Was this punishment over the line?
February 17, 2013 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Last week, my son (9 years old) was punished by his teacher (for trying to elbow his way back into a lineup). The punishment: the teacher made my son stand in the same spot for 1 hour (the duration of the class). I think this type of punishment is over the line, and I'm pretty angry about it. Am I over-reacting?

If not, what arguments can I bring to bear when I meet with the teacher next week (for pre-scheduled parent-teacher meetings)? Are there authoritative, I don't know, guidelines or laws I can refer to?

Naturally, I can escalate this to the school administration, but if I can sort it out with the teacher, I'd prefer that approach.

This is in Montreal, if it matters.
posted by thisclickableme to Human Relations (54 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You are not over-reacting, I would also be furious. I have no idea about local laws or guidelines, but my stance would be (once I could actually be calm enough to say this) that the punishment was absolutely unacceptable and should never happen again, period. If the teacher argued at all, I would speak to the administration.
posted by feckless at 7:58 AM on February 17, 2013

I think you're maybe overreacting. How violent was the elbowing? Did another kid get hurt? I'd find out more information before you go after the teacher.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:01 AM on February 17, 2013 [25 favorites]

Did your son tell you what happened or did you get the information directly from the teacher?
posted by cooker girl at 8:01 AM on February 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

Yes, I think you are over-reacting. You do not say why this was objectionable. Is it because he had to stand? Is it because he was set apart from the others? Something else? If the issue is the standing, I think you have a very hard sell. Ever been to an amusement park? Children younger than nine will scream if they are *not* allowed to stand for an hour or more in order to ride a ride.

The teacher didn't hit your child. The teacher didn't verbally abuse your child. The teacher had your child stand for an hour. This is not unreasonable. What do you think the punishment should have been?

As a former teacher (and parent of two, including an eight-year-old boy), I would also point out that your child will take close notice of how much time and energy you spend in trying to get back at the teacher who had the gall to discipline him as compared to how much time and energy you spend on correcting his bad behavior of elbowing himself into a line.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:02 AM on February 17, 2013 [79 favorites]

I agree this is way over the line and should be brought to the attention of the principal regardless. Ask for the written policy on punishment/discipline from the office before the meeting (or look for it on their website).
posted by saucysault at 8:02 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would talk to the teacher in the spirit of 'I heard that this happened; can you tell me more about it? What exactly did Son do to earn the punishment? How hard did he elbow Other Kid? Was there any other bad behaviour leading up to this? How did Son react when he was 'caught'?'

Basically, approach the teacher with the attitude of 'I'm concerned that Son did something that you felt required this level of punishment', rather than going in there with all guns blazing.

Or in other words, what snickerdoodle said.
posted by Salamander at 8:06 AM on February 17, 2013 [24 favorites]

To clarify, the physical standing is not the problem as much as the humiliation of being on display for the entire class for an hour in very public punishment. A good teacher should never use humiliation when disciplining their charges.
posted by saucysault at 8:07 AM on February 17, 2013 [9 favorites]

Yeah, this is over the line. To me it feels like a shame punishment but I'd be certain to speak to the teacher directly before escalating. Dude, I pick up my kid everyday from school and elbowing to get back in line because OMG HE CUT ME IN FRONT OF ME!!! is standard. I swear, it's like the mark of a 9 year old. All the kids do it. I'm not saying one shouldn't be punished for it but this seems such an odd, inappropriate punishment.

Even if your child injured another child whilst elbowing back into line, I feel like there are more appropriate punishments for that. I would not inform your child that you are going to speak to his teacher about this (as snickerdoodle says, you don't want to give your kid the message that mommy will step in and fix all this because he was wronged) but I'd still speak to her to get the full story.
posted by youandiandaflame at 8:08 AM on February 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Did the punishment force your child to miss the class lesson? Because that's another angle that I find pretty objectionable, and that might be an easier way to bring up to the teacher and/or principal.
posted by decathecting at 8:09 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

In private school in the 80s, when I was that age, some of the older teachers would have kids stand facing the wall for a class period (about an hour). It was old-fashioned then, almost 30(!) years ago, but though I am not a parent, I didn't and don't find it too shocking.

But times have changed and what was old-fashioned then may be out of line now.
posted by skbw at 8:09 AM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Unless you're leaving something major out here (a disability or medical condition that makes standing hard? was the punishment to stand on his head?) you're way, way overreacting.

As to the "humiliation" angle, I don't think there's anything in the OP's post to suggest the boy felt humiliated. Unclear why we need to project facts into the equation that aren't provided.

Sounds to me more like over-protective/helicopter parenting is the thing to be worried about here, rather than a little bit of standing for breaking the rules.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:11 AM on February 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

This is tough. I think it's warranted to have a discussion with his teacher because it sounds like an escalation. However, I don't know that undermining the teacher's authority is necessarily a great lesson for your kid right now. I think you need more information. I don't think the punishment sounds ideal but there may be a reason the teacher felt it was called for. And sometimes life isn't fair and that's not necessarily a bad lesson for your child either.

Basically, bottom line is you need more info and a discussion with the teacher so that this kind of incident will be less likely in the future.
posted by amanda at 8:20 AM on February 17, 2013

This is how your post reads to me:

My kid doesn't deserved to be punished in a public way at all! It needs to be handled very privately and delicately because we can't upset anyone when they've done something wrong or rude. On the other hand, I will go after you as a teacher for doing your job and trying to teach others that there are consequences to unbecoming actions.

