Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Watch That Mouth

It's pretty troubling to be charged with verbal abuse. Chancellor's regulation A-421 tells teachers to be careful what they say to kids. It specifically prohibits:

  • language that tends to cause fear or physical or mental distress;
  • discriminatory language based on race, color, national origin, alienage/citizenship status, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation which tends to cause fear or physical or mental distress;
  • language that tends to threaten physical harm; or
  • language that tends to belittle or subject students to ridicule.

Now this isn't necessarily unreasonable, but there's a lot of "eye of the beholder" in this language. I heard of a teacher who got in trouble for calling kids "silly goose" repeatedly. Certainly this sounds innocent to those of us familiar with the term, but who's to say it didn't tend to cause mental distress in a kid who didn't understand (or simply claimed not to)?

Perhaps it's worse for people, like me, who teach speakers of other languages. No one even expects them to understand me all the time. Still, I usually get along with them fine. One kid was very upset with me yesterday for having a teacher who spoke his language call his home, but I can live with that. (I don't think he'll be bringing us up on charges, as he seems keenly desirous of less parental involvement at this time.)

I do remember once, years ago, I got a kid in trouble with the dean and things were not so simple. The kid, rather than fessing up to whatever I may have accused him of, called me a racist, and told the dean I hated everyone who spoke his language. Oddly, 99% of the kids who spoke his language were not sitting with him in the dean's office. The dean marveled that a racist would choose a job like the one I had, and the accusation, baseless as it was, went nowhere.

Another time I had a kid of another nationality who didn't do homework, cut class, failed all tests, and gave me permission slips for trips he had already been on. After I had someone who spoke his language call his mom, he persuaded his language teacher that all this was actually my fault. In fact, the teacher called mom and told her so. The kid also made it a point to stop me in the hall and say whenever a parent of his nationality got a call home, it meant the kid's life was completely ruined and he could never go to college or achieve anything whatsoever. (You'd perhaps wonder why, then, anyone of his nationality would tempt fate by behaving as he did.)

I was called to a meeting with the kid, his mom, my AP, his guidance counselor, and a translator. The kid asked why his language teacher couldn't be there, and my AP told him it was none of her business. I showed my gradebook, my attendance book and pretty much sustained every claim I had made. The kid claimed everyone asked permission to go on trips after they took place. I said not in my class they don't, and no one contradicted me.

However, I'm well aware this meeting could have gone another way, and I don't doubt that a less competent and confident AP could have handled things differently. After all, refusing to sign that expired trip form may have tended to cause mental distress. Furthermore, the kid had pretty much told me I had ruined his life. If that doesn't tend to cause mental distress, I don't know what does.

I have a 15-year-old daughter, and I'd be horrified if any teacher were to verbally abuse her. I'm also aware, though, that what people hear is not necessarily what other people say. Some people hear only what they wish to, and have no trouble swearing to it as absolute truth. Of course we have to be careful how we speak to kids. We also have to be really careful to be around a lot of witnesses when faced with people who may say anything at any time.

Mike Bloomberg isn't the only serial liar out there, and the New York Post can't wait to put out yet another sensational anti-teacher story. Whether or not it happens to be true is of no consequence whatsoever.
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