WHEN A REQUEST OF CLARIFICATION LEADS TO BULLYING.
A friend of mine wrote about how their experience at school caused them to have a meltdown because a teacher asked a question about what makes a good friend, and it brought back to me my experiences in Year Five at school with a teacher who should have applied for a job at a supermarket rather than training as a teacher.
My Year Five teacher was a bullish autocrat who, one day, told us we had to write to a friend and I sought clarification by asking if we had to write to a friend and she rudely replied, “Yes, you have to write to a friend. If you haven’t got one, make one up!”
If I had have been an impartial observer, I would taken the teacher outside and said, “Your response to that student was completely unwarranted. What you did, also, was give the impression that the student deserves to be friendless. A better way to handle it would have been, “Okay, it’s an informal letter, so you don’t write it like a business letter. You won’t be writing this to give to somebody in the class, so don’t worry about that. But if you can’t think of anyone, you can write it to your grandmother, your aunt, your cousin, anybody you like.””
A teacher should not treat a request for clarification from a student as conformation that the student wasn’t listening or paying attention, and if a question is ambiguous, the teacher should be the adult and seek clarification.
Year Five was one of the most traumatic and one of the most dysfunctional years at school. I had two teachers in the combined class and I had a male teacher for math and reading and science, and a female teacher for other subjects and as a class teacher. The female teacher was the one who was so rude. I remember when I was in math, the male teacher told us that the female teacher, who was older, would get jealous because he was more popular. She had been teaching for longer than he had, and she believed that her teaching methods were the right ones. What we liked about the male teacher was that he considered student views in a way that the female teacher never did. But he could be quite ruthless and if you were on the right side of him, like I was, he could be very kind, but if you were on the wrong side of him, like my brother was, some years later, he could be abusive.
I remember, one day, we were doing a worksheet and the female teacher said that we had to answer one question of our likes and dislikes, and she said to answer in sentences, and not to say, “I hate John.” The male teacher was John, and he looked at her and she said, “Oops, I should have said Bill.” Looking back on it, I could see that she was unable to disguise her feelings.
I remember one day, when the male teacher, during math, said, “The noise from there’s coming right in here!” And sure enough it was! So, the next day, he got us to come into the main room for math, and he said, “Raise your hand if you can’t hear me.” The female teacher had a loud voice, and we all had our hands up at certain points!
I remember the female teacher, one day, after I had been off school because I was sick, asking me the following week why I hadn’t written an essay, and this wasn’t a teacher who liked being asked questions, telling me I had to stay behind after school to do it. The male teacher supervised and he decided, after half an hour, that I could go home and it didn’t matter if I hadn’t finished it. The female teacher couldn’t have come to me and said, “I’m sorry, I showed you the new homework, but I didn’t tell you what the essay topic was, and I shouldn’t have kept you back after school,” as she wasn’t that type of person.
I remember my father also telling me many years later, that one morning, the female Year Five teacher tried to turn into the school carpark into his path, and when he blew the horn at her, she abused him!
Teachers need to consider the impact that their words and actions can and do have on the students entrusted into their care at school.