Regrettable Behavior

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Older Newbie, Apr 8, 2011.

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  1. Older Newbie

    Older Newbie New Member

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    Apr 8, 2011

    Yesterday I, as a teacher, broke my own class rules. A student, with whom I have been trying to build a respectful relationship, pushed my buttons with "I won't do what you want! You can't make me!". I am ashamed to say that I was an adult bully. I started by speaking to him rationally, he got more angry-threw a book and pencil on the floor and walked out of the classroom. I followed him and ended up in a yelling match. My director came by and quietly and calmly said to me 'Just leave'. I was concerned about leaving him outside the classroom but she was in the area.

    I feel so bad. This poor kid deserved a way to gracefully keep his dignity and I got caught up in a power struggle.

    I will apologize to him today but I'm considering writing him a short note saying"I was disrespectful to you. I am sorry. I will try harder to listen to what you're saying when you talk to me."

    Would that be appropriate? I appreciate your help with this.
     
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  3. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    Apr 8, 2011

    I would apologize face-to-face, in front of the class. I would put it in writing as well, but an honest, look-him-in-the-eye apology would be best, in my opinion. Thank you for wanting to make this right.
     
  4. Ms.SLS

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    Apr 8, 2011

    I think loosing our tempers has happened to everyone at some point or another. Kids are sometimes used to being treated unfairly by adults (at least in my experience) and they really appreciate an apology. Plus, its the right thing to do.
     
  5. MathJourney

    MathJourney Rookie

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    I understand you have good intentions and that is commendable, but realistically in the world we live in there is always a potential for a legal issue--even if it might be frivolous. Consequently, any admission of guilt can be used against you if some legal issue does arise.

    Personally, I would ask the director to sit in with a conversation between the two you. In that conversation, I would clarify why you responded how you did and how you understand it is not the best response. Indicate in the future you hope the two of you can communicate properly.

    No where would I say, "I'm sorry," or, "I apologize," or, "I regret how I acted," or "I should not have...," or anything else giving him the power to see you as a bad guy when you are not.

    Realistically, the kid behaved poorly. Your response while not optimal but is very much reasonable. The whole point of getting together with the direction is prevent future outbursts from both of you.
     
  6. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    Apr 8, 2011

    I'm not sure that there is a legal issue because of a power struggle. I think that an apology would be good, but I do think that you should make sure you appear confident and strong - not sad and ashamed. Although you made a mistake by choosing an inappropriate disciplinary response, you were still choosing a disciplinary response, and he made a bigger mistake. He was not exercising a legitimate choice of saving face by engaging in a string of unfortunate behaviors - he was being disrespectful and noncompliant, and I would take the opportunity to point out how a series of bad decisions were made - by both sides, and how it is a learning opportunity for how things could be different. If you think the kid could handle it, you might even open it up for discussion - how do you think both sides could have handled the situation better. If you take suggestions maturely, that may lead to him taking those suggestions too. Use it as a teachable moment that everyone makes mistakes, but the sign of a truly mature person is to open yourself up to suggestions, and to learn from them. In this way, you are being instructive, and modeling appropriate behavior.

    On the other hand, if you appear ashamed, weak, and submissive, that could open you up to a handful of other problems. Basically, you want to admit fault while still not letting the boy off the hook, not sacrificing your authority, and maintaining your responsibility to address classroom situations such as those.

    If you bring up the conversation as a discussion about how to better handle situations, rather than a discussion of you publically apologizing, you may be able to accomplish this goal better. I wouldn't write a note. Remember, this isn't about you feeling better or relieving your guilt - it's about taking this opportunity as a teachable moment to demonstrate receiving constructive criticism, admitting fault without losing face, apologizing, growing, and rebuilding.

    And yes - I want to echo others comments - every teacher I know has made this mistake more than once!
     
  7. Kat53

    Kat53 Devotee

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    Apr 8, 2011

    I would not put anything in writing. I would, however, have a conference about mutual respect. As great as it is that you realize you didn't handle the situation in the best way, just apologizing isn't going to make the student realize his responsibility in the situation. But it's a great opportunity to model problem solving how to handle conflict.
     
