Tip #300: Lifelong Learning: Shut Down by an Abusive Teacher

This week’s Tip looks at the second example of teachers who do not understand or care about how students learn or what they need to be successful. The first example was a lazy long-term teacher at the high school level. The second example highlighted in this week’s Tip is a brand new teacher at the fifth grade level.

An Emotionally Abusive Teacher

Does the teacher know how to write an effective lesson plan? No

A review of Mr. R’s lesson plan indicated that he had a very limited understanding of how to write an effective lesson. The lesson plan was very sketchy and lacked substance, other than the learning objectives, which repeated verbatim the entire learning standards.

Does the lesson result in specific, observable and measurable learning? No

Mr. R was reviewing a test when the auditor arrived. It appeared to be a math test, but the entire lesson was focused on the students finding and circling numbers on their pages. Mr. R had written the following answers for #1-4 on a flipchart:

1. 1 &13,
2. 1,2,3, & 26
3. 1,2,4,5,8,10, 20, 40
4. 1 & 23

There was absolutely no explanation of the answers posted on a flip chart and no discussion of how to achieve these answers.

Mr. R then erased these answers and posted the answers for #5-9:

5. 24
6. 60
7. 35
8. 28
9. 6

After posting these answers, he told the students: “If you don’t’ have the same thing as on the board, it’s wrong. It’s self explanatory!” Ironically, immediately after he said this, one student indicated that she still didn’t understand. Mr. R did not respond or coach her.

Instead, this moved him into a tirade about having the students look for #’s 9, 10, 13 and 14. The auditor had no idea why or what these referred to on their pages.

Mr. R angrily grabbed all of the students’ papers and then handed them back to them again, saying: “If we can’t get through this, you going to be stuck on the MAP test. Look through, make sure I can see page 1 in a neat handwriting!”

“If you’re confused, Lord knows…!” “Circle the page number. No, ma’am, neatly please!” Let me know when you’re done.”

Then he snapped his fingers loudly and angrily in the students’ faces: “Show me page 1!” If it was good, Mr. R did not acknowledge it other than to grunt “1-12. Okay.”

This ten- minute rant appeared to be about simply numbering what work they would be looking at on each page.

The auditor chose to stay longer in this class, so then watched a science lesson. Mr. R called on students by last name and asked them: ” What have you learned?” Although some students could answer the questions, at no time did Mr. R either validate their answers or write them on the board as reinforcement for the visual learners. He just repeated the answers given by the students.

There were two times when Mr. R used models to assist the students. When a student was confused about a question regarding the cell membrane, Mr. R showed the student a model of a cell to coach the correct response. Later, Mr. R asked two students to stand in front of the class with their terrariums to answer questions.

He called on a student (by last name only) to read question 1. “Read it again, please. What is the key word in the sentence?” (This was the first use of “please” in the entire class session). Mr. R drew the answer from the student and discussed why it was correct.

When one student had difficulty reading the problem, Mr. R had her sound out the words. He asked her to identify the key word and explain what she knew about it. When she gave the wrong answer, instead of coaching her to the correct answer, Mr. R turned to another student and asked him “Why do you disagree?”

Mr. R appears to lack any understanding of how to structure a lesson and set students up for success. It is highly questionable whether effective learning occurred. If it did, only a few students benefited.

Does the teacher create and maintain an effective learning environment? No

Mr. R maintained a highly controlled and abusive environment. The entire focus of the math lesson was on control and discipline.

The first thing that the auditor observed upon entering the class was Mr. R raising his hand, looking at a paper and yelling at a student: “All of those are wrong!”

He told the students: “On page 7, see #1-12. Raise your hand if you don’t see it.” When a student spoke, Mr. R barked at him: “I didn’t ask you to respond!” and then shouted angrily at another student, “Don’t respond unless I give you permission to!”

When some students were confused about what he wanted them to do, he told them in a scolding and condescending voice: “That’s why you’re supposed to be following me,” a statement he repeated twice.

He then yelled at the students: “If you don’t see your number, you write the number and put an x on the number!”

At no time did Mr. R crack a smile during the class. A frown was firmly fixed on his face. He called the students by only their last names in a military fashion. The auditor’s immediate and continuing observation was that Mr. R did not like children.

During the science lesson (which was a review), Mr. R sat on a desk opposite most of the students and wildly swung his legs back and forth. When the auditor questioned whether it had occurred to him that this behavior might be distracting, Mr. R simply responded that he had a lot of energy.

At one point during the class, a new student was admitted into the room. The auditor had been in the guidance office and knew that this was the child of a seasonal worker who, as a single parent, had moved the child from community to community as she followed work. Mr. R did not welcome the child, introduce him to the group, and explain to him where they were in the lesson, or give him any resources or materials. The poor child simply sat by himself at an empty desk for the rest of the lesson.

The room was set up so that all but three students sat on the long side of a U, one student with an aide sat on the bottom of the U, and two students sat on the other long side facing the rest of the class. Mr. R later explained to the auditor that those two students were there because they tend to chat. These two students continually had difficulty understanding what he wanted them to do. He admitted to them in front of the entire class that he confused their names. These students happened to be among the few students who had made terrariums.

There were only two times when Mr. R was somewhat positive and validating. First, he told a student who had her science notebook open, “Good job, I’m proud of you.” (Since he had earlier yelled at the class to clear their desks of all books and notes, this made absolutely no sense). Second, he asked the class to clap to thank the two students who had held up their terrariums. (However, he didn’t clap, so few of the class did. The fact that he still didn’t know the names of the two students further diminished this gesture).

Mr. R was continually abusive to the children in word, manner, tone, and action. When the principal was surprised by this audit observation, the auditor pointed out that none of the students or the aide in the room appeared surprised by Mr. R’s behavior. It was, therefore, typical and customary behavior on his part. Even so, the auditor would like to stress that 50 minutes of this abusive behavior should be more than enough to warrant Mr. R’s immediate removal from the classroom.

The auditor also mentioned to the principal that the new student, who already displayed low self- confidence and self- esteem because of constant disruption in his life, should be immediately removed from Mr. R’s class.

During the after school feedback session,Mr. R resisted all of the auditor’s observations, insisting that his students “were on point.” He was completely comfortable with the behaviors that the auditor identified as abhorrent. It was clear to the auditor that Mr. R did not understand how children learn, did not see the need for a warm and supportive learning environment, and was doing very real emotional and psychological damage to a number of the students in the class. Mr. R’s teaching style may work in an adult military setting, but it was completely inappropriate and counterproductive in an elementary school environment.

The scary thing about this teacher is that the principal, who had been in the teacher’s classroom several times to audit, had never observed this behavior. As a matter of fact, the principal had earlier identified this teacher as one of the best new teachers in the school! The principal should seriously consider whether she wants to have a teacher who emotionally abuses children continue to teach at her school. Imagine the terrible impact that this teacher is having on the students’ potential interest in lifelong learning!

Next week’s Tip will look at what happens when a poor rural school has difficulty finding competent teachers.

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