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Verbally Abusive Teachers
Q: What can I do to help my child who is being verbally abused by his teacher? Are there any laws against this? I have a 10-year-old son who says his teacher calls him and other children in his class "dummy," "stupid," "retarded," "dumb," etc. Is there anything as a parent that I can do? I have spoken to seven other parents who in turn ask their children if the teacher was saying anything to them that she shouldn't. All of the children said the same thing, along with the fact that she yells at them all the time. My son and the other children have all stated if the teacher finds out they said this, she would kill them. This is the fourth grade. Some of the children have stated the principal also calls them names in computer class.
A: Yes, there are laws, both federal and state laws, forbidding teachers from harassing, teasing, and otherwise verbally or physically abusing kids. I am presuming that all these kids are telling the truth about this teacher's verbal abuse but it is possible that all of them could conspire to "get her" with a shared false story of her verbal abuse because of their dislike for her. On the surface, it is rather convincing that seven other kids echoed your son's specific complaints. How they were asked by their parents, however, may have influenced the kids' replies, as in, "Has your teacher ever called you words like dummy, stupid and retarded?" When asked in this manner, all the kids had to do was say "Yes." I raise this point not to question your son's honesty, only to point out that I have seen teachers' and other child care providers' reputations ruined by children's lies. The fact that these kids have expressed fear about your possibly calling this teacher on the carpet for this abuse leads me to favor believing them at this time, since kids who had cooked up a group lie to harm a teacher would want her confronted with their accusations by their parents.
If you are convinced that all these kids are telling the truth, I would meet together with all these kids' parents and discuss a unified plan of action. First, I would collect as many of these name-calling incidents from the kids as possible, in as much detail as possible (dates, times, circumstances). Next, I would schedule a meeting with this teacher. All parents should attend this meeting. At this meeting, I would present the teacher with your written documentation and ask her to respond. Depending upon her response and the satisfaction you receive, the parent group will decide how to proceed further. If you do not receive satisfaction, take it to successive administrative levels until you gain satisfaction - principal, superintendent, school committee.
Reassure your children that you will prevent this teacher from punishing them in any way for their reports of her treating them inappropriately. Praise them for having the courage to speak the truth when it comes to unfair and unkind treatment. Kids should never receive this type of treatment from any adult, certainly not from the teacher entrusted with their education and social and emotional development. Give me an update on your progress.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.