Let me start off by saying that it is very hard to be a teacher in this country right now. Not that being a teacher has ever been easy work, but the horrible combination of economic distress, diminishing school funds and growing class sizes (which are a result of diminishing school funds) have made public school teachers easy scapegoats for everything that’s wrong in America.
Now that that’s out of the way, it’s important to note that some teachers are terrible. Not just terrible teachers, but terrible people … who happen to teach. The story of Stuart Chaifetz is a reminder to everyone that diligence on the part of parents is absolutely crucial to children not only getting an education but staying safe in school as well.
When a parent sends their child to school there are a million things to worry about: bullies, kidnappers, bad school lunches and short-cuts that end up with kids getting caught in heavy traffic – and that’s for your average healthy emotionally stable child. These worries are tripled when you have a special needs child who often may lack the communication skills or social awareness to know when they are in danger or being abused.
So when Stuart Chaifetz was getting reports from teachers that his child was acting violent in class, something that seemed out of character for his 10 year old autistic son Akian, he decided to do a little snooping of his own. He sent Akian to school with a tape recording device and when he listened to the recording he was shocked at the level of bullying, insults and inappropriate behavior that was hurled at his child each day:
The recording is horrible. You hear teachers talking about drinking, their sex lives, and intermittent sprinkles of insults at the special needs kids in their classes. And while the teacher’s aide was fired and the classroom teacher has been suspended, the horrifying reality of teacher’s bullying students, especially the most harmless kids in the school (those with special needs), still needs to be addressed.
There is also the case of Julio Artuz, whose teacher threatened to hunt him down and “Kick is ass”, after taunting him as ‘special.’ Or the case of 12 year old Austin Cooper who was the target of insults by a teacher’s aide who routinely called him stupid and retarded.
This runs a bit deeper than just targeting special needs children, because really this is an issue of abuse, and the unfortunate and extraordinary steps that parents have to go through just to make sure their kids are getting an education.
You ever try to take three 10 year olds to the mall on a Saturday afternoon? It’s hell on earth, and that’s if they’re good kids. Try doing that with 30 kids, half of whom don’t want to be there, and you know what it’s like for your average public school teacher. Most teachers are doing the best they can with the limited resources they have available. However, these cases of bullying should not be confused with ‘teaching issues.’ These are horrible people, who would be horrible people no matter what kind of job they had – if you can train for years to become a special needs educator (and you have to choose that professional specialization, it’s not something you can be forced into) and then go about the job by degrading and abusing your students, there is clearly something wrong with you as a person regardless of what profession you chose.
While I would never encourage classroom vigilantism these parents and many others are doing whatever they can to make sure their children are safe in the classroom. And, unfortunately, with budget cuts forcing good teachers out, and politicians using the profession as a hackey-sack to score points with the public we may see more and more cases like this come to light before substantial changes are made.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.