Most of us can agree that teachers generally are not paid enough and that many work well beyond their job descriptions and means.
But what a lot of people don’t know, unless they’ve spent time in the education field, is often how little “power” teachers have in making decisions about their classroom and what they teach, pointed out the “Am I the A**hole?” (AITA) subReddit.
Redditor NoNinhongo12345 was a new teacher, teaching English to students in Japan, and she was having issues with one very disrespectful student.
When she tried out something new that made the class run more smoothly, but made the student cry because he hadn’t gotten his way, the Original Poster (OP) wasn’t sure what to do next.
She asked the sub:
“AITA for pretending to not understand Japanese and making a kid cry?”
The OP had a disruptive student in one of her first classrooms.
“I (20 Female) am an English teacher in Japan. I love my job and I absolutely love teaching kids.”
“I’ve never made a kid cry until today.”
“I have a student, let’s call him Sam, who’s 12. He’s the class clown who absolutely loves attention and will do anything to get his classmates to notice him.”
“Now, I have experience with plenty of goofy kids and I adore them. I let them joke around all the time unless they disturb other students the way Sam does.”
“Sam is super disruptive and makes other students uncomfortable, to say the least. I tried telling my boss and coworkers about this but they basically told me I’m on my own. Not even a call to his parents was made.”
The OP’s most recent class management tool had failed.
“Recently, I rearranged the seating so that Sam sat far away from the other boys as he did not do the same to the girls. This worked for a couple of weeks.”
“He spent most of the class complaining in a mumbled voice, but he didn’t touch anyone.”
“But I guess he got bored of complaining because today, he spent most of the class hurling insults at me in Japanese.”
“The class is mostly Japanese kids learning English as a second language, and since I’m hired as a foreign teacher, I am strictly forbidden from speaking to the kids in Japanese.”
The problems with Sam intensified during the most recent class.
“Anyways, when Sam started calling me ‘disgusting,’ ‘a stupid old lady’ etc.”
“I admit that I got a little upset because I know for a fact he would not speak the same way to the Japanese staff and I knew telling him to stop would only make him want to do it more because I have tried multiple times in the past.”
“So instead, in a loud voice, I said, ‘What did you say? きもい(disgusting)? What does that mean? Cute? You think I’m cute? Thank you!'”
“The other kids laughed a little and Sam got angry, but he kept trying to insult me throughout the class.”
“I kept doing the same thing, pretending to think his insults were compliments.”
“In the end, he got so frustrated, he burst into tears.”
A colleague had a surprising reaction to the incident.
“At the end of class, my coworkers saw that he was crying and I explained what happened.”
“I got chastised for making a student cry.”
The OP felt conflicted.
“The kids have tried getting me to speak Japanese the whole semester. I did it once to say ‘Do your homework,’ and they went nuts. They try to pry Japanese out of me just to hear me say it because it’s bizarre and entertaining to them. If I break that rule just to discipline Sam, it’d be a reward to him.”
“The rule really is that serious. I can’t speak Japanese. At. All.”
“Telling Sam I understand what he said makes him also want to do it more. He KNOWS I understand him, and he wants me to be upset about it. That’s why he’s saying them!”
“If admin questions me about it idk what to confess to. I didn’t call him names and I followed all their godd**n rules.”
For the Redditors who wondered how a 20-year-old was teaching, the OP added:
“I’m getting a lot of comments asking how I could be teaching abroad at 20. I respect the hustle, so here’s how I did it.”
“My birthday is in December so I’m almost 21 if that makes it better. I graduated high school in 2020 and started college during the fall. My degree required me to take 120 units, and I already had AP credit, but the maximum amount I was able to use for my school was six units. So I had to take the remaining 114 units when I started.”
“For each spring and fall semester, I took the maximum number of classes I was allowed, which was 18 units each semester. I also took winter classes (six units each semester) and summer classes (12 units each semester).”
“That allowed me to graduate early last December. It was a lot of hard work, but summer and winter semesters were cheaper, and I had to pay my way through college, so it made all the difference.”
“On top of this, I also taught ESL classes part-time during winter and summer break when I didn’t have nearly as much school work. My professors and counselors at school got me the job so that I could pay off the remainder of my school loans and boost my resume.”
“About a semester before I graduated, I applied to my current teaching job in Japan (along with many others). A lot of schools in Japan and Korea only need proof of a degree in progress to consider you for a position.”
“After a couple of interviews, I was accepted but didn’t get a job placement until late December, after I officially got my degree. I moved to Japan and started working in January. Hope this clears things up!”
Fellow Redditors weighed in:
- NTA: Not the A**hole
- YTA: You’re the A**hole
- ESH: Everybody Sucks Here
- NAH: No A**holes Here
Some understood the OP’s colleague’s concerns about making her student cry.