So yea you're overreacting.
posted by driedmango at 8:32 AM on February 17, 2013 [43 favorites]

Best answer: An hour is WAY too long. I suppose if this were, like, gym class and he were sent to stand in one spot on the sidelines, maybe okay? maybe? But an hour is a pretty excessive punishment for a 9-year-old, period.

Look at the school handbook/policy manual, and look at the school system's policy manual. They should have guidelines for student discipline that outline appropriate and inappropriate punishments.

I think I would approach the teacher in a way that makes clear you want to hear her input on it (both because kids are frequently inaccurate reporters* and because you don't want to start confrontationally) and after she's outlined the situation and her reasoning, say, "Yeah, I definitely see the problem and he and I have had a talk about "safe hands"/not pushing/whatever. Here is my concern: [outline your concern about the punishment]."

*Note that I'm not saying you shouldn't believe your kid -- you know your kid best and you should ALWAYS listen to a child who claims an adult is mistreating them. But, you know, trust but verify. And kids have a tendency to report the emotionally important content of an interaction without necessarily realizing all of the surrounding factors that are important to the story.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:50 AM on February 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

Physical pain or discomfort should never be used as punishment in school, and forcing your son to stand for an hour was clearly intended to be PHYSICALLY uncomfortable (why not a seated time-out? why not send him to the principal?). The teacher was not allowed to do that. Go directly to the administration.
posted by jgscott at 8:54 AM on February 17, 2013 [10 favorites]

I am surprised, honestly, that anyone finds this appropriate. It is NOT. And protecting your child from a bullying teacher is NOT helicopter parenting. No 9 year old can understand this so-called discipline. Of course you need to talk to the teacher. Honest to God, I am so sick of hearing adults insist that children deserve whatever ridiculous, punitive, and supremely unproductive "discipline" they come up with because of "respect" or REASONS or your-kid-will-end-up-in-jail cannot be questioned. Ug.
posted by Malla at 8:54 AM on February 17, 2013 [22 favorites]

When I was in second grade a substitute teacher made me stand in the corner for about an hour for talking back to her. I don't remember much from second grade, but I still remember that. It did not make me stop talking back - it made me angry and humiliated and more likely to act out.

I know discipline is sometimes necessary and I'm not qualified to say what constitutes appropriate or effective discipline, but in retrospect I don't think humiliation was a productive tactic.
posted by walla at 8:56 AM on February 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

I am surprised, honestly, that anyone finds this inappropriate. It is NOT. And getting "pretty angry", bringing "arguments" and considering "escalating" an issue with a punishment where your kid _physically assaulted_ another kid is helicopter parenting. Every nine year old would understand this discipline. Of course you need to talk to the teacher, to find out exactly what happened and make sure your son knows not to do it again. I am so sick of hearing adults insist that children deserve ridiculous, non-punitive and supremely unproductive "discipline" instead of actual punishments that let the child know in no uncertain terms that physical assault in a classroom is not ok, and physical assault outside a classroom will land you in jail.
posted by brentajones at 9:12 AM on February 17, 2013 [29 favorites]

An hour sounds like a long time on initial read, but I don't know what the rest of the story was there. Did your son shove someone out of the way? Does he have a habit of cutting in lines and had already been warned/given smaller time-outs multiple times before? In that case, honestly, I can see the teacher just removing him from the rest of the activity and making him stand aside. I would do that, and have done it (not for an hour, but whatever the duration of current activity) with a child that is repeatedly antagonizing and/or disrupting the rest of the class.

So honestly, I can't tell if you're overreacting, but I think that unless you admit that your child's behavior was not acceptable for a school setting and deal with that first, you will be "that parent" who thinks their kid can do no wrong while the kid continues to act out throughout his teens.

Also - the kid is NINE, not three. OF COURSE he understands what he is being punished for.
posted by celtalitha at 9:13 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Ok, hot button issue, but please keep answers constructive. If you're posting mainly to express that something makes you angry, please reconsider whether that is helpful to the OP.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:21 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

You know, I actually have a nine year old boy who was being bullied by his teacher. You bet we spoke up. And she, to her credit, changed her behavior. So I may be a tad one-sided in my viewpoint. But I am around kids this age a lot, and they want so bad to be good. I am also seeing one of my friends who just got remarried struggle with her new husband's desire to "discipline" her perfectly well-behaved 9 year old son. It is killing her, and their relationship. I truly feel like this urge to punish and over-control children is not a good thing. I do think discipline should involve the parents' knowledge and consent, and that public shaming and physical discomfort are wrong for a child. I don't care what they did. There are a better ways. The worst child in the world deserves to be protected by their parents.
posted by Malla at 9:24 AM on February 17, 2013 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I think this might be an orientation to child development/the role of discipline issue, rather than a hard and fast rule somewhere in a school manual that you can point to issue. Some people are oriented towards thinking that standing for an hour is acceptable, and some aren't. As you can see from the thread, like pornography, Ithornk unless there is something super egregious - like dropping your child off at jail across state lines for elbowing - it just varies because it is in the eye of beholder. The point and opinion that matters here isnt ours, but yours - that your orientation tells you that this isn't acceptable.

