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Father tapes teachers berating autistic son
April 24, 2012 5:40 PM   Subscribe

New Jersey father wires autistic son to capture teachers bullying him When his 10-year-old son, Akian, started getting into trouble at school, Stuart Chaifetz was stunned. The notes from Horace Mann Elementary School in Cherry Hill, N.J., said that Akian, who has autism, was having violent outbursts and hitting his teacher and his aide -- behavior that the boy had never exhibited before.
posted by pallen123 (78 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I really hate it when my fears wind up justified (lone case, et cetera, I know; still).
posted by curious nu at 5:45 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Right now my autism spectrum son is doing the hitting for no reason. I can all too readily see something like this occurring in his future when he gets mainstreamed, though.
posted by mollweide at 5:48 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was confused but the FPP inside link "New Jersey father wires autistic son to capture teachers bullying him"until I read the article. I thought the father sent his son a Western Union telegram to take his teachers hostage. I'm from NJ. It didn't seem that far beyond the realm of possibility.
posted by Rafaelloello at 5:55 PM on April 24, 2012 [26 favorites]


After listening to most of this, I think it's clear that this was very wrong. However, I strongly suspect that this isn't that unusual and that such behavior by teachers has always been common in all such similar environments — specifically classes devoted to the developmentally disabled.

I don't intend to make any excuses for this. But it should be mentioned that teachers are underpaid and overworked, and this is especially true for teachers who teach classes for special needs students. As badly as the teacher behaved in this tape, worse behaving was the aide. The mere existence of these very poorly paid and undertrained aides is a sign of the fundamental problem. Again, I'm not making excuses for their behavior; rather, I'm pointing out that this sort of thing doesn't happen because of a few bad actors, it happens because we've collectively built a system in which things like this are inevitable and, sadly, common.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:58 PM on April 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


You'd be shocked at what teachers get away with. You'd also be shocked at what the other kids get away with since the teachers and school administrators are either unwilling to step in because they're afraid of something or they just don't see the bullying as a problem.
posted by theichibun at 5:59 PM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Teachers in Cherry Hill, N.J., which is a suburb of Philadelphia, aren't so terribly underpaid

http://www.cherryhill.k12.nj.us/departments/human/2011-12%20Teacher%27s%20Salary%20Guide.pdf
posted by knoyers at 6:01 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich: "I don't intend to make any excuses for this. But it should be mentioned that teachers are underpaid and overworked, and this is especially true for teachers who teach classes for special needs students. As badly as the teacher behaved in this tape, worse behaving was the aide. The mere existence of these very poorly paid and undertrained aides is a sign of the fundamental problem. "

I totally agree. The solution is not to punish the poor performing teachers but to actually supply the money to hire enough staff so this doesn't happen. GAH!
posted by rebent at 6:01 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ugh, this is exactly what I didn't need to see - my daughter starts grade school this fall. Although her diagnosis over the past four years has moved from mildly autistic to having language development problems with autistic symptoms, she can't speak. She can vocalize, sure, but she has a vocabulary of maybe five or six words, and only understands what is being said to her with a lot of help (repetition, signing, demonstration, etc). As you might imagine, this can lead to her being pretty frustrated and occasionally acting out, and of course she can't really tell me about specific things that happen in school. She'll be going to a fairly large public school and I am honestly terrified of shit like this. I'm going to go ahead and assume the best about her teachers and fellow classmates will be decent people, but that won't stop me from worrying.

Again, I'm not making excuses for their behavior; rather, I'm pointing out that this sort of thing doesn't happen because of a few bad actors, it happens because we've collectively built a system in which things like this are inevitable and, sadly, common.

Hi, I've worked with the developmentally disabled for about 10 years now. People are overworked and underpaid and this type of thing is not really common at all. You have to enjoy the work to do it, and those that don't soon leave to easier jobs that pay as well or better.

Of course, this won't stop me from worrying myself sick, but yeah. The system isn't the problem so much as there are some genuinely ugly people in the world.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:01 PM on April 24, 2012 [17 favorites]


This is terribly sad, and I am surprised the school district was not able to dismiss the teacher over her conduct.

On a side note - I shudder to think what kind of vile comments about NJ teachers Chris Christie will come up with after he hears this story.
posted by amelliferae at 6:03 PM on April 24, 2012


I should add that we love our district, and they've been an immense help, but we've had problems with aides before. The aides involved with my son's class now, though, are top notch, and his teacher is unbelievably kind and patient. I fear the inevitable change, however.
posted by mollweide at 6:03 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


You'd be shocked at what teachers get away with. You'd also be shocked at what the other kids get away with since the teachers and school administrators are either unwilling to step in because they're afraid of something or they just don't see the bullying as a problem.

I wish I could be shocked by the existence either one of these things, tbh, but the vile things humans do to one another no longer surprise me in the least.
posted by elizardbits at 6:04 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


"However, I strongly suspect that this isn't that unusual and that such behavior by teachers has always been common in all such similar environments — specifically classes devoted to the developmentally disabled."

As an educator working with special education students, I resent anyone making the comment "such behavior has always been common". Unless you have documentation that abusive behavior by teachers is "common", I think this statement is an affront to everyone who works very hard for these kids.
posted by HuronBob at 6:06 PM on April 24, 2012 [41 favorites]


Teachers in Cherry Hill, N.J., which is a suburb of Philadelphia, aren't so terribly underpaid

I don't know what the step-on-guide is about (years on staff?), but most of those numbers are still a good deal less than what most teachers deserve.
posted by crasiman at 6:10 PM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Where many might have extorted money from the school board to buy their silence, this guy earns several gilded papawolfs for opting instead for a public shaming.
posted by sarastro at 6:19 PM on April 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


Jesus, this is horrible. And using this as a platform to say that teachers need to paid more is just gross. Of course, teachers should be paid more, but try telling that to this kid. "Sorry, we just can't afford to not treat you like human garbage, the problem is systemic you little crybaby."
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 6:21 PM on April 24, 2012 [18 favorites]


This happened, abuse/neglect of autistic kid(s) + parent tape recorder, in a Texas school near where I grew up. My mom (my gossip source) worked in the same school district, and it's been a huge quiet scandal. IIRC the school suspended the main teacher (whose spouse was my music teacher!) for the rest of the year and then fired hir at the end of it. When the teacher made noise about lawyering up + wrongful dismissal suit (because the taper was a parent, not official law enforcement, it may not hold up in court?), the response was like, "Do that, and enjoy the outraged media response that will follow you on Google for the rest of your life."

I have no idea if criminal charges are pending, parents are pursuing civil charges, etc. Guess I'll check if the teacher's name is showing up on Google yet...
posted by nicebookrack at 6:22 PM on April 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Sarastro, he's a bit of a gadfly about animal rights, so I'm not surprised he went public. He's had no problem being in the public sphere with regards to animal rights, so I'd expect him to do the same for his son.
posted by mollweide at 6:25 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


So horrible. Why on earth would you do any kind of work in a classroom if that's how you behave towards students? Putting aside the damage you do to the students (and the education system in extension), there are so many easier, less stressful, better paying jobs out there, it just blows my mind.

