Safety and Self Worth: $175.

$175.  Cheap at half the price.

When I first heard about the teacher in Milwaukee who cut a student’s hair and mocked her in front of her class, I didn’t believe it was real, thought it was maybe something like the balloon boy foolishness.  But no, it seems to be real.

The idea that a first grade teacher would behave in this way is almost impossible for my brain to process.  The part of the story that is truly freakish, however, is that every news report I’ve seen focuses on how teachers are under so much pressure these days, how teachers are all stressed out, how budget cuts are making times really hard for teachers.

Yes?  … and?  I don’t deny that any of those things are true.  Teachers are under all kinds of due and undue pressure these days.  Budget cuts are making teachers’ work lives more difficult.  No argument from me.

But if you are sufficiently stressed that you see abusing a 7-year-old child as a viable outlet for your stress, you shouldn’t be in the classroom.  You shouldn’t be anywhere near anyone’s child, not even your own. 

Some basic rules that I would have thought could go without saying:
– Teachers shouldn’t assault students — verbally, physically, any-kind-of-ly.
– No adult should come at a child in anger … with scissors.

Set aside for a moment how painfully charged hair is.  It’s charged for most people, but certainly for black girls, and the victim in this story was a black girl.  So much of our self esteem / self image / identity gets wrapped into our twists, braids, weaves, perms, waves, fros and locks.  That’s heavy enough for this act to be more than a $175 fine’s worth of bad teacher behavior.

That she called the child up to the front of the room and encouraged the class to watch as she cut her hair, that she taunted the crying child after cutting her hair … these things are so ugly, so wrong as to indicate something more than ‘stress’ going on with that teacher.

When I first read this story, the one thing that repeated in my head about a thousand times was, “Oh hell no!”  The mother of the little girl is angry.  The little girl is lucky that woman is her mother.  If I were her mother, she’d be dealing with the trauma of her teacher’s actions and with the loss of her mother to the criminal justice system because I just don’t see me using my words in this situation.

A commenter on one write-up of this story said: “Well, maybe this will teach her to listen to what the teacher says.”

Really?  Really?  That’s your response?  You think this story was about teaching a child a lesson?  And what is that lesson, exactly?  If you unconsciously flick your braids adults have the right to frighten you, make fun of you, turn your classmates against you and put their hands on you?  As another commenter said, if the little girl had been making a vocal noise, would it have been ok for the teacher to cut her throat?

And what’s the lesson that the other students in the class are learning?  The child with the cut hair was transferred to a different teacher, but her former classmates are still in the room with a woman they know is capable of doing them harm … and who has done harm and received no. punishment. from. the. school.  How safe do they feel in that classroom today?

And speaking of lessons, what lesson is the teacher learning here?  That it’s ok for her to assault a child and say, “I was frustrated,” when that child’s parent complains?  Or maybe the lesson is I can abuse my students and the school won’t take action against me.  Sure, I’ll have to pony up the $175 disorderly conduct fine the police will slap on me, but that’s no problem.  So it’s ok, then, for me to cut a child’s hair and humiliate her.  What other ways can I express my frustration without getting in trouble?  Can I spank a child?  Would that be ok, too?  Can I smack a child?  Call a child names?  What if I just encourage the rest of the class to shun the troublemaker?  That would surely be ok, right?

I’m sick.  My brain really hurts with this one.  I can’t imagine what that casual cruelty has done to the little girl who was set on by her teacher, can’t imagine how the school administration isn’t taking this any more seriously.

I hate to always go in the same direction, but I can’t help but imagine that, had a silky little blond braid been cut off a child’s head, this story would be getting a lot more press.  I want to be wrong about this, want to believe that we can all see the harm in this incident whether that braid is kinky or not.

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20 thoughts on “Safety and Self Worth: $175.

  1. Oh. This story makes me feel a bit queasy. I totally agree with you that the teacher’s action was assault. It was inexcusable. And all she got was a bit of a fine? Ugh. My head hurts, too.