But what I think might helpful is clarifying your orientation (by orientation I mean your philosophy, values, approach and boundaries) towards discipline, and asking questions to understand theirs. For example...what do you wish would have happened? Is it that the elbowing would have been stopped, the teacher would have repeated the class rules about why this was inappropriate and that those kid would have been prevented from 'benefiting' from their actions? For example, your kid would have been sent to the back of the line, or delayed from having access to free play time?

I think whomever suggested talking to the teacher is spot on, but I'd add this. The goal is to find out your teacher's perspective about what happened, but also to depersonalize it from your kid and make it a general conversation to understand the teacher. To walk out out that meeting knowing the answers to these questions: does the teacher have a philosophy to discipline? How do they define the role of discipline. Is it developmental or punititive? You clearly think this is punitive and not developmental, but what do they think? How do they determine what is appropriate in terms of discipline? What guidelines are they using? Why those? What does the teacher think is inappropriate (what are their boundaries), discipline-wise? When does the teacher think that standing for an hour is appropriate?

Is this a new strategy they are using, because someone else suggested it, or they just got frustrated, or thought your kid could be used as a 'lesson' to quell or send a message to the rest of the class? I mean at the very least, is it true that your teacher thinks that standing a kid for an hour = reduction in elbowing? Because I'm not sure that kids' brains work that way.

In short, rather than just focusing on your son in this one instant, make a true parent-teacher conversation. Focus on the teacher and on clearly understand the mindset and framework they are operating under. Focus on yourself as the parent, and what your values, which shape your philosophy, which informed your approach and and boundaries. Appreciate where these things overlap, and where they are different. Then see if you can apply that awareness to this situation with your son in general, and specifically to whatever happened here. And hearing what the teacher thought happened is key. What happens if in the teacher's mind it isn't just elbow=one hour standing, but something more as well.

At the very least you will have a better understanding about what decisions your teacher is making and how they are making them, and can apply that knowledge to future situations. With that, it might be clearer about what the next steps are, because you'll have more information, about both actors in this situation and better intel about how future situations might unfold.

Also, congrats on not recreating the experience with the teacher that the teacher had with your kid. Shaming the teacher for their approach, by going straight to the administration, rather than trying to understand your understanding and theirs of the situation, and modulating a temperate response. It's clearly not an easy thing to do.

To long, didn't read: Values, philosophy, approach, boundaries towards child development and discipline. What are yours? What are the teachers? Where do they overlap? Where are they different? Negotiate from an informed stance. Parent teacher conversations aren't just always about the kid. They are about ther parent and the teacher.
posted by anitanita at 9:34 AM on February 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: - There are some kids who will be upset by this, but who will get over it and possibly learn something about appropriate behavior.

- There are some kids who will be utterly humiliated, shamed, and psychologically injured by this. They might stop participating as much in class, or give up on being "good" and start the path to becoming bullies or dropouts, or feel alienated enough that they can't ever really flourish in this environment. It might impact their ability to learn in this class or from this teacher. It might affect their view of people who look like this teacher, and bias them in dealing with other people who look like this later. At the same time, they will learn that this is how you deal with disorderly people, and they will seek to humiliate others who don't behave as they think people ought to behave.

On the other hand, if the teacher hadn't intervened:

- Maybe it would have worked itself out, the kids could have restored order, the incident would have passed and social skills might have been sharpened.

- The incident might have escalated, or other kids might have been intimidated, or given up on there being any point to being "good", or the kid who was cutting in line might have thought it was clever and become less and less impressed by social rules, or another kid might have decided to take him down a peg in a violent way.

My point is this: a lot depends on the individual personalities and situations involved. There's no way to know what's right unless you you know each person, and that situation, well. (I think this is why small class sizes -- much smaller than we accept as "normal" now -- are crucial)

We don't even know what motivated the teacher. Desperation? Dislike? Sadism? Remembering how her own 3rd grade teacher successfully managed a class? A workshop she attended recently?

You probably know this already, but questions like this always frustrate me -- not because the asker is out of line; clearly you are trying to be understanding here -- but because there's no way to approach this with any certainty of "right" or "wrong". You have to ask questions, listen, and hope that everyone is acting with the best of intentions.

Whether this was too severe for your child depends on your child's personality and ability to cope with stuff like this (you are part of that ability, but inherited personality is important too).

Whether this was too severe as a policy for that classroom might be worth investigating, but nobody can give you the ammunition you'd need to engage the system with a satisfying, solid case of this is wrong. Even educational research could only give you probabilities, not certainties.
posted by amtho at 9:49 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Assuming you are in the English System, there is a safe school policy that specifically addresses the goals of progressive discipline:
" To assist schools serious about addressing the factors which tend to place adolescents at risk for violent behaviour, such as:
a. academic failure;
b. alienation from schoolmates;
c. high levels of psychological pathology."
To me, it looks like the teacher's punishment would not be considered appropriate for grade four and above, let alone for the younger grades because the standing interfered with learning for the student (and probably the classmates), ostracised the student through public, unnecessarily differential treatment, and was designed to "break" the student/negatively impact their self esteem.