The two times I actually had aides in my classroom, they did nothing. NOTHING. I would give them copies of the lesson plan at the beginning of the week, a copy of the text, ask if there was anything else they needed or thought I should know, and I'd be lucky if they'd stay focused on the kids for more than five minutes. And talking to the chair of the special ed department did nothing. But then, you get what you pay for: these folks were making maybe $12/hr.
posted by smirkette at 6:35 PM on April 24, 2012


Wow. As a school board member, I had three thoughts:

1) Good for this family for doing this! This is seriously among the worst things I've seen and it took courage to expose it.

2) I am SO FUCKING GLAD this is not my district.

3) "I don't know why the teacher wasn't fired," Chaifetz writes on his blog. "Maybe the District had no choice; perhaps tenure or HR regulations did not permit them to do so. I know that they were sincere and shocked when they found out what happened. I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in this." -- This is UNUSUALLY reasonable.

(And no, I don't think this is common; we've actually had teachers who got attacked by behaviorally disordered teenagers (who were bigger than them) who, like, grabbed the kid's wrist too hard, and turned themselves in and requested an appropriate suspension. Also, a lot of our classrooms for children who act out physically are video monitored, which was initially requested by teachers in case of students acting out, so there would be a record and it would be easier to get the child into a more appropriate placement, but has also proven invaluable in cases of teacher or aide misconduct.)

"I am surprised the school district was not able to dismiss the teacher over her conduct."

I'm just guessing, but the teacher may have due process rights that make it take FOREVER. It can take multiple hearings for us to be able to dismiss a teacher, and there are notice provisions (so if they get a hearing with the school board, they might get 10 days notice, and then there's scheduling ...). Anyway, it's actually easier for us to discipline a teacher who fails to report another teacher to DCFS for (say) hitting a student than it is to discipline the teacher who actually hit the student, because the "failure to report" is a clear and simple process in state law while the teacher hitting a student, being more serious, requires a lot more rigamarole.

In my experience, a teacher assaulting a student often takes a while to come up for criminal charges, because the state's attorney defers to DCFS's investigation first, as DCFS has considerably more expertise, and then the state's attorney can use DCFS's report. But I'm sure that varies by jurisdiction. School districts often defer to the state's attorney, since the district and SA are often working off the same evidence; we might suspend the teacher with or without pay (depending on the situation and the union contract and the district policies) and let the state's attorney go first. If the teacher is convicted of a crime, it's easier and cheaper for us to dismiss the teacher than if we (the school district) dismissed before that. Also state law allows us to demand repayment of any salary paid during paid leave if the teacher is later convicted of a crime for the action which put the teacher on leave in the first place. Not that you often collect, but it's out there.

And smirkette is right, we pay these special ed aides who work with our most vulnerable populations hardly anything, and they are among the least-educated employees in our district. But the vast majority of them are incredibly dedicated and when we "RIF" (lay off) those "one-on-ones" and aides as part of our routine spring RIF-ing (as we must notify them of RIFs by a certain date in March or April, depending on what union they're in, but the state doesn't finish its budget until June IN A GOOD YEAR, so we have no idea how many people we get to hire back), I get more e-mails from parents about RIF-ed aides than any other position, and they are PASSIONATE. I mean, parents call me crying when they find out their child's one-on-one has been RIF-ed. It is a super-thankless and low-paid job that a number of people do with incredible dedication and love.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:39 PM on April 24, 2012 [27 favorites]


I don't intend to make any excuses for this. But it should be mentioned that teachers are underpaid and overworked, and this is especially true for teachers who teach classes for special needs students.

Everyone is overworked and underpaid who has a job. Teachers have jobs with benefits. They're the lucky ones these days. "Low pay" is not an excuse for this.
posted by jayder at 6:46 PM on April 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


I... I have no words. This is just one of those awful things that is just awful.
posted by Night_owl at 6:49 PM on April 24, 2012


Also, holy fucking fuck, I missed on first listen that this is a SELF-CONTAINED autism classroom. I think this officially qualifies as the worst thing I've seen done to students, and I've seen things that made me have to walk out of the room to collect myself, and I've seen things that made me literally sputter in incoherent rage. (Somewhere in the world there are audio recordings of me saying "I mean -- I just -- I can't even -- it's just -- who would -- I mean, seriously -- why -- look, you're going to have to come back to me.")
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:51 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've written before about my time as an aide in a classroom for children with developmental disorders. After a few months I went and got myself a job that paid less and had longer hours.
posted by Nomyte at 6:53 PM on April 24, 2012


Unless you have documentation that abusive behavior by teachers is "common"

Just memories from every year I spent in school, both public and private.
posted by jsavimbi at 7:03 PM on April 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Cherry Hill is not even a bad school district. Think about that. Think about how worse it can get.

I try to avoid being melodramatic, but our education system is going to doom this country. I wish the politicians would get on board with practical efforts to fix it. Even the Republicans, come on...
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:03 PM on April 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


I don't know what the step-on-guide is about (years on staff?), but most of those numbers are still a good deal less than what most teachers deserve.
It goes up to $100k, and a teacher up to $89k for a teacher with just a BA - depending on the "Step on Guide" which I guess might be an evaluation guide? How much should they be making?

Anyway, for developmentally disabled children where there is a possibility of violence putting cameras in the classroom might be a good idea.
posted by delmoi at 7:05 PM on April 24, 2012


First, these people should all be fired, no question.

Now... teaching special ed, at least in my district, is an endless string of meetings, paperwork, lawsuits, lawyers, advocates and sleepless nights. They add more and more students to the caseloads every year and assign fewer and fewer people to each classroom. I know many people who used to love their jobs who have transferred into regular ed jobs (the lucky ones) or who have just left the profession.

This is not an excuse for the behavior of these people, but it's a fact that you are never going to find enough of those amazing, special people who would be great special ed teachers when aspiring teachers are told to avoid special ed and wait for a regular-ed job, even if it means subbing for a couple of years.

Whether or not they deserve more or less money is completely irrelevant. I make $16,000/year more than teachers in Cherry Hill, NJ, but I'd take that pay cut rather than move into special ed, because everyone I know there is miserable, and I love going to work every morning.

The steps, by the way, are years of service. They go up really quickly on that schedule... while I make significantly more at 10 years in my district, it takes 28 years here to get to $100,000.

Unless you have documentation that abusive behavior by teachers is "common"
Just memories from every year I spent in school, both public and private.


