by Christine D.
This morning as I brought my daughter into school, I saw a boy pulled aside by the teacher supervising the arrivals. He had been pushing the smaller children on the way through the door, it seemed, and was being spoken to in no uncertain terms. Another parent nodded in approval and said that he had also been pushing on the bus. He was in big trouble.
I didn’t see whether he was pushing in thoughtlessness or exuberance or out of a desire to hurt the smaller children, but I think the last is the least likely. Obviously, moving him to the side was a good way to resolve the issue for the moment. Speaking sternly to him about it was probably seen as the best way to ensure he might think twice about doing it again tomorrow.
I walked my daughter down to her classroom. When I came back up the corridor, the same teacher was just finishing off a diatribe to the same boy. I heard her end brusquely with “And there’s no need for crying. Now go to class. Go on.”
The boy shuffled slowly away from her and towards me, being passed by faster, happier children, his face a mask of misery. He wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his coat. He looked utterly downtrodden. My heart broke for him: I wanted to hug him and tell him it would be okay, that he’d remember to be gentle with the smaller children tomorrow and that school isn’t a place where people just yell at you and assume you’re being bad on purpose. He didn’t know me, though, so all I did was touch his shoulder as I passed.
He was probably fine an hour later. He may be the sort of child who bounces back from a scolding in five minutes – though he looked more like the sort who was going to carry the hurt with him for the rest of the day, and maybe turn it into resentment and defiance to shield him the next time he gets in trouble. But even the bounce-back children have to put all that negative input somewhere, maybe into thumping the child beside them, or laughing and tuning out when they’re scolded again, deciding that what the grown ups have to say is not important.
I am not writing this to call out one particular staff member or one particular school. The teacher was doing her job as she saw fit, and I don’t think a complaint from me that she was “being mean to him” would go far with her supervisors. But I would like to ask for a culture of kindness in our schools. I want the children to feel supported, not beaten down – certainly not literally, but not even metaphorically. I want the children to be gentle with each other, and for that to happen the teachers need to be gentle with them.
Gentleness is not a defect. It may be naive to say that I want to live in a place where a sensitive child doesn’t need to be “toughened up” for the real world, but a little kindness goes a long way, and children are children, not short adults. Instead of breaking down that seven-year-old boy with harsh words, the teacher could have spoken understandingly to him and built him up, with assurances that he’s a good person who will be able to think of others the next time he’s in the same situation, and make sure that everyone can feel safe.
I know there are many kind and gentle teachers in our school system. And I understand that teaching is exhausting and infuriating and a teacher has a thousand things on their mind first thing in the morning and sometimes a kid just needs to be yelled at. But this is not the first time I’ve seen a small child treated roughly or dismissively at school, shouted at and devalued and not listened to. And I can’t help feeling that while it may work in the short term, it’s nothing but counterproductive in the long term.
Please, bring back kindness.