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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bad Teacher, Good Teacher, Great Teacher

Nobody has ever measured the harm done on children who have a bad, really bad, teacher. The younger the child, the more the harm, and parents are usually unaware of the enormous stress placed upon their son or daughter. A bad teacher is much like a bad priest or its equivalent, a preacher or minister, except that the first sees and interacts with this child five days a week. Just imagine being subject to scorn and ridicule for a whole school year; the other students, who miss nothing, quickly notice that their classmate is being harassed by their teacher. Whose side do they take? Of course, the guy or the lady who gives them grades, the adult in the room who can cause havoc at home with one phone call.


School districts rarely have the tools to detect and eliminate such nefarious influence; yet, the one person who is in daily contact with every teacher is the school principal, and that's the person you, the parent, must talk to immediately if you suspect that something amiss is occurring. I am not talking about sexual abuse, a topic that seems to pop up more and more frequently involving coaches, priests, and occasionally teachers. The attentive mother will notice that very quickly and report it to the respective authorities. I am talking about these few cases in which the child's self-esteem is systematically pummeled and eventually destroyed.

For Example

Students of all ages tend to blame the teacher for their low grades or for discipline measures taken against them. "She doesn't believe me," is one of the many excuses children mention when their parents ask for an explanation. "She doesn't like me," is another, or "She is picking on me." Standing in a classroom in front of 25 kids 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and for almost 10 months every year is no easy task. The teacher may have the same students the whole day or a different batch every period. I dare you to try and remember 140 names, in a high school setting, and their individual needs and idiosyncrasies. Add the names of the parents and you have a momentous task in front of you. But that of course does not excuse abusing the kids just because you got up in a bad mood; it's not allowable for parents or for teachers. But it happens, unfortunately. I clearly remember my third grade teacher, a middle-age spinster who apparently hated the male species; she allowed the girls to do anything they wanted, while the boys were severely reprimanded if they dared stand up and ask to go to the bathroom. Needless to say, my self-esteem suffered a rude downgrade.

Not Born Equal

In spite of the beautiful thought shared by our Founding Fathers, that all men are born equal, that is not the case when it comes to academic skills. A teacher knows immediately who can and who cannot follow the lesson at a rapid pace. We have of course the special education program set up to detect severe learning disabilities but there are many who slip through the cracks so to speak and, though considered regular students, simply cannot keep up the pace. They are the ones most often targeted by really bad teachers, who also show their lack of sensibility with academically disabled kids. In the best scenario, these are ignored; in the worst scenario, they are targeted repeatedly as examples of what not to do in the classroom. After a couple of years of such abuse and neglect, these kids simply give up on school and the parents, in some cases, wrongly assume that their child is simply too dumb to succeed in the classroom.

Talk to Your Kids

Your first line of defense is to maintain an open and frank communication with your children; find out if they are simply venting steam because they failed a test, or whether their complaints have a solid and rational basis. If it is the second, go and talk to the teacher first so you can make up your mind about her; then ask the principal if they will allow you to spend a couple of days in the classroom and watch carefully how the teacher handles the kids. It might be sufficient to make the educator reflect on his or her behavior and start treating the kid with respect. If this fails, ask for a conference that should include the teacher, the principal, a counselor and, if you think it is needed, your lawyer. Request an investigation that should reach other parents to see whether they also believe that a problem exists. Just remember, bad teachers are few and far in between; a good teacher may sometimes be accused unfairly simply because she tries to discipline your child who did not behave well. She represents the parent in a school setting and must also be treated with the same respect.

Next Generation

Education is not only the responsibility of educators; it must be a coordinated effort by parents, teachers, counselors, and school staff. It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it if we want the next generation to make this country even greater.

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