When I hear of punishment for children (especially over the age of seven) I always apply it to a workplace situation. If I purposefully hurt a co-worker (with mitigating factors like that it was a minor hurt and the goal had not to hurt them but to achieve another goal; like shoving them slightly while rushing to get out the door first) then would I expect my boss to discuss the incident with me? Maybe ask me to apologise, take greater care in the same situation in future, let the other person go first for the next while? Yeah, that seems reasonable. If my boss made me stand at my desk for an hour in front of my coworkers I would be on the phone to their superior immediately. MY wrong doesn't make THEIR wrong ok.

I have a nine year old son too (light of my life!) so I know they can act impulsively, be more physical than necessary, and not "use their words" when they should. It is the responsibility of the teacher to model the adult behaviour they expect and reinforce those expectations no matter how frustrating it is to do it for the four hundredth time since September; how else would the students learn?
posted by saucysault at 10:11 AM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

"for trying to elbow his way back into a lineup"

Is this a really passive, obfuscating way of saying "hit another kid" or an intense way of saying "cut in line"?

Because a lot would depend on that.

The school district i'm in recently increased to 90 minutes of gym class and parents here are thrilled. I'm pretty sure the kids stand nearly all that time. Marching band and recess also involve mandatory standing.

Is having to stand not acceptable for an hour or any length of time? Do you see this as a basically unfit method of punishment?

I would suggest a fact finding conversation with the teacher before the "i'm gonna put this teacher in their place" conversation. Because I have some doubts this happened exactly as it is recounted.

Around 9 was when I started exaggerating a lot and telling a lot of "half-truths" to my parents... especially about teachers or school problems.
posted by French Fry at 10:18 AM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree with you that this is out of line, and it sounds like the teacher is acting out. My experience with my 10-year-old's teachers has been that about half are unprofessional and act out their frustrations with their job in inappropriate ways. They seem to get away with it because the people they are acting out toward are children. If I had direct reports that behaved the way many of my child's teachers have behaved over the years, they would be in disciplinary action.

There is a world of difference between standing in line at an amusement park waiting for a ride, where you can talk with your friends or family, move forward in the line, anticipate the fun of the ride, and everybody is standing along with you, and standing in one spot for an hour during class when no one else is standing and you have no one to talk to. This IS humiliating. How strongly it affects your child has a lot to do with his personality.

Assuming he's not slugging other children (in which case a trip to the principal's office would have been more appropriate), a reasonable punishment for elbowing in line would have been to apologize to the child(ren) he elbowed and be moved to the end of the queue.

It seems that people's viewpoints on this come down to a division between "children are human beings who should be treated with the same respect as all human beings" and "children are immature and therefore do not have to (or should not) be treated with the same respect as adults."

All that said, you will get better results if you approach the teacher with an attitude of curiosity and openness than one of "what's up, jerkface?"
posted by jeoc at 10:21 AM on February 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Honestly it's not a form of punishment I'd care for. On the other hand, a couple of weeks ago my 10-year-old did hit a kid while standing in line (apparently the kid and a few others had spent the lunch hour teasing him for being a "nerd") and was suspended for three days. I think an hour of standing in the corner is unfortunate but not worth going to war over.
posted by Daily Alice at 10:29 AM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

To me, the punishment seems inappropriate because it's not directly addressing your child's negative behavior. What does standing in class have to do with shoving your way into line? You may have good results with the teacher if you present your concerns in this way (presuming you feel the same way) and ask that future discipline be directly related to the infraction (go to the end of the line if you push others, etc.).
posted by epj at 10:42 AM on February 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Just, about this:

If I purposefully hurt a co-worker (with mitigating factors like that it was a minor hurt and the goal had not to hurt them but to achieve another goal; like shoving them slightly while rushing to get out the door first) then would I expect my boss to discuss the incident with me? Maybe ask me to apologise, take greater care in the same situation in future, let the other person go first for the next while? Yeah, that seems reasonable. If my boss made me stand at my desk for an hour in front of my coworkers I would be on the phone to their superior immediately. MY wrong doesn't make THEIR wrong ok.

If you purposefully hurt a coworker, including shoving them to get out the door first (wtf?) you would most likely get fired. If you phoned your supervisor to complain about another odd punishment, the supervisor would, in most places, laugh, and then fire you him-or-her-self. Perhaps you have worked in waaaaaaay more lenient environments than I have, but if the argument is that the kid should be treated like an adult, then the consequences would actually be a lot harsher.

I don't believe in excessive controlling or aggressive discipline whatsoever. Perhaps my standards are off, since this doesn't sound particularly aggressive and doesn't even register on my (pretty easily triggered) abuse-o-meter.
posted by celtalitha at 10:43 AM on February 17, 2013 [11 favorites]

I was made to do this as a child. An hour is pushing it time-wise, but that aside it was pretty effective at getting me to pay more attention to the rules via boredom. It certainly didn't have any self-esteem or self-worth related effects, at the time or in the future.

