DEAR DR. FOURNIER: What can we as parents do when our child is subjected to a teacher's sarcasm and ridicule in the classroom? Our eighth-grader's self-esteem is suffering badly, but I know she is trying.
THE ASSESSMENT: When we parents suffer from stress - work-related problems, family disagreements, financial obligations, illness or other life situations - we may "take it out" on others through sarcasm, ridicule or just plain shouting. Let's remember teachers also are susceptible to stress and, like us, they may take it out on the people in their workplace - students in the classroom.Neither situation justifies the use of sarcasm and ridicule, but we must admit that it's a very human thing to do. Once we recognize this, we are ready to deal with the situation.
COURSE OF ACTION: Although sarcasm and ridicule are inappropriate in the classroom - whether from the teacher or fellow students - you cannot change their behavior.
What you can do is help your child understand "human" reactions and learn to cope with them. This personal strategy is important not just in the classroom but also in life, yet coping with others is not an innate quality. You must guide your child in recognizing how to deal with empathy in such "human" situations.
This seemingly passive strategy may leave some parents saying, "But no one has a right to insult my child!" You are right. However, you will not always be there to help your child mend hurt feelings or deal with others. It is far more important to teach your child to take responsibility for his own defense, not by hitting back but by going above it.
Help your child learn to see opportunity where others see defeat. Help your child learn that a key to overcoming hurt is finding ways to collaborate rather than succumb to separation from those around us. And, most of all, help your child to learn that he or she is strong enough to fend off defeatist feelings with strategies for success.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Start by helping your child recall moments when he or she has lost control in dealing with a sister, a brother or a friend because of "outside" stress, such as getting a low grade on a report card or just "having a bad day." Help your child understand that sometimes a teacher's actions may beunrelated to the person who receives the actions.
Let your child know this is an opportunity to take positive action in an unpleasant situation.
Use role-playing with your child to illustrate things a teacher can say, and teach your child other thoughts.
Ask your child to answer three questions:
1. What did the teacher say that just shows he or she is human?
2. Why shouldn't I let it bother me?
3. What can I do to let the teacher know I'm going forward?
Make sure your child gets to Step 3. This is the step that will help the child not simply stifle "bad feelings" but take positive steps instead.
Here is an example of the three-step process:
1. "You could have done better on this test. You obviously didn't study. Your laziness is going to flunk you - not me."
2. My teacher is frustrated. Her job is to teach so that I learn. My teacher feels bad because the job didn't get done; besides, maybe she has a headache, or a sick parent or her own child is having problems.
3. For the next test, I'll prepare an outline and ask my teacher to review it with me so she can know I am trying.
If this approach does not help your child's classroom situation, then schedule a conference with the teacher to let her know that she is affecting your child's emotional wellness.
Parents - and students - may send questions about homework, education or parenting to Dr. Yvonne Fournier, Fournier Learning Strategies Inc., 5900 Poplar, Memphis, TN 38119. Please include your name and address, though names may be withheld upon request. Questions can be answered only in future columns. Fournier, president of Fournier Learning Strategies Inc., is an education consultant to schools and corporations.
The "Hassle-Free Homework" column runs intermittently in the Deseret News.