Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

April 28, 2013

Strict teachers deserve respect — not a beating — from kids, parents

— — No-nonsense. Firm. Strong. Harsh adjectives? Not for a teacher charged with giving young children a positive start as they begin their journey through school. And Ms. Marie Vawter, a first-grade teacher at Montcalm Elementary School for many years during the 1960s and ’70s, embodied these characteristics.

Small in stature but larger than life to a room full of 6- and 7-year-olds, Ms. Vawter was an educator who expected students to give 100 percent to their studies, and abide by the rules. Misconduct was not tolerated. Period. The only thing more horrific than getting “in trouble” with Miss Vawter was the thought she might share the details of any misbehavior with one’s parents.

Talk about a double whammy. It was always a toss-up which punishment would be worse — the one doled out at school, or the one handed down by parents who wanted to guarantee the negative behavior would not be repeated.

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Decades later, failure to obey rules in schools — and some parents’ reactions to their children’s behavior — has certainly changed. And not for the better.

Just last week, a 36-year-old woman pleaded not guilty to allegedly attacking a student and teachers at a Louisiana High School. The kicker: Her two juvenile daughters were also in on the assault. “Police say the daughters, whose names were not released due to their ages, punched the student in the face while their mother, yelling and cussing, held her,” the Associated Press reported.

Washington television station WUSA also recently reported on violent conditions inside a D.C. middle school. One teacher told the station: “I spent the majority of my time and energy just managing behaviors and preventing them from killing themselves or trying to attack me.”

Sadly, stories of violence against teachers have been making the headlines for several years. Among the most memorable:

• A Texas high school football coach who was shot in the school’s field house by one of his player’s parents who was known for having a bad temper.

• A Philadelphia teacher who was slapped multiple times by a parent after the mother was informed she needed to get a late slip for her daughter.

• And a mother in Dallas who barged into a classroom, grabbed a teacher by the hair and proceeded to punch and kick her. The apparent motive for the violent behavior? The mother’s child was scolded by the teacher for loitering outside a locker.

It’s human nature for parents to be protective of their children. But it is also a parent’s responsibility to teach youngsters to follow school rules, society’s laws and to respect those in authority. Beating up a teacher for disciplining his or her child for disobeying a school rule is a dire indicator of the dangerous path some parents are now traveling.

Violence begets violence. What lessons do children learn by watching their parents’ confrontations?

Lots, apparently.

Citing statistics from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Education Association reports that 127,120 public school teachers (K-12) were physically attacked at school — hit, kicked, bitten, slapped, stabbed or shot — during the 2007-08 school year, while another 222,460 teachers were threatened by students with acts of violence.

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Although southern West Virginia has its share of problems, we can be thankful extreme brutality against teachers has not made its way into our local classrooms. The fact is no teacher, parent or student is perfect, and mistakes will be made. The key is to resolve conflicts in a non-confrontational manner.

When one thinks back to the characteristics of many of our grandparents, parents and educators, certain traits come to mind, such as manners, decorum and respect for those in authority.

In our home, teaching children to adhere to such proper behavior did not involve “beatings” — of children or teachers — but a constant emphasis on right and wrong from toddler to teen years. Plus there was also the unsettling fear of blistering tongue-lashings, loss of television or phone privileges and the infamous “groundings” sure to result from any major infraction of home or school rules.

Although Ms. Vawter has passed away, her legacy lives on. Many of her students are now parents, instilling the values she taught in their own children.

Ms. Vawter may have been tough, but she taught youngsters more than ABCs and simple math. She instilled ethics.

And in an era where school violence is becoming a national problem, we should all be thankful for Ms. Vawter and the countless other teachers who have made our region a better place.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her at BDTPerry.

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