Whereupon I Might Encourage Bodily Harm to a Teacher

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose5 Comments


Today, after another long day at the grindhouse, I saw some of my former students, a pair of girls who haven’t grown in stature, but hopefully in status. Students who graduate from your nest are a great gauge for the effect you’ve had on present and future students. Fortunately for me, these students actually admit that I’m their favorite math teacher ever, and I bowed lightly. Then again, not having a car to pelt eggs at or steal rims from is also helpful in that respect.

I digress.

One of these students told me how much she hates math now, and I just gave her a headnod. I was disappointed since I taught the student algebra, but it appeared that she didn’t particularly like the teacher. Statements like these from my former students are par for the course. This time, something disturbed me about her description of the teacher:

“He says we’re stupider than dogs.”

Say what?

“He said he can teach a dog quicker than he can teach us.”

My eyes probably went from an off-white glow to a bright-red blaze. Infuriated that any teacher would try to academically dehumanize students who I’ve had for years and known to be fairly astute, I envisioned pounding this imaginary teacher’s face in for kicks. I’m a peace-loving man and I’ve never met this teacher, but when we can’t differentiate between a student’s acts and a student’s humanity, that pushes me over the edge. I can’t honestly say I’ve never called another person stupid or moronic, but any of my students? Never.

Unlike adults, kids haven’t completely formed their minds around concepts we’ve taught them and they’re not fully responsible for their education. Yes, they can be intelligent and certainly they have to take some ownership over their work. Their ability, however, is heavily determined on whether teachers can deliver the material but also BELIEVE that they can deliver the material and thus believe in the students to whom they’re delivering the material. We as educators have license to refer to a students’ actions as unintelligent, if not explicitly, at least implicitly.

Yet, let’s not mistake using words like “stupid” for uplift. Students feel and understand purpose like you wouldn’t believe, and externally, they’ll act out in the worst ways, but after digesting it, they’ll see the errors of their ways. Please believe. I’m not simply basing this off some ill-wrought sense of grandiose pedestal-standing. The feedback from students who’ve graduated from teachers like me is tremendous, and everyday that I think I haven’t done a very good job, I look to those who I’ve taught before and thank them for the opportunity to enlighten them a little bit.

But jerks like the teacher who said the dog comment disagree with this philosophy, his sense of truth said in jest not lost on any of his students.

I told my former student, “That’s not right. You’re a human being. You should have told him, ‘I’d like to see you try.'” Vilson encouraging open rebellion. Nice touch.

As we departed, I thought to myself, “I should have told her to say, ‘I’d like to see you try teaching the dog algebra. If you win, you can fail me. If I win, I take your dog and your teaching license and burn it in the furnace.'” But I needed her to graduate, just like she’s done before.

Mr. Vilson, who’s fair as he can be, but biased in favor of students …

Comments 5

  1. Wow! What a tragic and mind-boggling revelation of the power of a teacher’s words. I am sickened when I hear of teachers degrading, dehumanizing, and destroying kids’ belief in themselves. Thank you for being such a wonderful model of commitment to our kids and being a human who admits the honest feelings of rage when hearing stories like these.

  2. I observed a classroom the other day in which the teacher asked a knowledge-based question (which wasn’t all that clear, actually) and referred to it as “a Stupid question– you all should know this,” which implies that if I didn’t know the answer, I must have been stupid, right? I think the intention was to be motivating and add urgency, but I agree with you that it generally doesn’t work that way.

    One of the greatest lessons I have learned as a teacher, in that it became earth-shatteringly apparent to me and I spent countless hours making it explicit to students to build their confidence and senses of self, is that a poor grade or misunderstanding doesn’t mean you’re dumb. Missing an assignment doesn’t mean you’re irresponsible. Getting into a fight doesn’t mean you’re violent. Bad decisions and bad actions do not a bad student/person make, even when repeated. And repeated. And repeated.

  3. How do teachers like that get away with it when the ones who are trying to make a difference get caught up every time?

    You should have asked if her if she’s told her parents this. Students, especially high school students, need to remember that their parents are their first and strongest ally. And parents need to step up and be just that

  4. Post

    Thanks for everyone’s comments. I most definitely told the student to tell her parent and it seems like she’s taking care of that. I think it’s more responsible for the parent to handle it than a random teacher (like me) to handle it, just on a professional level.

    We have long ways to go before we change the dialogue.

  5. Comments like that teacher made really piss me off, especially when they are made to kids who have trouble learning. So many of the kids I teach are math phobic and have self esteem issues so they don’t need anyone else putting them down. To get them to succeed we have to get them to believe in themselves and this idiot is doing just the opposite. I’m glad you ran into the girls and got to a chance to give them the uplift they obviously need.

    The only time I use the word stupid is when I talk about “stupid questions” and then I tell them the only stupid questions are the ones they don’t ask. I don’t ever want them to be afraid or embarrassed to ask anything in my classroom.

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