I watched a non-autism related abuse video about a North Carolina teacher screaming at students this a.m. I only watched half the nine-minute video and in this brief period, heard the teacher shriek at the top of her lungs six times, and bang either a desk or book for emphasis. Her point? No criticism of President Obama. Trouble was, she had introduced the topic of the Mitt Romney bullying allegations and the students had been asked to discuss that. That's not really a fit topic for high school "discussion," whether or not the class is in civics, history or heaven knows what else. Maybe even homeroom or English! How about science or math? Sure! Topic of the day: Trash Mitt Romney at length and add "You WILL not disrespect the President!!!" Lesson of the day: "My teacher can't control herself."
Many comments on YouTube videos of teachers misbehaving are from students saying, "You think that's bad? You should see/hear ___________________________[fill in the blank - their district or school]."
Last month, the story of 10 year-old Akian Chaifetz hit the news.
According to his father, Akian was always happy and pleasant, but from the first week that he attended school in New Jersey, he came home with reports that he was violent, hitting other students and the teacher. For the better part of a year, Akian received behavior therapy, and was never violent with the behaviorist: only in his self-contained class. All of the students in Akian's class had autism and couldn't tell parents or others what was going on. Akian's father Stuart put a tape recorder on Akian on February 17, 2012, which brought home hard evidence of abuse against Akian on the part of his teacher and aides. "Shut up!" the teacher screams. The rest of the unprofessionalism is appalling, beginning with "I'm doing the happy dance -- I had a bottle of wine with my girlfriend last night and no dinner." Isn't that what parents expect any child to be greeted with at the start of their school day?
Is Akian's situation unique? Doubtless, the New Jersey schools will say it has never happened before, and would never happen again. With today's journalistic commitment to excellence, these repeated assertions on the part of individual districts will always go unchallenged, and nobody's really putting them all together or looking at a pattern. YouTube has over 1,000 videos of "teachers yelling at students." The majority are real, not satire. Many aren't just the always-popular teacher-meltdown/destroying cell phone scenes. They feature teachers verbally abusing developmentally-disabled or special-needs children.
In 2008 in Indiana, New Albany/Floyd County kindergarten teacher Kristen Woodward was suspended (and eventually allowed to resign a year later) for telling 5-year old Gabriel Ross he was "pathetic, ignorant and self-absorbed," finally getting the other kindergartners to say in unison that they did not want to be Gabriel's friends or be around him. Ms. Woodward's union defended her to the bitter end, stating she had "tried everything" and the student had given "trouble" all year, rolling on the floor, kicking and biting.
First, he's five. Second, Gabriel appears to have been somewhere on the autism spectrum.
What level of training did this kindergarten teacher have that indicated that calling a 5 year old autistic child "selfish," "self-absorbed," and "pathetic," and singling the child out for the ridicule and ostracism of his peers was a good thing to do? With a reported 13 years of experience, this teacher had no indication that a five year old with special needs might not be able to help some behaviors and could not be "shamed" into stopping them by such abusive tactics?
In the case of Akian Chaifetz, a happy child, upbeat child with special needs was bullied and abused for months by teacher and complicit aides, exhibiting violent behaviors for the first time as a desperate form of self-defense. Reports now indicate that as many as one in 100 children has some form of autism or Aspergers Syndrome. Gabriel Ross, at only five years of age, was presented as such a problem child by the teacher's union and problem teacher in Indiana, that the teacher's only resort was abusing the child with adult language and singling him out for ostracism and bullying.
Is this new? Hardly. When I was between 6th and 7th grade, I went to summer school at Clement Junior High, not my "normal" junior high. I don't know if it was increased enrollment or other pressures, but on the first days of school, I was singled out by a teacher similar to these abusive teachers and placed in the "special-ed" class.
That summer probably gave rise to a lot of the stories I've written as an adult. I didn't learn much in terms of facts or school work, but I did learn, and have never forgotten, what it felt like to be in the "special-ed" class. The actual special-ed teachers in this class were young, enthusiastic teachers who wanted to work with special-needs kids, so no one was abused in this class. They quickly recognized I was far from "special-needs," so I became like a junior aide. I helped the other students with physical and learning tasks throughout the summer and made friends with kids I was unlikely to ever have talked to had this not happened.
I certainly know what it felt like to be singled-out for no reason. I was embarrassed, ashamed, and could not believe somebody was saying I was "slow" or "special needs." To this day, I don't know what inspired the teacher who placed me in that class to do so. I believe I was talking too much or behaving in an overly-exuberant way. I was probably messing around and being rambunctious with some of my friends from our girls softball team, who did go to that school and were the only kids I knew there. The teacher who did this to me was very much like the YouTube abusive teachers, yelling, berating, using inappropriate language, and singling out students for other kids to abuse/harm.
You might think that teacher unions and all the good teachers out there would be outraged that this type of behavior persists more than 30 years later. You might think that; I couldn't possibly comment.