Many of you are likely aware of the recent news story regarding a New Jersey special education teacher who was caught on camera bullying one of his students. For those of you unaware of the story, take some time to view the video embedded in this post.
As a follow-up to my teachers and bullying series of a couple weeks ago, I found this story to be especially relevant and intriguing.
An Amazing Response
When I began my series on teachers and bullying last month I had no idea the response it would generate. It seems that despite our best efforts to tackle the issue of bullying in schools through open dialogue, the role that adults play in this problem is still largely ignored. We see bullying as a childhood problem, yet we can all identify times in our own adult lives when it was brought a little too close to home. Supervisors, co-workers, even sales people use bullying tactics to compensate for their own inadequacies, get others to do their work for them or get ahead themselves. However, when teachers are involved the sacred covenant entrusted to those of us in the educational field by parents seems somehow violated – as parents, we are left feeling naked and distrusting of those supposed to offer support to the most vulnerable among us. As teachers, we feel exposed, on the defensive and judged.
Last month, many readers shared their own stories of teachers who bullied them or their children. From this conversation I learned how deeply this issue has affected many people who I would never have imagined. Through stories, lessons learned and thoughts offered, my own view of teachers and bullying has continued to evolve. One friend on Facebook with a special needs child offered the following, which I feel is especially relevant given this recent video:
“I can think of 3 [teacher-bullies] off the top of my head from when I was going through Jr. high and high school. I think there were two categories of ‘mean’ teachers. Teachers that demanded the best of you, and they were tough but their main concern was students learning. Then there were the teachers that enjoyed blowing kids up, and they were generally more immature then the kids. I’ve told people at my son’s high school that if he gets good grades that is great, but I’m more concerned with him graduating with his self-esteem intact.”
I love the distinction that he draws here because it is right at the heart of the issue ofteachers and bullying. Teachers can be demanding in order to elicit the best possible work from their students, but they can also abuse their power and use motivation as a scapegoat. I find it significant that Julio’s father mentions that the teacher in this video first offered “motivation” as his reason for his actions.
Telling Harsh Truths: Motivation Isn’t Always Pretty
As a community college teacher, I can certainly relate to the rally call for motivation. Many of the students that I teach may have the ability to do well in school, but majority of them ignore that ability in favor of taking the easy road. Many simply lack the experience in life to understand the consequences of their actions, others frankly don’t care.
Over the years, I have learned that with some students, niceties only continue to cast the veil of mediocrity over them. Sometimes the only way to reach a student is with a big, fat 0 on an essay accompanied by a fully-blown call out (i.e. I do not give points for trying, you need to follow directions for a grade). However, I do this in writing on their paper, not in front of the entire class. This, I believe, is where the distinction is drawn. Some may argue that the “call out” needs to be more severe, more public and I am not beyond “lecturing” to my younglings about the need to follow directions as a collective, but I would never name names. And maybe that’s what makes me in the first group my friend mentions rather than the second…
How Do We Solve a Problem No One Wants to Talk about?
Perhaps my greatest fear at the end of the day revolves around the real issue here – headlines for today regardless of progress for tomorrow. This is a great news story. It certainly got my attention, but at the end of the day, will it matter? When it comes to teachers who bully students or anyone who bullies anyone for that matter, news headlines will only get the issue so far. How do we solve a problem that, after the dust has settled and the headlines printed, no one wants to talk about?