Lewkowicz, Freda. The Gazette [Montreal, Que] 09 Feb 2013: B.3.
According to McGill University statistics, nearly 50 per cent of all new teachers in North America leave the profession within their first five years of teaching. As a teacher in my 39th year in a public high school, I understand the many reasons they do so.
First, looming dangerously in every school's landscape is the epidemic of hate crimes against teachers, known as the false accusation syndrome. This syndrome has so drastically changed teaching that it not only contributes to teacher attrition but it also rings the death knell for master teachers, those educators who teach not only subjects but also children.
There is a new unwritten Bible for teachers in Quebec and its commandments must be obeyed. Touch a student casually? Never. Accidentally bump into a student in crowded hallways? Worrisome. Break up a fight? Think twice before wading into the ring to yank the wrestlers apart. Check girls' bathrooms while on supervision duty? Not since 2008, when a friend was charged with sexual exploitation and sexual assault of a student. Offer remediation with doors closed? Doors are wide open in 2013.
Be careful what one writes to students in emails and yearbooks? Absolutely. It is frightening how a simple XXXOOO can be tarnished to resemble a love letter from a teacher-molester. Buy a little gift for a struggling student? Forget about it unless it's done in partnership with another colleague. Take a photograph with students where a hug could easily be misinterpreted? Not a chance. Distance, distance, distance is the new mantra to ward off the pervert storm that might be headed one's way.
Several years ago, some boys were plotting to entangle me in a web of lies and to accuse me of a criminal act. Luckily, a colleague overheard the plan. But others, men and women, are not so fortunate. Teachers are vulnerable targets in a litigation-crazed world, where a growing demographic appears to be those who falsely accuse teachers.
Even amid the grief after a gunman stormed Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, and after the bravery of these teachers had become legend, the fear of false accusations dared to poison the lovefest.
In a television interview with Diane Sawyer, Kaitlin Roig, a 29-year old Sandy Hook teacher, described how she had ushered her students into the bathroom at the back of the classroom and told her students that she loved them because she didn't want the last thing they heard to be gunfire. After this confession, Roig went on to whisper, "I don't know if that's OK."
Perhaps only teachers heard her uncertainty and understood her fear. She was worried that her words of love and her actions in loco parentis, always a risky business, would be misinterpreted and that her Judgment Day was not yet over.
There are so many stories of false accusations, even within a single school, but perhaps a quotation on a staffroom bulletin board sums it up best. "Send a student to the office for using a cellphone in class? By the time the student reaches the office, the student will have accused the teacher of stealing the phone."
Unfortunately, parents, who should be partners in education, are the second major reason that teachers leave the profession. Long gone are the majority of cheerleader parents, who support teachers. They are supportive when their child is on the honour roll, but with academic or behavioural problems often come bullying and abuse of teachers.
Meet Mafia Mom and Dad, whose protective-bear persona prohibits anyone from criticizing or punishing their child. And if one dares to, beware the fallout. These parents simply cannot accept consequences. Teachers are responsible for any flaws in their super kid. Teachers are blamed for everything.
With their omnipotent super powers and X-ray vision, Wikipedia Parents know everything. They know without a doubt that their child handed in homework. They know their child didn't cheat in class. They also know that their child is never rude. They know everything that goes on in class and can quote verbatim and inaccurately every word the teacher said.
Defence Lawyer Parents are similar to Mafia Mom and Dad. They, too, cannot cope with any transgression and they breathe fire if they smell anything that isn't flattery. Unlike Mafia Mom and Dad, they file complaints with the vice-principal, the principal, the school board and the courts to report a teacher's perceived transgressions. Only a fatwa against the teacher will appease these parents.
My Child Doesn't Lie Parents are ferocious advocates for the child's honesty in any situation. Even faced with proof of plagiarism, these parents will guarantee they saw the child write the poem. "He said he handed in that assignment." "He said you pick on him." While truth might be an endangered species in school today, they know that their child has formed a lifelong partnership with honesty.
