Once there was a young girl who did very well in school. She excelled in all subjects up until the fourth grade. One day, while in Math class, on one of those rare days when she wasn’t quite prepared, her teacher called on her to answer a question. Unfortunately, after much fidgeting in her seat, she wasn’t able to give the right one. Rather than making her sit down, as most teachers would, this particular Math teacher lambasted and criticized the 10-year old to the point of saying “I don’t like the expression on your face…” Holding back her tears, she sat down dejected. From then on, the little girl began to hate Math with a passion and struggled with it for the rest of her elementary and high school years.
I know that story very well because that 10-year old was me.
To this day, I vividly remember how she looked - a smirk on her face while mocking me from where she sat, eyeing me from head to foot. Ironically, she was a favorite teacher of some of my classmates. Apparently, she appealed to a certain group and had her own fan base. However, in my eyes she was the worst of the lot. Fortunately, in high school I was blessed with more patient, kind and understanding math mentors who helped me overcome my phobia for the subject.
Whether it is Math, Science, English or even a Religion class - the teacher student relationship is a very powerful and tenuous one. On one end of the spectrum, are teachers who seemingly thrive on wielding Nazi-like powers. On the other hand, there are teachers who are absolute darlings and can do no wrong. When a teacher enters a classroom she brings her whole self –biases included. The best teachers, I have found, are those who have had their share of life-changing experiences and who carry no bitterness whatsoever. They take time out to listen to you and are astute enough to see if a child is having difficulty or problems. As a teacher, you can be strict but caring and can exact the highest standards from your students without being rude or offensive.
It is every parent’s nightmare to have his or her child experience verbal abuse in the hands of a teacher. When it is a teacher who verbally abuses or bullies a child, it is almost unforgivable because the dynamics of the relationship is a highly unequal one. As a parent, your hands are tied sometimes. You may want to complain against a teacher, but your child pleads with you not to because he or she knows that they will never hear the end of it until the school year is over. It’s worse, if you get that teacher again (as I did when I had the same Math teacher in the 6th grade, so you can imagine what that year was like for me, emotionally) in a subsequent year level.
Like history repeating itself, my son was “bullied” by his Math teacher in the second grade. It was such a terrible experience for him so much so that he began to draw his teacher as a wicked witch in many of his drawings. He became an 8-year old wreck and we had to undo over one year, the damage that his Math teacher had wrought upon him. Thankfully, that teacher of his took a job in a public school in North Carolina and is now far away from further torturing another Filipino child.
What can a parent do when your child experiences verbal use in school?
Patricia Evans, author of the best-selling book “The Verbally Abusive Relationship” says that one of the first things parents need to do is to reassure their child that what has just taken place is not acceptable. “If your child is yelled at or put down in any way, she or he needs your support. Sometimes a parent may inadvertently teach a child to put up with abuse. It is sometimes helpful to ask yourself, “Is there anything in what I’ve said that minimizes the abuse?” If a child is told by a parent, “She [he] didn’t mean that,” the child’s experience is invalidated and his or her pain discounted. The abuse is minimized and the child is taught to tolerate it.” In other words, when you say to your child – “Oh just let it go, he was having a bad day.” – the message that you are conveying is that a bad day is an excuse for yelling, name-calling or saying hurtful words.
It is also very important to acknowledge your child’s feelings. When you do this, you validate your child’s experience. Evans says, ‘In this way you teach your child appropriate responses to verbal abuse and help your child to honor his or her own feelings.” If you disregard or teach your child to pretend that words don’t hurt, it makes the child doubt himself. With older children, sometimes, all they need to know is that they can count on you for emotional support and that you will stand by them.
In general, verbal abuse is very eroding and can create doubts in even the brightest of students. An American Academy of Pediatrics Report published in 1999 found that graduating students who reported experiencing verbal abuse during medical school had less confidence in their clinical abilities than those who were not abused, according to a nationwide study. And these are adults, mind you, how much more if the verbal abuse took place in elementary or high school.
Schools, whether private or public, need to create teaching training programs so that verbal abuse can be minimized in schools. A parent can care for and protect the child at home, but sometimes the threat can come from the school setting. Admittedly, the teaching profession, has its own attendant stressors, thus, it becomes even more important for teachers to do some degree of inner work so that they do not foist their issues and prejudices on some hapless child. I am both a mother and a teacher – both “jobs” carry such a huge responsibility.
One lesson I have learned through the years is that each child is different and a huge amount of patience is required in both teaching and mothering. Fear is far easier to instill in the hearts of one’s children or student, but respect and love are traits that are both precious and difficult to come by whether you are a mother or a teacher. Both have to earned and children are like puppies in a way, they can smell and spot the genuine ones from the fake. I set high standards in the classroom but I also choose to be the one that they remember with love.