  8. silverspoon65

    silverspoon65 Enthusiast

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    Apr 8, 2011

    How old was this student? I don't know what age you teach.

    I have been to disciplining with dignity workshops. I handle all my problems in my classroom. I try not to create conflicts in my room.

    But I have also noticed that some smart*** kids have started to notice this whole "no conflict" thing. And they think they can get away with making rude and inappropriate comments or behaviors. And, using my best judgement, sometimes, just sometimes, I think the best thing for that kid is to call them out for it because they don't expect it coming.

    Now, if you took the kid out in the hall and really screamed in his face or cursed at him or insulted him, then I could see where the apology would be needed.

    But also I don't remember yelling at a kid being illegal. If a high school kid in my class acted like that, I probably would have just let him keep walking to the office. But if he didn't leave, I might have yelled at him.
     
  9. MathJourney

    MathJourney Rookie

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    Apr 8, 2011

    Sigh, to clarify...an issue does not have to be illegal to be actionable. But an action that is illegal is actionable. Paradoxical? Not so much. Among the various areas of law the two most common are Criminal and Tort.

    You are most likely familiar with Criminal--LA Law or what have you. Tort you are probably familiar with but may not know it is a Tort. A Tort is a Civil wrong which may or may not be a Criminal wrong.

    So, for an example of an action which is both Criminal and Tort consider Wrongful Death. Typically in the event of death caused by another, Criminal charges result. If the person is found guilty and they are also wealthy, then you can immediately sue them based on Tort law for money without really having to go to trial. If the person is found not guilty and you still want some sort of justice you can then sue them for money based on Tort Law--think OJ Simpson. The burden of proof in Criminal cases is higher than in Civil cases; it is easier to get a Civil verdict.

    Technically, every murderer or rapist or whatever other low life on the planet can be sued for money in a Civil trial under Tort law. However, this is rarely done because realistically most criminals do not have any money to take from them. You can't get blood from a rock. Also, there is the added inconvenience of not wanting the low life in your life any more than they need to be to get thrown in jail.

    For an example of a Civil wrong which is not a Criminal wrong, consider any form of defamation--libel or slander. Neither will get you thrown in jail, but both will totally get you sued. There are even a certain class of Defamation called Defamation Per Se in which all you have to prove is that something false was said and someone heard it and you get an instant judgement. The most common Defamation Per Se is to tell someone another person has venereal disease when they do not.

    Normally, in a defamation case you have to show the following: something false was said, the person who said it knew it was false, what was said resulted in some form of loss. In Defamation Per Se, it does not matter if the person knew it was false or if any loss occurred. All that matter is it was said and heard and it was false and boom you win.

    Maybe it is because I worked in the corporate world where everyone is super paranoid about lawsuits, I like to play everything very safe. So in this case, I'm not worried the OP will get thrown in jail. I'm worried the kid is going to tell his parents and his parents will decide to get litigious.
     
  10. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    Apr 8, 2011

    MathJourney - what would you say is "actionable" in this case, and what would you estimate the probability being related to being sued over a power struggle/verbal reprimand? My guess is that the disagreement over this being a legal issue has less to do with civil vs. criminal law, and more over severity, commonality, and actual wrongdoing. Have you ever heard of a teacher being sued for a similar incident? I'd be curious to know if anyone has!
     
  11. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    Apr 8, 2011

    How sad to think that someone shouldn't issue an apology they want to make because of fear of a lawsuit.
     
  12. MathJourney

    MathJourney Rookie

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    Apr 8, 2011

    Ugh, I wish I still had access to case law through Lexis Nexis or West Law. I'm sure some sort of legal case has been pursued in a similar instance, but I'm not certain if it was successful or unsuccessful or sometimes either depending on the state.

    You make a good point, sure it would not be a common case. However, a frivolous law suit still requires to pay for representation to have the suit thrown out. You just can't walk into court and tell the judge, "come on, you and I know this is BS." An attorney could say that in an acceptable legal way, but an individual can not.

    Let's see, what kind of case could be pulled from the facts.

    Regardless of the legal theory, the first thing that would have to be established is did the OP act in a reasonable manner. In my opinion he did. However, if the OP apologizes for his actions then that would suggest to a certain degree his behavior was not only not reasonable but the OP is aware of that fact.

