher can be wrong--George Orwell writes about this in Such, Such Were The Joys, the feeling that you hate what is happening, that you can't bear it, but that you are wrong and the teacher is right.
posted by Frowner at 8:43 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


And next year, the teacher she's slated for has a history of screaming, humiliating, and even throwing things when kids aren't completely silent, don't seem to be paying close attention, or when they don't immediately hop to follow her directions.

Just a thought: where are these reports coming from? Is it possible you're concerned about something that has been exaggerated all out of proportion? Also, if this is something your kid brought up to you, it's totally possible that this is a case where older children are intentionally trying to scare your kid. Children are unreliable witnesses to begin with, and tend to exaggerate for attention. Even if your child doesn't, she may be receiving faulty information from children who do.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:57 AM on April 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


The quickest way: if you have any free time during the day, drop in on your child's classroom on an irregular schedule. Enter during a schedule change (such as when the kids are coming in from recess) to minimize disruption, sit in the back, be cordial to the teacher, you are there to observe. If you're able, offer (in advance) to help by working with small groups of students or with paperwork but don't take a "Oh, I don't need any help" as a reason to stay out of the classroom. We had a hotheaded teacher when my son was younger and from all reports, her behavior improved dramatically after a handful of parents and myself became a presence in her classroom.

The systemic way: regarding getting involved in the PTA/PTO: at many schools, the PTA is ineffective at directly addressing issues such as these. There's nothing at all the PTA handbook which even addresses the topic or outlines an ombudsman role (I am a former PTA unit president but not your PTA president). The thing that getting involved with the PTA does is give you a little more visibility and thus credibility with the school's administration and gives you a social network to mass support from other parents, which is what you need to get the school administration to make any effort to handle personnel issues. Putting your concerns in writing is good. Getting other parents of children in the same classroom to put their concerns in writing is even better. If you still don't get action, escalate your concerns to the district. I'll tell you up front: this route takes time if it works at all, long enough that you will likely not be helping your child but the kids next year or the year after that. Sitting in on the classroom? Works pretty damn fast.
posted by jamaro at 9:07 AM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


This year her teacher is absolutely wonderful. And next year, the teacher she's slated for has a history of screaming, humiliating, and even throwing things when kids aren't completely silent, don't seem to be paying close attention, or when they don't immediately hop to follow her directions.

Ex-teacher here, so take what I have to say with a truckload of salt, but...

1. You seem to want the teacher to overlook things that (in your opinion) have nothing to do with your child's ability to show that she is a great student, but you're not willing to overlook things that (at least in the school's opinion) have nothing to do with the teacher's ability to be a great teacher. I've known lots of awesome teachers who "yelled", and I've known lots of shitty ones who didn't.

2. Expecting students to be quiet and follow directions aren't BAD things. If you're going to get the administration to listen to you, then you need to accept that if you come in all "Why can't my kid make noise and take time to follow directions? She knows the material so she shouldn't have to follow the teacher's rules", you're going to be "THAT parent", and they're not going to try as hard to help you.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:07 AM on April 21, 2011 [20 favorites]


The culture of schooling is difficult to traverse for some kids. In these cases, it's the kid who is seen as having the problem. In a way, they do have a problem in that they cannot adjust to the irrational environment in which they find themselves. The workplace doesn't have to be like that because they fire or just won't hire those who don't adjust in that way.

In our family, we dealt with this by having our child diagnosed and sent to a special school and forced the state to pay for it. Others home school. Most just suffer.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:14 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


She's truly wired a little differently.

Is she wired differently enough that she has a learning disability diagnosis from a medical doctor? If yes, look into getting her onto a 504 or IEP plan.
posted by jamaro at 9:17 AM on April 21, 2011


I think you need to separate this into two categories, the first being what is reasonable behavior for a public school teacher of average 10 year olds, and the second being the behaviors you would like to accommodate your "quirky, offbeat and spacy" 10 year old.

I agree that it is inappropriate for a grade school teacher to throw things and humiliate his or her students, but I also find it hard to believe that this teacher has been terrorizing class after class of students with no push back from the parents, administrators, or school boards. I think your best course of action here is to join the PTA as mkultra recommends.

Your child is sensitive, and I totally get the impulse to protect her from everyone that intimidates or upsets her, but that is not something that you're going to be able to do for the rest of her life. If her offbeat quirkiness is a dominant feature of her personality, maybe public school is not the best place for her.
posted by crankylex at 9:17 AM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Teacher here. It is very, very easy for every little thing that a teacher says or does to be taken wildly out of context. I have students who will tell people that I talk all the time about my personal life, that I used to live in a crackhouse, that I live in a graveyard, that I once died, and that I have pepper sprayed students in class. None of that is true, of course, but the stories take on a life of their own.

My experience has been that I absolutely CANNOT treat students the way adults treat one another in the workplace. I have to be vastly more tolerant and patient, and any appearance of anger is generally seen as a failure on my part. I can't imagine being allowed to keep my job if I were to throw things. And "humiliation" is a broad topic -- when I see a kid using a cellphone, I usually say, "Put it away, Captain Obvious," which could be seen as "humiliating." When I catch plagiarism, you're damn right I humiliate the kid, because he/she NEEDS to remember how bad it was. It sounds harsh, but sometimes humiliation works. However, it has to be done for a purpose, not for making me feel better. I don't really "win" by making a kid feel bad.

Mileage varies as dramatically in schools as it does in a workplace.

