I am a high school teacher at a very small school with many troubled students. Yesterday, I happened to be walking by when a boy was sent to the principal’s office for misbehaving in his English class. The student made several vulgar remarks on the way out, and another employee in the hall tried to get him to quiet down by shaming him into submission, loudly telling another teacher, “He acts tough now, swearing and storming around, but he goes home and cries to his mother. She calls in and literally says, ‘He’s in tears right now.’” I was appalled at the insensitivity and disrespect for the student’s pride and privacy.
This all happened where his whole class could easily hear. The boy continued to escalate arguments and ended up being sent home suspended. Should I have done nothing? Should I have said something to the other employee then or later? Should I have contacted my principal describing the incident and commenting on how the staff member’s actions backfired and ended up escalating the situation rather than getting him to quiet down?
You witnessed a staff member being verbally abusive to a student, behavior that is at least unprofessional and at worst bullying. Ultimately, the principal needs to be aware of the facts. One option: You can report directly to the principal yourself. Or join together with the English teacher, who initially dismissed the boy and who overheard the remarks. You also could ask the teacher in the hallway to whom the rude staff member directed his remarks to join you in going to the principal as well. Having additional staff support can make a stronger case that there are better ways to handle disciplinary incidents than using tactics that involve public shaming and humiliation.
As to whether you should have intervened at the time, only you can answer whether you could have done so safely and effectively. Confronting the other teacher easily could have devolved into an argument between the two of you, and your point, that his remarks were gratuitous and inappropriate, would have been lost in the verbal scuffle.
Most importantly, in meeting with the principal, emphasize that staff might benefit from further training or a refresher course on appropriate disciplinary measures. It’s not easy handling an angry teen, so it is important that the staff be well versed in techniques that are more likely to have positive results. To help students learn to manage anger and conflict, it’s important that staff employ conflict resolution strategies that are based on respect for the individuals involved. Be the adult you’d like your students to be.