Thursday, July 03, 2008

Teachers and Self-Esteem

A bit of background: My wife is currently attending a 4 year school, going for her B.S. in Nursing. This summer, she's in the process of taking Chemistry (101 and 102), as she finishes up her pre-req's before going into the Nursing program.

The Chem 101 professor was a total ass. To say he was a chauvinist pig, a bigot, and a racist would be putting it mildly. He constantly railed against the department secretary, calling her "worthless" and saying that a man could more adequately handle her job. He constantly belittled students in the classroom and the laboratory. He said that women should not be found in difficult and demanding jobs because they were not cut out for it. He told one woman of African-American descent that, after scolding her publicly, he could not tell if she was blushing or not. He made ghastly inappropriate racial stereotypic comments, such as "I don't know why the Asians in this class aren't doing better ... they usually excel in math and the sciences."

Whiskey! Tango! Foxtrot!

The complaints didn't stop there. The wife was furious. I went ballistic. All ready to march into the office of the President of the University, I deferred to my better half's wishes that neither one of us do anything until after the grades were posted for the semester (they post today). As my wife was turning in her lab key, the teacher pulled her aside and apologized for the rude comments he directed towards her. Being the epitome of grace that she is, she accepted his apology. She also noticed that his office was extremely barren. Reason? He was forced to resign due to years of horrible behavior.

My question is: Why did it take so long?

How many dreams did this man crush? How many people did he turn away from pursuing careers in the sciences because he was a total ass-hat? How many potential discoveries did he delay/destroy because people were turned off by his attitude and as a consequence didn't pursue a particular line of work? How many people spent years of their life working diligently, pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps, only to reach the summit (in this case a college education) and have him kick them down again with his racist remarks?

As a teacher in an introductory class, he is the first face these students saw of a particular subject/discipline. If this was his standard operating procedure, I can guarantee it was not a pleasant first impression, and as they say ... the first impression is always the most important.


These are the things that I think about now, especially as I'm becoming a member of a school board. How are teachers behaving with their students? Are they building them up? Or rather, are they knocking them down?

It reminds me of a situation I experienced as a child. In 3rd grade, I had a teacher who was extremely rude to me. She would make fun of me in front of the entire class. She would administer harsher penalties to me than other students, for similar acts. She showed me no encouragement, she offered no praise, she offered no consolation when things were tough. Her excuse when my parents confronted her? I reminded her of a sibling that she didn't get along with. What sort of excuse is that? I can honestly say her treatment of me was something I carried with me for a long time. I can still feel my face flush with anger when I think about her. She was a horrible teacher. People like her, should not be allowed to teach. Anyone. At all. Ever. There was a time when I would have considered her a waste product. Sometimes I still do. It's something I'm trying, very hard, to move past.

You know, we say the responsibility of teaching our youth lies first and foremost with the parents. That's true, and I believe it. But I also believe that despite the parents best efforts, they can be undermined by teachers who do a thoroughly crappy job. I don't know if Mrs. Vincent of P.S. 108 Capt Vincent G Fowler, in South Ozone Park, NY still teaches, but if she does (and hopefully she does not) I hope she reads this and realizes that her actions will impact children for years to come, and if she's still an ass-hat, she matures.

The same goes for the rest of us.

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