I came across this video the other day and felt it was important to share.
Although I’ve seen it several times, I still find it hard to watch. I find it hard to watch because I want to believe that it is an isolated incident, but I know that isn’t true. Over my 11 years in education, I’ve heard or witnessed several scenes fairly similar to the one shown in the video and there are many more examples on Youtube of students who’ve secretly recorded their teachers doing similar things. I don’t post this video to beat up on teachers or to judge that teacher in particular. I am also aware of the disturbing trend of students purposely trying to provoke their teacher with the intention of recording and embarrassing them online and don’t wish to condone that behavior in any way. But the time has come for educators and parents to come together and say that yelling at students as a form of discipline or control has no place in our schools. Period. Those who get to know me know that my life as an educator means the world to me, but I write this post more as a father than as an educator. I have two girls in school now and will blink and have two boys in school as well. Yelling or other harsh discipline is not good enough for them and it shouldn’t be good enough for anyone else’s child either. They are my babies. This is a picture of my oldest as she headed off to school.
I can still remember the excitement and worry of that day. Although I certainly don’t handle every situation perfectly at home, I put a great deal of trust in her teachers to make sure they model kindness and care for her when she is at her best as well as when she is at her worst. Because no matter how big she grows, when I look at her, a part of me will always see this:
Will there be times when teachers lose their cool just as parents do? Of course. But can we accept that it is ok for that to happen? Absolutely not. That’s not good enough for my baby or anyone else’s. We must overcome our fear and need for control in the classroom. I started teaching long enough ago to know that many teachers have been taught that the worst sin a teacher could commit was letting their class get out of control and they were expected to use any means necessary to keep order within their classroom. If a student challenged their authority, and they didn’t quickly and forcefully put that student in their place, they were seen as weak and ineffective. But we can’t continue to sacrifice long term growth for short term control in our classrooms. If a teacher repeatedly loses their cool and uses raising their voice to exert control over the class, students will learn that yelling is an acceptable way to get what they want or control others and connection between the teacher and all students will be damaged. If we yell at them in the classroom, is it any wonder that they will yell at their classmates to try to get their way when a game doesn’t go their way on the playground? We also must consider the fact that when a teacher is harsh or yells at an individual student, it damages connections with all the students whether they are directly involved or not. My oldest daughter is a rule follower to her core (at least at school) and has probably never had a teacher yell at her in a discipline situation. What is interesting though is that if you ask her who her favorite teachers have been, those on the bottom of that list are teachers who tend to raise their voice or use harsher discipline within the classroom. Your students are always watching you and how you treat the student who struggles lets them know how they will be treated if they are at their worst. In addition, your response gives them a blueprint for how they should treat that student. If the message is sent that the student is bad and deserving of harsh treatment, their classmates will quickly follow suit, the student will experience isolation and will ultimately act out in class even more. How we treat our students matters. Research has shown that teacher preference (whether we communicate it or not) can influence students’ behavior towards each other, their concept of themselves, and their overall achievement in school. Check this study out if you are interested in reading more in depth on this subject. It is eye opening.
What can we do then?
First, if you hear a colleague yelling at a student, don’t turn a blind eye. Tell them you heard they were upset and ask them if they are ok. Ask if there is anything you can do to help. Without confronting them in a threatening way, you will communicate that yelling at students is not ok and that you are willing to help and support them to find a better way.
Second, if you are a parent, and your child tells you that the teacher is mean or yelled at them, don’t dismiss them. Ask questions, listen to them. Give the teacher a call and discuss it. Letting the teacher know how your child perceived the situation in the classroom can be an important first step.
Third, get the message out that there is a better way to deal with students. If progress is to be made, we must confront the underlying beliefs that allow this type of behavior to continue. The most difficult thing about moving forward in Social Emotional Learning as a school and a society is the fact that we must address the skills (or lack of skills) that we as adults have in this area. We ask students to be calm when things don’t go their way, but we often don’t possess this skill ourselves. We ask students to use their words directly in conflict with peers, but we are often unwilling to have difficult conversations with each other bottling our feelings up or gossiping instead. All of us have growth that needs to happen in this area.
Lastly, never forget that you are dealing with someone else’s baby. How would you want your child treated in a similar situation by their teachers? What skills would you want modeled for your child?
There is a better way. If you find yourself starting to lose your cool, take a step back. Very few problems in a classroom need to be dealt with immediately. Taking 30-60 seconds to breathe and calm could make all the difference in the way you approach a student. If you need help, ask for it. Many times in education, we worry what others will think if we admit what is true of all of us: we can’t handle 100% of the situations life throws at us. I needed the help and counsel of others as a teacher and that is even more true now that I am a principal. All of us need help. Some of the most powerful learning I’ve ever experienced came after I admitted that things were going badly and I had no idea what to do. Don’t accept that you will occasionally lose your cool with students. If it happens, apologize. Use it as a teaching moment. Talk to students about the steps you should have taken to avoid losing your cool. Then, rededicate yourself to growing in the skills that will prevent it from happening again in the future. Seek to build better connections with those students in every class who tend to “push your buttons.” You can and must do better.
I leave you with some words in this video from Dr. Becky Bailey, founder of Loving Guidance. Although I’ve never had the opportunity to see her in person, her work has had a profound impact on me both as an educator and a parent. If you are looking for an introduction to her work, I would put this book on the top of your summer reading list. Her materials are somewhat geared towards younger students, but the underlying principles are so important in our relationships with students and each other regardless of what level we teach.
Resolve to take a step forward in this area. Although I am a broken and imperfect person, I am happy to help anyone forward in their journey in any way I can. As Dr. Bailey would say, “I wish you well” as you finish this school year, recharge, and prepare to begin anew.