So every single teacher you ever had was abusive? Man, I can think of one guy in high school. What did they all do to you?
posted by Huck500 at 7:13 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, what happened in this case was shitty, absolutely nobody is arguing that it isn't. But, does this have to become a frigging indictment of everyone in education? This thread is feeling a lot like the "police abuse" threads that we have here on a regular basis. Unless it is actually the case, could we avoid words like "common", "usual", "always", "never"?
posted by HuronBob at 7:15 PM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


You know what? Put teacher salary aside for a minute.

If when I was a kid the school just had some extra budget for a few adult teacher's assistants, even just high school educated, to work for a reasonable rate to just help out with stuff that is confusing to a third grader but easy for an adult and to watch the class when the teacher was busy to ease the "Lord of the Flies" aspect my education would have gone a lot smoother and been a lot more effective.

This is one of those things we need to do if we want to convert to a knowledge society full of brainiacs instead of people working in factories or farms. You want that society, investment in education has to be a very high priority. If brains are now so much more important, why stick with one teacher for one class? Our focus has changed, adapt to it!

/okay sorry for too much derail from the autism subject, done now.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:17 PM on April 24, 2012


My son is autistic. My wife is a special education teacher.

IMO, the U.S. is approaching a tipping point when it comes to schoolteachers, and it's episodes like this that will drive a popular view: The notion that teachers are all heroes is going to disappear, as it becomes more and more evident that, because low funding attracts the low-skilled, the overall level of competence cannot meet the demands we place on teachers.

In other words, we don't pay them, so we don't get the good ones, and when we suffer for it, we respond by valuing them less and less.

Today, when someone says "lawyer," you don't think of Atticus Finch. You think of overpaid, ruthless ambulance-chasers. If you say "banker," you think of Wall Street one-percenters, not good old' George Bailey down at the Building & Loan.

Years from now, when you say "teacher," you'll think "dolt."

The tragedy is that you'll be right.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:20 PM on April 24, 2012 [30 favorites]


Metafilter: Does this have to become a frigging indictment of everyone?
posted by Huck500 at 7:22 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I should note when I say, we're placing increasing demands on teachers, and not increasing the quality bar at a commensurate rate, and we're sure as hell not increasing funding to attract, train, retain and support the higher quality people to meet those increasing demands.

It's like we all think teaching is still just one lady in a red schoolhouse whose biggest concern is pigtails and inkwells.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:24 PM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


BTW when I say "this happened" near where I grew up, I mean "this happened, like, last fall with disciplinary appeals still pending." So it's not an isolated case, though two cases in close succession do not an epidemic make. But I suspect that intrepid reporters are going to make these into one. Enjoy the relatively minor hounding of local media while you still can, accused teacher of my distant acquaintance!

(I am half-tempted to link, half-thinking to let the intepid reporters do it for me later, lest the more widespread media hounding spur accused teacher toward, "Screw it, now my Internet name is mud anyway, I'm taking ALL your school district moneyz!!" Moral dilemma, here!)
posted by nicebookrack at 7:25 PM on April 24, 2012


Low pay didn't cause this, and more money won't prevent it. This is shitty people doing shitty things and they should be fired for it.
posted by rocket88 at 7:30 PM on April 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


I like that dad. I like that he was a pain in the ass to those loser teachers, and has put so much effort into advocating for his son and exposing the incompetence of the teachers.
posted by jayder at 7:41 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I work in a public school with many non-verbal students and this sort of thing horrifies me. There is no excuse. I know the trust that parents of these students have to put on us especially with kids who can't speak for themselves. I may be naive but I believe there are more good eggs than bad in our field.

I am also happy to say I work at a place where no bullying or abuse, verbal or physical or students would ever be tolerated in the slightest. This school year we had a substitute aide in one of our preschool classrooms who was obviously out of her element. A normally non-violent student bit her and she slapped the student in the face. The outrage from every other adult in the classroom was immediate the substitute was immediately sent home.

We are human and may chat too often and talk about topics that perhaps should not be in a classroom but when it comes to protecting the welfare of the kids that is unquestionable.
posted by scrubbles at 7:51 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


There just aren't enough fucking hugs in the world.
posted by byanyothername at 7:55 PM on April 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


i'm the parent of an autistic child currently in special education. i usually make it over to the school once a month or so to help out wherever i can. i can't imagine this happening at my daughter's school.

also, and more important: it seems to me that everyone who works there really really really likes it and wants to be there. i've never seen grownups enjoy their work so much.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 7:59 PM on April 24, 2012


That veneer separating us from that grey, sad society we fear is wearing quite thin.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:25 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know second-hand how much of a boon a good teacher or classroom aide to severely behavioral handicapped children can be. My mom is an aide for these type of students and she is good at her job. Many of the parents of these students go out of their way to praise my mom. I suspect that it is not just that my mom is good at what she does, but that the parents have had bad experiences in the past and that is part of what drives the sometimes seemingly excessive accolades they bestow on my mother.
posted by Falconetti at 8:50 PM on April 24, 2012


The father is handling it much more decently than I would have in his place. I'd be screaming to the rafters for the child's teacher to be fired.
posted by zarq at 9:00 PM on April 24, 2012


My son is autistic. I suspect something similar (though not as egregious) was happening to him when he started at middle school. After one particular incident halfway through the school year, we wound up pulling him out of the public school and placing him in a charter school specifically for autistic kids. They have cameras in every classroom, and parents can request to come in at any time to observe the classroom (although due to HIPPA laws, the cameras may need to be turned off if something happening with another student in the classroom where it would be a privacy violation to observe).

They also require parents to put in a certain number of volunteer hours each year, and when you as a parent are working as a classroom volunteer you are never placed in the same room with your child (it would be disruptive to the class, your child would behave differently if you were there). The upshot being that on any given day there are usually random parents helping out in classrooms all around the school, and might be entering the classroom at pretty much any time.

The upshot is that I have spent enough time on that campus, and around pretty much ever teacher at the school, that I am confident that none of this kind of thing is happening to my kid. I did not have that confidence at the public school.

I am seriously impressed with this dad, he has shown an EPIC level of restraint. I was not nearly so level-headed when I had reason to suspect a public school teacher had abused my son.
posted by Lokheed at 9:32 PM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


most of those numbers are still a good deal less than what most teachers deserve.
posted by crasiman at 6:10 PM on April 24 [2 favorites +]


I can't possibly imagine how a starting salary of $46k would be related to verbally abusing a disabled child. And if they made $16k that wouldn't be an excuse either.

The most disturbing aspect of this story is that some of the voices on the tape are still employed there. Nobody should be practically impossible to fire, particularly if their job entails working with kids.
posted by knoyers at 10:01 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The dad at 10:04 in that video.... That Dirty Harry look as he looks at the camera and says

"You call my son a bastard? You made him cry. You heard him crying innocently. ...and he's a bastard for that? What kind of sick, twisted person does that to a ten year old boy?"

It's honestly one of those things that makes me scared to have kids. I'd go full on psycho-baseball bat on that person's car in the parking lot. There'd be little to no chance of stopping me. There's a good chance I'd go to jail that day. Something inside me just snaps when it comes to people abusing the mentally disabled.

