Duct Tape, School Bus Fights and Inappropriate Language: Teachers Need Training, Too

Posted February 29, 2008 by

In the news this week, there have been stories of misconduct by teachers, students and other school authority figures, from the teacher who duct-taped his student to a desk, to the Pre-K teacher in Texas who was caught on tape saying “You all are stupid kids. If you’re mean to me, that means I get to be mean to you—got it?” And then there was the school bus driver in Phoenix who got into a shoving match with a 15- year-old student. (The student was suspended, the bus driver is now on paid leave pending further investigation.) In this post, James Lehman talks about what’s going on in our schools, and why teachers need training, too.

Saying “If you’re mean to me, I’m mean to you.”—that’s just completely ineffective. It might have made sense to that teacher that it’s a lesson people will get, but it’s not. All it’s teaching is reciprocity in abuse. “If you’re mean, I’m mean, if you abuse me, I abuse you.” That thought is too prevalent today. The teacher is saying “Once I’m a victim, the rules don’t apply to me.” That’s an overarching thinking error in our society. The truth is, if you’re a victim, the rules do still apply to you. If you are in a responsible position with children as a teacher, a bus driver, a nanny, a babysitter, there are certain rules that apply to you about dealing with innocents who have limited impulse control and who haven’t had a lot of social learning. If they do something bad to you, your role is to teach them, not punish them or give them a taste of their own medicine.
Therefore, we do have to be on guard about teachers and watch out for them because there are teachers who make mistakes, who are stuck in ways of teaching that are ineffective and who don’t want to change. We have to pressure ineffective teachers to change and make sure they have the right training. So they need a comprehensive method of reading the situation to determine what skills are lacking– and what skill a child in their classroom might be lacking that might lead to problematic behavior. Once they identify the problem or the deficit, then they need to be able to implement a strategy on how to teach that child that skill. So that the child learns how not to behave that way based on knowledge, and not intimidation.

Sometimes teachers may be the only authority figures in kid’s lives, and the only ones who are accountable. At home at night nobody is looking in the window at parents, but people are looking in on teachers. If the parents are doing ineffective things, no one is grading them. I urge parents with kids with behavior problems to make sure the teacher has the training that’s necessary. Not focus on some magical way that teachers should use to maintain order in the classroom.

As a parent, it is important to be involved to determine what trainings teachers are receiving to deal with your special-needs child or any child. What supervision does the teacher get? Find out what supervision a teacher receives from older peers or department heads. If there’s no training available, make it your business to speak with the school board and superintendent—not the principal, the superintendent—about the training that you think the teacher has to have in order to manage your child and children in general.

Parents should know that educational colleges teach little to nothing about behavioral management. In my practice, I contracted with school districts and trained hundreds and hundreds of teachers in techniques from the Total Transformation. By and large, they were enthusiastic trainees. And teacher and after teacher told me that college had not prepared them for the range of behaviors they were expected to deal with on a daily basis in the classroom. It is critical that training be provided in order for teachers to function effectively.

For many parents who themselves lack the skills to teach their children, it’s easier to fight with the teacher than to teach their child how to behave. Unfortunately, these misguided parents first rearrange their own home to suit the behavior of a disruptive child then want the teacher to rearrange the classroom to suit that behavior, then want the school to rearrange its rules to suit that behavior. Every time parents force an accommodation or force the school or teacher to accommodate their child’s inappropriate behavior they decrease the chances that their child will develop effective skills. This by no means tolerates untrained, ineffective teachers. Nor does it tolerate trained teachers taking inappropriate or ineffective measures. But to be fair to everyone, it is a very difficult situation all around.

Teaching children is one of the most stressful occupations in our society. Teachers are faced with a situation where they have to teach the children academic and social skills and behavioral skills. This is often a daunting task, as school resources diminish for economic reasons, and school administrations require a certain level of achievement on the part of students as demonstrated by academic testing. I personally don’t think teachers get enough support from our society.


