I turned up to my son’s school recently to see his teacher telling him off. She was clearly angry with him and a bit shouty. I stood there as she got stuck into him. She went on and on, to the point that I was feeling uncomfortable. My son tried to hide it, but I could see that he was really upset.
Yep, my son had done something wrong. He was racing around recklessly. I’m not going to pretend he’s an angel, and I’m not going to say he shouldn’t have been told off. But I didn’t like the way the teacher was talking to him. It was unnecessarily harsh. I wouldn’t talk to him like that. So what do you say? Can you say anything?
In the years that my kids have been in primary school, it’s become pretty obvious that teachers are a lucky dip. Most of them are good. In fact, great. They manage to stay calm while keeping control of a rowdy bunch of kids. They’re firm but kind. I am in awe of them.
But not all teachers are great. At my kids’ school, as well as the harsh teacher, there is one who tries to get kids to behave by humiliating them. She likes to single out kids at assembly, mention them by name, ask them a series of mocking questions (“Oh, sorry, are we interrupting your conversation, are we?”) and make them squirm.
Most schools seem to have a harsh teacher or two, like the one my son has. One mum friend told me about the time her five-year-old almost burst into tears when a teacher yelled at her for running on the asphalt. Another told me that her daughter got an angry telling-off for walking over and sitting next to a kid who was being punished.
Other parents have witnessed even worse things going on at their schools.
Oh yeah, I know. In the old days it was the strap and the cane and the blackboard duster thrown across the classroom. Today’s kids don’t know how lucky they are, blah blah blah.
But the fact is, today’s kids are brought up differently. As parents, we read the books and we listen to the experts. We’re told that we should set clear boundaries, but always be kind to our kids. We’re told that we should never yell at them because it’s harmful, maybe as harmful as smacking. We’re supposed to be setting an example for how we’d like them to treat other people.
And then they come to school, and if they’re unlucky, they end up with a harsh teacher or one who humiliates kids.
You could say it prepares them for the real world. But in the real world these days, bosses can’t get away with raising their voices at their employees or singling them out for ridicule. Not in most workplaces, anyway.
A child’s teacher makes a massive difference to their life – for that year of their childhood, and maybe into the future. Am I asking too much to want my son to have a teacher who speaks kindly to him, in primary school at least?