I was on Yahoo a few days ago and came across this story.
For those of you too apathetic to click the link, the story details how the mother of a little boy placed a recorder in her son’s backpack in order to obtain evidence that the teacher– a 33-year education veteran who had just been named that school’s teacher of the year– had been verbally abusing her son five-year-old, Aaron.
The story takes another turn after the evidence against the teacher, Rosalba Suarez, is revealed. As the article writes
Aaron has been placed in a different classroom, and his grades have improved. However, Escotto wants Suarez removed from the school entirely and has hired an attorney, Sonia Roca. In Florida, it is illegal to record someone without their consent. However, Roca argues that since the classroom is a public place, the recording is legal.
I want to focus on this because it feels relevant to teachers, privacy, and student-teacher relations.
Let me begin by saying that Suarez’s actions were grossly inappropriate. Even though I have little in the way of classroom experience, I can easily say that berating a student for “resisting” a lesson should never be an option for an educator, especially not one who had been teaching for almost three-and-a-half decades. There are many relevant disciplinary techniques that this teacher could have used to help reform Aaron’s behavior, including calling his mother and roping them in on a dual-approach to bettering Aaron’s in-class behavior. A teacher should never harass their students. One would hope that this would be a given.
Now, with that being said, I feel that Escotto did cross a line and this is where things become problematic.
I do not believe that a public classroom constitutes a public space. It is open to the public but not inherently public. It is a “private” public space. If it were an open public space, one would imagine that much of the personal information about the students and parents would be freely available to the public, but it is not. If it were an open public space, then people would not have to sign in or vaccinate their kids, or sign paperwork or… and so on, but they do because it is a space that is free for the public to use as long as they follow the guidelines set by the state. Once those guidelines have been met, the daily convolutions of the school become a private forum between teacher and pupil with the parent acting as support auxiliary.
But, this presents us with a problem. In fact, this presents us with a familiar problem. If this is the case, and Escotto did an illegal act, then should not the law be rectified so that abuse can be caught? This is a tough question because these questions are essentially the same dynamic given to “Parents Rights” in many of the right-wing bills making their way across the nation, recently.
But, let us remember that this is a familiar problem. How is it familiar? Peer-to-peer Bullying is how.
Once in a while, it is not uncommon to hear a story about a bullied kid who secretly recorded their tormentor while being abused. However, to the dismay of the reader, in the end, the victim was the only one punished since they violated the privacy of their bully. These stories are always frustrating to read since they usually involve a great deal of Queerphobia. They usually amount to an exercise in apologizing for heterosexism.
And yet, it must be said that this situation, though similar to the example of peer-to-peer bullying, is not peer-to-peer bullying. The orientation is fundamentally different.
What should we do, then and what should be done about the abusive teacher?
Well, there are many ways to answer this but I feel this is a given– the answer isn’t necessarily to fire potentially abusive teachers (unless they are known and violent racist or sexual predators; but that is something different from verbal abusers). The answer to verbal abusers is to separate them from their alleged victims and have a school official moniter them, either personally or through an installed camera (or both), and keep the issue within the school at the local level between institution and parent. If the teacher is found to be abusive, then they should rectify their behavior by being required to attend a consoling service paid for by the school district. Only when all avenues have been exhausted, and when a teacher has proven resilient to professional bettering, should somebody’s employment be terminated.
I want to be very clear and say that this is what the parent could have done. Escotto could have asked the school to monitor that teacher because she had concerns about their interactions with their child; a dialog with the school could have been opened, a dialog where Escotto sat down with the principal and/or Suarez and hashed out a plan… but this never happened. What Escotto did instead was to invade the teacher’s privacy and potentially skirt the law by circumventing the prescribed disciplinary measures.
Sure, there is always the chance that the school might not have followed through or covered up for the teacher, but, let’s be honest, this is unlikely in a climate that sees teachers as throw-away commodities. Suarez obviously has some issues to work out but she does not seem malicious. She seems like many teachers: overworked, underappreciated, and underpaid. Obviously, she has become stressed and needs a reminder about why she became a teacher in the first place, a reminder administered through a teacher’s organization.
Ultimately, what Escotto could have done was what was ultimately done– Aaron could have been removed to a new classroom. Short and sweet. Instead of this pseudo-spy theatrics, Escotto could have simply made a quick phone call and requested that her son is moved to a classroom that she thought would better suit his educational needs. Again, simple.
None of this is to condone Suarez’s behavior or even to argue that teachers who display a clear record of verbal and physical abuse coupled with incompetency should be retained out of some knee-jerk defense of teachers. What I am saying, though, is that from my limited understanding of the situation, teachers who lose their cool once in a while and need to be brought back down to earth aren’t the top pedagogical threat.
If additional details are revealed, details that chronicle much more heinous acts of abuse, then the situation will obviously change. As it stands now, mild verbal abuse of a child is awful but something that is easily corrected through professional and peer consoling. Suarez has some self-criticizing ahead of her, to be sure, and her actions cannot be excused; and yet, the situation is more gray than black and white and must be acknowledged as constituting an intersection between personal and private that should be taken seriously, lest the issue spiral out of control.