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  1. Rhonda M. (Edit) Report

    First, I must comment on the statement that “educational colleges teach little to nothing about behavioral management.” I’m not sure where you are getting your research. In my years of college, I had several classes and trainings on classroom management and dealing with behavioral issues. It seems like we have an inservice or teacher training on this every year. But what people need to understand is that all the book training in the world can not prepare you for what goes on in the classroom. Nobody can tell you how your students will react, or if all your wonderful strategies that you were taught about are even going to work. I have been teaching for 14 years. I have excellent classroom management. I have been told so by all 5 principals I have worked with. But every year I have students who do not respond to the way I do things, and I have to adjust. That’s the way good teachers teach. I love each and every one of my students. I have wanted to teach since I was 10, and have no desire to ever leave the classroom. Yes, there are some teachers who should not be teaching. But too many people make blanket comments about teachers and how awful we are. I would love for one of these people to spend just one day running my classroom. I have students who come to school hungry every day, who didn’t get enough sleep because they sleep on the couch and dad was up all night on the TV, who don’t know where mom slept last night, who haven’t had clean clothes in a week, who don’t know who’s picking them up from school. I have a student who can read 2 words up to a student who can read 175 words in a minute. Teaching is not what it was when we were in school, when our parents cared about our education and when consequences were carried out at school. Again, I love my job, but it gets more stressful every year. And, yes, I get summers off and can leave at 3 pm. However, did you know that teachers spend hours every night and on weekends? did you know that most of them don’t get paid during their “summers off?” Did you know that teachers spend countless hours during the summer preparing interesting and enriching activities for the classroom? I kept track of my hours this summer, and if my district paid me overtime for those hours, they would owe me $4750. I’m still waiting for that check.

  2. Lisa M. (Edit) Report

    There is so much potential for abuse and bad experiences in education. My daughter had a teacher who would leave the classroom for 20 minutes at a time with her purse and all. No one knew where she went. She also called my daughter a liar for complaining about it. My daughter was having nightmares because she was afraid of being left alone with all the kids acting wild and throwing things when the teacher left the room. The teacher also loved to protect the kids who were not so nice. When my daughter spoke up about other kids that were bullying her in the classroom, again she was called a liar. The guidance counselor and the pincipal also tried to side with the teacher since they were just hoping I wouldn’t believe my daughter either so they could just sweep it all under the rug. Thankfully after a difficult process, she was allowed to transfer to another school in the area. The teacher constantly would be disrepectful to her like telling her she would help her study and to meet her in the cafeteria after lunch, then she would not meet her. The teacher would tell my daughter that she was lying about her allergies. She was horrendous, and the worst thing is she is both a girl scout and a boy scout leader and parents don’t know this part of her and think she is great.

    My 6 year old son is getting bullied on the bus and the bus driver said he would talk to the kids, but it hasn’t stopped it. My daughter was forcefully and constantly punched in the head by a very small girl on the way to school one day and luckily she had witnesses or the principal wouldn’t have believed her about that either.

    My point is that a lot of bad things do go on at school and the government in charge of making it illegal to not go to school should be doing more to provide for a better environment. Maybe a requirement for education by someone like this Empowering parents is the answer. I know there are a lot of great teachers out there! We have only had that one bad one so far and a lot of good ones, but the hard to handle kids do make it difficult for the teacher’s to teach the rest of the class. Maybe a behavior specialist in every class should be a requirement. With the amount of school taxes I pay, something better should be offered. It would also be great if they could teach by level not age, as my daughter was reading at age 3, but they still wouldn’t advance her learning since “they all even out in 3rd grade” I was told. Isn’t that terribel? Shouldn’t they be trying to advance them not stifle them?

  3. Shelia (Edit) Report

    My son is in kindergarten this year. Within the first couple of weeks his teacher had “labeled” him as “sneaky” and had written “ugly” notes on his papers several times about how he wouldn’t follow directions, wouldn’t sit on his “spot”, fell asleep when he did sit down, couldn’t hold a pencil or cut, and on one occasion she wrote a note about he left the lunchroom without asking an adult’s permission (he had TRIED to ask her…he needed to go to the nurse…so he asked another adult and she took him). I was really angry about that because I felt like she was ignoring my child’s request for medical help….and then scolding him for her ignorance…as it turned out he couldn’t have even left the lunchroom without an adult opening the door for him.
    BUT….after all this….it is becoming clear that my son has some kind of learning problem…probably an auditory processing issue…he hears okay but doesn’t necessarily understand everything he hears and is probably a visual spatial learner…everything he does is typical of these children. After I raised a big stink and said it was NOT just my kid being immature and a brat…or adjusting to kindergarten…they have looked into it a little more and the same teacher I have to admit is being alot better about not being so judgemental and making adjustments as to what my son actually has to do. Writing is a real chore for him and at his age everything is centered around COPYING OVER AND OVER again…he hated it and would often refuse and get angry. He now does pretty much the exact same thing…but it’s limited to about 2 pages and he loves to watch video tapes and work on the computer.
    I was on the verge of asking that he be changed to another teacher….because she had basically come right out and said that she had to give her kids a test in a few months and my son was not going to help her class scores AT ALL…TALK ABOUT A MAD MOTHER!!! I could care less about her test scores! She needs to worry more about her students! But like I said…I see that now she is TRYING…she bought him a special little pencil and gave him two of her old alphabet tapes that he really likes…so if she is trying…well…THAT’S GREAT!!!
    But isn’t it sad that this lady that has been a teacher for many years didn’t recognize this…and I did?
    We really do need to educate our teachers more…and I for one agree that they don’t get the credit they deserve!!