In most classes, I can get by on sheer charm and patience; in some classrooms, though, I really do have to be a complete dick (as far as the students are concerned), because there's never any chance to start positive in the first place. All my intentions to use positive reinforcement and friendly, patient treatment are worthless when students kick things off with dramatically negative behavior to begin with.

To get the administration on your side here (if she really is screaming & throwing things), you will need to make sure they actually see what's going on. That will be difficult.

You have more power than you think. Teachers aren't used to having a parent who really is on top of what goes on with her child and will confront the teacher on it. We are as a group typically very confrontational with kids, but we're horribly passive-aggressive with each other and other adults.

Discuss your concerns with this teacher ahead of time. That'll be a huge warning sign for her and she'll be on her toes from the start. If anything like this should happen with your kid, call the teacher IMMEDIATELY, AND call the principal.

It doesn't do your kid any good to be in a "gifted" program if she's going to go through a lot of emotional turmoil just by being there, but at the same time, it's possible that what you have heard about the teacher is exaggerated and/or something that can be addressed.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:21 AM on April 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


What can a parent DO?

Ask yourself: what would Tiger Mother do in this situation? Probably tell her child that she had better make sure to keep the teacher happy and listen to the teacher.

Now, I'm not advocating that this be exactly what you do, but it's worth asking yourself why you think this approach is wrong.
posted by deanc at 9:22 AM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Work as hard as you can to disempower teachers' unions. Behaviour like this persists because unless a teacher sexually abuses a child, it is, for all practical purposes, impossible to fire them, so principals don't bother trying.

With the massive disclaimer that I am not trying to derail, this advice is making a whole lot of assumptions about a very complicated issue and it is not going to help you address your child's specific issues at this specific school with these teachers in question within a timeframe that you would find acceptable.

Seconding that the first thing you should try is seeing a specialist to ascertain whether a 504 or an IEP would be appropriate for your child.
posted by superfluousm at 9:26 AM on April 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


this advice is making a whole lot of assumptions about a very complicated issue and it is not going to help you address your child's specific issues at this specific school with these teachers in question within a timeframe that you would find acceptable.

All of which is made more complicated by the fact that nothing has actually happened yet.
posted by valkyryn at 9:37 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some teachers are good. Some teachers are bad. Just like doctors. Just like therapists. Just like accountants. Just like any other profession out there. Some teachers are good, but are a bad match for a particular child.

You say you've talked to other parents about this teacher in the future, but have you reached out to this teacher yet? My husband is a teacher. He had a student come by the other day with another student that my husband had never met. This first student introduced the second to my husband and they had a nice little chat. My husband thought this was a little weird at first, but then when he checked his e-mail, he had an e-mail from the first student telling him this second student is unbelievably shy. The first student wanted to introduce her friend to all the teachers she had that year that her friend will have next year to make it easier for her. My husband understood this. Now he knows this girl is incredibly shy --- paralyzingly so possibly, and he'll know to expect that from this student and can hopefully develop ways of handling it. Granted, my husband is a high school teacher so it is a bit different.

But my aunt made it a point to introduce herself to each and every one of her children's teachers after she knew her kids would have them in the next year. She would meet with them, explain their particular difficulties, and here's the catch --- she would offer the teacher specific advice on handling her children's particular needs. And she did it in a constructive manner like, "Look, M can be very active. He has a really, really hard time sitting still. We've worked with him on understanding that he can't disrupt his classes and he needs to sit still when the teacher requires it. But if there is a particular lesson or a part in the day where it wouldn't be disruptive to the class in general, it may be helpful if he can stand behind his desk rather than sit." The teachers were very willing to listen to this, and either they took the tactics if they were appropriate or they didn't. But they were aware of the particular issues of the students and could address them more appropriately.

Why on earth wouldn't you bring your concerns directly to the teacher? See what the teacher has to say, and then worry about everything else? Jumping right in to join the PTA because you may have an issue with a particular teacher you've never even met is not a good reason to join the PTA.
posted by zizzle at 9:41 AM on April 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


I like this question, better still (worse, actually) I've been there, and I also have tried to influence the "system", signing up as chairman for the parents' organization of the basic school of my kids for a few years, and trying to influence routines from within.

The first thing you should make clear for yourself is what parts of your question are actually not about "the system" at all, but in fact quite personal: You want to protect your daughter - personally; and you anticipate problems with that one teacher - personally. The implied question "why does the system allow for rotten-egg-teachers" is a bit of a red herring, I fear.

It is important to know is that every teacher (even a brilliant one) has massive experiences with parents who for all sorts of reasons act protective around their kids, and are often negative about the teacher's work. Teachers are usually extremely allergic against this type of criticism, so a very light touch is needed. It is not a good idea to be openly skeptical in anticipation of that yelling teacher: you will be put into the bin with all those other complainers before anything actually happened, and from there, you'll not be able to influence anything.

The "system" is there to guide (or occasionally to fail, alas) when problems actually do arise. So your first approach should be personal, in fact. What you need to do is to get yourself known to the teacher early on, and to make an engaged and keen impression; make sure to show in a positive spirit that you care about the education of your kid; try to make the situation workable in the first place. Also don't let your own past teacher-phobia (if any) come in the way of assessing this particular situation on its own premises. Do not be the one who is responsible for that the situation went 'off' from the start.
So, perhaps this will help things to work out just fine. If however things do not quite work out so fine, you have nevertheless established a platform of communication. You can return to the teacher, and discuss things. A rational approach makes this possible for a longer period of time than if you (say) begin just accusing him/her of yelling or throwing stuff. You need to discuss actual events, in terms of pedagogical solutions. A good contact to your kid, in order to obtain clear, unadorned, fresh information of what is happening in the classroom is critical for this approach.