“Congratulations OP you made a child cry and told the world about it! Yes, YTA. Instead of bullying the child, maybe try a parent-teacher conference.” – No-Yogurtcloset-8851
“YTA. Your actions are basically lowering yourself to pick on a child who may not be struggling to control his energy. I was a Sam, and I have terrible memories of elementary school and Girl Scouts where a teacher and a troop leader literally did actions similar to yours.”
“Imagine yourself in his situation. You embarrassed him in front of his peers. You picked on him. Of course, he’s going to be hurt.”
“Sam cannot be allowed to continue this way. It’s unfair to the other students and also to Sam. And you cannot use a strategy like this again. It’s cruel.”
“Try giving Sam a job in the classroom. Change up your routines so he’s having to learn to deal with something new. Give Sam extra work when he’s finished with his own. Praise him when he does the right thing.”
“Punishing poor behavior is only going to lead to resentment and more poor behavior. Redirect Sam into something else. He needs to be taught to channel his energy into positive actions.” – chocolate_chip_kirsy
“YTA, there’s a better way to handle that situation. I find it hard to believe you would’ve been reprimanded worse for speaking Japanese long enough to say that you understand what he’s saying and that it’s rude than reacting the way you reacted. You could’ve done it in English too, just say you understand what he’s saying.”
“I think your coworkers were right in their reaction. I wouldn’t be surprised if admin says something to you about this.” – ghostbuni
“YTA. I know most foreign English teachers don’t have a teaching background, but surely you have some training in classroom management? If not, you should ask your school admin to provide and ask for advice from other teachers. Check your school policy for approved punishments. The kid should be disciplined properly, not with an adult deciding to play head games.” – bookworm1398
“You had a child in your class who was upset. They were misbehaving, and you decided to publicly embarrass them for it instead of handling it like an adult.”
“You could have directly addressed it, ignored it, or gone through the school’s discipline procedures, but you decided to be petty instead.” – Maestro_Primus
But others felt the OP did exactly what the student needed to learn a lesson.
“NTA. By not acknowledging the insults, you took control of the situation. Had you chastised him for his rudeness or said anything back, he would have felt smug and satisfied for having ‘got you.'”
“His reaction, crying, was frustration over not being able to land his insults as he intended. At 12 years old (and as a Japanese child as well!) he KNOWS better.”
“There are naughty, disruptive students in every school, and the way to combat them is to take the wind out of their sails (as you did) and then bring them along with you (make him your classroom ‘helper’ or give him some other ‘task’ that makes him feel important or useful. And then praise him for work well done.”
“If he chooses to clown around or not take the task seriously, then you take the task away and give it to another student, and praise them. He will soon realize that in order to get your attention, he must follow your lead).”
“It’s difficult when the ‘higher ups’ won’t support or assist you, particularly in this instance. However, you can do this!” – MissSuzieSunshine
“NTA. You weren’t mean, you turned his rudeness into a light-hearted joke. It’s not like you called him names back or anything like that. He only cried due to failing to look cool with his insults not landing, not from anything you did or said to him.” – OpeheliaRaine
“Justified AH and light NTA. I’m bilingual and one thing I hate is people insulting or gossiping to other people’s faces in a language they don’t understand. 12 years old is old enough to know what’s rude and what’s not.”
“I think your reaction to that behavior is entirely fair, frankly.” – throwawayreddit003
“I’d say, not the greatest way to handle that, but NTA. I’d ask yourself how you think you could handle it better next time. It sounds like this kid may have behavioral issues that are going unaddressed. Maybe you should ask other teachers for advice on how to handle something like this.”
“I taught English in Japan and lived with a family that coincidentally ran an English juku in the evening. I helped out at times on a casual basis (not getting paid).”
“One kid (13 or so) was a loudmouth and disruptive a lot of the time. I can’t remember what he did on one particular day, but his behavior was over the line. I told him to stay when the rest of the class left. I told him his behavior was unacceptable and not fair to the other students who wanted to learn, etc. etc…”
“To my surprise, he started to cry. So I asked if he understood what I asked of him and whether he’d change his behavior. He said he would and I let him go.”
“The next day, his MOM showed up. And I thought, ‘Uh-oh…’ But it turned out she brought me a cake and thanked me for taking him down a peg. LOL (laughing out loud). And he was much better after that.” – Ahjumawi
“NTA. Sam got so frustrated by his lengthy failure at bullying YOU that he cried. You were just a wall he was throwing things at, and nothing stuck. He was upset that he tried and tried to hurt you and failed.”
“You getting in trouble is like punishing the person who got hit when the bully has bad form and breaks their hand throwing a punch.” – KaliTheBlaze
While the subReddit could understand the OP’s frustrations, especially as a new teacher with limited power and resources, they were a little more divided on how she had handled the situation and what resulted from it.
Some felt the student had it coming, and maybe class would be better after that, but there were some who felt that it was more important to maintain the classroom rather than to meet a student on their inappropriate level.