As an administrator, I’ve evaluated scores of teachers.
As an instructional coach, I’ve trained dozens with non-evaluative conversations aimed at improving their craft. I’ve built hundreds of relationships this way and learned that doing so is an art.
As both an educator and a parent on the other side of the educational mirror, I’ve worried about some of the abuses of power I’ve witnessed teachers inflict.
I’ve seen both teachers and parents dismiss their own abusive behaviors, sometimes half-jokingly, as being the fault of the children. These two forces both displaying the same unhealthy dynamic is highly concerning for all of our children.
Teachers have a huge amount of power over their students and are trained and taught to build and foster relationships that take the balance of this power into account, and understand their responsibility to do so in the context of this power.
This power is referred to as in loco parentis, essentially the idea that schools take both authority and responsibility from the parents and function in replace of the parents when in school. The extent of this authority and responsibilities varies from state to state, as well as globally.
In 19 states, for example, corporal punishment is still considered an acceptable form of discipline. Those states have, in effect, decided the in loco parentis power of educational institutions extends to hitting, spanking, and slapping.
This is in direct logical contrast to the robust amount of evidence showing psychological and physical risks to children subjected to this kind of discipline that has led 31 countries to enact prohibitions against doing so.
Still living in New York after graduating from Columbia University, I accepted a position with the New York City Teaching Fellows and subsequently taught in Bushwick, Brooklyn, for two years in a high needs middle school where upwards of ninety-five percent of the student body lived below the poverty line.
Amidst the onslaught of classroom management issues that plague so many first-time teachers, I yelled at my class exactly once to, “sit the hell down!”
I promptly received a standing ovation.
In retrospect, this was kind of funny. I even had the instigator of both the non-stop problematic behaviors, and that applause, seek me out on Facebook decades later to apologize for his behavior.
That said, I tortured myself over this act for weeks afterward. I felt I had beaten them. As a child, I experienced a great deal of parental yelling, and to this day experience physical symptoms, shaking, nausea, when witnessing verbal outbursts.
My own personal, abuse-cycle-related response notwithstanding, there is a great deal of evidence backing up the similar long-term problems that come from yelling and utilizing other forms of verbal abuse with kids. I was a young, naïve new teacher, however, and didn’t know the science behind this, it just felt so… wrong. So unethical.
So out of control.
So ultimately ineffective. According to Alan Kazdin, professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale, it’s not a “strategy, it’s a release.”
Yelling is a cathartic experience for the parent of no efficacy when it comes to changing behavior in the long term. The long-term effects range from depression to changing the healthy development of the brain.
There has been research about utilizing tone and volume in ways that help children understand that the behavior is a serious problem, and I am a big fan of the “teacher look” that has proven highly effective in many situations.
What teachers and parents alike need to make sure to do is separate the behavior from the child so there’s no mistake about where the problem stems.
After coming to terms with the fact I could not allow myself to ever yell at my class like that again, I dove into books like CHAMPS and those by Harry Wong to up my classroom management game.
Which got better and better, through work, practice, and study. I did not see this as a choice. I had to do this. I had to improve my ability to effectively manage my own emotions well enough to serve your children, who I respect and admire like they’re my own.
I wouldn’t want a teacher yelling at my kids. Or yours.
The strategies in these books can help parents come up with far more effective ways to discipline than yelling, and there are countless others with parent-specific examples of how to incorporate them into your family.
After diving deeper into classroom management, I discovered it was all about creating an honest, deep relationship that is very much a two-way street. It’s about giving the respect you expect.
Just like parenting.
In teacher’s lounges in the many schools I’ve worked, I often hear teachers discuss how they’ve just had it with the kids, how they have to yell, how reasonable it is.
It’s made into light-hearted jokes that ultimately blame the kids for being the source of the yelling.
I wouldn’t have to yell at you if you paid attention the first time.
If you’d stop constantly doing that, I wouldn’t have to yell at you.
I’m only yelling because I’ve given you these instructions a thousand times.
The above are examples of things I’ve heard teachers say to and about children. They are also things I’ve heard parents say to and about children.
They are also examples of verbal abuse.
The thing that disturbs me is the trend in parenting to make the same types of excuses some teachers make.
I’ve read articles referring to parents who don’t yell as, “unicorn parents,” as if we were mystical creatures who don’t know how to crack a joke or be a real parent with flaws.
I think, and hope, the same parents don’t consider teachers who don’t yell, “unicorn teachers.” I imagine they’d be enraged to know a teacher yelled at their children, in loco parentis be damned.
As an educator, I will never yell at your children. As a teacher trainer and evaluator, I will help ensure other teachers do not yell at your children in loco parentis. As a parent, I will not yell at my children, either. For all the same reasons.
Teaching is a huge challenge. Parenting is a huge challenge. We have to educate ourselves to do it well, or the next generation will pay the price.
Since the research shows yelling can be just as abusive as beating, we need to step up to these challenges and do better.
For the sake of all children.
Jenny Mundy-Castle is the author of Every Time I Didn’t Say No. Her memoir was inspired by educating high-trauma youth in New York, New Mexico, and Nigeria.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.