If however, for whichever reason, your fears prove true, and no individual discussion with the teacher is possible (here we come to the part where "I've been there"), it is time to step to the principal, or to engage other parents in the process. The situation in the class of my daughter, then 11, deteriorated so blatantly (shouting, humiliating and generally out-of-control teacher...exactly what you describe) that parents' action was necessary. Even in such a situation, with looming special class meetings and very difficult discussions, it is absolutely crucial that your information and reasoning is impeccably in order.

(Ours was: the teacher, who had been criticized for good reasons before, was confronted with a selection of actual examples during a special class meeting. She stepped out of the meeting half way through and resigned her job on the same evening. Many people were relieved. The school leadership blamed those unruly parents for creating a horrible conflict. A conflict handling plan, as I found out, although required by law, had never made it into the personnel handbook, so there was no way to deal with the repercussions. I drafted one for them, it was discussed at meetings, then forgotten, and the whole story vanished in history)

About discipline: make sure that you know what you mean here. You say "Please, I don't want this to be a debate about whether my kid should have to tow the line. I believe in discipline." Fair enough. To scream, humiliate and throw things in the classroom is actually a sign of a lack of discipline, "high standards" notwithstanding. That (if it really is true/will happen) is something that cannot really be tolerated: a teacher can't make kids be disciplined while being all over the place with his/her own discipline. So yeah, sigh, I feel for you, but don't act before there's anything to act upon.
posted by Namlit at 9:45 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Parent of three quirky kids and daughter of a teacher here. As many others have said: be involved. Volunteer in the classroom. Join your PTA. Be present so your child and her teacher know that you know what's going on and have a relationship with the teacher that extends further than a handful of formal school events. Zizzle's suggestions are excellent.

One of my three quirky kids also has a learning disability. It's very possible to be both gifted and LD. For her a public school classroom wasn't a good fit and even her very good private school has not always been the best place for her needs. She has learned to cope with the cranky, the rigid and the unsympathetic teachers - good prep for the real world. That said, I think she suffered real damage from several teachers early on when everyone thought that she was difficult without realizing there were specific and addressable reasons for it.

I think you have to go in with an open mind at the beginning of the school year and be prepared to stay in close contact and to be your child's advocate. As others have said this can be delicate - you don't want to be the parent whose presence causes eye-rolls but you need to be your child's strongest ally. That doesn't mean your kid gets a free pass to be disruptive or not do the work and it may mean you need to get her assessed. Being your child's strongest supporter means letting the teachers know that you consider working with them to be a partnership - don't start out assuming a teacher is your adversary.
posted by leslies at 9:51 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lots of good nuggets in the responses.

As a personal note, my oldest (13 now) is "gifted" (in advanced classes, etc) but early on, we knew he was 'quirky'. My wife is a teacher and we set out early to get him a 504, which required the teachers to provide certain accommodations - some specifically around organization, attention needs and so forth. Clinically, he was diagnosed with ADD, although extremely borderline.. definitely not debilitating. But the 504 is what he needed, especially with certain teachers that were 'difficult' later on.

Also, he went on medication for a couple years until he decided he could come off it himself.

All through the process, we made sure we met with his prospective new teacher up front, ahead of school, as many people here are recommending.

For a 10 year old, so 4th grade, I'm going to assume, a teacher that screams, yells and demeans her students sounds suspect. It may be hearsay, and it may be related to the students she has in class.

You really need to sit with her and discuss your concerns. You can't expect to protect your child from doing what is expected of them (sitting still, not calling out, paying attention, writing down their homework, etc). It is disruptive to the class and impacts the other children in the class, preventing THEM from learning because the teacher needs to focus on your child.

However, if there is a real reason she can't control herself, a 504 or IEP is the way to go, and will give the teacher, as well as the school, a specific list of actions they will need to follow, and the teacher can plan for it and make sure it is integrated into her lessons.

So, don't agree with a teacher that trows things and intimidates students, but I can't see that here. I see you protective and concerned for your child (which all of us would be), but you have to use what exists in the system to help them manage themselves, not expect everyone to change over just for you and accommodate what you think is 'simple quirkiness' but might be something more disruptive.
posted by rich at 9:52 AM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I agree that it is inappropriate for a grade school teacher to throw things and humiliate his or her students, but I also find it hard to believe that this teacher has been terrorizing class after class of students with no push back from the parents, administrators, or school boards.

I don't find that remotely hard to believe. I had teachers scream in my face, break down crying, belittle me, humiliate students, encourage bullying... I don't remember specific instance of throwing things, but it wouldn't surprise me.

I think that adults forget how scary teachers can be, especially when kids are under about fifteen.... And kids don't feel like they have a lot of recourse--in a worst case scenario, you can quit your job, but the kid can't quit school. Also, there's a lot of moral propaganda around teaching - teachers are wonderful, teachers are selfless, good kids pay attention in school, good kids learn well and easily. For an especially impressionable child, it can be really difficult to believe that a teacher can be wrong....

All of this is exactly right. Whatever you do, the most important thing you can do is listen to your daughter and acknowledge the experience that she's having. Let her know that it's okay to feel that a teacher is doing something wrong. Sometimes teachers are wrong.

All this argues for us all treating each other more like human beings. Teachers and administrators need to remember that kids are real people, with legitimate wants and needs and independent agency. They also need to be aware (as we all should be) that the approach of putting thirty children in a box and expecting them to sit quietly for six hours is inherently flawed, and it punishes bright children especially. Teachers can't change that circumstance, but they can be aware of the flaw and gently help a kid compensate for it.