  4. Jackie (Edit) Report

    Julie, please don’t stop teaching! We need more teachers like you out there. I think being a teacher is a difficult job, and we’re lucky when we find those who devote their lives to doing it well. Most of my kids’ teachers over the years, and the teachers I had growing up, tried hard to do a good job, cared deeply about kids, and worked their butts off. Yes, there were a few who could have used some more training or maybe early retirement, but by-and-large, the teachers I’ve come across have been devoted, hardworking and underpaid. I respect teachers who are good at what they do because I think it’s an amazing job. Where else do you have the chance to be a role model to so many young kids and influence their lives positively? I think teachers need more support from everyone.

  5. Arlene W. (Edit) Report

    I agree with Julie the caring teacher.
    Us parents who have kids who are having behavioural issues etc., we really should be supporting the teachers while supporting our kids at the same time by maybe attending the classroom once a month sort of being a sub.
    This way we can see how much work really goes into running a class with so many kids with so many different needs.
    I have a pre-schooler who has a supportive child development person attend his classroom to help out with his play and interaction with others.

    I’ll be one of the supportive parents for sure!

  6. Julie (Edit) Report

    It is so disappointing to hear all the negative comments about teachers. It is 11:40 pm and I am still up doing research on my computer about how to improve the discipline in my classroom. I have been a teacher for 13 years. Before that I worked in social services for child welfare. I’ve taught Emotional Support classes, Learning Support classes, and primary regular education classes. People in the community have NO idea what it is like to be in the classroom all day long. The children that come to me have such diversified backgrounds and ability levels that it is truly a challenge to meet everyone’s needs. I do my best to remain calm, keep consistent rules and consequences, and speak using supportive, loving words. I am not my students friend, I am their teacher. We work hard all day and if they do a good job they get rewarded. However, each year I see more and more behavior problems. I have 23 six year olds in my room. 1 has CP and requires adaptations, one has a learning disability and requires adaptations, 6 are ADHD ( 3 of those severly so), then 2 more boys have emotional problems and have anger outbursts. I also have 2 or 3 students who are very advanced and require chanllenges to keep them engaged. I love my job. I have NEVER wanted to do anything else. But it is becoming so stressful that I feel my health is being compromised. I get little support from my administrators and some support from a few parents. Most of the time though, if I tell a parent about a problem their child is having, they get defensive and complain to my principal. It is very hard work. If you are not completely dedicated to the profession then you may as well give up and find something else to do. My school was asked to have high school students who want to be teachers shadow us for a day. I declined because I felt that one day with my class would scare off potential teachers (the children did make a substitute cry one day last week- we are talking about first graders!!). Anyone who thinks teachers are rotten, uncaring, pampered public servants has no idea what they are talking about. I apologize for going on and on, but I am so stressed out that I am considering going to school to become a nurse or some other profession. Let me tell you that would be a shame because I am one darn good, caring teacher. Without more support and less blame, many other good teachers may soon follow.

  7. Khar59 (Edit) Report

    I am one of those parents who demands more from the classroom teacher and the resource teacher, and the principal. I am the parent who has control of my behaviorally challenged stepson’s behaviors. I do tell anyone that he is as good as the adults around him.

    I do believe that no matter how bad a child’s life is outside the school, that the school and the teacher have the opportunity to make that’s child’s school day a positive and enriching experience. I don’t believe that children are failures solely because of their home life.

    I am tired of principals, resource teachers, AEA’s, and classroom teachers who won’t take full responsiblity for NOT implementing tried and true behavioral interventions and adapt them to the whole classroom or school. I’m tired of schools that superciliously look down their noses at parents who have information, yet they refuse to concede or make changes, whilst they systematically fail your child through their own arogance and misplaced sense of importance.

    As I’ve been told by an expert in Intensive Behavioral Intervention, the weakest link is the teacher. If you can’t get the teacher onboard with the interventions, then you’ve lost.