Props to the dad, he's a better man than I. Logically, I know his method will be more productive and sets a better example for people acting like adults and sorting thing out in a mature fashion. I hope I could do the same. I fear that I might not be as strong as he is...
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:18 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm going to go out on a limb and agree that this is more common than most would suspect. I also witnessed and received this kind of abuse (and worse) from teachers or faculty my entire time in grade and high school. No… it did not happen *personally* with *every* teacher… but every single year there was at least one teacher who all the kids knew… you dreaded getting them, you heard horror stories about, or saw how they treated another kid.

I don't know a single teacher on a personal level who has not confided in me that they had concerns about a particular teacher or faculty member who did not seem cut out for the job because they would lash out at the kids for annoyances.

A few highlights from my life:

A PE teacher who was used as a threat by the other teachers because of how hard he spanked (in 8th grade). A teacher who called that teacher to spank a friend of mine when he corrected her on her pronunciation of a word. And then, me, when I said that it was wrong. The PE teacher was ultimately jailed when he beat a girl so hard he put her in the hospital (year later… when I was in college).

A teacher that my mother volunteered to aid because I complained about certain things like how she would yell at us or go to sleep during film strips. The first day my mom was on the job, the teacher singled out one of the kids and told my mom, "Don't worry about him. He's an idiot." When my mom complained to the principle, he told her that they knew about her but could not do anything because of her tenure. This was 2nd grade. This is when I learned the meaning of the phrase "My hands are tied."

My 4th grade homeroom teacher who berated a pupil for calling her "ma'am." She worked herself into such a furry, that (without the kid even having said another word) she told him he was "impossible." She sent him to the principle's office (in tears because he was so confused) and tried several times to have him removed from her class. The boy was from the south and ALWAYS called adults "ma'am" and "sir."

My 7th grade social studies teacher who was famous for her psychotic behavior. Like the time she asked the class what the hippies of the 60s stood for. When one girl said "peace" she threw a pencil sharpener at her and began screaming at the entire class about how the hippies stood for communism and tried to end this country. This lasted the length of the class. Or the time we were taking a test and she suddenly stood up and announced "Students, please put down your pencils. I am now going to have a nervous breakdown." and proceeded to scream at the top of her lungs for five minutes. Then as suddenly as she started, she stopped and told us to return to our tests.

9th grade: the drunk security guard who tackled a friend on the side walk when he was leaving campus with a note from the nurse. He never even said a word to the kid. Just saw him on the sidewalk, ran full-tilt and tackled him to the ground.

10th grade… the principle who told me that the reason I was jumped by three students was because of the way I dressed.

If you want documentation for how "common" classroom abuse is, take a look at this: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0934191.html

If there are that many teachers who feel it is allowable to *beat* children, how many do you think feel it's ok to go off on a kid who is making noises they find annoying?

I have an 11 year old special needs child. In the two districts she has been in, the way they are set up, she must change schools about every two years. I am incredibly, incredibly glad that she has never been bullied by a teacher (in fact, this year is the first time she has been bullied at ALL… and although they took an exorbitantly long time to deal with it, the school did ultimately take care of the situation). But every single time we have to change schools, I go through the anxiety of fearing that she'll get one of the bad ones.

Make no mistake. I believe that the vast majority of teachers and school faculty are great. More than great, they are amazing. But just like parents, or doctors, or anyone… some of them are going to not be cut out for what they are doing. And some of them are going to take out their frustrations on those they are supposed to care for. And some of them are going to be abusive.

I do not care how much or how little money anyone makes in regards to this. It is not relevant in any way whatsoever. No child deserves to have frustration taken out on them.

I understand discipline. I understand that there are times that a grown up must be stern just to impart the seriousness of a matter to a child. But here's the deal… no one should yell at a child out of anger. Anger is NOT allowed for teachers in the classroom. Or at least it shouldn't be.

And there needs to be a system for parents and teachers and faculty to be able to report concerns. We should not have to out ourselves when we do it. I personally know people who have reported bad behavior from a teacher who have had CPS show up on THEIR doorstep within days, and teachers who have feared reporting another teacher because they were "well connected." And there should be serious consequences for teachers who go too far.

We have zero tolerance rules in many districts for certain behavior by children. Why don't we for teachers?
posted by vertigo25 at 10:50 PM on April 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


"As an educator working with special education students, I resent anyone making the comment 'such behavior has always been common'. Unless you have documentation that abusive behavior by teachers is 'common', I think this statement is an affront to everyone who works very hard for these kids."

You can think it's an "affront to everyone who works very hard for these kids" if you like, but it's not what I said or meant. Everyone who works very hard for these kids (and treats them properly) deserves great respect, and I'll assume you're in that group. But not everyone works very hard for these kids (and treats them properly). I think there's good reason to believe that this group is much larger than you claim.

In this specific case it's extremely revealing that there was a long, ongoing dialogue between the teacher, school administration, and the father about this and the very first day his child goes to school with the recorder, this egregious stuff was captured. It's not as if this was one bad teacher and aide working without scrutiny. Either the administrators were mendacious, or they willfully turned a blind-eye. That indicates a systemic problem in that school or district.

Furthermore, there are other, similar stories already testified in this thread.

What is "common"? With regard to all teachers or classrooms educating the developmentally disabled, "common" doesn't necessarily mean "most" and that's not how intended it. Rather, I suspect that every school district has numerous such teachers and classrooms, though I don't think they are the majority.

"Hi, I've worked with the developmentally disabled for about 10 years now. People are overworked and underpaid and this type of thing is not really common at all. You have to enjoy the work to do it, and those that don't soon leave to easier jobs that pay as well or better."

It's not clear to me — do you mean in the US or Iceland? I don't think the two are comparable.

"And using this as a platform to say that teachers need to paid more is just gross. Of course, teachers should be paid more, but try telling that to this kid. 'Sorry, we just can't afford to not treat you like human garbage, the problem is systemic you little crybaby.'"

That's such a willful misreading of my comment, it's offensive.

Teachers are generally underpaid and, as attested in this thread and elsewhere, teachers working with the developmentally disabled have very, very difficult jobs that even the better-paid teachers in regular education wouldn't take. Teaching is vitally important profession involving a large skill-set — teaching the developmentally disabled involves all that, plus numerous specialized skills and a very unusual personality. They deserve more than most a big salary premium, and they don't get it. Unhappy, frustrated, underpaid teachers who know they're not valued make for worse teachers and greatly increase the likeliehood that they'll treat the children worse than they otherwise would have.

Anyone who has ever been a parent knows that dealing with children is inherently stressful and the more anxious and unhappy you are, the more likely you are to take that out on the children. Sure, some of the teachers behaving this way are just bad people and would have behaved this way regardless; but, just as with parents where a lot of bad or abusive parenting comes about as the result of problems in the larger context, a lot of bad or abusive teaching comes about as the result of problems in the larger context.