At the same time, parents have to help their kids see that teachers are people with weaknesses, and to try to be forgiving of occasional lapses: A teacher who throws things once is forever after "the teacher who throws things". People who are saying you need to investigate these claims carefully are right.

On the other hand, if it's truly a pattern of behavior, you will need to intervene, along with other parents, and demand that the teacher either change that behavior or be removed.

As far as what to do on a "structural level" -- there's not much you as an individual are empowered to do beyond dealing with your child specifically. You could run for school board, but I think once you got there you might find that your hands are tied. Excellent teachers are thin on the ground -- you can't just fire a bad one and expect to find a much better one to replace her. (And in many districts it's exceptionally difficult to fire a teacher anyway.)

On the other hand, I do think you can begin to raise awareness in your school and others about what we really expect our teachers to model for our kids. While it's true that, as people have pointed out, it's not illegal to yell and scream and throw things in the workplace, it is a sure way to be recognized as a dick. I don't want teachers teaching my kid that that's how you deal with frustration.

Finally... I was basically this kid. As all the videos say, "It gets better." Public school is often just shitty for anyone who can't fit in the box. Support your kid, respect her experience, intervene on her behalf if that's necessary, and let her know that you agree with her that that teacher's behavior is inappropriate. She'll be all right in the end.
posted by thehandsomecamel at 10:15 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hey! I was your quirky kid who was in alternative classrooms for gifted and talented kids. Our cohort of 50 kids spread over two classes (two teachers per year) grew very close in the three years we were together, and ran the gamut of eccentricities of smart kids; we're all mostly still in touch. We had a "bad" teacher in 5th grade.

Here's what worked for us - for our family, and for me, personally:

Mom had identified that Mrs. Z was a yeller and not terribly tolerant of the quirkier kids before I was to start. She didn't tell me that beforehand because she didn't want to start me off thinking I'd be doomed. She let me figure it out myself. This was a very smart move.

Once I started coming home and saying that Mrs. Z hated me, mom asked me why I felt that way. I described the yelling, favoritism towards other kids, etc., and mom said that she'd go to back-to-school night to "check out my story" and that I should write down every time in a journal when she does these upsetting things. I kept documentation of Mrs. Z's behavior all year. Only once did she ask me what I was doing, and I told her, "I'm documenting your behavior. You do it to me." Which she thought was weird, but... I was weird.

Mom correctly guessed that Mrs. Z was not a fan of my personality, and identified the person who would be best at mitigating that disaster: my 4th teacher, Mrs. O, who was great. It sounds like your kiddo has a good one this year, so talk to her now! Tell her what you're concerned about, and ask her what she thinks. She'll know; she can talk to next year's teacher in the teacher's lounge, she can intervene if things get bad next year, etc. Mrs. O stuck up for me 100%, had my back, and even confronted Mrs. Z about her behavior towards me. Teachers who don't like a kid will often just write off the parent, but they'll listen to their fellow teachers.
posted by juniperesque at 10:16 AM on April 21, 2011 [11 favorites]


I'm not saying you don't have valid concerns, but here's my personal anecdote: I was a gifted kid. Every single year, I heard about one teacher for the next grade who was awful, and yelled, and made kids feel bad, and who other parents complained about being too hard on the kids. Every year I hoped and prayed I would get that teacher. Every year, I ended up getting that teacher. And every year I ended up absolutely loving my teacher (I still even keep in occasional touch with a couple of them).

It may be that the other parents you're hearing from have kids similar to yours, and maybe their information is good. But it might just be a bunch of buildup to something that will end up being a fantastic opportunity for your kid. You won't know until you get there.
posted by olinerd at 10:18 AM on April 21, 2011


Errr. Hoped and prayed I *wouldn't* get that teacher. Argh, edit window, por favor...
posted by olinerd at 10:19 AM on April 21, 2011


One year outside the gifted program won't hurt her too much, and the benefits of being around proper role models at that age probably far outweigh the difference in curriculum.

I had a similar situation at about the same age. I had a terrible teachers who would routinely deny kids with diagnosed ADHD their recess break as a punishment for talking out of turn or being fidgety. Halfway though the year my parents had me switched to another teacher, and things went well from there.

About 6 months from defending my PHd dissertation in engineering - all the haters (bad teachers) can suck it.

On the other hand, learning to constructively deal with difficult people could also be a beneficial lesson - but she will get plenty of that in HS.
posted by I_am_jesus at 10:27 AM on April 21, 2011


Two bad, really bad, teachers out of three years in a gifted program.

Bit of a high proportion, don't you think?

But it's actually not surprising on closer examination. There are extremely perverse incentives in play in public education right now that make it more likely that the worst teachers will end up in programs for the gifted than anywhere else.

Bush's No Child Left Behind-- inexplicably kept in place by Obama-- mandates universal testing to assess attainment of minimal goals, and incorporates fairly severe and escalating punishments for schools and districts in which too many students fail to meet those goals.

If you put a bad teacher in front of a class of average or below average students, you'll see their incompetence in the test results.

However, that same bad teacher will achieve excellent test results with a class of gifted students because it's practically impossible to keep really sharp students from learning enough to pass those tests (they'd pass them before they took the class!).

So principals who want to keep their jobs and get ahead will pair the worst teachers with the best students, and damn the little smartasses and their meddling parents anyway. And principals are enthusiastically abetted in this by all higher levels of administration.

