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.
About James Lehman, MSW
James Lehman, who dedicated his life to behaviorally troubled youth, created The Total Transformation® Program, The Complete Guide to Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™, from a place of professional and personal experience. Having had severe behavioral problems himself as a child, he was inspired to focus on behavioral management professionally. Together with his wife, Janet Lehman, he developed an approach to managing children and teens that challenges them to solve their own problems without hiding behind disrespectful, obnoxious or abusive behavior. Empowering Parents now brings this insightful and impactful program directly to homes around the globe.