I think we all assume that people become teachers because they either really care about kids, or because they view it as some sort of investment of time toward a brighter future, or some mix of the two.
So when we find stories like the one making waves in Toronto this week, about a teacher who admits to having repeatedly been physically and verbally abusive to Grade 6 and 7 students between 2003 and 2006, there’s a disconnect. And we’re all left scratching our heads, wondering if there are signs we missed, or things we should have done better, or systems that should have been in place to prevent people like this from receiving compensation for inappropriate behavior.
The down side of such discussions, of course, is that the systems that can be put in place are often abused. Sure, there are websites like “RateMyTeacher.com” and such, but when I think of them, I’m reminded of an old Dennis Miller comedy routine where he talks about old movies where a person on a train would reach up above the window and yank on “that cord. I don’t want to be on any form of mass transit where the general public has access to the [expletive deleted] brakes. I’d hate to find out that we went off the tracks at 200 miles per hour because Gus thought he saw a woodchuck.”
There’s big money in web applications like Yelp and various others, that allow people to publish ratings on restaurants and businesses and such. However, the potential benefit that users can get is subject to people who would “game the system” for their own personal gain, whether it be false positive reviews to get increased business, or false negative reviews to damage a competitor, or someone they don’t like.
Some will tell you that the false positives and false negatives balance each other out. But consider this: In 2010, rumors abounded that the Better Business Bureau would give a positive ratings to pretty much anyone who would pay
For example: A couple of years ago, the Los Angeles chapter of the Better Business Bureau confirmed people’s worst fears while rumours had surfaced that businesses could pay a premium and receive “no verification” high ratings, by giving an “A-“ rating to the terrorist group, Hamas, who had signed up and paid the fee.
Indeed, there have been several stories over the years where teachers with stellar credentials and flawless records have had their careers destroyed by false claims of inappropriate behaviour by students who were seeking revenge for grades they didn’t like.
So how do we watch our kids’ backs when it comes to their teachers? After all, we entrust them during the school year with our children’s safety for most of their waking hours. Isn’t there something we can do to make sure they’re in good hands?
Jenn Wallage, President of the Waterloo Local of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, Designated Early Childhood Educators, says there are processes in place. “I really encourage parents to speak with the Principal, if they are not able to speak directly to – and not confront – the teacher,” she says. She points out that dealing with these kinds of issues is exactly what the Principal is there for. “They are the ‘site manager’,” she says, “and are responsible for the well-being of the students and teachers. If someone is saying something about a teacher, it is their duty to follow up on it with the teacher.” She also advises you to give the Principal time to look into the matter thoroughly. Just because the people on CSI can investigate something and wrap it up in an hour doesn’t mean that’s going to happen at your child’s school.
I’m a teacher myself – a professor at Toronto’s Humber College – and we have cameras in every classroom. However, it doesn’t take cameras in the classroom to keep an eye on what’s happening with your kids, just as you don’t need cameras in their bedrooms. Open dialogue, and getting the facts straight, is always the best approach.
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