    Well, in Tort for the most part you have to accept the defendant as they are not as they should be or as you expect them to be.

    So for example, suppose you are at a party and you push a friend into a pool for fun. It turns out he had his cell phone on him and now it does not work. The friend could sue you based on a form of battery but seek damages not for any physical harm but for the loss of the cell phone. The excuse, "but I did not know he had a cell phone on him," is not a defense; you have to accept the defendant as they are, even if you are not aware of it nor would anyone be aware of it.

    So, suppose this kid has some unknown emotional, psychological problem. The, "humiliation," of being,"yelled," at in front of his, "peers," aggravated the condition so much the kid has to pay for mental health. (I put everything in quotes to indicate that is not what I believe but what can be said to pursue the matter) Then, he could sue the teacher for the mental health costs in. On top of that he could add other kinds of damages.

    Again, it is probably a long shot but still I would play it all safe.

    Someone said it is, "sad," legal issues get in the way of an apology.
    I look at things as they are and place a value on it. What is an apology worth? What does a lawsuit cost? I think the lawsuit costs more than an apology. So, personally would skip the apology.

    Realistically, the kids has probably been yelled at and probably will be yelled at some point in the future. Most likely in the vast majority of the times the kid gets yelled at he will not receive an apology; maybe an apology is detrimental to him because he is going to have false expectations of how the world works.

    If he joins any branch of the military, he is going to get more than yelled at for sure. I reassure you none of his drill Sargents are going to give him an apology.
     
  13. mopar

    mopar Multitudinous

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    Apr 8, 2011

    I would apologize to the student without hesitating. I would do this privately with the student though. He has been embarrassed enough and doesn't need an apology in front of the class.

    However, I would also apologize to the class as a whole for allowing this incident to disrupt their learning and your response to the situation. Some of them might need to hear it to feel safe coming to school again.

    On a totally side note: I had a sub tell one of my students that he was pushing his buttons. So, my student responded that the only button to push was the one to call the office.
     
  14. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    I like your suggestion more than mine, mopar. I agree with a private apology to the student, but speaking to the class as well. I have no problem admitting to my students when I make a mistake, either in material or in the way I deal with a situation. If I expect this from them, I need to be able to do it myself.
     
  15. MathJourney

    MathJourney Rookie

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    Apr 8, 2011

    Ok, so I don't look like the bad guy let me share some stories of my high school years.

    My AP History teacher was a big, burly, loud guy. At the beginning of the year we created groups of four, we could choose with whom to form groups. There was one student who was completely new to our school, but for some reason our teacher had a sense of this kid's history. He was smart, but had a history of bad behavioral problems. My teacher put him in my group. Later on, my teacher told me he put him in my group because he felt out of all the groups I was probably the best to deal with him. From recollection the majority of the class were girls and I think there were only two groups of guys.

    He--the new student--and I became and still are to this day good friends. However, as kids he was a total smart-a. To a certain extent I was as well, but not towards teachers but other students. He was a smart-a with everyone including teachers.

    Geeze, would he and my teacher battle it out at least once a month. My favorite memory was when my teacher saw a kid outside in the parking lot smoking a cigarette. My teacher stopped the class, firmly marched to the door of our class and yelled out,

    "Hey, get the hell out of the parking lot and go to the principal's office right now...." While he was in the middle of that statement, the new kid ran right behind him and yelled out,

    "Yah, man, this guy's not joking, he will mess you up!!!!" My teacher turns to the new student and yells at him,

    "Sit, the hell down and don't do that again or else." The new student walked to our group and we just could not stop laughing about it.

    There was a whole lot of yelling and threatening going on, but none of us were traumatized by it. In fact, we all just found it funny. I'm pretty sure if I call him right now and talk about that day my friend would laugh.

    Another teacher of mine did not yell but resorted to humiliation. She was my Calculus teacher. After every test, she would read out our grades. If someone did poorly she would say, "You choked on this one," or some other commentary and then read the kid's test score.