"Everyone is overworked and underpaid who has a job. Teachers have jobs with benefits. They're the lucky ones these days."

I remember when my late father, a lifelong Republican, wasn't unusual in believing that teachers were underpaid and overworked. And then came the conservative movement's initiative to vilify teachers and public schools, partly as a larger strategy of attacking unions and partly as a cultural conservative attack on secular education — and now it's fairly common to hear this "boy, those teachers sure are lucky and, hey, they only work nine months of the year!" garbage. It is to weep.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:56 PM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


As a teacher who snapped very harshly at a student in her class today when they hurt another child so they could have their way in class, I know that sometimes we say stuff in the moment that is not the right thing to say to a kid in your care. I feel profoundly guilty and look forward to fixing it the next time I see this particular child.

This, though, goes beyond anything I have ever seen or heard a teacher do, period, and I am so sad that this father had to resort to wiring his own son to prove that abuse was happening.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:57 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Going to jump in a little with my own story: For a while I was at a pretty crummy school district, which was like a big funnel sending kids into, essentially, technical schools and a future where something comes down the line and you have to attach it to another thing and put it back on the line.

I had a teacher who I didn't get along with, an English teacher, who was pretty prone to insults, making declarations, generally being unpleasant. This would have been, oh, ninth grade; I transferred out to a very nice school after that, thanks to my Dad, who sold a house he had built so that he could move to another, better district. Thanks dad.

So this teacher failed me out of her English class. Which would have been really bad for all the usual reasons. So my dad and the principal and this teacher had some meeting about this, and they walked down my grades. One of them was a -23, which was how she got me under the failing mark. It was for class participation.

So dad and the principal got a little agitated about this, and she explained that my behavior was so poor in her class, that I was causing other students to participate less. Hence, a negative grade. And coincidentally, a negative grade that would fail me.

After further negotiation, they got me just above the failing mark, allowing an easier transition to the new school.

I think it was years and years before I understood that she had iron-clad tenure and was the head of the teacher's union for that district, so... yeah. Not a fan of this being the required thing I had to do when I was in my teens.
posted by jscott at 12:12 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


A similar case came up in my neck of the woods (South Alabama) last month involving a child with cerebral palsy being mistreated at school. The kid's mom attached a recorder to the bottom of the boy's wheelchair and posted excerpts to YT. At least one firing has since occurred at the school as a result.

YTLinks: 1, 2, and 3. (The first two videos have the same title, but are actually different).
posted by TwoToneRow at 1:50 AM on April 25, 2012


but it's not what I said

I guess the copy/paste function on my computer isn't working as it should.
posted by HuronBob at 3:11 AM on April 25, 2012


What is "common"? With regard to all teachers or classrooms educating the developmentally disabled, "common" doesn't necessarily mean "most" and that's not how intended it.

You did, however, attribute the cause for behavior such as this to "the system", which I think is decidedly off-base. It's hard work with long hours and little pay, but most of all, working with the developmentally disabled is a pretty specific field that people pursue - it's not like some entry-level position that you end up in when you have no other choice. "There aren't any other jobs, so I guess I'll work with developmentally disabled children in a classroom setting" isn't a very common lament.

The point is that while yes, these teachers should be paid more and receive more assistance, "the system" does not turn well-meaning teachers into abusive ones; ugly people can and do end up in positions of power over children in even the finest schools.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:41 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


But the vast majority of them are incredibly dedicated and when we "RIF" (lay off) those "one-on-ones" and aides as part of our routine spring RIF-ing (as we must notify them of RIFs by a certain date in March or April, depending on what union they're in, but the state doesn't finish its budget until June IN A GOOD YEAR, so we have no idea how many people we get to hire back)

You know it is bad when you have acronyms for the casual and regularly scheduled deployment of life crushing evil. RIF should be part of cool tune not the music from JAWS indicating an imminent shark attack.
posted by srboisvert at 4:04 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I went to a private school, so no unions. (Note that I am generally pro-union.) I missed a day of class one day and the teacher, who couldn't handle his classroom, decided that he was going to give me a test closed-book after the rest of the class took it open-book. (He'd gotten wind that I was in line for a gifted program.)

I went home and told my parents, who thankfully were NOT the kind who blamed me for abuse coming from teachers. My parents took it up with the school. Nothing happened immediately, but the guy eventually got moved to a non-teaching position. I imagine that mine was not the only complaint.

If there is no threat of sanction for bad behavior, the bad behavior will continue. And if teachers' unions are to continue to exist, contracts must provide for appropriate discipline.
posted by Currer Belfry at 5:27 AM on April 25, 2012


People who desire to hurt others will often take jobs that give them unfettered access to the vulnerable. Because people assume that those going into these professions are compassionate, these jobs often give them excellent cover for the harm they do. Same goes for any profession with the power to cause harm to the powerless - police, elder care, child care, social services, medicine, etc.

Off-topic but also mentioned: the fact that the educational system is being used as a political pawn is a larger omen of doom than anything involving Iran.
posted by Appropriate Username at 5:39 AM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Simply put: America doesn't value education.

Actually, lately it's worse than that. We've gone from pretending to care about it yet not actually caring about it to having outright disdain for it. I went through what was supposed to be a pretty good education program at Illinois State University in the 90s and what I saw -- from professors as well as students wanting to be teachers -- was appalling. By the time I actually got to the student teaching part I was completely demoralized and beaten down, and it was one of the most miserable experiences in my life. I never became a teacher.

I don't think this problem is going away any time soon, either. I think it's getting worse.
posted by Legomancer at 5:43 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I guess the copy/paste function on my computer isn't working as it should."

No, it's your brain. Copy and pasting just isn't going to work when what you are trying to paste isn't in what you copied. You think what I wrote is an "affront to everyone who works very hard for these kids" but that simply doesn't follow from what I wrote. Common doesn't mean most and it certainly doesn't mean all.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:00 AM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Simply put: America doesn't value education.

No, it values education, but only for rich kids & children whose mom stays home like she should and teaches them about god herself in between having more babies for Jesus.
posted by aramaic at 6:48 AM on April 25, 2012


No, it values education, but only for rich kids

The rich kid who became President in 2000 and many of the rich kids who have tried to become President since then would disagree.
posted by Legomancer at 6:51 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


>The solution is not to punish the poor performing teachers but to actually supply the money to hire enough staff so this doesn't happen.

By what delusion does adding more teachers make crappy ones better?
posted by kjs3 at 7:21 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Common doesn't mean most and it certainly doesn't mean all."

Then, Ivan, what exactly does "common" mean?
posted by HuronBob at 7:46 AM on April 25, 2012


Common: widespread; of frequent occurrence; usual; familiar: a common event;

I don't think that definition in any way shape or form implies "most" or "always". Widespread: we've heard numerous stories in this thread of very similar situations across the country. I have no citation but I think it is easy to extrapolate that these things happen more often than any of us know - not every little slight shows up in the media, or on the internet, but that does not mean they do not happen. I don't think it is any sort of stretch to say that this is common.