  8. School Bus Driver (Edit) Report

    They can and will train you to drive a 40 ft. long vehicle that weighs 30,000 lbs empty. But, there is nothing that can prepare you for what is going on behind you while you do your job. Teachers get little to no behavioral management training, school bus drivers get none. We have no authority, administration gets annoyed if you keep ‘writing up’ students. In addition to the fact that our backs are turned to the students, the compartmentalization concept (high backed seats for the protection of the children in a crash), doesn’t allow the video camera to capture anything done within the confines of the seat, and their voices all sound the same. “Can you identify who said that?” The school will take a stand on things i.e. cell phones and then tell us that we are on our own once the children are dismissed. It is a thankless job on the best of days.

  9. Petra (Edit) Report

    I think it’s fairly obvious they have no behavioral training. My daughter’s teacher this year yells at the children if they ask her question, yells at them if they ask another student a question (so as not to bother her), then yells at them if they do not know the answer to a question. What is acceptable and even praised by her one day is not acceptable the next. She speaks to the children with disrepect and contempt. Correct answers are consistently marked wrong, and when sent back with a note, the grades are not corrected. Yet, this an A+ teacher according to school, and her superiors back her unquestioningly, when they SHOULD be acting as mediators. Several parents that I KNOW of have complained. The only reaason I did not ask to have my daughter transferred from the class is because I figure it is a good life lesson, since sometimes we have to deal with people in authority that are unreasonable. I’m not worried about her grades (she is WELL above her grade level in everything, because she is taught at home, too).

    Teachers are given full rein to do whatever they wish to the students, as long as no actual laws are broken. I’m not asking for her to be PUNISHED, I’m asking for her to counseled about the way she treats the children. I hear stories all the time about the bizarre behavior of teachers in the classroom for other parents, yet the schools turn a blind eye. Teachers need to be held accountable for their behavior

  10. lynn corsi (Edit) Report

    I must agree with Karen. I have home schooled all three of my children for various reasons, at one time or another. One, she was bullied so much, it even broke the teachers heart. The next one, after the loss of his sister, didn’t do any work in school. I know, because I sat in on his classes for a day, and decided if he was to learn anything it would have to be at home. My last child, well, I’m not entirely sure, but here it is her turn to learn at home. Any way, my point is, how do we expect a teacher to be able to have any control,when the least little disipline, we run to our childrens defense. I know it is so hard now to know if our child is being abused, or just being held accountable for his actions. If your child is in school, get to know the teacher, and let the child be held accountable, work together as a team. It’s your child, you are paying someone else to teach them. If we want our children to respect adults, let’s teach them.

  11. Karen Galer (Edit) Report


    I have been an Educational Assistant for 20 years in Hamilton, Ontario. I have written to you in the past with concerns about escalating student behaviour. No, I really don’t think that the kids have changed so much in the last 20 yrs. I worked for 15 yrs. in the inner city, and now I am working in a so-called “normal” school. Society today has become more diversified due to increased immigration, the building of low income housing in areas away from the inner city and the rise of one parent households. I was a single parent raising 3 teenagers. They remember being told, “congratulations, you are now a statistic, but you don’t have to act like one!!’ Children are not valued in the same way they were 60 yrs. ago. A large family was needed to run the family home, farm or business. Today, some parents feel that giving birth to a child is all that is required of them. Teachers and the school system must do the rest. If a parent cannot control a child’s behaviour, then work with the school and the teacher to set some boundaries in place and support each other. Teachers are required to work within the parameters set down by the Ministry of Education and these days, the ministry ties both our hands behind our back preventing us from setting out meaningful consequences. The kids know this and respond accordingly. No-one fails anymore and parents are afraid to allow their children to experience disappointment. The kids figure out pretty quickly that whether they do the work or not, they are going to graduate anyway. They are running the show. Principals are absent 4/5 days at meetings. The rest of the staff is left to try and run the ship. On the day that the principal is “in”, she turns off her intercom and does not respond to calls for help. We do not suspend anyone, so just about anything from bullying to sexual harassment goes unpunished. I would challenge anyone to try doing our job for a day!!! Let’s communicate parents. Don’t ignore your phone the next time the school calls you about your child’s behaviour.

