Saturday, February 27, 2010

Can You Trust Your Child's Teacher?

For Lamya Cannon’s mother, the answer to this question is a resounding NO! You remember the story….. last fall her teacher cut off one of her braids because she had been playing with her hair. According to her mother, Lamya’s teacher admitted to doing so, but did not seem remorseful. After initially hearing about this situation, I wondered out loud if there were any indications that this teacher was…well…unstable before this unbelievable incident? Had there been similar occurrences with other students? Or, did she just “snap” on that day. Typically speaking, there are telltale signs that suggest that something just ain’t right.

So, how can you tell if your child’s teacher is behaving badly? Well, it’s important to know that young children are typically not able to articulate their feelings. Instead, they may express somatic complaints (i.e. Stomachaches, headaches, sore throats etc.). They may cry or tantrum when its time to go to school, or you may notice a drastic decline in their grades. Or, they may begin to emphasize how much they hate school. Any and all of these behaviors is cause for your concern because they suggest that something may not be right.

Of Course, there are also more obvious indicators as well. In fact, there is a list of educator No-no’s which include but are not limited to:

• Telling students to “Shut up!”
• Calling students “stupid” or “idiots”
• Cutting their hair (sigh)
• Hitting, slapping, or shoving students
• Creating a classroom environment that breads bullying, teasing, or taunting
• Denying students the opportunity to learn by repeatedly sending them out of class

What would you do if this happened to your child? Just how common do things like this happen in schools? These are questions that parents are surely asking themselves after Lamya’s story hit the news. Please realize that as a parent, you have a tremendous amount of power. Many times, parents are intimidated by school administrators and the procedures. However, it is critical that you speak up and report any issues that are concerning to you. First, speak to your child to get their story. Take detailed notes, including dates and names. Next, speak directly with the teacher and ask that an assistant principal is present. Also contact the school principal and make them aware of your concerns. Indicate in no uncertain terms that you are ready and willing to bring your complaints to the school board if your concerns are not taken seriously. Put everything in writing for legal purposes and give the school an opportunity to act appropriately. If you do not feel comfortable with their decision, by all means call the school board…and an attorney.

I must say that as a School Psychologist who has devoted her life to making a positive impact in the lives of students…I am simply appalled when I learn of incidents of impropriety by educators. There is NEVER an excuse or reason to cause physical or emotional trauma to a child. Educators are held to a certain standard of excellence, as they not only educate children, but must also ensure their emotional and physical safety. That is why it is so disconcerting when the very people who are supposed to protect children are the ones at fault.

Albeit extreme, I wish that I could say Lamya’s story is an isolated incident….but with all honesty I cannot. No doubt, the preponderance of educators are phenomenal and committed to the art of educating and inspiring students. However, as with any other profession, there are some bad apples. Identifying these educators and making sure that they are appropriately disciplined is key. The impact that teachers make is inarguable, and when a teacher behaves badly it can have lasting effects on academic performance, as well as self-esteem.

Happy Parenting,

Gaétane F. Borders is the President of Peas In Their Pods, and the author of, an honest and realistic blog for parents about issues that matter most…children and families!

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