It's not the best or most effective punishment I've heard of, but it's far from the worst. Definitely not worth making a stink about.
posted by zug at 10:59 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's a time-out. I thought time-outs were considered a kinder, gentler, progressive, non-aggressive, non-abusive form of discipline. I had no idea there were parents who considered such a thing over the line. Your reaction does sound like helicopter parenting to me.
posted by Mavri at 11:44 AM on February 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

This sounds like a time out to me... Not awesome, not fun, but a legit form of light punishment, since it's not an in school or out of school suspension, not a detention, and not something that required a sooner teacher/parent meeting.
posted by spunweb at 11:57 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

A time out doesn't, in my opinion, include physical discomfort, or public shaming. Nor does a time out last an hour. Granted, it doesn't sound like anyone knows for sure what happened. I would definitely ask the teacher.
posted by Malla at 12:23 PM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

The punishment was bizarre and nonsensical, but not cruel. I have students that age who choose to stand and do their work while standing for the entire class period. A healthy 9 year old can stand for a long time. That said, if it prevented him from attending the lesson, it was a badly chosen punishment and doesn't do anything to fix the behavior. I would have had him spend his recess time writing two things: a paragraph on what the expectation is for leaving and returning to a line, and an apology to the student he cut and/or elbowed.

I would find out more about exactly what happened though. I can imagine the teacher saying something like, "You may rejoin us as soon as you apologize to Bobby, until then you can remain in your spot" and it becoming a test of wills-- which would be really unwise on the teacher's part. I do not necessarily think that's what happened, but there is probably another aspect to this. I do think it would be worthwhile to ask the teacher for specifics on how they determine punishments.
posted by Marit at 12:29 PM on February 17, 2013

I don't believe in using physical discomfort and public humiliation as discipline even for physical assault. In fact, I would be fine with a stronger punishment, such as detention, suspension, or even removal from the school if a child is having a problem with assaulting other students.

Personally, I would just have talk with my child that I both don't agree with the teachers decision, but that in order to be part of society we have to agree to be non-violent to innocent people (i.e. violence as self defense is ok in my ethical system) and to deal with what sometimes seem like excessive punishments if we screw up. "Society" needs a self defense mechanism to protect "itself" from violent people. If you choose to be violent, you sometimes put yourself in the line of that fire even if it sometimes can become an unnecessarily harsh and cruel force. We need a punitive system because a lot of people go around hurting people around them and don't ever care unless they get forced to stop. Being the "bad guy" who stands up to the bad guys, is not fun and sometimes people who get landed the hard job of being disciplinarians do become very merciless at their task. The best way to avoid that is to follow the rules of the system you want to participate, such as school, society, the workforce etc. If the rules are genuinely wrong/oppressive then YES stand up to them, but the school system really MUST have a very strong anti-violence position. I would also ask my kid if they were THEMSELVES being pushed out of line and we in fact trying to hold their own place (if they believe they were acting in self defense etc.) Since you didn't see the event take place I wouldn't put a lot of stock in their actual answer, and let them know that sometimes if you use violence as self defense you sometimes STILL have to pay the price for it if you don't have proof of what happened.

My dad got bullied a lot as a kid and one day he just snapped and had a huge tough guy, physically threatening reaction. He actually stopped getting bullied after that. That approach doesn't work for everyone so I'm not recommending it, I'm just saying I understand it. He's a big pacifist hippy dude and not a fan of violence, but if your kid is themselves feeling bullied and like violence is the only recourse, you might at least want to make sure you consider that possibility. Giving your kid some non-violent options in dealing with difficult classmates might help them create better solutions than elbowing people if they feel others are walking all over them or treating them poorly. (I.e. your son may have felt his place in line should have been reserved and his classmates were being jerks. Addressing better ways to handle this than shoving/elbowing people would be a good thing)

It's a great deal beyond the gravity of this particular situation but it reminds of the book The Chosen which grapples with the issue of how severe one should dole out punishment to children who don't innately understand the gravity of harmful acts to others. If this is the only violent issue your child has had I wouldn't worry about this, but if it IS a pattern, the book might help him as an older child process why adults would dole out punishments that seem so humiliating or harsh, and also offer a compassionate space for redemption to those who have acted without empathy but have found it within them as they grow. --I also like CS Lewis's take on what happens when bullies are coddled after behaving violently at the expense of the kids getting bullied.

If your child is to remain in the school system he does need a mechanism for repairing his sense of self-worth and right not be forced to endure physical discomfort or be treated as less than his peers. It needs to be clear that he did some thing wrong that resulted in this specific response from his teacher, and that the punishment is over i.e. he doesn't deserve to be singled out or treated badly as a result of this transgression as he has endured the punishment. This one act doesn't have to define him or make him set apart as a permanent inferior. Discipline means teach, and the ACTUAL purpose of the discipline is to teach him that using violence on his peers is not ok. If you want to carry out whatever discipline or constructive conversation/response etc than do so but the big thing on this for me is making sure there's a place to restore the child's dignity and worth and belief in themselves and belief they deserve to be treated decently by others. I was punished a lot for failing in school and learned I deserved abuse and to be demeaned and treated as inferior and less than by pretty much anyone who came along. So I may be over sensitive about that. Being singled out by a teacher like that, especially if it's not frequently used on other kids in the classroom, can make you feel like your whole identity in the classroom and with your peers is ruined and you can never really be respected as a decent person again. Offering hope that good behavior CAN restore your identity in the school system and with peers and that time and right action will restore this might help. I say all this because if this is a first time offense for your child, and you would never dream of using this kind of discipline on your child, HIS response could be pretty severe.