If you want to make a positive difference in education as it is currently structured, ally yourself with the enlightened teachers, parents, and administrators who oppose No Child Left Behind style testing.
posted by jamjam at 10:42 AM on April 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'm the son of an elementary school teacher, and now the husband of a high school teacher. I've heard about, and had, all kinds of teachers. And I've heard about all kinds of students and parents.

Classrooms are not work places. Children are not co-workers. They are not hired for their position, nor can they be fired. And by-and-large, teachers are not like any sort of office employees or bosses, either. Children are there to learn, interact with each-other and the teacher, listen and talk when appropriate. Teachers are there to educate a range of kids who have a range of personalities, attention spans, and relationships with other students. Hopefully they can engage the class, and if nothing else, impart some knowledge in a constrained timeframe.

Even in gifted classes, there can be unacceptable disruptions and problems with classroom management. Not all teachers are magical with students, and it's harder to realize that after having a great teacher. Some teachers flat out cannot deal with disruptions, and that sucks for everyone involved. The kids don't learn, and the quiet ones are punished by the noisy ones. The teacher can freak out and respond poorly, and then he or she loses face before the kids. Kids test teachers all the time, and if they can "control" the class, they often do.

If you have time to volunteer, I'd suggest that instead of coming in and monitoring the class, taking notes of the teacher's short-comings, offer to help the class. Talk with the teacher about troubles with kids, and offer to work with those kids or something. She's not shouting at kids and throwing things because she enjoys it, and trying to oust her will only stress her out more.

The biggest, ugliest, problem here is: who would replace this awful teacher? Schools typically can't be picky with teachers. They have to balance the limited supply with the range of demands: introductory classes with kids who don't care in the least about school, yet have to test well under the ridiculous No Child Left Behind bull; the basic classes, with a range of kids, including the smart ones who don't try hard enough to excel and enjoy goofing off; the advanced classes, which require teachers with advanced degrees; then there are the teachers - some who are technically cleared to teach a course yet don't have the comprehension to convey that knowledge well, teachers who can only teach the basic courses and are kept on because they're great coaches, teachers who can teach it all and are great with all kinds of students, and teachers who don't give a damn and are counting the days until retirement.

In short: please try helping the teacher first. Find out why she shouts at kids and throws things, and see if you can get parents to volunteer to help manage classes. Or see if you can get other teachers and the administration to work with her on her classroom management skills and techniques. Because the chances are that 1) you can't get her fired, and if you did, 2) there wouldn't be any fantastic replacements.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:55 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also: if your kid can survive through one shitty year, think of that as a great lesson in itself. Their future will not be full of 100% supportive people, and if your kid learns to how to deal with adverse personalities without "fighting fire with fire," she's ahead of many of her peers, and many adults as well.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:57 AM on April 21, 2011


Also: if your kid can survive through one shitty year, think of that as a great lesson in itself. Their future will not be full of 100% supportive people, and if your kid learns to how to deal with adverse personalities without "fighting fire with fire," she's ahead of many of her peers, and many adults as well.

Man, am I surprised by this advice. Pretty much every thread about an abusive boss is answered with, "Get out of that environment ASAP. You don't have to be held captive by an abusive supervisor."

I think juniperesque is right-on about how to approach it initially, which is to be aware of it but don't psych your kid out. In the mean time, you might want to read a little bit about unschooling and the Sudbury method--wish my parents had known about that when I was a kid and didn't get along with a few of my teachers (notably, one mainstream teacher resented the fact that I missed her classes for G&T and teased me in front of the class for "wasting her time" and being "a nerd"). If and when problems come up with this teacher, ask your child what she wants you to do. Maybe it's worth it to her to stay in class with her friends. Maybe she'd prefer mainstream classes with extra-curricular coursework to supplement it. Talk to her about it, and make it clear that her feelings are important and that you're willing to hear about them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:06 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


PhoBWanKenobi: Man, am I surprised by this advice. Pretty much every thread about an abusive boss is answered with, "Get out of that environment ASAP. You don't have to be held captive by an abusive supervisor."

Except a teacher isn't a boss - you're only in class for a limited time each week, and only for the school year. There are other classes in your day, and at the end of the school year you get a new set of teachers.

And there are only so many teachers available to you as a student, and in some cases, there is only one teacher who teaches an advanced/gifted class. So you 1) suffer and life sucks, 2) try ousting the teacher and succeed, and chance it with a new teacher (or a series of subs, if they can't find someone else - and this is the last thing you want for your kid), or 3) try to help the teacher.

I'm the product of public schools, but I've had friends and a sibling who went through "alternative" schools. In those schools, the teachers related differently to the students, and there was a much student:teacher ratio. The first part can be present in public schools, but the second part, not so much. I'd love class sizes to be tiny, but that's not possible with the current level of education funding, so figure out how to work and live with what you have.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:25 AM on April 21, 2011


School board member here. If the teacher has THROWN things, our district would fire her. (And our teachers' union would not stand in the way as long as we properly documented. Our union isn't interested in protecting bad teachers, just in ensuring proper procedure is followed when termination is required.) The yelling/classroom management issues are harder to speak to without actually observing the classroom, but in our district, we do investigate and intervene in classroom management issues, and it can be grounds for termination, but those terminations take two entire school years under our current laws and contracts.