Are you purposely being obtuse?
posted by mbatch at 8:03 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Common: stupid arguments among posters on MeFi. Move along, gentlemen, your semantic squabbles have totally bored the rest of us.
posted by Kokopuff at 8:06 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Comparatively, we've had a very dry spring where I am. Nevertheless, April showers bring May flowers. It rained the other day. Nobody was surprised, even though the number of days it has rained in the last two months could probably be counted on one hand.. why? Because "it is common for it to rain in the spring here". You could even drop the "in the spring" bit and not be disingenuous... and yet the statement in no way implies that it rains every day here, nor does it suggest that it rains most days here.. and I've never had any English speaker confuse that.
posted by mbatch at 8:06 AM on April 25, 2012


Kokopuff, sorry we're boring you, feel free to ignore us.

Let me quote that one more time.

"However, I strongly suspect that this isn't that unusual and that such behavior by teachers has always been common in all such similar environments — specifically classes devoted to the developmentally disabled."

He stated that the abusive behavior "isn't that unusual", that the abusive behavior has "always been common", in "all" such environments.

You know, if he meant to imply that this data point was an outlier on the "less frequent" side of the continuum of behaviors of individuals in the education profession, he picked some unusual words/phrases to communicate it.

Sometimes discussions on the internet feel a bit like politics. You know, when one side or the other makes a statement over and over and over again, maybe it's an opinion, maybe it's a mistake, maybe it's a guess, or maybe an intentional effort to mislead, until a lot of people, people who don't have the actual facts at hand, or the statistics about frequency, or the percentages that make the difference between, oh, I don't know, a "common" event or an "uncommon" event, start to believe it as fact.

And that's when bad things happen, and solutions are found that don't address the problem.

Every one of us can find that outlier in our lives. Those of us that went to school for 20 years or so probably have more than our share of crappy teachers. But never in my life have I felt it necessary to say that the crappy teachers were "common" in "all" similar environments, because in my experience it just wasn't the case. I'm not sure what the point is of that kind of statement. I feel bad for anyone whose actual experience results in that belief.

Here's the irony, and perhaps the source of my vehemence about this. I'm at home today (needed some quiet to complete this project) writing a "Service Delivery Plan" for the special education portion of our alternative education program. Our program was founded over 40 years ago by the, then, Juvenile Court Judge, and the philosophy upon which it was founded is, as follows (with names redacted), this is from the plan I'm working on today:

"Our Philosophy was first set forth by our founder. He stated,”I never felt punishment, especially for a juvenile, served as a deterrent. It’s vengeance which doesn’t profit anyone. If you threaten someone, if you tell them dire consequences are going to result, you might get temporary good behavior. A change of behavior, of attitude is the only permanent solution to those who create problems.” We believe that all youth deserve the opportunity to receive a quality education. We believe that the foundations of learning are built through quality relationships, positive interactions, and support of the whole needs of youth.

We enable students to build their educational and occupational competency in preparation for adult life. We believe that these youth are worthy of the most passionate and purposeful efforts of our staff and community. Therefore, we are committed to providing the highest quality education and life skills to ensure that these youth become successful members of our community."


I work with individuals that have been living this belief for a lot of years, one of my staff has been with the agency for 35 years, and puts as much love and compassion into the students he works with as he did the first day he arrived. I've seen students come back after 25 years to tell him what a difference he made. I've two or three staff that have been doing this for 20 years. Not that the number of years means they are good teachers, they're good teachers because they care about the kids that come to us. And, these aren't just special ed kids, these are special ed kids who are involved with the court, have been suspended, expelled and try the patience of each of our teachers every.single.hour.of.every.single.day!

So, yeah, it's hard to see wholesale indictments of the profession that, when confronted, are waved off as "oh, I didn't mean that." But, the words stand, and people listen, and votes are taken, and decisions are made, based on those words.
posted by HuronBob at 8:47 AM on April 25, 2012


Yeah, HuronBob, I get what you are saying and I think it is mostly about a difference in opinion of what a word can mean. My father was in public education his entire life in numerous school systems and there were tons of good teachers all over the place. There were also bad ones, lazy ones, resentful ones, and downright abusive ones. Enough for me to use the word common and I just don't feel like that word implies wholesale indictment in any way shape or form.

I think contextually, we mostly agree. Maybe Kokopuff was right and we are arguing semantics. Nevertheless, in the same way that I think bad cops are common and that in no way indicts all police ever, I think that bad teachers are common and that in no way indicts all teachers ever, or even most of them.
posted by mbatch at 9:42 AM on April 25, 2012


Kindergarten through fourth grade: public school was easy, and I didn't cause any trouble.
Fifth grade: I turned into a troublemaker, according to my teacher -- which was really her singling me out for verbal abuse for reasons I still don't understand -- and my mother intervened on my behalf, to find a "solution" to "my" problem that entailed getting me far away from that teacher whenever possible. Two years (approximately) later, that teacher was suspended for throwing a stapler at a child's head (and connecting with great force.)
Sixth through eigth grade: public school was easy, and I didn't cause any trouble.
Ninth grade: my chemistry teacher worked very hard to get the jock boys to pay attention to her, and did so primarily by giving non-jock boys like myself a very hard time at all times, verbal abuse and such. I requested and got a transfer to a different chemistry class, but only because the director of admissions happened to be a boy scout troop leader from my past.
Tenth through twelfth grade: public school was easy, and I didn't cause any trouble.

I'm not autistic, or dense, or disrespectful; I'm polite and patient and considerate by nature, and I have always shown teachers respect. Nevertheless, I still encountered "bad apple" teachers and endured significant verbal abuse in roughly 7.5% of the grades I attended prior to college. I cannot even begin to fathom how often kids who are struggling get abused by bad teachers. My own kids, they're only in first grade, and I've already had to intervene to have my son moved from one pre-school class to another because of the teacher's incompetence and abuse, and pulled both kids out of the prior pre-school in large part because they were about to move into a classroom where the teacher felt public shaming* was a good way to maintain discipline.

There's no real point to this, except to vent. We forget how bad certain aspects of our schooling were for us, until our kids go through it.

*my daughter's first experience with public shame -- which I was lucky enough to be around for the aftermath of, so I could talk her through the feelings -- involved her walking into the wrong classroom, and upon taking a seat, having that teacher call her up to the center of all the kids and then make fun of her for not knowing where she was supposed to be. My comparison, at their current school on the first day of kindergarten, they ended up -- together! -- in a 1st grade classroom. The teacher let them know that, even though they were in the wrong class, they were welcome to hang out and learn until the kindergarten teacher came looking for them, and so they got to be first graders for about fifteen minutes. They thought it was terrific. What a difference a teacher makes, even with the small choices.
posted by davejay at 10:03 AM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


This thread is feeling a lot like the "police abuse" threads that we have here on a regular basis.