Also teach your kid that it's a great thing that if some other kid jabs him with their elbow, he knows his teacher and school system would have HIS back! Having a policy of non-violence really IS a great thing! Again, I don't think this is a good technique personally, but I think your options of inspiring the teacher to use different techniques are limited. I don't believe in eye for an eye "You caused someone else physical discomfort, now you can stand here and suffer in front of everyone and learn your lesson!" It just seems ineffective at truly inspiring empathy and encouraging kids to not see violence as a good solution. But I don't envy teachers the terrible task of dealing with loads of disruptive kids on a regular basis and am not all that in favor of lot's of second/third/fourth chances in matters of being violent to peers and expecting to be allowed to remain in the school system and keep doing it.
posted by xarnop at 12:38 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In the U.S. and Canada, it's fairly typical for child-care regulations/laws to limit "time-out" to one minute per year of age. Students whose behavior is serious enough to require an hour-long "time-out" should typically be excluded from the classroom and escorted to a principal or counselor's office. Deliberate use of shaming as punishment and forced postures are in many jurisdictions considered abusive when done by school personnel.

Regardless of how any individual parent may feel about the use of time-out as a disciplinary tool, the school system will have guidelines for discipline in accordance with provincial laws. Quebec may allow very long time-outs, I don't know, but hour-long time-outs for nine-year-olds would be fairly out of line with other American and Canadian rules.

OP, Canada's Education Act requires individual provinces to have laws, and individual school district-level organizations to implement disciplinary rules and codes of conduct. Your school's disciplinary rules should be either in your student handbook or on the school's website. They must be available and accessible to parents. Start with that.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:36 PM on February 17, 2013 [9 favorites]

Timeouts are typically not 1 hr in length - I would confirm with the teacher that this is what happened.

If it is true, it is excessive. I would suggest to the teacher that you disapprove of shame-based discipline and suggest more appropriate alternatives (I would have preferred it if he had been required to apologise to the child and picked up rubbish at lunch - or whatever).

But mostly you need to ascertain whether what happened actually happened and whether the teacher is a reasonable person and go from there (tho do keep in mind that teaching is stressful as all hell - it does not justify anything, but teachers are frequently at the end of their tether and this punishment may have been the easiest solution at the time).
posted by heyjude at 1:50 PM on February 17, 2013

Was the shoved/elbowed child shamed and humiliated by your child's actions? I think that's worth keeping in mind.
posted by cyndigo at 1:56 PM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Whatever course you decide to take, if you want a positive outcome on this, it will be important to approach administration and teacher both in a non-confrontational way. If you march into the office guns blazing, you will be so much easier to dismiss. You want to make sure that you come across as the most reasonable person in the room at all times.

A big part of this, of course, is accepting that you may not have the full version - or even an accurate version - of events. This is not to say your child is deliberately lying to you, but human beings are not very reliable narrators, and children even less so. It's possible your child was both much more violent in the interaction than you might think, and also that they were not standing for an hour.

If you are relying solely on your child's testimony at this point, the first thing to do is approach teacher/admin with a view to getting their side of the story. I recommend following Eyebrows' advice re: standards and regs, so if they explain that it's a standard thing, you can agree with/or correct this by pointing out the relevant rules.

I worked as a child-carer for many years, and dealt with a few incidents like this. In some - very few, but some - cases, the parent was right. A carer was being unprofessional or simply ignorant of what was appropriate for our centre, and it was something we needed to address. In most cases, it was simply a result of miscommunication. Many parents believe any crazy crap that comes out of their kids mouths (one parent said we were hitting kids, based on their naughty seven year old's garbled stories!!). Once the truth is established everyone is happy. Occasionally, it goes the other way, and their kid is actually a problem and the parent cannot believe the behaviours their own child is capable of (especially bullying, no one wants to believe their kid is a bully).

From an admin point of view, remember, it's never personal unless you, the parent, make it personal. Your child rarely stands out for us, we see hundreds of children - good ones, bad ones, loud ones, quiet ones - a year. Personally targeting them almost never happens, except by the most unprofessional of carers, and never by the admin. They are not enemies in the office, and I urge you not to make them enemies for your piece of mind and the outcomes for your kid.

So, whoever you approach, you want to make it clear you are trying to get a better understanding of what happened. People respond better to conscientious parents with an investment in their child's education who want the best outcome for the kid. Once the understanding is established, that's when you can start talking about appropriateness.

FWIW, as a former child-carer if what you think happened did indeed happen, that would not have been appropriate at our centre, and the carer who did that would be warned and counselled. This is not to say we don't punish violence, far from it. Kids would be sent home, suspended, or spend a fun afternoon of 1-1 time in the director's office, but time-outs where never more than 10-15 minutes. Any longer is failing to address the root cause of the problem, or resolve the behaviour itself.
posted by smoke at 2:20 PM on February 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm honestly surprised at the number of people who think this was an okay punishment. I have a 9yo and would be very very concerned if she were required to stand apart from the rest of the class for an hour as a result of a tussle in line.

It's not at all the same as standing in line at a park, in a marching band, or while working in class. Of course a 3rd or 4th grader can stand for that length of time, that's not the problem. This question has similarities to the recent parenting question about whether it's okay to make a child sleep on the floor as punishment... there is nothing inherently wrong with children sleeping on the floor (they do it at sleepovers all the time); it's the shaming that is the problem.

That said, there are plenty of unanswered questions here, and it's totally worth just asking the teacher in a non-confrontational way what the situation was. If it was outdoor time, for example, and all the other kids were running around while the offending kid had to stand to the side, that might be different from an hour-long standing time-out in the classroom (although I would still question the length of time; kids this age just don't need that long to realize the error of their ways).

