Teachers should not humiliate students

A HELPING HAND. Band director Alex White, left, shows students how to hold their instruments. This kind of encouragement is much more effective than humiliating students to get them back on task.

Cassie Probst

A HELPING HAND. Band director Alex White, left, shows students how to hold their instruments. This kind of encouragement is much more effective than humiliating students to get them back on task.

A student walks into their first period class expecting to have a great day. Suddenly, the teacher announces that students who made below a fifty on the test should come to the teacher’s desk. The student has to decide if they want to walk up in front of the class and show their classmates they failed the test or stay silent.

Public humiliation is becoming more and more common in public schools. In order to deal with behavior problems or low test scores, teachers often decide to shame students in front of their peers.

This is a bad idea. Public humiliation may teach students a lesson in the moment, but it also has many negative effects. This form of punishment causes students to resent the teacher and disconnect from learning in that class.

Students generally have higher achievement when they are positively encouraged. It doesn’t make sense to use the opposite strategy, knowing the effects this can have on students.

Some students genuinely don’t care about school work or about how other students see them. They just don’t care, so public humiliation has no effect on these students.

The majority of students, however, care about school and how well they do. For these types of students, public humiliation can completely ruin their day and cause them to not be able to focus in class.

According to “When Teachers Use Shame as a Disciplinary Tool” by Nancy Flanagan, “students who are shamed repeatedly often respond by shutting down, avoiding the mortification of being unable to perform or behave in socially acceptable ways.”

The article also points out that some shamed students push back by demanding attention, disrupting instruction, and causing property damage.

Public humiliation is extremely damaging for the relationship between the teacher and the student. Shaming a student only causes further misbehavior out of resentment for the teacher.

Public humiliation could potentially teach students to be more mindful of their behavior, but at what cost? A student living in fear of messing up can’t focus on their education.

According to the article “Shaming school children: A violation of fundamental rights?” by Joan F. Goodman and Britiny Iris Cook, shaming “is almost never justified as a disciplinary technique. […] Schools are therefore obliged to abolish shaming practices, in so far as they can, and search for disciplinary alternatives.”

If a student becomes so scared of humiliation that they never answer questions during class, or never attempt anything in class because of the fear that this form of discipline has caused, then the teacher has damaged the students’ educational future.

There are many small forms of public humiliation that teachers may not realize are humiliating to students. They call on students randomly, separate kids based on grades for class work, and tell the class which students earned the best or worst grades. They even discuss behavior problems in front of the whole class.

For some students, this can motivate them to try harder, but for most, it just encourages them to give up. It also teaches students that it’s okay to make fun of someone for their mistakes, no matter how small.

When other more effective and less damaging forms of discipline are used, they can have more effective, positive outcomes.

According to “Some classroom behavior management strategies can humiliate children, with long-term consequences” by Nicole Dempsey, “Society has nothing to gain from teaching our children that those in positions of power will publicly humiliate you when you get it wrong. No one benefits from making the next generation of adults angry, resentful and lacking in trust.”

It’s time for teachers to realize that shame and humiliation are not the answer.