If your child was already in this teacher's class, a next good step would be to have a meeting with the teacher, principal, and school counselor/social worker to discuss your child's needs and personalities and draw up a contract. This is increasingly popular; we even use it as a pre-suspension tool for kids who are heading down a bad road. (It's also used for kids with minor, easily mainstreamed special ed issues who may need to go do jumping jacks in the hallway to run off some energy so they can pay attention, or for kids coming back from a medical issue who may need a water bottle in the classroom, or whatever.) Your child agrees that at the end of every day she will use her last five minutes to sort her homework folder properly and ensure all her assignments are written in her planner and show it to the teacher; the teacher agrees that she will give your daughter two reminders to return her attention to class before discipline; they create a code word for when your daughter is too spacy; whatever. It also lays out the parent's responsibilities (ensuring homework is completed and placed in the backpack in the morning, say), the school's responsibilities, etc. The point is to make your child directly accountable for her own behavior management and give her tools and clear, explicit tasks to achieve those behaviors properly; and to involve everyone -- student, teacher, parent, school -- as partners in helping your daughter succeed. So this is something you could discuss in advance with the teacher and/or the principal and/or a school counselor as well.

The next step would be to discuss your concerns with the superintendent in advance of the new year, but you won't necessarily get a different answer than from the principal. There's not a whole lot school board members can do for you at this point, other than relay the concerns to HR, and there would have to be direct evidence/testimony from students who saw the throwing or whatever. If I got your call, I would basically all the superintendent and say "I'm hearing from parents that Mrs. Bean has the following problematic behaviors, but I haven't spoken with any of the parents in her class, just other parents who don't want their kids in her class next year." The superintendent would then probably check the HR file, alert HR, and lean on the principal to be thorough in teacher evaluations this year. The key point here is really evidence: We cannot terminate teachers without cause, and if the principal is either not bothering to produce documentation (because overworked or lazy) or not WILLING to do so because s/he likes this teacher, it's a problem. The best thing families can do in that case is document so we have SOME documentation.

Once your child is in the class, however, and you call me and say, "Mrs. Bean threw something," then I can call the superintendent and be like, "DUDE. We have a teacher THROWING THINGS in class, here is a student who witnessed it, blah blah blah" and the wrath of God will descend. Or you call me and let me know about the problems your kid is having (yelling, bad classroom management) and I can pass it on to the superintendent or the instructional improvement officer or the social worker or whomever is appropriate who can assist you in intervening on your child's behalf.

This, though: "If that doesn't work, your next step is probably the school board. School board meetings are generally public, and you can attend and ask to speak regarding your concerns."

Do not, DO NOT, DO NOT DO. We are forbidden by law from discussing personnel matters, and possibly the MOST AWKWARD THING IN THE UNIVERSE is when a parent gets up and starts reaming out a teacher and demanding a response from us, which we CANNOT GIVE. (And then complains to local media about how we're unresponsive to parent concerns and lack transparency and are horrible people.) It puts us in an incredibly awkward position, it puts the teacher on the defensive and raises the union's hackles and makes it difficult to resolve the situation amicably, it's incredibly embarrassing for the teacher and her family if the meetings are televised or the local paper writes about it ... it's a bad, bad scene. (We have public comment guidelines, actually, that ask people NOT to address personnel complaints during public comment for basically these reasons, but we cannot stop people from doing so if they choose to do so.)

This should only be an absolute last resort and only if you're pretty sure that the principal or the district (or the union) is protecting a genuinely very bad teacher who really needs to be fired for OBVIOUS reasons. (Classroom management is a hard sell.) Parents who do this without going through the proper channels first are not looked on kindly, and frequently ruin their relationship with their child's teacher and principal over an issue that could have been resolved. Even the most difficult teachers have defenders in the community (and families, and friends), and you may be surprised at how speaking out against a teacher by name in public may rebound on you and your family socially. (Well, *I've* been surprised at how it sometimes rebounds on people socially, especially if a lawsuit results and people start taking sides.) But basically keep in mind if you do decide to speak against the teacher by name in a public meeting, you're basically doing it for the press coverage and it will make the situation ten times more contentious. It is sometimes the right or necessary thing to do (I can think of a couple of situations where it was a RELIEF that parents were getting up and reciting all the reasons we were firing a particular teacher, that we were not allowed to say, and publicizing the problems this teacher (who had a raft of defenders) had caused), but it's basically as scorched-earth a tactic as you can have in a local school district.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:28 AM on April 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


Except a teacher isn't a boss - you're only in class for a limited time each week, and only for the school year. There are other classes in your day, and at the end of the school year you get a new set of teachers.

In fifth or sixth grade, the OP's daughter is likely to be spending a significant portion of the day with one person.

And there are only so many teachers available to you as a student, and in some cases, there is only one teacher who teaches an advanced/gifted class. So you 1) suffer and life sucks, 2) try ousting the teacher and succeed, and chance it with a new teacher (or a series of subs, if they can't find someone else - and this is the last thing you want for your kid), or 3) try to help the teacher.

There's also 4) Consider (with the student's permission) putting the kid in mainstream classes. I think you can trust the student, at 10, to tell you if this is the right choice for her if the gifted classes end up being wrong for her. While I agree that gifted children deserve a challenging curriculum, I think it's equally important to teach children that they don't have to put up with verbally abusive behavior, even if it's only for a year. And you can always supplement her normal curriculum with challenging extra-curriculars for a year.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:30 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


PhoBWanKenobi: In fifth or sixth grade, the OP's daughter is likely to be spending a significant portion of the day with one person.

True, thanks for the clarification.

PhoBWanKenobi: There's also 4) Consider (with the student's permission) putting the kid in mainstream classes.

