Let me start what I anticipate to be a controversial post by saying this, loud and clear:
I’ve had some wonderful, amazing, inspiring teachers.
My kids have had some wonderful, amazing, inspiring teachers.
Several of our friends and family members are wonderful, amazing, inspiring teachers.
This post is not about you. Or them.
This post is about Ms. K.
Ms. K. teaches chorus to seventh and eighth graders.
You remember middle school, don’t you?
You’re 13. You’re incredibly self-conscious. You’re trying to fit in. You’re trying to figure out who the hell you are and who you’re going to be. You’re overwhelmed.
They’ll never admit it, but this is a time in a kid’s life when grown ups have so much power and influence. Those of us who are parents know that It doesn’t seem that way, at least in my house. Far from it. But these kids of ours, deep down inside they’re looking to us, the grown-ups who supposedly have our shit together, for lessons on how to make our way in this crazy world.
As if we have a clue.
My daughter used to love Chorus.
In her middle school, students are able to take Chorus as a class and earn a grade. As someone who enjoys singing and has acted in several plays, my daughter embraced the concerts, the hard work that paid off in a triumphant performance.
There’s little joy anymore in what my girl used to love.
At first, back in September, Ms. K.’s antics seemed somewhat amusing. At the dinner table, my daughter would tell us all about Ms. K’s daily dramatics.
The change was gradual, slight.
“She yelled at us today and said we were pathetic,” my daughter said one day.
People say stuff, we said dismissively.
“She told us that there wasn’t a single brain cell in the entire class! I mean, who says that?”
We’ve all had crazy teachers, The Husband and I said, regaling both kids with stories of the middle school and high school teachers who were the banes of our existence. Someday you and your friends will laugh about Ms. K., just like we reminisce about our crazy teachers with our friends.
Besides, Ms. K. was providing a good life lesson. In life, you’re going to encounter some impossibly ridiculous people in the world, I espoused. And if they’re not your teacher, they’re going to be your boss or your co-worker or the company president or someone you need to get along with. So, buck up; better learn now how to accept the real-life reality that some people are simply difficult to deal with and unhappy with their lives. That their miserable-ness has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.
The comments got meaner. Nastier. More personal.
Ms. K. has told her 13-year-old students that they are “going to die before their parents” because of the amount of “processed junk food” that they eat. She supervises lunch and has come up to my daughter’s lunch table to scrutinize her classmates’ meals.
Ms. K. has announced their test grades out loud. To the entire class. By name.
And on Wednesday of this week, when a student asked whether they can refer to their binders during a performance, Ms. K. replied,
“If you don’t have the songs memorized, I’m killing you all. There will be bloodshed.”
Really? Bloodshed? Really?
I asked my daughter several times if Ms. K. really used that exact word. In the classroom. In a post-Columbine, post-Newtown, post-Everytown classroom. How, exactly? What was the tone?
“She was sort of joking, but … well, Mom, a teacher shouldn’t say something like that, should they? I was horrified. I mean, I don’t think she would really do anything ….”
Her voice trailed off.
I wasn’t going to say anything to anyone at the school about this. Maybe I was making too big of a deal about it. After all, people say stuff ….
I don’t consider myself a reactionary, knee-jerk parent. I’m not the type who has the principal’s number on speed dial or fires off emails to the superintendent when my child is slighted. I know when something is said in jest and I am usually willing to give teachers more than the benefit of the doubt.
To me, after what has been six months of insults and demeaning remarks to 13-year-old kids, bloodshed is where I draw the line.
Because although I am not a knee-jerk, reactionary parent, I watch the news and I happen to know what kind of knee-jerk, reactionary society we live in and I know that if my child made a remark in the classroom such as “I’ll kill you all. There will be bloodshed,” my child would be looking at expulsion and I’d be needing a lawyer and there would be a horde of media at our doorstep.
Still, I slept on this. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions. I realized that I was hearing things second-hand.
But I also know my kid and what my kid – who I have no reason not to believe – has been telling me about what has been going on in this classroom every damn day since August.
I know what I’ve experienced as an adult from email exchanges with this teacher.
I know what I’ve heard from complete strangers in the community about their encounters with this teacher. For whatever reason, a double-standard is allowed to apply here. I’m wondering who the hell she’s related to or who she knows or what she has on someone because I cannot believe I am the first parent to call this behavior out for what it is.
I don’t think that’s too harsh of a term to use in this situation, because I’ve seen the effects firsthand. I’ve seen the dread in my child, seen the joy that has been taken from her with something she used to enjoy, seen her extreme, out of control anxiety and obsessiveness over HER GRADE IN CHORUS, for Christ’s sake.
That is bullying.
When you tell a kid they are going to die before their parents, THAT IS BULLYING.
When you repeatedly call someone pathetic, THAT IS BULLYING.
When you humiliate a kid who has gotten a D on a test by announcing that score aloud to the class, along with her name, THAT IS BULLYING.
And when a child has to think twice to understand that you don’t really mean that you will kill them and their classmates and that there will be bloodshed, you’re goddamn right THAT IS BULLYING.
As parents, we teach our kids to report bullying behavior. To stand up for what’s right.
So last night I had to ask myself: what’s the message I’m sending to my daughter when I say that bullying is wrong and then I don’t do anything about someone like this? When I don’t empower my girl to stand up to a bully? What does that teach her and how does that set her up for other relationships in her life when someone might make her feel unsafe? What does this say about me as her advocate?
And what does it say about the lessons we’ve learned and what we’re teaching each other?
“When the Bully is the Teacher” by Melissa Firman is part of 1000 Voices for Compassion, where bloggers write about kindness, compassion, support, and caring for others. This month’s theme is Building from Bullying. Read more posts here and visit 1000 Voices for Compassion on Facebook. Join us in flooding the blogosphere with good.