I've worked at a handful of schools over the past 5 years as both a counselor and a teacher and I've been shocked by how aggressive some teachers are. I've seen teachers so aggressive and verbally abusive that I would only hire them to play a prison guard in a movie, not even for a real prison. Some of those teachers were so loud that you could hear them through walls in the hallways, which means that other people were obviously aware. Other teachers talked about it. But nothing happened. Why?!
This has been on my mind this weekend way more than usual because yesterday I saw a video that was going around of a teacher who "lashed out" at a first grader at a charter school here in NYC. The teacher appears aggressive and unreasonable. She appears to be furious at a little girl, probably 6 years old, for not following instructions on a math assignment. Here is the video:
It's difficult to watch because the child is so small but I realized I'm quite jaded about all of this because my first thought was "I've seen much, much worse."
Then today I was watching an episode of DC's Legends of Tomorrow titled White Knights and I see the older Martin Stein violently yelling at the younger Jefferson Jackson, you know, for his own good. Once Jackson walks away Stein admits to another character that hurting Jackson is the only way to get through to him.
First of all, let's not ignore that in both of these situations it's a White "teacher" yelling at a younger Black "student." But I've seen this scenario in every possible mix of race and gender you can imagine. It transcends race. It's a power dynamic in which the person in power is aggressive and violent, often justified by their role or position.
In an effort to take my mind off of this for a bit I started doing some chores and put on a podcast. So I'm listening to episode 56 of the Kinda Funny Gamescast which had on as a special guest my favorite teacher-turned-rapper Mega Ran and suddenly he says "I was kind of a mean teacher... I was mean... You have to be with 12-year-olds... They say you don't smile 'til Christmas when you're a teacher...You have to do that every day until they get in a structure where they're like 'Oh my god, he might kill us'... You gotta build a level of trust and structure before you can divert from it."
Thanks for helping me get my mind off of it Mega Ran!
So being "mean" and scaring students is how you build trust? When did it become ok to be mean and yell at kids in school? And why the fuck are some adults being bullies and incredibly aggressive to kids while administrators stand by and do nothing?
This is a serious problem and there is some research out there on it but I don't think there is nearly enough. And we don't talk about it enough. We are sending kids to school every day and it's possible that one of the many adults we expect to take care of them are in fact behaving in such a way that has traumatic effects.
As a teacher, I've found myself thinking that if I didn't raise my voice like the other teacher, the kids wouldn't listen to me. In fact, I was always surprised to see soft-spoken "nice" teachers yelling at the top of their lungs in order to get a group of kids to do something. This spirals out of control and you end up creating a culture of teachers who feel that they have to yell or students who think that they only really have to comply if the teacher is yelling. It's actually way more complicated than that and there are many factors involved.
My biggest concern is that verbally aggressive teachers will continue to harm children because administrators have other priorities or rather not lose the staff, or who knows what else. Why do some schools have zero-tolerance standards for students and not all schools have zero-tolerance standards for teachers.
In my counseling practice I offered discounts to teachers because I know how hard their jobs can be. I loved the idea that I could help a teacher change his or her behavior so that dozens of students could benefit from a less stressed, happier teacher who could deal with difficult emotions in a healthier way.
And there are way healthier ways to "get through" to kids and build trust that don't involve yelling and being aggressive. I'm going to try and do a better job of calling it out and doing something about it because I believe that this may be the worst part of going to school and not enough people are talking about it.