Friday, March 12, 2010

Who's a Loser?

March 12, 2010

I just read an article about big to-do surrounding a 6th grade teacher from North Carolina who wrote the following on his student's paper:

Seriously? What was he thinking? The girl's mom, naturally, is up in arms, as I'm sure I would be if this came home in one of my kid's backpacks. She's calling for the immediate dismissal of the teacher, especially given that this is not the first time he's written such gems on her daughter's paper. His defense? He was just joking. And several other parents are also coming to his defense, saying his joking manner is his way of relating to the kids, reaching them.

Honestly, I kind of get that. Now, before you go and attack me, I have to say I don't condone what the guy did. Maybe he's just a mean-spirited guy who gets his kicks out of making kids feel bad, but I think probably something else is at work here. I myself can be prone to sarcasm now and again (or all the time--whatever). Sometimes I say things to kids that, if taken out of context, could be perceived as mean or angry or rude. But my demeanor, my facial expression, the context of the conversation, and the relationship I have with a particular student all play into how a student hears what I have to say. We joke, we talk, we interact--I teach high school kids, and you simply can't survive if you don't have a sense of humor. I actually am really careful about the students with whom I am sarcastic, because I want to know that a student knows I really care about them and that they understand my sense of humor when I have that kind of exchange with them. I would be mortified if I learned that a student mistook my sense of humor for something negative or derogatory.

That is what seems to be missing from the story here--we don't get the kid's reaction to the teacher's comments. Does she feel like she's been unjustly attacked, as her mother says, or does she take it as an intended joke, knowing that her teacher thinks very highly of her and has a solid relationship with her? If he did really mean it as a joke, I hope the girl was in on it. His mistake, if that was the case, was allowing it to occur outside the scope of context, devoid of facial expression and body language, removed from any personal contact that would ensure she knew it wasn't intended maliciously. The power of words on the paper is that they can take on different inflections and tones than originally intended, if one isn't careful.

Or maybe he's just a jerk. Who knows? All I'm saying is, I'd want to get the whole story before I jumped to any conclusions. If it was my kid, would I be upset? Absolutely. It wouldn't mean I'd alert the media immediately, though, at least until I felt like I'd gotten the whole story.


  1. I just saw this story on the Yahoo front page. My first thought was that the teacher ought to be fired. But yes, you are right, we should wait for the entire story.

  2. This makes me think I should stop being "funny." On April Fools Day, for example, I write fake referral slips for kids who want me to. I always write "April Fools" on the back, and the kids really love taking them home, but it might not be worth it...

  3. I'm sorry, but I don't think any student should be referred to as a "loser" on a graded paper. Firing seems extreme, though. Hubby agrees. Risky move and totally unnecessary.

  4. I think you nailed part of the issue with the fact that written words can be completely taken out of context. Not a good move on the teacher's part. But I will also say that the penchant of some people to "alert the media" kind of makes me crazy.

  5. It is hard to interpret the tone of written words. I often misinterpret comments from people on my blog. I'll be offended by something they wrote, while my husband will insist that I am reading too much into the situation.

    I am not sure if firing this teacher is the way to go, but he should definitely be held accountable for his actions. If nothing else, I hope that he apologizes.