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Teacher makes class write letters about girl's misbehavior. Discipline or bullying?

A Facebook post this week by a Bartow County mother alleges her 8-year-old's teacher humiliated the girl by instructing her third-grade classmates to write letters about her bad behavior.  The child remained in the classroom while her peers penned their letters, says the mother.

The post is going viral, with virtually all comments thus far critical of the teacher. I asked Bartow County about it and received this response from Alisha Evans, public relations specialist.

We are dedicated to the enforcement of our school system’s policies. Once the situation was brought to our attention, we took swift action and met with school administration. We are confident the issue was handled quickly, firmly and fairly. Since this is a personnel issue, we cannot release additional information.

I recently read about a discipline approach in which students write letters to offenders who disrupt class. In their letters, the students explain how the misbehavior affected them and their learning. It was not cast as punitive, but as a way of having other kids get a chance to voice their feelings.

Is this an effective method? Does it work? Is it better for older students or for no students? Was this a botched attempt that could be done better? Or, should this never be done with young students?

The letters never made it home to the girl’s parents. The mother told me some of the children were upset they were asked by their teacher to write letters and told their parents that they felt bad about it. The parents of those students notified the school. “We were not told about the letters until they were already thrown away,” said the mother.

Here is an edited version of the mother's Facebook post. (I removed the child's name.)

You read about this on the news, you don’t expect a phone call saying that the person you entrust your child to while you work to provide a sustainable life for your family, flat-out bullied your child. And worse, encourages other children to do so.

The teacher skipped the math portion of their day on Thursday. Why? To “teach a lesson” to my child specifically. She had the 20 students she’s employed to “teach” write a letter to my husband detailing how bad my child is, what she had done, and basically call her out of misbehavior. None of this behavior was reported to us otherwise.

My daughter. Was. In. The. Room.

My daughter sat at her desk while every student in her class was instructed, by their teacher, to “bash” her in their letters.

So I’m sitting here absolutely livid and heartbroken trying to understand what kind of adult not only bullies an eight year old but also brings an entire class of children in on it and teaches them it’s ok to act in such a manner toward their classmates.

Trying to fathom what a teacher was thinking to have all students in her class miss out on a lesson in order to be taught to mistreat someone.

I am appalled to learn this district does not do suspensions and that she’s back the classroom as if nothing had happened. Why is she standing in front of our children? Why is she teaching? What is she teaching behind those doors? Is this the first time? Is my daughter the first? I doubt it, but that’s speculation & I cannot allow my mind to go further.

Teachers are supposed to be role models to every mind that walks through those schoolhouse doors and I’m ashamed to say my daughter’s teacher has seriously let her down.

I am so disappointed in what has happened to my child. No, she isn’t perfect. Yes, we have had to jump a few hurdles this school year as she got behind a bit last year as far as school work and behavior but I am proud to say that she is now doing a lot better. Thanks to what we thought was a teacher who had her best interests at heart. We were fooled into thinking she was being understood and helped. When, in fact, she was being bullied.

It was awful to learn that she led a group of young minds to bully a classmate. We only learned of this because a few the other students told their parents and thankfully, they reached out to the school. I appreciate being told, but it doesn’t take away the fact my daughter has been thinking for days that it is okay for people to treat her that way. She adores her teacher and even hugged her goodbye as we told her she would be moving classes.

She was taught that it was okay.

What I wouldn’t give to be able to put my children in private school. Some teachers these days just don’t seem to care about their students at all.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.