By Tanzi West Barbour
There is data that shows that mental and emotional abuse by a teacher towards a child is a real thing. There are stories of teachers who pick on certain students, call them names, berate them in front of their classmates, and tell them they aren’t going to amount to anything. In short, they are f*cking with these children’s minds, because naturally, the child is internalizing what the teacher is saying. They are the authority figure that as a child I am to respect, follow, and most of all, BELIEVE.
I read this article recently in the Washington Post where a parent secretly taped her son’s teacher mentally abusing him. The teacher would say things like “I feel sorry for your mother. I really do. She’s a little lost.” She would point out when the child didn’t know the answer to certain questions or could not do whatever the assignment was. As such, the child began to hate school and anything that had to do with his school. His grades slipped and he cried every day.
He told his mom it was his teacher who was making him feel bad and not smart. He said she makes fun of me. I feel like I’m not smart.
But wait…the teacher was just named “Teacher of the Year” by her school leaders last year. She is one of the most talented and revered educators at her school. She’s been in the classroom for 33 years. Surely, of all teachers, she is not the one who could be capable of harming a child – even if it was an internal affliction.
Color me copied because I really thought I was reading an account of my family’s reality. Both of my children have had the “pleasure” of being taught by a teacher thought to be one of the best, as someone who truly cared about her students and wanted to see them excel. This past year she called my son anything but “smart.” In return, he called her everything but someone he liked. His very mature common sense told him that she was not someone who had his best interest at heart. It would be up to him to become his own advocate inside the classroom and tell mommy and daddy when it became too much for him to bear alone.
“She thinks I’m dumb mom.”
“She’s not interested in teaching me.”
“I asked for help and she said not now.”
“How many days do we have left in this grade?”
All the signs were there that something was definitely wrong in this “high-performing classroom” at this private school. It was something new that he had not experienced before in his other classrooms and it hurt.
I’m not sure which was worse – me bringing it to her attention only for her to feign surprise and act completely shocked about it. Or me bringing it to the attention of the school leadership only for them to side with one of their best teachers.
“It’s hard retaining good educators, especially in private schools,” I’ve heard them say. How hard is it to have teachers who understand that sticks and stones may break bones, but words hurt like hell? Especially to a child who just wants to learn.
The parent in the article put a tape recorder in her son’s backpack and recorded the teacher for 4 days and 32 hours where she heard her berate her son. It was no longer her son’s word against the teacher’s. The proof was on the tape.
I wish I would have thought of that.