While mentoring a first year, special education teacher, in Milwaukee’s Guadalupe middle school an incident happened that I will never forget. The facts caught on video were told to me as follows.
A teacher is walking down the hall and his leg thrusts backward and hits a female student. The teacher turns around and laughs a little and moves on. The video was picture only so they no one could hear what was said.
As told to me by the teacher, the girl complained to her mother that a teacher kicked her. The mother complained to the principal and the teacher was brought into the office. As there were no unions allowed in this charter school, he had no representation. He was confronted with the video and told his side of the story. He was told he was lying and that he could either resign or be fired. He chose to resign.
Now his side of the story: He was walking down the hall when he felt something stick on the bottom of his foot. He lifted his leg backward to see what it was and inadvertently kicked the girl. There was nothing in the video to discount what he said but he was asked to resign anyway.
And now the rest of the story: The young man was Chinese and was born with a withered hand. As his hand could not hold his foot if he lifted it forward, he lifted it backward instead thus inadvertently kicking the girl. But why did he laugh? There was no previous animosity between the teacher and the girl and she was not one of his students. Well here is a quote from the Handbook of Cultural Psychiatry by Wen-Shing Tseng 2001 Academic Press San Diego California
“Nervous laughing…is one kind of coping mechanism commonly used by some Asian people. When a person is nervous, particularly in an embarrassing situation, instead of manifesting feelings and gestures of nervousness or embarrassment he may laugh nervously. By bursting into laughter a person could save himself the embarrassment by concealing his feelings of nervousness. This culturally shaped behavior may look awkward to outsiders, who are not familiar with it, and might interpret it as odd, while actually it is a culturally shaped defense mechanism.”
In conclusion, of course the girl did not lie. It was her perception that she was kicked intentionally. But that’s where the adults must look at the total picture. The bottom line is the teacher had no representation, no one to seek out the whole story. And he was a quiet, kind person and a perfect gentleman. He took his medicine and left the school.