2nding this - what is the value added in the "gifted" courses at this level? I appreciate that you want your kid to get all the benefits available through advanced classes, but (waaay back) when I was in elementary school, those classes were extra work (and some more fun activities) with little extra benefit. Once in Junior High, there were distinctly "advanced" classes that lead the way to advanced HS classes, including AP courses that could help you skip some basic courses in college (and THAT was valuable).
posted by filthy light thief at 11:41 AM on April 21, 2011


For the same broad reason it's okay to deny children the vote, alcohol, sex, and the right to drive: because children are not adults. They are not classed as being fully trained or equipped to be granted full adult rights. This makes sense.

If it's any consolation, things have improved. When I was a kid teachers routinely whacked us for the slightest infraction. We had the cane. We were smart kids, though. We kinda got it.
posted by Decani at 11:59 AM on April 21, 2011


I say this as someone who had his share of awful teachers over the years...

...the teacher she's slated for has a history of screaming, humiliating, and even throwing things when kids aren't completely silent, don't seem to be paying close attention, or when they don't immediately hop to follow her directions.

What can a parent DO?


I recommend directing your child to stay completely silent, pay close attention, and immediately hop to follow her directions.

I realize that this is contrary to your daughters natural inclinations, but being able to "act contrary to natural inclinations" (i.e., working really hard) is what differentiates successful people from unsuccessful ones.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:10 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


For the same broad reason it's okay to deny children the vote, alcohol, sex, and the right to drive: because children are not adults. They are not classed as being fully trained or equipped to be granted full adult rights. This makes sense.

The granting of a few exceptions to a general rule does not make the general rule less true. Just as the libel and fraud exceptions to free speech do not invalidate the right to free speech as a principle, the withholding of a few rights from children for safety reasons does not mean children do not have, in general, the same rights as everyone else -- including the right to self-determination and, in this case, the right not to be subject to abuse and humiliation. The law forces children to go to school. Fine. But all the more reason that kids' other rights should be especially safeguarded in this environment they did not choose for themselves.
posted by thehandsomecamel at 12:14 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


In regards to the charges against the teacher, have you talked to the kids who have been in her class? Or the other teachers? Parents might inflate the already exaggerated stories of their kids, and a principal might be looking out for a teacher she already knows is not the best at dealing with kids, but other kids and teachers might 1) have a broader range of details to report to you, and 2) have strategies about how to get along in the class.

I've been in classes where teachers threw things, but they were erasers, aimed at the desks of sleeping kids. The class laughs, the sleepy kid isn't hurt, and class goes on. Yelling and mocking is often about control, and as I said before, not all teachers are good at controlling classes. If this teacher works with fear and intimidation, that's no good, but as I said before, I think you could get farther by trying to help the teacher than punish her. If she can teach in a more calm situation, everyone wins.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:22 PM on April 21, 2011


Honestly the best thing I think you can do for your child is to remind her constantly that you love and accept her, that you take any concerns she may have about a teacher seriously, that you make sure she has a variety of adult role models outside of school, and that you give her many opportunities to explore in an unstructured environment, to be herself, to explore, and to experience joy. This is what you can control. Her classroom experience is, to a certain extent, just beyond your ability to micromanage.

Many people have given good suggestions, but I want to share a personal experience as well. My 5th grade teacher had a reputation as an intimidating man and a disciplinarian. He yelled, insulted kids, threw chalk and erasers, and had very high standards for behavior and discipline. He also turned out to be my favorite elementary school teacher ever. Yes, he disciplined me for disruptive behavior - I was a smart, quirky kid too - but he also encouraged me with extra work, recognized me publicly when I excelled, and was the only teacher who made a difference in terms of sheltering and supporting me from some bullying I was getting from other kids. Taken out of context, his behavior sounds outrageous. In context, he was always fair. That matters a lot when you're 10 and feel the world's against you.

The year before, I also had a disciplinarian teacher and that was a very difficult experience. She felt that my problems were a result of laziness and lack of motivation, and some of that contempt came through. The other teacher just seemed to get what I was going through.

Before you take drastic action, I would encourage you to make sure you have the full story. Is this teacher really universally detested? Or is she just polarizing? Are you sure her students are really joyless? Or are they simply concentrating? And are you certain that this teacher won't get your daughter? It could be that a teacher who has her own control issues could be best placed to understand your spacey daughter. Or, they could be like oil and water. These things just aren't predictable in advance.

Best of luck, and I'm sure your daughter will be fine.
posted by psycheslamp at 1:04 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


In Maine, a workplace can be considered a "hostile work environment" and workers can take legal action. YMMV.

It is simply unacceptable for a teacher to yell, humiliate or throw things at a student. Meet with the principal. You may end up having to choose between Gifted/talented class w/ shitty teacher or Ordinary class with good teacher. The principal should know if the reports are accurate, but is unlikely to tell you if they're true. Strict is okay, tough and demanding is okay, abusive is not okay. Part of the point of school for kids is that kids have to learn to stay completely silent, pay close attention, and immediately hop to follow directions. When a person is yelling, kids get more agitated, and learn that yelling is how to approach problems.

