Back in the day, as a child you just did not complain about a teacher to your parents. That teacher was an adult, and you just didn’t talk negatively about another adult to your parents. The adult was always deemed to be right–regardless of whether that adult was actually right or not. The fact that adults were not perfect was not mentioned in some families. As far as the parents were concerned, no one over the age of 21 could ever do any wrong. To say that an adult lied, for example, would earn a child an automatic buttwhipping, or a slap in the face. Nor was Mom or Dad about to buy the line about “Mrs. Brown seems not to like me.” Even if you mentioned that other kidlets felt that way too, Mom and Dad said what my old man often said: “This is not about what other kids think, or have said. I am not their Dad. I am only concerned about YOU.” Which in and of itself is a correct answer, because kids often try to hide behind what “everyone else is doing.” Indeed, once I am a parent such talk will not be tolerated–at least most of the time.
While I see a need for the adults in a child’s life to maintain a united front–what about those times when a child is being mistreated? What about those times when an adult is singling your child out due to racist beliefs they hold dear to? What if that teacher is doing something both cruel and illegal, such as subjecting a pupil to corporal punishment, public embarrassment, or a negative attitude? How should a parent teach their child to cope?
First of all, in most states, corporal punishment in the classroom is illegal, and has been since about the mid 1980s. I believe that the parents are the only ones that should really be whipping their children. So as a parent, I would want to know if my child’s teacher touched him or her in any way, shape or form. I would want that teacher to catch a case, as well as, of course, be fired.
But we as parents can’t always be there to fight our children’s battles. So it’s also important that we give our kids coping tools. I think my mother, for example, gave me a very important tool, something that worked for me and has stuck with me to this very day. She told me, “Son, I do hear you, and I agree. But be on your best behaviour around that teacher. Treat them with respect, do as they tell you. Next year, you won’t even have to see his/her face!” She did this while making it clear that she wanted me to tell her when I was being treated less favourably because of skin colour, punished for merely defending myself, or whatever.
For example, I told her that a certain English teacher–whom for the purposes of this paper, I will call Mr. T–called me out in class for coughing. I was just getting over the flu. And he called me out in front of the whole class, saying that I had a “tubercular cough.” Doubtless that teacher got a call to the office from my mom complaining about that incident! Also, when a certain math teacher decided to publically embarrass me because I was not catching on to certain concepts as fast as he thought I should–my mom advised me to go straight to my academic counselor. He did get talked to, and he did get the message, that under NO circumstance should a teacher should embarrass their students for honestly trying but not getting a concept.
To spank the child for telling you is clearly not the answer. Because if the lines of communication between parent and student don’t remain open, teachers and other trusted adults will be able to get away with murder. Why, a teacher can even touch a child inappropriately, and nothing will ever be said!! Secrecy is a powerful weapon used in the hands of a pedophile. If he feels that he can behave in any old way towards a child that he wants, and it won’t get reported, he will keep on doing it. And unfortunately, more and more children will be victimised.
All such punishment does under these circumstances is to cut off trust. If a child does not feel he or she can open up to you, what happens when the teenage years come, and there’s peer pressure? For nowadays, I have heard of some mighty strange drugs that, growing up in the Seventies, I never even heard of: smurf, ninja, transformer, meth, date rape drug, and others.
Why, particularly in African-American families, were there such strict rules on speaking out against authority figures? My guess is that back in the days of the Jim Crow laws, my parents’ parents were told to do as they were told without questioning it, or answering back. This was a rule they had to teach their children to protect them from being badly beaten, or even lynched.
But as time progressed, and the Jim Crow laws died, we saw the importance of teaching kids to balance respect for authority with standing up for themselves, albeit going through the proper channels. Tell an adult who actually has the authority to do something about it.
So the first thing that’s important is, keep the lines of communication between parent and child open. Gone are the times that you can get away with telling them that saying something bad about grown folks is wrong and worthy of punishment, and that a child needs to stay in a child’s place. Let them know that you trust them and are willing to get to the bottom of it. That means even if you have to call fifty school administrators to find out what is really going on. If the preponderance of the evidence indicates that the child is at fault, prepare your child to face severe punishment at your hands, for sure!
The second thing I would say is that your child should feel that he or she should go through the proper channels at school as well. It is never a good thing to answer a teacher back. A child should never feel that he or she should try to handle a situation involving authority themselves. He should be able to talk to a teacher reasonably regarding his or her concerns. If that doesn’t work, he or she should take it to the principal’s office, when he or she has had a chance to cool down.
For in the real world that doesn’t work either. What children don’t realise is that they will be dealing with authority their whole lives. Indeed, school is a good time to learn to get along with authority figures. Because on a job, for example, if you use the wrong approach on a job to deal with such issues between you and a boss, you could end up without a job, and without prospect of getting another one.
All that being said, when is it time to believe your child when he is telling you that he or she has been having problems with a teacher? Anytime your child says that he or she notices that the teacher treats, or grades all children of a given race similarly cruelly. For example, there is something terribly wrong with a teacher who rips into Michael Washington, taking away that Cedar Pointe trip from him because Michael is seen trying to get away from Jeff Levine, who is chasing him around the school with his shoe. The thing about it is, Jeff started the disruptive behaviour, and he still gets to go.
Secondly, when your child says that other kids and adults are noticing that this teacher has a mean, or prejudiced streak in him or her. This is not a situation that should be swept under the carpet. It should thoroughly investigated. For example, when I was in fifth grade, I landed in a classroom where the students were allowed to call a classroom conference on any student they found unfavourable in some way. During such a conference, the homeroom teacher would listen to all the charges leveled against that child, and if she felt that student was guilty, he or she would be ushered into the back room and subjected to five hard whacks on the knuckles with a wooden stick. Once I told my Mom that this was what was going on–all she had to do is talk to a neighbour about it. It didn’t hurt that that neighbour happened to sit on the local school board. I seemed to notice that a short time thereafter, the knuckle-knockings stopped, along with the student conferences.
In closing, I think that a loving, listening parental ear, with the strong possibility of a buttwhipping and withdrawal of privileges handed down if the child is at fault in any way, shape or form, is the answer. Teaching a child to deal with conflict between himself and a teacher is very important. He or she should feel free to tell you, plus the other adults at school if the child feels that the educator is misbehaving, which does in fact happen from time to time.