Dealing with mean names from teachers

Ethan only started attending primary school this year. In this short 4 and a half months, he has been called ‘stupid’ twice and ‘lazy’ once by his teachers.

The first time he was called stupid was during a test. The English teacher called each student up to the front to ask them some questions. To every student who answered wrongly, the teacher said ‘You are stupid!’ to them, right in front of the whole class. Ethan was one of those who were publicly called stupid. When Ethan came home and told me about it, I was fuming mad. In fact, I got mad every time I thought about it for the following week.

I have always taught both Ethan and Isabel not to use the words ‘stupid’ on anyone as it is demeaning. We don’t even use that word at home. So when Ethan’s teacher called him that, he was hurt and didn’t really understand why the teacher called the students as such. I explained that he shouldn’t bother about what the teacher said and that he wasn’t stupid. I encouraged him to try harder in his next test.

Then one day, not long after that, Ethan came home and told me that another teacher said that he was a lazy boy for not doing his homework. One of his classmates, after hearing what the teacher said, also came up to him and laughed at him for being lazy. He was really sad about it as he told me that he wasn’t being lazy but he really forgot to do his homework. And he was hurt that his friend laughed at him. I told him not to bother about what his teacher and classmate said and if his classmate were to say that to him again, I told him to tell his classmate not to be mean. Luckily his classmate did not say anything else after that one time.

And last week, when I was tucking Ethan into bed, he told me that the English teacher scolded him for being such a stupid boy because he didn’t understand what the teacher was teaching. This time he was the only one being called stupid. The teacher said it out loud in front of the whole class. He was so hurt that he almost wanted to cry. Fortunately, one of his good friends went up to him and told him “pu yau ku” – don’t cry. Ethan stopped himself from crying. I was fuming mad again when he told me about this latest incident.

How can teachers be calling their students stupid and lazy? What if the headmaster called them stupid and lazy? How would the teachers have responded to such names? I doubt they will be able to accept it well. And if they can’t accept being called such names, then they too should not have used such names on children who have not even matured in their thoughts and emotions yet. Children have feelings too and many adults seem to have forgotten this!

I understand that sometimes it is too much for a teacher to handle a class of 40 students but I believe that there are many better ways to teach the students than labeling them as stupid and lazy. Is this how the teachers have become? I am not proud to say this but I started failing some subjects since I was in Standard 3. Even until I left high school, no teachers had ever called me stupid and lazy. Perhaps all the teachers didn’t care? I don’t know, but it is definitely better than being shamed in front of my classmates.

Perhaps Ethan’s teachers thought that they can ‘encourage’ their students to do better by putting them down. It may work on some students but it definitely won’t work on all of them. Some students who are sensitive may think that their teachers are right – that they are simply stupid and that there is no point in trying harder because the teachers had already told them that they are stupid. Sometimes, negative labels such as these can really drag a student’s morale down.

I had been called a cheater by a teacher and I still remember the incident now, 30 years after it had happened. It was during a school holiday programme at a church which my friend had invited my sister, younger brother and I. It was conducted over a period of 2 weeks and I had so much fun learning and making new friends. Everything was great and I looked forward to attending the programme every day. However, there was a test on the very last day. It was just like a test in school. Halfway through the test, I needed an eraser but I didn’t have one so I asked the girl next to me to lend me hers. The teacher saw me talking and came over to me. He did not asked me what happened but simply accused me of trying to cheat in the test. For goodness sake, why would I need to cheat on such a test? I wasn’t even really serious about the test. But being called a cheater in front of everyone made me very upset. I did not tell anyone about it at all as I was ashamed for being called a cheater even though I did not try to cheat. And my feelings were hurt because the teacher whom I had grown to be quite fond of accused me of such. So even though I had a great time before that incident, my whole experience was marred. The next year, I told my mom that I did not want to go for the programme anymore. I chose to stay alone at home that following year while my sister and brother went ahead.

So, back to Ethan, I think no teachers should address their students in such a way. I related these incidents to Daddy. I told him that if Ethan were in a private school, he can be rest assured that I would have marched straight to the Principal’s office the very next day to complain about it. But because Ethan is in a government school, I had to keep my cool. I have heard from my friends saying that it’s better not to complain and offend the teachers or else they might reprimand the students for complaining about them.

But this second incident of being called stupid really pissed me off. I told Ethan that I will go and talk to the Headmaster about it. Ethan didn’t want me to do that. Instead, he said that he will tell the Headmaster himself as he sees the Headmaster walking around every day. But it has been a few days already and he said he kept forgetting to tell the Headmaster. I am beginning to think that he doesn’t really want to tell the Headmaster and make a big deal out of it. He would rather keep it quite so the teacher doesn’t get angry with him.

Daddy also said to just leave it as Ethan has to learn to deal with such situations in the future, whether with his teachers or with his friends. Yes, I know that my kids will have to learn that there are a lot of mean people out there in this big, big world and that they have to know how to deal with it positively. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling that I need to protect them for as long as I could. It may seem like it is a small matter but would it have a negative effect on him? What would you have done? How would you have dealt with such mean names from the teachers?


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