At James Madison High School in Brooklyn a few weeks back, two teachers were busted for being naked in the classroom while students were at an assembly. And last week at Congress Elementary School in Milwaukee, a teacher lost her mind in front of her students.
First grader Lamya Cammon was playing with her braids, the ends of which had little purple and yellow beads—or clicky-clackies as we call them in my house—and her teacher asked her to stop (we don't call them clicky-clackies because they're quiet). When the child didn't listen to presumably repeated requests, the teacher coaxed her to the front of the room with the promise of candy, cut off one of Lamya's braids, dropped it in the garbage and sent the child back to her seat.
After the teacher went all Delilah on the 6-year-old, she reportedly taunted the crying girl, asking whether she was going to run home and tell her momma. And then, Lamya says, she was threatened with this gem: “Don't play with it no more or I'll cut the rest.” Those are Lamya's words, and, given the improper grammar, it's clear this teacher's discipline techniques aren't the only area in which she perhaps could use a little refresher course.
As Ruby might say, with braids clacking and hands on her hips, What the fuck is going on here? And though F-bombs are generally discouraged for the 5-and-under set in my home, I'd have to give her big props on grammar, proper context and reaction commensurate with the situation at hand. Knowledge, after all, is power. Yes, I would use the word “commensurate” in discussing it, and we'd sound it out together. Then I might gently offer her an alternative: What the fuck, exactly, is going on here?
Sid Hatch of the Milwaukee Teacher's Education Association wouldn't discuss this particular incident but explained to a local news station that stress and frustration levels are inversely proportional to the ever-tightening budget constraints. To which I say: Well, duh. Cry me a Milwaukee River. The teacher has admitted she acted out of frustration, but regardless of reasons or apologies or budget cuts or workload, her actions—individually and collectively—are inexcusable.
I get frustration. I do. Believe me, very little could be as cathartic as taking a pair of No. 1 clippers to several of the neatly coiffed heads in my workplace. But I would get fired for that, and possibly charged with assault. So instead, I smile and sigh and self-medicate and entertain vivid Six Feet Under-style fantasies like shaving my boss' head while singing the theme song from Hair. Once upon a time, I looked forward to retirement to assuage the misery, but that's shot all to hell.
To be fair, teaching is a particularly thankless, high-pressure and largely undervalued job. I would argue that the only thing our society values less than teachers are children in general, and black children specifically, a point underscored by the Milwaukee Public School District's here's-your-$175-fine-now-go-back-to-work handling of the incident. That race plays a role in this story is so obvious as to be almost quaint. If, say, it were little blonde Linda—rather than little brown Lamya—who had a golden pigtail lopped off, there would likely be very different repercussions for the scissor-wielder. Which is to say, angry white parents are a force to be taken seriously. But enough about that tired old angle.
Maybe the kid was an insufferable brat, you might say. It's quite possible, I'd respond. 'Cause cute as they are—these wide-eyed virus hosts—children can also be a major-league pain in the ass, and it's not a stretch to imagine the mob mentality in a room full of 6-year-olds. The minute-to-minute aggravation must be exponential, and those goddamned beads, clicking and clacking and knocking and smacking on top of the other chaos would be like listening to triangle music over the sound of a jackhammer while reading about quantum physics.
Like I tell my daughter, you've got to take a deep breath and control your body. You simply must not, cannot, never ever, no matter what, haul off on a child with a pair of scissors. Lady: You are the reason they invented weed. And at the point when you find yourself behaving like, and having all the impulse control of, a first-grade bully, maybe it's time to hang up that Gone Fishin' shingle. Or time to get a job at a Catholic school where rapping knuckles and paddling bottoms and humiliating small humans is encouraged.
This woman gets an F for the day. Luring a child with candy? Cutting off hair? Threats and general neener-neenering? How about—oh, I don't know—offering the child an elastic band with which to pull her hair back? How about a note home to the parents? I won't go so far as to say this sadistic chick should be fired, but there are lots of teachers who could more appropriately handle the given situation—and do, everyday.
At the very least, she should be suspended for a time, sent to anger-management counseling and be required to do some sensitivity training. And, too, she should be forced to do community service in a barbershop where she'll learn about black hair, what it means to the identity of a black woman and what goes into taking care of it. Maybe if she had to actually braid a black girl's hair, she'd be less apt to snip it off. Not only does this woman's piss-poor decision serve to create a defining moment for this child, but it will be years before Lamya's hair grows back. The gift that keeps on giving.
Honestly, I would much rather have teachers boinking in the classroom (ballsy) than have them decide its time to release their inner esthetician (brutish). But I'm on an iceberg on this one: The Brooklyn love-in has been put to a permanent end with both teachers removed pending further disciplinary action. Miss Braid Remover will write her check and continue to model upstanding behavior for the youth of tomorrow. And—lo!—the world just keeps on spinnin'.
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