    There is a special place for her in my heart. At the end of the term she would also read out our grades to the class. At graduation, I was third in line for Valedictorian. However, I could have been Seledectorian--I think that is how it spelled, sorry vague word. The Valedictorian was a good friend of mine and he definitely earned that position. The person second in line, largely earned her position because she was known to cry if she did not get the grade she thought she earned. We were aware of her doing this twice.

    She read her grade--the student who cried for grades--which was an 88%. Then my Calculus teacher looked to me and said something to the effect of, "So close, [my name], yet so far. Literally, if only you tried a fraction of a percent harder." Then she read my grade which was--sadly I still remember it--89.8%

    I did not get a B+--she did not believe in pluses--I got a straight B. The girl with the 88% cried, we know this because the teacher who resorted to public humiliation announced it, and got an A- -- she did believe in minuses.

    I'm sort of traumatized by my Calculus teacher but definitely not by my History teacher--albeit he was the loudest. To this day, if I see a girl who even looks slightly like my Calculus teacher I will not even attempt to ask her out in fact I will avoid her.
     
  16. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    Apr 8, 2011

    Thanks MathJourney - wow, that's an interesting response, and yeah - I guess we are always all vulnerable. I guess even just working in the industry, we have to assume a certain level of risk - I guess we could always be sued for anything, or at least more things than we may know. If you happen to come across any case law, I'd be interested, but yeah - not expected a renewed license to lexis nexis :).
     
  17. John Lee

    John Lee Groupie

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    Apr 8, 2011

    SERIOUSLY, I agree.
    But it is what it is. In this case, probably not. But an "admission of wrongdoing" (i.e. an apology) in a more gray case--you don't want to open yourself up to that kind of thinking.

    I would be more concerned with what EdEd says. It's one thing to "apologize". A lot of people take apologizing as a sign of weakness, especially someone like an ignorant child.

    I think the "apology" will have to be skillfully done, so that the kid realizes that your actions aren't what you feel (as the teacher) is acceptable behavior. Notice I didn't use the word "sorry" or "apology". I think you can convey your feeling about it, without using those words. You can also relate to the kid... how coaches in sports will yell and scream at a player, and that's not because they hate them or anything of the sort. All will say they wouldn't waste their time yelling at players who they didn't think had ability. And invariably, players later will say how much affinity they feel for the coach. You can google Vince Lombardi, Bill Parcells, Pat Riley, just any old-school coach and you'll read stories like that.

    This is not some macho "no apology" thing. But I think it's a real concern in this case--you don't want the kid to think that he was right and the teacher was wrong--and empower him.
     
  18. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    "We need to talk about yesterday. When you were angry and left the classroom, I followed you and said (yelled) xxxxxxx. I'm sorry if what I said and how I said it hurt your feelings or embarrassed you in front of your friends. It's important to me that my students always work to the best of their ability; I felt then, and still do, that you could do much better than you were. It makes me angry/frustrated when students don't care about their success as much as I do, but I didn't express that to you the way I wanted to...."
     
  19. Older Newbie

    Older Newbie New Member

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    Apr 10, 2011

    Thanks for all the input. The boy is 10 and has family issues. I have been teaching at this homework program for 10 weeks having taken over for a teacher who left the program.
    He strutted out of the classroom and I don't think the other kids thought it unusual, as he has done this before. Our encounter took place in the hallway and the kids didn't really hear it, so the only acknowledgement is between him and myself.
    The director has placed him in another class after a discussion with the child's mother. I will see him as the kids all come off the same bus.
    I have previously taught preschool for 18 years and Pre-K for 4 years. I supervised an after school homework/childcare program for elementary kids last year at a different school. I am new to a class for kids between first and fourth grade who need enrichment/tutoring in math and reading along with behavior improvement. It has been difficult for me to have 12 kids, each with specific needs as opposed to a class of 16 kids in one grade level.
    That is why I call myself "Older Newbie" because this program is dramatically different from my usual class. I appreciate the objective suggestions!
     
  20. TiffanyL

    TiffanyL Cohort

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    Apr 10, 2011

    Okay, 10 changes things a bit for me...I was thinking he was a teenager for some reason.

    Ten year olds are pretty easy to make amends with.