Parents on the Ball But Which Ball? are those parents who make only a few feeble attempts to help their child succeed at school. They do not understand simple, basic parenting truths and have fallen into the parent trap of being helpless and hopeless. They set no rules or limits for their children. They ask few questions. They have walked out of their child's childhood and closely resemble the He Said He Had no Homework Parents, who always ask if a teacher - who has approximately 130 students - could call home each time there is homework or a test or any incomplete homework. Realistic expectations and self-responsibility are in short supply for these parents.
The Equal Rights Crusaders have memorized the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They email or phone, lugging a plethora of it's-not-fair questions. "How many other children received a detention for not doing homework?" "Did everyone else in the class have to rewrite the assignment?" "Why wasn't my son chosen to participate in the field trip?"
Then there are Report Card Rage Parents who are devastated by a child's failing marks. Teachers must be on high alert during parent-teacher interviews, for these parents make Sideline Rage at Sporting Events Parents look like peaceful yoga class participants.
Perhaps most dangerous are the Artificial Support Parents, who believe that they support the teacher, but the contrary is true. Communication from these parents always begins with a dose of false gratitude before they move in for the kill.
"Thank you, but I wonder why there are no complaints from other teachers." "My child was an honour roll student with the best behaviour and attitude before joining your class." "I believe wholeheartedly in supporting the teacher's decisions provided they are fair, which they clearly are not." "Thank you for notifying me of missing work, but why didn't you notify me before?" "What do you mean by misbehaving 'lately?' " "And yes, my child admits to not doing her homework, but she says the class is boring and she is unmotivated."
These parents play hardball, but they like to hide their bias against teachers and to disguise themselves as reasonable partners who have mastered the tools of diplomacy.
A third reason that so many teachers leave the profession within the first five years is the increasing number of special-needs students in public schools. While teachers want to actively engage all their students in learning, the demands placed upon regular classroom teachers are staggering. Students arrive with so many special needs and problems: some examples of the parade of letters assigned to these children are: LD (learning disabilities), ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorders), ODD (oppositional defiant disorders), ADD (attention deficit disorders), BD (behaviour disorders), CD (conduct disorders) and DBD (disruptive behavioural disorders).
Some children have active IEPs (individualized education plans) that demand that regular programs be adapted or modified. These IEPs might state that a child needs more time, isolation, a reader, a scribe or a laptop to succeed. Other children might be numerically coded: code 14 (severe behavioural difficulties), code 34 (severe language disorder), code 50 (pervasive developmental disorder/autism or code 53 (psychopathological disorder).
And then there are the at-risk children who suffer with mental illness. According to a February 2012 survey by the Canadian Teachers' Federation, schools do not cope well with the mental health problems of students. Fifty-nine per cent of respondents agreed that depression of students was a growing concern. Seventy-three per cent believed that anxiety disorders were a major concern.
Add divorce to this potpourri, and it's clear that students today are burdened with many problems. No wonder teachers feel helpless and overwhelmed trying to meet their individual needs. The diversity within each class has made teaching arduous.
"The education field is in crisis," Jon G. Bradley, associate professor of education at McGill University has stated. It is easy to understand why this is so and why teachers are abandoning the merry-go-round of disgruntled parents, the staggering number of special-needs students and the false accusation syndrome for careers in which impotency, impossible demands and abuse do not thrive.
Credit: FREDA LEWKOWICZ; The Gazette
MARIE-FRANCE COALLIER, THE GAZETTE / Freda Lewkowicz of Cote-St-Luc has been teaching English at Rose-mere High School for 39 years.; MARIE-FRANCE COALLIER, THE GAZETTE / Teachers are vulnerable targets in a litigation-crazed world, where a growing demographic appears to be those who falsely accuse teachers, high school educator Freda Lewkowicz writes.; Caption:
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Copyright Infomart, a division of Postmedia Network Inc. Feb 9, 2013
Students; Teaching; Sex crimes; Teachers
Accusations, impossible demands, problem parents drive away teachers