Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/westvalleyopinions/articles/0131lthompson0131.html

No reason ever for teachers to hit any of their students
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 31, 2004 12:00 AM

There is no reason for a teacher to hit a student. Ever. The news accounts of Kim Youngblood, the Scottsdale teacher accused of slapping or hitting students for not speaking English, made me ill.

I work with special-education students with learning disabilities. The teacher I assist has always used positive reinforcement as the key to her teaching. She teaches them to manage themselves when they are frustrated, angry, tired or inattentive. The only touching is a high five, a gentle hug, a handshake of congratulations for work well done, a soft touch on a shoulder or a gentle hand on a back to move them along when dawdling. I know they feel they are in a safe learning environment.

I emulate the teacher's actions, and there is mutual respect in our classroom. Learning is fun, and I learn something new every day.

Our class is studying immigrants who came to this country in the early 1900s. They came from everywhere and had to learn to speak English to survive in America. These immigrants would work long hours and study in the evenings.

I shared that my mother-in-law's parents came from Ukraine, living in Pennsylvania and later in Ohio, where her family settled. I told the students she did not speak English until she was 8 years old and was hit in school if she did not speak English.

The students were abhorred by this fact. They asked why she was hit. There was no explanation then and still is not one 80 years later. When they get frustrated not knowing something, I often tell them, "If you knew everything, you wouldn't need to be in school."

My mother-in-law is a smart woman. But because she endured abuse from teachers, this slowed her ability in learning to read and write. Today writing her thoughts on paper still can easily frustrate her.

Is this what we want for our students? Of course not.

Maybe physical punishment was more accepted many years ago. I remember being told in elementary school that the principal had an electric paddle, which I hope was untrue. But these practices have long since been abolished from schools.

The Scottsdale teacher is the same age as me and certainly old enough to know better than to hit children. It makes me wonder how long this has been going on in her class. God forbid it has been for the long term.

The only mistreatment I felt in my 12 years of public school was in third grade. My teacher told me I would never learn to write. That really stuck with me, but I endured that teacher's minor infraction and showed her wrong.

I remember all my teachers' faces and most of their names. I remember those who read great stories, those who praised and encouraged me and those who were there to defend me on the playground or in the classroom when I needed a friend.

How will these English language learners remember Youngblood? The answer is relatively clear to me. They will hopefully show her wrong and endure. Being bilingual in this world is not a talent to be punished for having, but an asset.

My advice for Youngblood and other teachers tempted to lash out when students don't make the grade according to their tight standards comes from a pediatrician. When my now 30-year-old daughter was a baby, she cried often. I was frustrated and fearful I would show anger to my baby. I confided in this pediatrician, and he advised me well.

"Make sure your baby is safe and you go into another room until you have calmed down," he said.

How I wish Youngblood had done this instead of lashing out at innocent students.

Liz Thompson is a Glendale resident who works at a local school in special education. Before moving to Arizona, she was a reporter and columnist in Columbus, Ohio. Liz can be reached at liz9-11@att.net. The views expressed are those of the author.