Your post is really long and full of details that obscure the situation. Many kids need a teacher to help them learn how to get their act together. Yelling is seldom effective in a teaching environment. Rein in your defensiveness. Your child deserves a great education. Your child deserves respect. You and your child must also show respect to teachers and school staff. I'm not trying to pile on, but I know from experience that parents have to be focused when they advocate for their kids. I wish I'd been a much tougher advocate for my kid; the school system here did not give him an adequate education.
posted by theora55 at 3:09 PM on April 21, 2011


I would just like to point out that students regularly treat teachers in ways that no employee could ever treat an employer. I am a substitute teacher and I do not scream or throw things. However, kids can be so oblivious and/or out of control that yes, I have on occasion yelled. If they were adults and I was their boss, I'd likely fire them. But I'm a teacher, and I want them to learn, and sometimes the only way to actually get their attention is to be a little harsh. So I might have to yell. I also get told regularly I'm so nice, I'm so good, they love me, etc.

I'm imagining a boss trying to hold a meeting of employees acting like fourth graders coming in from recess on the last day before spring break. Except the boss can't fire anyone, or quit, or even cancel the meeting and leave the room.
posted by that's how you get ants at 4:23 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


[OP is not anon, take off-topic or fight starting comments to metatalk please. Thank you ]
posted by jessamyn at 4:57 PM on April 21, 2011


I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned the concepts of tenure and seniority here. If you're in a state that has legislatively imposed tenure rights and allows collective bargaining, then you've got a nice shining example of the problems with those systems. A generally crappy teacher who has tenure and is fairly high up the seniority list under a union contract is basically impossible to get rid of.
posted by MrZero at 5:50 PM on April 21, 2011


"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

I am not a teacher, but I work in a school where I'm a parent too. Is it possible that the teachers who are easily frustrated by behaviour out of the norm are merely untrained in things like conflict resolution and behaviour or special needs issues, or need to brush up on their classroom management skills? Can you inquire about this?

In our school, we have two Autism Spectrum Disorder classes, and one class that's made of kids who can't mainstream due to "behaviour issues". They have special teachers and educational assistants who are trained to deal with these students, because these students have their unusual needs - even though in many cases, they are incredibly high-functioning, but have sensory or self-control issues. They are considered disabled and so the consequences of their behaviours are more discretionary under Ontario's Safe Schools Act - but they're still expected to maintain the Code of Conduct as much as possible. It's probably worth pursuing a diagnosis of some sort for your daughter, so that maybe she can get support for her "quirks" - but also so that teachers can have a handle on what's going on, and then have a plan. Understanding when someone's stimming, or having sensory overload makes a huge difference when you can't see why they can't just sit still or why they appear not to be listening. It helps me to know that a kid has a genuine reason for odd behaviour, and to know what's the appropriate way to meet the need that's being expressed by it. But, if I thought the student was merely being annoying, I'd sure be grumpy and think "defiant", "messy" and "rude" and have different expectations. Now, because I know better, I check with the teacher, so then I know it's a "gross motor skills" issue or something.

Other "regular" classes have students in them with issues like organizational disabilities, and as my daughter's teacher told us "If I have twenty students with twenty different learning styles, I teach twenty different ways." I feel for her, and try to remember my kid is my special snowflake - not hers. Our teachers constantly take workshops; the school had an autism awareness night; our principal has an "open door" policy where we can grab her for a minute and check in. I would NOT recommend popping into the class - it's more disruptive and not particularly revealing. I would recommend networking with other parents to find out more about the general experience of their kids in the classroom; and volunteer in the school, because that's how you get the scuttle. But I hear what the kids say about the teachers while I'm there as a parent or on playdates, and it often bears only a passing semblance to reality.


You only have control over so many things - and you have more control over your kid than the school. My "spacey, fidgity, sensitive" daughter turns out to have episodes of zoning out before a migraine kicks in. Now it's being floated about that sometimes they could be seizures. And, that happens that she's spacey when she's experiencing low blood sugar too; and she's a bundle of nerves if she has to pee but doesn't want to deal with asking permission to leave the class because she's embarrassed. After the parent-teacher conference, we talked to the doctor about it, and it turns out that letting her have a bottle of water at her desk to drink from all day, and reminding her to snack at morning recess, and my requiring her to use the washroom at lunch whether she thinks she needs to or not cured all the problems except her hypersensitivity to one really rude kid - and that was helped greatly by moving their desks and places in line. There's a lot to be said for putting time into working things out with the kid first. The teacher's only temporary.

But for dealing with the educators, when talking about this I'd also suggest reading this blog post by Rosalind Wiseman.
posted by peagood at 6:44 PM on April 21, 2011


Have you ever considered having your daughter work with someone who can help her with her organization and attentiveness issues? As someone who was in gifted programs for years and now co-teaches an honors class, I see a lot of truly smart kids who have been told by their parents their whole life that they are quirky/special/a genius and their brains just don't work like the other kids. And for a lot of them, this is absolutely true, BUT it leads them to the belief that because they are special and different from everyone else, their disorganization or inattentiveness is acceptable...and as they get into harder and harder classes, where just being able to pass a test isn't enough, they suffer. (Ask me how I know this...my parents never treated me differently from anyone else, but my teachers did, and I never truly learned any organization until my last 2 years of high school.) There will be a point where just being smart isn't enough, and many gifted kids aren't prepared for this point to come. I am absolutely not saying that this is what is happening with your daughter, but it is something to think about- quirky will only take you so far.

I would talk to your daughter's current teacher about the concerns you've expressed. She may be able to help you ease your daughter's transition into the new teaching environment. Maybe she can pair your daughter up with a more organized student who may be struggling with their work. She could be able to offer advice or a referral about an IEP or a 504. I actually worked with a tutor for a while whose sole job was helping me organize all of my papers and assignments 2 times a week, and then once a week, until I was able to learn those skills for myself.
posted by kro at 8:51 PM on April 21, 2011


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