Your use of the term "regular basis" is synonymous with the term "common". You surely don't mean that most threads on metafilter are "police abuse" threads, but you surely do mean that those threads are common. If it is honestly that difficult to understand, just swap the term "common" with"regular basis".

Ironically, (unless there were some comments deleted) this thread had felt pretty sympathetic towards the teachers, calling for better working conditions for them, until you showed up.
posted by BurnChao at 10:15 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


By what delusion does adding more teachers make crappy ones better?

It doesn't, of course, but making the job more attractive by paying a higher wage or improving job conditions in other ways attracts more applicants to the job, giving the school a better chance to find the right person for the job.

Also, hiring more aides to help in a classroom means less stress for everyone, so teachers who aren't crappy but might be overworked and overwhelmed to the breaking point... might not be.

Taking Finland as an example, they make sure that a teacher's salary is comparable to a job in the same field outside education, and they only allow you to become a teacher if you're in the top few percent of your class. How many of the top 10% of biologists in the US would take a job teaching high school biology, do you think? If the answer is 'not many,' why wouldn't they?

The stories people are telling in here about abusive teachers are heartbreaking... I teach in the same district in which I went to school and I don't know any teachers at my school who would do anything even remotely like this... but our parents are very involved and vocal, another advantage for the kids in affluent areas. Teachers who the parents don't like don't stay here long.

For those who don't know, in the first two or three years of teaching you can be fired for absolutely no reason... the principal just has to say that you weren't a good fit for the school and off you go (at the end of the year).
posted by Huck500 at 10:29 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


This hits a sore spot for me. I had educators as a child who treated me very poorly. It has left a permanent scar for me that gets picked at when I hear about issues like this. My parents didn't initially hear me as a child when I tried to tell them something was wrong, and the feeling of hopelessness in situations like this is pervasive and intense and likely never goes away. Kids become targets for the frustrations of teachers who have likely lost power somewhere else. Those with disabilities, I think, become easier targets. This is also why, I think, when teachers bully students, those students go on to lash out at other people.

I was a really good kid. Very compliant, very respectful, eager to learn. Man, was I excited about starting my first day of kindergarten. Somewhere in that first year I was accused of doing something that I didn't do as I was standing in line to enter the school. The teacher on duty that day threatened me, I think physically in some way, but I don't remember what was said. I just remember being really confused and instantly terrified. I still remember exactly what it feels like to have an idealized perspective of the world changed in an instant.

First and second grade were also tough. For some reason, I kept being a target for things that I had not done. Small things, like everyone in the class getting a gumdrop, placed on each desk individually as the teacher went around the room, while I got passed over. When I asked for one, I was told that I was being selfish. But bigger things, too. I was playing on the playground one day, and I accidentally pushed a friend over on his skateboard, and he got angry and struck me in the eye, giving me a black eye. Some how, though, this was interpreted as my fault, and the teachers took me into the teacher's lounge and said how they were going to take all of my clothes off and hang me from the ceiling by my thumbs to teach me a lesson.

Right around that time I remember my interactions with my peers becoming more aggressive. Not physical, not lashing out, but pushing in ways in which I could assert control. I hesitate to call it bullying, but there was something in my experience, related to a loss of control, that I tried to regain through reasserting myself over people who were more vulnerable: subtle interactions, statements, things to make them feel a little bit embarrassed. That behavior was resolved in my life shortly after it started. I think a lot of it stopped when I realized that my parents started to believe me and affirmed that those things I was experiencing were not appropriate, and I moved to a new school. Because the weird thing is that from the perspective of a young child, you don't know how to deal with unjust treatment. You simply internalize it, and somehow, it does become partly your fault. And you still need to deal with that loss of power. If you are lucky, you have outlets in which to do it in healthy ways.

I don't know that this explains all of the reasons that teaches would be mean to kids. I do think that loss power at any level can lead to frustration that tries to regain itself through those who are most vulnerable. Unfortunately, that kind of thing creates self-perpetuating cycles. The worst part, though, is that teachers should have long ago set aside childish means of surviving for those things that are proper for adults. At some point, you are responsible for breaking the cycle as you have the responsibility to become more self-aware and to take on more virtuous and appropriate behavior.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:07 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm mighty irked by HuronBob's acutely defensive misrepresentation of my comment — however, taking a step back and attempting to understand his perspective, I think that Cool Papa Bell's comment is at the heart of the matter.

Teachers are undervalued and disrespected, and quite often vilified by those with various political and cultural agendas. Given this contemporary cultural context, it's understandable that HuronBob would misread my comment as another example of the vilifying teachers trope. Even though I went out of my way to make it clear that I was indicting a system and not teachers in general nor even a category of teachers.

While I'm certain that, in the context of the developmentally disabled, good teachers outnumber the bad teachers and probably always have — it's also the case that there's a long, long and horrifying history of mistreatment and abuse of developmentally disabled students in the classroom. We all know that huge changes and improvements have been made in education in this regard in the last forty years, but if it were simply the case that it's only a few inherently bad people who do this sort of thing, then that would have been just as true in the past as it is today. In fact, however, there are other causes for this sad history and not all of those causes have been eliminated. Chief among them is an institutional negligence or even complicity in this sort of malfeasance, something that is very evident in this particular story.

Also, just as Appropriate Username argues, and as we see proven recently in the example of the clergy, abusers often find their way to professions and particular situations where they have opportunity to abuse. This very often involves access to the most vulnerable — for example, this is true of nurses and aides in nursing homes, too. And, the thing is, these very same professions and situations also attract the most noble, selfless, hard-working, and good-hearted people. It is a deeply sad irony that the latter group is frequently tarred by the misdeeds of the former. And it's especially tragic for everyone — particularly the victims, of course, but also everyone else — when a vicious cycle is triggered such as Cool Papa Bell describes whereby these bad actors and those who enable them damage the reputation of an entire profession, making it increasingly unfriendly to exactly the kind of people who don't deserve it.

This is why I placed the responsibility for correcting this on our own collective shoulders — it shouldn't be about about finding scapegoats and destruction, but rather reforming institutions and practices and empowering the larger group of good teachers and administrators to eliminate this sort of abuse, the opportunities for this sort of abuse, and the negligence that allows it to continue. A key part of this is ensuring that the good teachers and administrators are correctly valued — in remuneration, in societal respect, and in working conditions and support.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:10 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


God damn but human beings are pretty rotten to each other, sometimes.
posted by Scientist at 12:57 PM on April 25, 2012


Today, when someone says "lawyer," you don't think of Atticus Finch. You think of overpaid, ruthless ambulance-chasers. If you say "banker," you think of Wall Street one-percenters, not good old' George Bailey down at the Building & Loan.