  2. Unbelieveable! Did you happen to read a research article about a month ago that said new teachers will last about 3 years on an average in the classroom because of discipline issues. I don’t know how long this teacher had been in the classroom, but I can say she would no longer be in a Georgia classroom!

    Discipline is tough these days. Judging from the way students behave in my room I have to believe it is allowed at home. I think discipline is a new issue that will have to be addressed in undergraduate classes in order to insure future teacher success in the classroom.

    1. Hi, Lennye — That statistic is pretty disheartening. I’d like to see more of that study, see how deep into understanding the issue it goes. I have no idea how long that teacher has been a teacher, but she clearly needs some serious re-education.

      I certainly don’t think kids are all sweetness and light (at school or anywhere else), but I see every day that my behavior has such a strong effect on students’ behavior, that the atmosphere I cultivate in the classroom makes discipline rarely an issue. It’s not that easy, of course, but I wouldn’t want to have to sit through a single day in the atmosphere that woman creates in her classroom.

  3. Definitely file under WTF. I don’t watch local news, so I had no idea this happened. I’m not at all surprised about the teacher’s “punishment”, given how hard up MPS is for teachers. That poor little girl. I wish I could wrap her in my arms.

  4. This story makes me feel violent. Imagine. As we move into the subject of school reform and we have to deal with charter schools, high stakes tests to assess teachers, we are missing the boat. It is still about humanity and respect.
    Ugh..
    Thanks Stacie,
    I won’t forget this story, this person pretending to be a teacher, bringing us all down,
    Bonnie

    1. “It is still about humanity and respect.”

      I love that. So simple and so true … and so often forgotten. I’m encouraged knowing that there are teachers like you, Ruth, Stacey, Lennye, Kevin, Tisha, Jane, Zetta, Molly … all the wonderful teachers I’ve met online give me hope.

  5. Jade

    I was also outraged when I heard this. When I called it “abuse” people looked at me like I had lost my mind. Something I always knew and trusted as a girl was that my teachers wouldn’t put their hands on me, never in anger and never at all. They protected us from bullies, they didn’t become the bullies. Teachers are supposed to know how to process their frustration better than to assault a child; not because we expect perfection from them but because we trust them with our children.

    It is abuse, and it is shameful, criminal behaviour. I am saddened and disgusted that she is allowed to continue teaching.

    1. I don’t know how anyone doesn’t see it as abuse, you know? I had teachers who were definitely not my allies when I was in school, but I was never afraid that one of them would harm me, would lash out at me in anger. I love the point you make, that it isn’t about thinking teachers should be perfect but acknowledging the trust we put in them, our expectation that they deserve that trust.

  6. This is just awful. Stories like this sicken me.

    Over a year ago, I blogged about an autistic boy named Alex Barton, whose teacher had the class vote to kick him out. In that case the boy was adorably blonde and the teacher was black. There was a national public outcry and the teacher was suspended and lost her tenure, which is quite a bit more severe than $175 fine.

    But in that case too there were plenty of people saying that the child deserved it and that teachers are under pressure and need to be free to discipline students to maintain control of the classroom.

    1. I’m sick thinking about Alex’s story. This is something I hadn’t heard about. I am happy to know that the teacher received an appropriate punishment, but I also wonder what’s been done to help Alex heal.

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  10. Yuck, this does make me want to lash out in a number of ways. It’s awful – and even though part of this injustice is that the story has been told but not “listened” to, I can’t help but think of all the stories that go untold.

    I know when my brother was in second grade he was a difficult child to teach (intense ADD back in 1987, before it was diagnosed very much); so difficult, in fact, because he got distracted every few minutes that the teacher made him sit in a corner facing the wall the entire year. He tells this story to this day, and recalls how humiliating it was and how singled-out he felt and shunned by the entire class.

    It’s so horrific to think that such dysfunctional adults are teaching our children. And to think that they come around seemingly more often than caring, compassionate adults these days. I know I’ll have my guard up for my future children for sure, but I’m so sad about that…

    1. I can’t imagine a teacher thinking the right course of action for any child would be to have him sit facing the wall for a year! I actually felt a pain in my chest when I read that. I just have no words.

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