    I think it is honorable that you recognize your part in the situation and that the outcome wasn't what you had hoped for.

    I would apologize in private but address the whole class as a couple of other members stated.

    By doing so, the class realizes your human. I had to do this a couple of times when I was teaching as well. It helped the kids to recognize that adults make mistakes as well and move on from them....a great example for younger children.
     
  21. 3Sons

    3Sons Enthusiast

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    Apr 11, 2011

    There's a truism that anyone can sue anyone at any time for any thing. And to an extent, it's true -- simply filing a suit only requires that you're able to serve the defendant. But that means you're at legal risk as soon as you enter the classroom, so the issue isn't whether you're at legal risk but by how much.

    That said, any legal case here would be frivolous, and filing a case would cost the plaintiff more in both money and time than the case would be worth. It could be filed, but honestly has no chance of making it beyond a summary judgment.

    Keep in mind also that your suggested alternative is certainly no safer:

    Actually, if simply yelling at a kid was a real legal concern, then this kind of statement might be more legally more difficult to deal with than a simple apology. An apology (especially if left somewhat ambiguous) could be an apology for the teacher's actions, or something else.

    Defamation per se applies in a very limited subset of cases -- if the teacher had said the student has AIDS, or was sexually impure, or that they were a criminal. In those cases, though, an apology doesn't make it legally any more dangerous. Slander itself is a bit more flexible, but you still have to show there was a false statement of fact made (so, "I can't stand you!" doesn't cut it).

    The first thing that needs to be established is whether the plaintiff has a cognizable claim. If they don't, the defendant won't have to say a word. Yelling at someone isn't a tort. Defamation requires a false statement of fact (i.e., not opinion). IIED requires the infliction of extreme mental distress (the Westboro Baptist Church won the right to picket near funerals of dead soldiers, for example -- they had to go to the Supreme Court to do it, but consider what that implies about the level of emotional distress that needs to be done).

    I think going ahead with an apology is appropriate. I'd make it private, and I wouldn't go over the top with explaining or trying to excuse anything. "I'm sorry about the other day." and then going into how we can have a productive relationship going forward would be how I would handle it.
     
  22. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    Apr 11, 2011

    Helpful clarification 3Sons!
     
  23. Cerek

    Cerek Aficionado

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    Apr 11, 2011

    Excellent response, 3Sons. Thanks for the clarifications.

    MathJourney - I understand your reasoning. Not only is it perfectly logical in the corporate world, it is, in fact, standard procedure that you do as much CYA as possible and avoid admitting any error or wrongdoing specifically for the reasons you mentioned.

    The fact is, though, that corporate ideals and business models simply do not apply to education any more than scientific methods apply to art. The settings require two fundamentally different approaches and perspectives. Look up the Blueberry Ice Cream story some time to see why perfectly legitimate corporate standards and objectives just do not apply in the classroom setting.

    In the corporate world, you would want to avoid any admission of wrongdoing, guilt, error, etc. In the classroom, though, admitting you made a mistake is going to earn you a lot more respect and credibility with the kids and - ultimately - their parents as well.

    While you do build relationships with clients in the business world, they rarely reach as deeply as the relationship teachers build with their students. You also don't deal with the same clients every single day for 180 days straight, so if a riff occurs, you both have time to "cool off" and re-evaluate the situation. If a teacher and student have a bad day, they still have to be in the classroom with each other the next day and the next and the next. The teacher already has an inherent position of ultimate authority, IF they choose to use it. Doing so, however, will just lead to more frustration by the student which, in turn, will lead to even more disruptive behavior as the child desperately struggles to gain some semblance of control over what happens to them in the class.

    By going to the student privately and saying "I want to apologize for yelling at you yesterday. I should not have reacted that way. I expect better than that from my students and I expect better than that from myself. We were both frustrated yesterday and we both could have acted better than we did."

    This boy is only 10 yrs old and has problems at home. I'm sure he is not used to adults admitting they are wrong at all and it could make a tremendous difference in his outlook from here on out that an adult finally was "big enough" to say "I was wrong and I'm sorry I did that."
     
  24. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    Apr 11, 2011

    Great advice, Cerek!
     
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