OP, just have your questions ready and be prepared for the teacher to have a different narrative. Ask if this is a repeated behavior on your child's part, and what you can do to help at home. Ask if the time-out really was for an hour (I wouldn't automatically believe my 9yo if she said that; kids do exaggerate). If it turns out your child's account was accurate and the teacher stands by the punishment, I would absolutely go to the administration.
posted by torticat at 2:23 PM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would try to find out what happened before the meeting you have scheduled, because if it turns out to be as weird as your son is reporting then you might have a tough time keeping calm and collected during the meeting. In your position, I would send an e-mail to the teacher asking for details. Keep it civil, even friendly, for now, until you have both sides of the story.

If you want to know about guidelines or laws, go to your son's school's website and poke around. There should be some form of handbook or student disciplinary regulations you can download there.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:36 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I always approach my kid's teacher in a spirit of investigation and collaboration. Even if I'm steaming mad and think the teacher or the school is in the wrong, I like to start from a place of openness and eagerness to find out all sides of the story. From a simply strategic point, you get more information that way.

I do tend to agree that 9 year olds are unreliable narrators. My daughter is in grade 4, and they don't have any single activity that lasts an hour. Even gym class is only 45 minutes. But she has a terrible sense of time and would certainly describe something as lasting an hour or more, particularly if it was unpleasant. Were I in your shoes, I would get my kid to describe in detail exactly what happened, and then I would bring it up with the teacher at the meeting, relay the child's description and ask the teacher whether that was accurate. If it is an accurate account, then you should share that you think it's inappropriate. If it's not an accurate account, then you'll have to judge whether what happened was inappropriate or not. On the other hand, if you go in angry and believing that your child's account is 100% accurate, you may find yourself embarrassed. I'm not calling your child a liar, by the way, he's just invested in his part of the story and might be missing some parts of the larger picture.
posted by looli at 2:40 PM on February 17, 2013

I'm going to speak for my 6 year old self here (the age I was when my teacher singled me out). I was too shy to tell my mom until after the fact.

My 1st grade teacher singled me out because she thought I was dumb, for some reason. I was a young 1st grader (summer birthday) and tall for my age, so she thought I was older. I was actually fairly smart -- in kindergarten, I finished more of the alphabet than almost everyone else, that kind of stuff. But I was shy and quiet. I was already starting to get singled out by the other kids because of this. My teacher basically piled on.

My teacher decided the way to handle me being shy was to set up a tri-folding poster thing in front of me for the day. So basically she secluded me, claiming I "had trouble concentrating." Everyone else in the class seemed normal and got normal participation, but she singled me out and put me behind this board. To me, this is the single event that told the other kids in my class that I was different and it was okay to pick on me. I went to the same school district K-12, I was above average in terms of class level (several AP classes, got mostly As, etc), and yet I basically had this stigma that stuck with me from 1st grade.

So no, I don't think you're over-reacting. From my experience, teachers who like to punish tend to single out a couple of students and repeatedly punish those same kids -- even when other kids are equally culpable. The shame that can bring to a kid can last much longer than that hour of punishment.

But kids are different. I was the type of kid who wouldn't tell my mom what was going on with me because I was embarrassed. She has no idea the extent I got teased in school. She has a clue, because I would do things like miss the bus to avoid kids at the bus stop. But really I didn't tell her much.

But some kids tend to blow things up and lie -- so find out the facts from the teacher as well.
posted by DoubleLune at 2:46 PM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

It sounds like your son elbowed other kids, in other words, he possibly hurt them slightly simply to get in front of them in a line. Maybe you could take a moment to think about how the parents of those children would feel if your child were not severely punished? They would probably want to crucify that teacher. Consider this from an empathetic point of view: how would you feel if your child came home with a bruise one day, told you that it was from another kid elbowing them to skip them in line, and you found that nothing had been done to this other child, who could possibly be bullying your kid?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:49 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am confused by those who are clutching their pearls over "shaming". When one has broken a social rule, such as "do not lay your hands on others", shame is the appropriate emotion to feel. The modern mantra is to embrace all emotions as equally "good", including anger, but somehow shame is the "bad" emotion that no one should ever feel or made to feel. Nonsense. What should the wrongdoer feel, pride?

Shame is part of the real world, so one might as well start learning that in grade school. If you get caught doing something wrong, it is going to be part of the public record. Jobs applications ask about criminal records. Some convicts have to register as sexual offenders for life. If you do something wrong, chances are very good other people are going to find out about it. Therefore, the best practice is to behave. Sometimes an example must be made, and sometimes that example is you.
posted by Tanizaki at 3:14 PM on February 17, 2013 [9 favorites]

Standing still for an hour is very very different from running around at recess for an hour, or even progressing slowly through a line for an hour. (Or, for that matter, walking around in front of a class.) Standing still in one spot for extended periods is actually pretty stressful physically. Seriously, anybody who thinks this is no big deal should try it for an hour.

If this is in fact what happened (square it with the teacher first) you might want to make the point that standing still is uncomfortable enough that it most likely prevented your son from participating in or absorbing an hour's lesson, and you'd prefer punishments that allow him to do what he came to school to do.
posted by ostro at 3:45 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you want a child capable of accepting the consequences of his actions, yes you are over-reacting.

