When my son was in sixth grade, he came home with a rip in his new sneakers. He told me the gym teacher did it during a sneaker check. It sounded like a fib, or at best, an accident on the teacher's part, but I needed to clarify things.
"You mean he tugged on your sneaker and it ripped?" I asked.
"No, he said. It ripped when he threw it across the floor and it hit the doorway."
"He threw it across the floor?" I tried to keep my voice guarded.
"Yeah, if your sneaker comes off, he throws it. My sneaker ripped when it hit the doorway and flew into the hall. Then I had to go get it."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing, but I struggled to keep my emotions to myself. If this teacher was so concerned about safety, how does he explain forcing a child to run across the slippery gym floor in bare socks to fetch his sneakers? What about the embarrassment and humiliation? Isn't that a form of bullying? I thought my son was exaggerating. But what if he wasn't?
I had a hard time accepting my son's explanation, but I couldn't let it go. Either he wasn't telling the truth, or this teacher was way out of line. Both scenarios needed to be addressed. I made an appointment to talk with the principal the next morning.
The principal met my concerns with doubt. When she tired to dismiss me, I told her I wanted to speak to the gym teacher in person.
The minute this man walked into her office, I could tell there was a problem. I knew my son had told the truth. The gym teacher barely said hello. He didn't reach out to shake my hand, nor did he return my smile. He had a cocky attitude, but he didn't even know why I was there yet.
I bit my tongue, complementing him on his concern for safety. He shrugged his shoulders in response. Then I told him that my son came home with a rip in his new sneakers. Another shrug. Diplomacy wasn't working, so I asked him if he threw my son's sneaker across the room. "Yeah, so?" was his reply.
"Yeah, so?" my emotions kicked in. "Who do you think you are? This isn't boot camp and my son is not a Marine. He is a sixth grade student. You mean to tell me you whipped his sneaker across the gym, and then made him fetch it like a dog?"
"Hey, they weren't tied," was all he said.
"Don't you ever, I mean ever as much as touch my son again. If his sneakers aren't tied, make his sit out of class, give him demerits, or call me, but if you touch him again, I'll come into that gym and throw you across the room. Got it?"
"Hey, whatever," he said. "I have rules. His sneakers weren't tied."
For a brief moment, I floundered. The principal's silence made me uncomfortable and the gym teacher's attitude was intimidating. I gathered my thoughts, took a deep breath and said, "Don't you realize how damaging your actions are?
"Is that all?" he said, directing his question to the principal. Then he left the room.
Two weeks later, the gym teacher was gone. I'm not certain what happened, but I believe his attitude aided in his demise. I wasn't looking for his dismissal, just common courtesy and respect for my son and his classmates. I guess that was more than he could offer.
Teachers have a very difficult job. As a whole, I commend their efforts and dedication. However, as with any profession, there are good and there are bad. If my son didn't have physical proof of this teacher's bullying behavior, I would never have known what was going on.
Even as an adult, it can be intimidating to walk into a principal's office. But I am a parent who believes my son's physical and emotional safety are paramount. I am able to set aside my own issues to make sure my son is safe.
It's difficult enough to deal with a classroom bully, but when the bully is your child's teacher, it's usually even more difficult to correct the problem. Most times, the school administration will view a parent's complaint as arrogance on the part of a parent of an unruly child or revenge for a poor grade. Proof is difficult to come by. Yet there are times when a teacher is in fact, a bully.
Lack of safety is one of the top concerns of young people, and bullying is a real and constant threat. A child's emotional development is just as important, if not more so, than academic development. In fact, a safe, healthy emotional environment is essential to academic growth and success.
Humiliation, fear, anxiety and depression are the constant companions of a child that is bullied. It can lead to harmful, shocking and unexpected behavior from an otherwise shy or timid child.
Victims feel ashamed and tend to view themselves as failures. They are more prone to stress related illnesses such as headaches and stomachaches. In extreme cases, the victim of a bully can experience sever depression and entertain thoughts of suicide.
What Do You Do When the Teacher is a Bully?
Stand up for your child. Don't diminish their concerns over a teacher's attitude or behavior. You have the right to question school authorities, and you owe it to your child to do so.
• If you suspect a teacher is bullying your child, request a meeting.
• Before your meeting, get as many details as possible from your child.
• Speak to other parents to see if their child has voiced any complaints or observed mistreatment of your child.
• Take notes and prepare yourself. When you speak to the teacher or administrator, try to keep calm, but make sure you get answers.
• If your concerns are dismissed without resolution, take it a step further. Document your efforts, meet with the superintendent, write an article for the newspaper, or attend a PTO or school board meeting to voice your concerns.
Our children have enough to deal with; a bully for a teacher shouldn't be one of their problems.
Patricia Gatto and John De Angelis are the authors of MILTON'S DILEMMA, the tale of a lonely boy's magical journey to friendship and self-acceptance. As advocates for literacy and children's rights, the authors speak at schools and community events to foster awareness and provide children with a safe and healthy learning environment. For more information, please visit Joyful Productions at http://www.joyfulproductions.com
Patricia, you've touched on a sensitive subject that is often overlooked, but does happen. Like any job, you get the good and the bad. Unfortunately, in this case when there are the bad (as in this case), the impact can leave a lasting impression on the children. I really commend you for taking it further. With love, Deb
Thanks for sharing and thank God you were wise enough to make enquiries about the incident with the sneakers and didn't just disbelieve your son. Too many of the wrong kind end up as teachers and do more harm than good. Happy New Year.