Bullying is on everyone's mind these days, as the news stories pour in, from kids mercilessly teasing each other to tragic stories of suicide. Kids are mean to each other; that hasn't changed for decades, and I applaud programs that teach tolerance and acceptance to reduce bullying.
But what if the bully is a teacher? Three of my kids have had the same science teacher in junior high. When my oldest child had this teacher, she once told my daughter that she "just didn't like" her, as justification for giving her a low grade. Another time she asked her to repeat the instructions, and when my daughter couldn't do it, she walked away, muttering under her breath "f**king idiot!" She also told a student to "f**k off" and leave her room.
When my middle daughter had this teacher, she told the class they were "retards" and remarked to one boy that he would spend his adult life "living in a box."
This year, my younger daughter has the same teacher. From the beginning of the school year, my daughter has been anxious about the class - it's very difficult for her and she's struggled with the content. As a result, the teacher has called her out on several occasions, embarrassing her in front of the class and ridiculing her when she doesn't answer something correctly. Earlier in the school year, we had two meetings with several teachers and school personnel to see if we could get our daughter some extra help in the areas she was struggling in - math and science. She didn't qualify for any interventions or specialist help, but all of her teachers were aware of her struggles - math and science.
She dreaded going to class. She was up at 3 in the morning one night making science notes, worried about the test the next day. Still, she maintained good grades. But her interactions with the teacher - at times seemingly normal, even "nice" - other times stressful, continued to keep her anxious and on edge. Her number one stress was that teacher and that class.
Today, that teacher crossed the line. When she singled out the group my daughter was in, and asked her to answer a question with a mathematical answer, my daughter got it wrong. The teacher, exasperated, asked her again and when she got it wrong a second time she said "You DO know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide don't you?" When my daughter answered "yes" the teacher said "Well, then, are you just mathematically challenged or what?"
I probably don't have to go into how awful that made my daughter feel, how out of line it was, what a blow to my child's self-esteem, or any of the other obvious things those words did.
I'm a big proponent of letting kids learn to deal with adversity and one of the ways they learn that is by dealing with the not-so-favorite teacher. But I'm also a big proponent of being a good advocate for your children, and I believe in my job to support and protect my children. As such, I emailed the teacher right away, copying the principal and several other key players in the school administration.
I asked the teacher - would you call an obese child fat? Would you call a Down Syndrome child retarded? My husband was livid - we exchanged a phone call and he was most angry about this teacher instilling a hate of science into our daughter. He studied science; he has degrees in chemistry and biology and science is a love of his. Not long ago, our daughter loved science; now, she loathes it.
Why is it acceptable for a teacher to bully a child like this? It's not ok with me. I asked for (and was granted) a meeting with the teacher and principal. I asked that my child be removed from the class (also granted). I do not know what kind of discipline this teacher might face, but I do know that many, many students and a great number of other parents have their own similar stories and I can't help but wonder why she is still teaching. I intend to ask her that when we meet face-to-face.
The teacher did call me right away after I sent the email. She said she was "humiliated, embarrassed" and could not provide an explanation for her "very bad behavior." She also said she would "not defend" herself when questioned by the principal because what she did was wrong and she was very sorry. When I brought up the history - the repeated bullying, with more than one of my kids - she became tongue-tied and didn't have much of a response. We left the conversation agreeing to discuss it further with the principal.
My daughter never wants to speak to her again. And she won't have to. But that won't take away the inexcusable harshness of her words. We all have bad days. But there's a line, as teaching professionals, that we have to stay behind - these students are just that - our students. We must keep our criticism to ourselves and put their learning first. Even on our worst days.
Tomorrow we meet with the principal and counselor to figure out how to complete my daughter's science class through independent study. There are 31 days of school left and then my daughter will be free of that teacher, that class and that school forever as she moves on to high school.
Bullies.........they come in all sizes. How very sad.