In a recent case of the legal system getting it right, a Montreal teacher won a $1.2 million settlement in a dispute with the parents of a former student. In 2005 the parents claimed that the teacher, Mary Kanavaros of Roslyn School, had humiliated their nine-year old son. The parents launched a suit against the teacher and the school, both of whom were willing to fight the accusation. However the school board intervened and settled out of court, paying the parents $5,000.
One caveat was that neither side was allowed to talk publicly about the case, as far as the school board was concerned it was done and dusted, all over with. Well it seems the parents, Hagop Artinian and Kathryn Rosenstein, didn’t take this too seriously and almost immediately spoke with members of the media, making derogatory statements about the school and teacher. Not a wise choice.
In a subsequent suit Kanavaros said she suffered major stress and stopped working because of it. She won lost wages and damages amounting to over a million dollars.
Reading about this fiasco made me think of when I was in grade school and a little humiliation was a key arrow in any teacher’s quiver. If a student was caught chewing gum in school, the gum was adhered to his nose and the student was paraded to every classroom as an example. Did the student run home claiming humiliation? Most likely not, as it was more of a gag with his buddies in the schoolyard after. In fact it built camaraderie with others who had also suffered this ignoble fate. The child probably didn’t even mention it to his parents lest he be in trouble with them for chewing gum in school!
We didn’t have a dunce cap, but students who interrupted the class were made to stand in the corner. I can recall a phys ed teacher who playfully called into question a boy’s manhood if he was slow or inept. I think I was in grade five before I realized my name wasn’t Alice. Was this teacher reviled as a bully? On the contrary, he was much admired by students and parents alike.
I was fortunate enough to have missed out on the Christian Teaching Brothers experience, but stories abound. Evidently these near-priests took out the frustration of their vow of celibacy on misbehaving students. Too many tales of episodes of classroom testicular twisting carried out by various Teaching Brothers on pupils made the rounds to be just myth.
A friend of mine is a retired teacher. He once told me of a situation where, having had it up to here with a trouble-making high school student, he marched him down to the principal’s office. The kid was sent home with a three-day suspension. Next day there he was sitting in class grinning broadly at the teacher. When my friend asked the principal what happened, he was told that the boy’s father sent him back with a note explaining that during school hours his son was the school’s business. If they didn’t like that he’d take his son, and his tuition dollars, elsewhere.
I’m certainly not suggesting a return to corporal punishment; the Christian Brothers’ notion that the best way to drive home a point was to couple it with a sharp kick to the choir buttons no doubt caused more problems than it solved. Nor do I want to see serious humiliation used on children. But sometimes parents experience a “different” child at home than the one the teacher deals with all day in class. The “My child would never do that” approach to parent-teacher meetings is more evident than many realize.