#StopBashingTeachers, a charter school’s equivalent to #PoliceLivesMatter
There’s a video of a New York charter school doing its rounds at the moment in which you can see a teacher verbally and emotionally abuse a first grade student. If you love kids, if you’ve been abused as a child yourself, that video makes you want to cry, puke and scream. At least that was my reaction.
In the video a girl stumbles with a maths problem. The teacher then rips up the girl’s paper and sends her to the “calm down chair”. Why does the girl have to calm down? She’s not loud, not disruptive, she’s simply having difficulties with the task set for her.
The teacher then goes on to abuse the girl some more, telling her that “there’s nothing that infuriates me more than when you don’t do what’s on your paper” and later “You’re confusing everybody. I’m very upset and very disappointed.”
There’s so much to unpack here. First of all, there’s the complete absence of the student as a learner. A classroom needs to be a safe space, a space where you can make mistakes, where you are allowed to struggle and get help. A positive learning environment is one of the most important factors for actual success in school (See Hattie, Visible Learning).
This teacher doesn’t provide the child actual space for learning. This teacher demands correct answers. The girl didn’t give the correct answer and the two things this person focusses on are how she’s impacting other students* and most importantly, how she makes her, the teacher, feel. This is plain and simple emotional child abuse. To get love, to get respect, to be seen as a person, nothing short of being perfect is enough. Children, especially small children want to please the adults in their lives. They want to hear “You have done well, I’m proud of you”. They want to be loved. They need the safety of being loved even when they are wrong. Especially when they are wrong. This teacher is showing none of this. She is using her emotional power over a very small child. What did she achieve? Does the child now know how to solve the problem? Surely not. How would she be able to follow the lesson after having been abused like that, made responsible for the teacher’s negative feelings and blamed for her classmates’ lack of progress? I hope we can all agree that the behaviour displayed by this teacher is absolutely unacceptable.
So, what is the response from the school?
Eva Moskovitz, the head of the Success Academy Charter Schools to which this institution belongs takes it to Twitter, defending her employee and school, accusing the media of “profiting from the controversy” (where have I heard this recently?), creating the hashtag #StopBashingTeachers:
If you’ve watched the video you can see what’s wrong with this narrative. This teacher didn’t just make a mistake. I get making mistakes. I get losing your cool. This teacher wasn’t actually upset and losing control. This teacher was very focussed. It was not a one time mistake, because look at the kids. If their wonderful beloved teacher had just exploded because her puppy died and her coffee cup broke and this girl’s mistake was the straw that broke the camel’s back, they’d be shocked. They’d be upset, they’d be visibly scared. They are not. They continue as if nothing really happened because for them nothing unusual happened. And there is of course the fact that an assistant teacher felt it necessary to record this class in the first place. Why would they do that if this teacher was usually the fairy godmother in person? The assistant recorded the class because they knew this kind of thing happens in that classroom.
Complaints about charter schools in general and this one in particular are frequent. As you can see from the NY Times article, this incident is just the tip of the iceberg, others include children wetting themselves as they are not allowed or afraid to go to the bathroom. So when Eva Moscovitz appeals to teacher solidarity with #StopBashingTeachers, she creates, in my opinion, the equivalent of “Police lives matter”. In response to her teacher abusing a child she portrays her school and her teacher as victims of a culture that hates teachers and schools. And the worst thing is, there is a lot of negative bias against schools and teachers. But when criticism of plain child abuse is called “teacher bashing” it just makes matters worse for teachers who actually care and who struggle to give their students a good education in difficult situations. Calling out abuse of children, especially black children at the hands of teachers is no more “teacher bashing” than BLM and Beyoncé are an attack on Police lives. Thankfully, there’s a lot of teachers pushing back against that notion.
*Actually, nothing can be as educative as a good mistake. Working through a good mistake and consolidate knowledge and initiate further thought processes.