If you want this to be the start of a long road of helicopter parenting, by all means, interfere and show him that when he acts like an jerk, he can manipulate you into bending the rules to his advantage.

It's called punishment for a reason. It's not supposed to be pleasant. It's supposed to modify behaviour.
posted by nickrussell at 4:03 PM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't be thrilled about the punishment, but before I complained I'd double check the facts with the teacher. I'd also come down hard on my son to make it clear that his behavior was unacceptable. I wouldn't overlook the fact that he got physical with some kids. Time that's worse than standing for an hour, and I wouldn't want him to think I was saying he shouldn't get any punishment for it. I say this as an educator and a parent.
posted by christinetheslp at 6:18 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think that obviously the OP has to get the facts straight. I think half of the people on this page are seeing this as "otherwise angelic kid pushed his way rambunctiously into line, as those sweet little buggers do; the teacher (probably wearing thick spectacles and with a perpetually-sour expression) made a big to-do out of the Bad Bad Act of said kid, sent him to the front, made him stand with his nose to the wall in the corner by the blackboard and frequently pointed at him with a ruler and made mention of his horrible transgression." Like something from A Christmas Story.

The other half of us are seeing this as "aggressive kid shoves another kid, teacher has been dealing with aggressive kid all school year and is at her wits' end. Teacher tells aggressive kid that they need to stand aside while the group does X activity. Aggressive kid whines, kicks the ground, repeatedly attempts to re-enter the group and disrupt. Teacher repeats the command. Kid stands to the side and ends up remaining there for the duration of the activity because the teacher has 24 other students to deal with and Aggressive Kid is not in a private freaking nannying situation."

Having worked in a classroom, I guess I personally see option B as being way more common. It might have been a poor method of "punishment" if punishment it was intended solely to be, but the teacher has other kids to teach; people are fussing about how the kid didn't get to participate in the lesson (or whatever) but a disruptive child prevents ALL of the children from being able to learn properly, and removing that child from the scenario is not necessarily an act of "shaming" but of common sense.

I do agree that most places the result of this would be going to a principle/counselor or being suspended, though; and I wonder if the OP would find those responses overly harsh as well?
posted by celtalitha at 7:37 PM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've read this thread with fascination. As a childless US person, I had no idea what was potentially over the line about the punishment, and I was hoping that the responses would clear that up for me. I'm still confused, though.

It seems that some people find the fact that the punishment wasn't privately administered to be the problem (the kid had to stand separately from his class in front of his class), while others think the length of the punishment was the shocking thing (an hour is too long). And it looks like some people think it's both. (Or is it just the standing part that is objectionable? What if they'd been seated in a chair off to the side of the class?)

But it looks like lots of others are a bit baffled as to what line was actually crossed. I am really interested in hearing from the OP what they thought the issue was, and also what sorts of punishments are typically used in Canada/Montreal in situations like this. I'm wondering if we aren't seeing a demographic/cultural split here.

To me, it seems like making a child have to stand in a corner or something like that for a set amount of time is an appropriate sort of punishment for that child breaching rules like cutting in line. I don't think a child should ever be called out simply for being different (as in DoubleLune's situation), but being called out for misbehaving is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. However, there are people responding here who clearly feel very strongly about this, and that makes me believe I am missing an important piece of information.

(I grew up in the 70s and 80s, time-outs didn't exist in my part of the world then, so the missing piece might just be that I haven't kept up with the changing times)
posted by Brody's chum at 8:48 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Opinions here are mixed, but you see it as over the line and so you should certainly discuss this with the teacher. This one is done and dusted but if you can go in fairly calmly it is likely that the two of you can come to some kind of understanding as to what should happen should a similar situation arise. I'd cut the teacher a bit of slack (while always keeping your child's welfare in mind). Elementary school teachers are working in often challenging environments.

I'm curious if this was in the French or English system. My child is in the French system and I find it much more controlling than the school system I went through in another province. I have absolutely zero evidence but I suspect that this has to do with the ties to the French Catholic system that most of the teachers were educated under.
posted by Cuke at 9:06 PM on February 17, 2013

I agree that you should try to find out more about what happened from an independent source before you go in ready for a smackdown. I remember a "back to school" night years ago when a teacher said "I promise that if you will only believe half of what your child says about me, I'll believe only half of what he says about you."

Your reporter may not be giving you the whole story.
posted by Breav at 5:50 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was made to stand in front of the wall for a lunch period in primary school for saying 'rats' in exasperation when a dinner lady told me off. It was a common punishment for 'naughty kids' - it marked you out from the rest of the kids on the playground by removing you and putting you in a different, visible place - but I remember feeling frustrated that I was given it for being annoyed by something and expressing this, rather than the greater 'crimes' of kicking/pushing people.

So the answer depends on what exactly happened here. Did he retaliate to bad behaviour from other kids, or was he doing it to upset or annoy others?
posted by mippy at 3:54 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you, all, for your answers. It turns out the meeting is not this week but next, but I wanted to give you an update anyway. First: no child was physically hurt by my son. At his school, that's an immediate suspension.

And second: thank you for the reminders that kids are not always the most reliable of witnesses. I'll remember that when I meet the teacher.
posted by thisclickableme at 6:21 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

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