The 99 Percent (of Teachers)

Posted by: , December 1, 2011 in 1:16 pm

My heart breaks for teachers. So many teachers are going above and beyond the call, slogging away in a profession that gets harder every year, thanks to budget cuts, standardized testing, and general nonsense outside of their control. 

And then a couple of douchebags do something not just unprofessional, but downright mean, and it casts a shadow on your whole profession.  A news story broke last week about an Ohio mother who went so far as to equip her special needs daughter with a wire, to record the bullying comments and actions made by her special education classroom aide and a teacher.  (ABC News story here; and local television coverage of the story here.  Warning: the television coverage has the actual audio; it’s very disturbing.)

Our kids have been blessed with some amazing teachers, the kind I learn from as a parent.  Even in the highly problematic school my kids attended when we lived in Texas, we had some amazing teachers.  And right now?  Each of my kids has the absolute best teacher for him or her.  It’s pretty dreamy.

I also have several friends who are teachers, one of whom teaches in one of the roughest high schools in the country.  Despite having been physically assaulted more than once at his place of employment, he still tears up with pride when talking about his students.

At the beginning of this school year, there was a great op-ed piece on CNN called “What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents.” In the article, award-winning veteran educator Ron Clark spells out exactly how parents can have a great working relationship with their children’s teachers.  I agreed with almost all of it — except for this:
The respect I have for teachers is immense.  But what kind of relationship would I have with my child if I didn’t ask for his or her side of the story?  Teachers are human.  They can make mistakes.  There can be misunderstandings.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I tell a mom something her son did and she turns, looks at him and asks, “Is that true?” Well, of course it’s true. I just told you.

This is especially in our case, since Little Dude’s reality doesn’t always align with everyone else’s reality.  In fact, asking for both Little Dude’s side of a story, and his teachers’ version of what happened, has helped his teachers and I figure out some of Little Dude’s emotional and communication problems.  (We figured out that when he’s stressed, he basically stops processing information.)
Obviously, the problem isn’t asking for your child’s version of what happened, it’s how you ask for that information.  I would never want to disrespect a teacher like that, especially in front of a student.
The other problem is that while 99 percent of teachers are telling the truth, there’s that 1 percent that isn’t.
Let’s take a step back and think about how bad things would have to be to wire your kid. Think about how bad it had to be, and how ignored the girl’s parents had had to feel, to take that step.  The parents, in fact, had complained to the school about the problems in the past.  The school “investigated” the claims, and found no basis for them, even saying that the allegations “bordered on slander and harassment.”
Here’s some lowlights from the recordings, made over four days:

“Are you kidding me? Are you that damn dumb? Oh my God.  You are such a liar.”

“No wonder you don’t have any friends. No wonder no one likes you.”

“Don’t you want to get rid of that belly?…Go for a walk. Do you know how to? You are just lazy and your family is lazy.”

At one point in the recordings, you can also hear the teacher and the aide discussing the family in front of the girl, calling them “liars” and “manipulators.”
After the school district was presented with the audio evidence, the aide was dismissed.  The teacher, who was not suspended, has to take eight hours of training.  The school district settled the lawsuit with the family for $300,000.
There are people who suck in every profession.  When teachers make these kinds of grievous errors, it affects our children, it’s shocking, and it makes the news.
I’m sorry for that, you fabulous teachers, you 99 percent. Please know that we parents know that you are not like the educators in Ohio who bullied that special needs student. We know how hard you work, and we thank you.
This week is American Education Week.  Besides helping out in our elementary school’s library, I’ll be attending special events in each of my kids’ classes to learn about what my kids are doing in school.  I’ll also be taking a minute to thank my kids’ teachers for generally being awesome.


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