Sunday, April 29, 2007

Good Teacher or Bathroom Bully?

How a teacher handles bathroom privileges tells a lot about a teacher. But asking that a teacher be fired for denying bathroom privileges is like asking that a lawyer be disbarred for--well--refusing to allow a client to go to the bathroom.

This behavior raises a question about whether a professional has adequate respect for those he serves, but it doesn't ANSWER that question.

The science teacher at Charles M. Goethe Middle School in Sacramento, California who earned a spot in the news in April 2007 sounds suspiciously like someone who does not have a handle on classroom management. The mother of student Michael Patterson, with the backing of the local NAACP, is demanding that a teacher be fired for making her son urinate in a bottle in the back of his science classroom rather than allowing him to go to the bathroom.

But before I judge the teacher, I'd like to know what exactly was going on in class when he refused to allow 14-year-old Michael Patterson to go to the bathroom. Was it a once-in-a-lifetime science demonstration? Or was it independent work time?

Many teachers are bathroom bullies. Some of them should be fired, others shouldn't.

Some bathroom-bully teachers are of limited intelligence and even more limited teaching ability and are impossible to rehabilitate. They should be fired. Some teachers are out-and-out racists. They usually reveal themselves as such only in off-guard moments. We must be careful before pinning the racist label on a teacher for a single action, but when a racist teacher is exposed, he or she should be given a chance at rehabilitation, and should be fired only if he or she continues to disobey the laws regarding equal treatment of all.

But there is another group of teachers who are basically good at what they do, and who happen to have a few blind spots.

This second group of bathroom-bully teachers are good enough teachers that they should be allowed to keep their jobs; they simply need some attention from the school administration. Ideally, they would receive professional counseling to help them deal with their demons so they wouldn't bully kids. Most teachers of this type have a handful of students they don't like, and these children are the targets of their abusive tactics. If the teacher can't grow up and behave more maturely toward all the children in his or her care, then there is a another alternative for dealing with the situation. The principal should handle the problem by protecting targeted kids, transferring them to another class or giving the teacher specific instructions on how to show adequate respect to that child.

Bathroom privileges are not at the top of the list of important school issues. At the top of the list should be the teacher's basic respect and fairness toward his or her students, and the teacher's ability to expand the knowledge and understanding of his or her students. Bathroom bullying simply raises a warning flag.

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