  12. C. Donahue (Edit) Report

    I am sorry to hear of your experiences Ed B. Teachers, like parents and any other group, do have their “bad apples”; however, by and large teachers are well aware that friendship is not the goal – preparing the student to meet the challenges in today’s world is. What support you ask? For starters, it is near impossible to have a child expelled, and they know this. Additionally, show me a continually disruptive child, and I’ll show you parents who are the best defense lawyers out there. Money you say? Have you checked the price of books lately? In Michigan, the school is to supply all necessary tools for education, including paper, pencils, etc. I know there are bad cyphons of cash out there, such as the Detroit Board of Education (they had limos to take them to meetings, etc.), but again, it is not generally the teacher. Time you say? Every school has its handful of dedicated volunteers, but again, it is not the mainstream coming in. Please enlighten me on that one. Emotion, hmmm, I think I need to be enlightened there too. What good teacher has not been the surrogate parent to the tears and joys for his/her students? Most importantly, why would the emotion be worn as a badge of honor? Is it not a natural occurance to feel for the people you care about? People who choose teaching today have to be dedicated, it must be a calling, for it is a job that everyone else feels qualified to tell you how to do, what standards and guidelines need to be in place, and then all these non-experts walk away. Teachers are constantly being asked to do more and more, while financial benefits remain the same. No, all teachers are not good, but that is unrealistic to expect they would be. Shall I come to your place of employment and tell you how to do your job, give you no tools with which to meet my demands? This is what teachers face daily from the government on down the line to the parent and child. (I had an incident once, in a very poor socio-economic building, in which the children were acting out terribly. I was able to maintain order, and made the comment, that I’d love to video tape this day so that parents could observe how their children behave in school. One boy, whose family is on every kind of public assistance out there and he himself requires special classes, told me that that would be illegal without a parent’s signed permission form. This child can barely read, but he knows his rights.) The problems you see in schools only go to reflect our society at large: people want the privledges without any of the attendant responsibilities. I realize that James is trying to educate people that this has dire consequences, but until we get a critical mass on board, teachers are not solely to blame for the “entitled ones”. Stop the blame game, and work together to make responsibility the norm again in this country.

  13. Ed B. (Edit) Report

    James, you had me until you said that teachers “don’t get enough support from our society.”
    What type of additional “support” could teachers require of us that we don’t already give them in money, time and emotion?
    The problems teachers face are of their own making. Teachers do not want to apply in their classrooms the common sense methods of the Total Transformation Program.
    It was not that long ago that students respected, and even feared, their teachers.
    Today, however, the teacher typically acts as her students’ “friend.” Thus, as they are wont to do in the company of “friends”, the children will act up– and wonder why their adult “friend,” the teacher, is not willing to always have fun.

  14. Georgina (Edit) Report

    You know it is not always the kids at fault for this stuff these things happen out there.There are some issues that i feel that are not right like the needing a clothes pin just to go to the bathroom(hall pass),also i think that sometimes they can be unfair to the kids and sometimes i know that the kids can be unfair to them.I do think that in some cases teachers and all of them should be trained in courses to deal with difficult kids, i know what it is like for them i have one she does it here at home as well as at school,she is smart and knows how to manipulate people and she can also try and has succeded in out smartening everyone.Please train the techers and bus drivers and that how to deal with such difficult kids it would probably benifit the kids more and also maybe try to educate the kids more as to how to deal with how they act at times.

  15. C. Donahue (Edit) Report

    Your final line is most pertinent. I am a substitute teacher and I am persuing my teaching certification, both in K-8. My studies include classroom management and behavior management, and classes for the exceptional child which includes everything from learning disabilities to autism. This is the program for the general education teacher. As a substitute, I see a wider range of abilities (including children with autism, physical and emotional disabilities, etc.)within one classroom, higher student counts per classroom, and more unfunded mandates including No Child Left Behind being required by the government. Teachers are being better prepared to meet these demands; however, we get little support from the community, including a large percentage of parents. We are expected to be miracle workers and yet are still looked down upon as people who “don’t work a full year,” despite the fact that many teachers spend their summers creating learning units that align to the government-mandated curriculum including all necessary documentation. If a school does not demonstrate a certain level of progress – regardless of the actual level of achievement, it risks government take-over. I liken this to a dentist in a low socio-economic neighborhood where patients cannot afford basic care having his/her license revoked because too many of the patients required fillings. Yes, teachers must be highly educated and dedicated, but also, the community must support education to make it work for our children.

  16. Tara (Edit) Report

    What I find is that parents who address these delicate issues with the teachers or staff are labeled as the parent you described in the “next to last paragraph.” Immediately, the school becomes defensive. My son’s teacher arrives late every day, encourages her students to attend her church events for extra credit, is forgetful, requires her students to be accountantable, however, that standardard of behaivior is not to be placed on her. She has her reasons for being late, and they are not to be questioned.

  17. Robin (Edit) Report

    The next to the last paragraph was indeed the truest statement. Parents who do not know how to teach their children do go after the teachers. Whether their child is hittlng,kicking,or biting a teacher doesn’t seem to matter.
    Also, it is very difficult for all involved.



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