Ms. Interpreted

In Texas, a teacher was pulled out of school for calling her Muslim student Waleed Abushaaban a terrorist.

While watching the 2002 film “Bend it Like Beckham,” Waleed claims that the teacher responded to his laughter with harsh words, “I wouldn’t be laughing if I was you… Because we all think you’re a terrorist.” Mr. Abushaaban said he even heard one student say, “I see a bomb!” in the midst of their laughter.

A decision as to whether or not this teacher will continue working at the school will be made after an investigation; she is currently on a preventive suspension. Still, the parents want this teacher removed permanently.

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Graphic by Nhi Le

What the teacher said was very out of line, but is the sack necessary?

SAS high school counselor Mrs. Sue Nesbitt has spent most of her career at schools overseas, understanding that sometimes teachers forget about dealing with students’ different demographics. She explained that teachers are purposefully chosen for SAS, and the school does their best to let kids connect (hence advisory and the future house system). She believes that firing the teacher isn’t the most effective solution, and other faculty members that I interviewed share this sentiment.

“When kids make racist and sexist comments in school, do we throw them out of school never to return again?” said Mrs. Nesbitt, “I think it’s an opportunity for some education.”

Context for the story is a key element to understanding. The district released the following statement regarding the investigation: “While the teacher reports her statements were made in the context of trying to make a point about negative stereotypes, District officials do not believe that the teacher exercised the appropriate sensitivity expected of the District’s educators.”

Teachers are human too, and they’re allowed to make mistakes like the rest of us. They need to remember that what they do and say affects their students, no matter the initial intention. There are some faculty members of SAS who admitted to being in similar situations.

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Graphic by Nhi Le

AP Biology teacher Dr. Kevin Piers said, “It’s really easy for teachers to be misinterpreted; but, on the other hand, it’s important that the teachers have to be very careful with their language […] It’s a tricky balance.”

No one understands that better than young teenagers who are still trying to figure out their place in the world and trying not to accidentally offend people along the way. In this scenario, the most we can ask from teachers is that they show a little personal growth. For example, English teacher Ms. Brenda Baisly admitted that she had been in a similar situation.

“I had one student very early in my career who didn’t come to me, but instead went to the principal, and had taken what I said broadly as a specific slight to her,” said Ms. Baisley. “I didn’t realize how low her learner-identity was, and when I made an offhanded remark it made her feel dumb. […] I was able to go to that student and apologize. I was able to share what my intention had been, but also say I didn’t do it the right way.”

Kids spend at least eight hours a day and about 175 days a year at school; the learning environment is a place where they should feel safe and comfortable. Not all students will go to teachers if they feel uncomfortable. They may be afraid to upset the teachers or that it may affect the grades. But most of the SAS faculty recognize the large role they play in students’ lives, and are open to listening.

Ms. Baisley said, “I try to be non judgemental in my language. I try to model apologizing when I’ve made a mistake [and] try to take action to correct it.”

It’s good for students and for teachers to have an open-dialogue. It’s the SAS way: respectful honesty and taking responsibility provide a fair chance for growth of character and of compassion. Once you tell a teacher, you need to keep in mind that they’re human too, and they want to help us succeed.

Author: Nhi Le

Nhi Le – aka Nikki – joins The Eye for her third and final year as a senior. She enjoys comic books, crime novels, and an excessive use of verbal irony.

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