Bankers and lawyers have been reviled for their professions as long as they've been professions.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:54 PM on April 25, 2012


Vertigo25: "And there needs to be a system for parents and teachers and faculty to be able to report concerns. We should not have to out ourselves when we do it. I personally know people who have reported bad behavior from a teacher who have had CPS show up on THEIR doorstep within days, and teachers who have feared reporting another teacher because they were "well connected." And there should be serious consequences for teachers who go too far. We have zero tolerance rules in many districts for certain behavior by children. Why don't we for teachers?"

Don't know what state you're in, but false or retaliatory reports to children's services in my state is a misdemeanor. We have a district process for parents to formally complain about teachers or other staff directly to the central office (if they do not want to start with the building principal or have tried that and been shot down), but they can also (as appropriate) complain to the police, the state's attorney, DCFS, the regional office of education, or get an attorney and file a civil suit. And always, of course, to the school board.

We do have zero tolerance for several behaviors by teachers. (In fact, pretty much the same behaviors as for students.)

I think there are two important things a school board can do, which is, first, to express zero tolerance for teachers abusing children, verbally or otherwise. The bottom line is that the teacher is an adult placed in a position of responsibility, and the student is a child. And second, empower building principals to dismiss bad teachers and back the principals up throughout the process. Dismissing bad teachers is difficult not just because of due process rights, or union protections, but also because teachers are important in the community and even bad ones can usually rally a community behind them (maybe other teachers who don't really care about the teach but strenuously dislike the principal; maybe members of their church in the community; maybe other parent who had a good experience with that teacher). Sometimes you get 30 phone calls in two days from the rallied troops. Sometimes people come to board meetings and there will be easily 50 or 60 people there in support of a particular teacher. Sometimes people come to board meetings and tell the most outrageous lies about the situation. Sometimes a teaching staff will freeze out their principal because they feel if one teacher can be terminated for cause, nobody is safe. Firing a teacher for cause is often a pretty miserable experience for everyone involved, and school boards back down ALL THE TIME in the face of community disapproval. (A lot fewer people come to meetings to say, "Yeah! Fire the jerk!" which is probably a good thing in the aggregate.) And they'll hang principals out to dry, who then don't bother to dismiss any more teachers ever, because they know the Board won't back them, and then they've got an angry and resentful teacher on their staff whom they tried and failed to fire. So, Boards need to be clear that they'll back building principals (with appropriate documentation and due process, of course) when principals move to fire a teacher for cause.

srboisvert: "You know it is bad when you have acronyms for the casual and regularly scheduled deployment of life crushing evil. "

I know. Although I think "RIF" (reduction in force) is a really common term, and some of its use is to differentiate, legally, between different types of layoffs for the purpose of union contracts and state law and things. But it is really unfortunate that we're required to notify teachers if they're being re-hired or not by the end of April, and the state budget, which is about 1/3 of our budget, doesn't come through until the end of June at the earliest. This year they're telling us they may only pay us 89% of what was appropriated for 2012, which for us is around 120 teacher salaries that the money won't be there for. The only way I can think to make this better is to require the state to finish its budget earlier, or to do school appropriations separately, earlier in the year, although I'm sure increasing the lag between budget creation and money disbursal would introduce other distortions, and increase the incentive for the state to just NOT PAY what they appropriated and what we budged for. (Since we've been doing RIFs the past two months, I've been thinking about how you might be able to hedge against those sorts of changes, but unless you're running a surplus and can afford to keep overhired personnel on staff for a year, I'm not sure how a single district can. But, we have halved the number of teachers (and other staff) we're RIF-ing over the past three years, even in this bad economy, by managing student data better and improving our economic forecasting. Which still isn't great, but is better.)

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:06 PM on April 25, 2012


Apologies if this is a derail, but the question was raised both explicitly and implicitly, "How much should teachers be paid?"I know that this pops up on Facebook and elsewhere, here and there, but one easily googleable set of data suggests that the average school year in the US is ~180 days. The average (as of 2003-04) school day is 6.7 hours. An average load, around here, is five classes of ~25 students (often more). So. 180 days * 6.7 hours/day = 1206 hours for a school year. If I was paid to simply watch those kids (maybe simply to make sure none of them stabs another) at, say, $10/hr per child, I'd be making roughly $1,507,500 a year.

So. I'm not saying a million a year, or even half a million . . . but a teacher's job is worth much, much more than what we give them now. Unquestionably.

Again, sorry for the derail. This was a horrible thing that happened, and paying teachers more won't help it . . . bad people exist everywhere, even right next door, and they must be pulled out at the root wherever they are, and corrected, or fired, or rehabilitated . . .
posted by exlotuseater at 6:10 PM on April 25, 2012


and paying teachers more won't help it

Again, paying teachers more will absolutely help it, because more people will seek out the teaching profession if it's made more attractive, and so the pool of people to hire from will be larger, and so the people who hire can be more selective.

As a teacher, I like your math, and I accept your offer of $1.5 million per year, starting today. Thanks!
posted by Huck500 at 6:26 PM on April 25, 2012


Huck500, The downside is that the pool right now is HUGE. >300 people competing for one job . . . I'm going to be certified English 7-12 (NY state) later next month, so if you know any fairly-paying jobs (prob. less than a million though?), let me know!
posted by exlotuseater at 6:32 PM on April 25, 2012


I really do hope these teachers do get further prosecution above just losing their jobs. They need something on their records to reflect how unfit they are to carry on in an educational feild, I'd hate to think they managed to get jobs else where thinking they got away with it while it lasted and now be more careful.
And you could feel the anger of the father, but he presenting and produced the video very well, I'm sure if I was in his position every 2nd word would need to be "beeped" out when referring to the teachers.
I can understand how hard it would be on ones nerves looking after special needs day in / day out, but if its pushing you to the point where you snap back then time to move on, you are not suited for the role.
I hope now this is all brought to light that Akian is now more settled in his classes again and there is no longer term emotional linking of the abuse to schooling for him.
posted by Merlin The Happy Pig at 9:32 PM on April 25, 2012


I don't remember the name of my 2nd grade teacher, but I could describe her in detail. I don't know what I did to that woman to make her hate me, but gods, she tortured me on a regular basis. (I have my suspicions that she was one of my father's many love-em-leave-em conquests.) She would regularly, when I would make 100s on a test, hold the paper up and say, "Miss Smartypants got another 100, maybe the rest of you should ask her about...." which was always a cue for me to get smacked in the playground. (For the record, I developed a really strong punch in 2nd grade, which stopped the playground nonsense pretty quickly.)

I'll never forget, as long as I live, how I felt the day we were taking a test, and I couldn't figure out the answer to a problem, and I erased so many times I wore a hole in my paper. She held it up to show the whole class and taunted me by saying perhaps I wasn't as smart as I pretended. Did I forget to take my smart pills that morning...it went on and on until I started crying, and then she taunted me for that.

To this day, math makes my stomach hurt.
posted by dejah420 at 6:41 AM on April 26, 2012


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