Shame Rolls Down Hill: How the Culture of Educatin is Crushing Our Kids


I don’t know quite how it happened, but I always knew when it would happen. It would happen after a meeting in a big group in the auditorium. It would happen when my name, my colleagues names were displayed for all to see. When the principal or the superintendent or the guest presenter would display our numbers and tell us what was what, without knowing us, our stories, our kids. They would simply demand we do better, that we not be the worst anymore. They didn’t really want to hear the why of it all. They called our stories excuses, told us if we couldn’t do better they would find someone who could.

Later, I would find myself in the front of the room, using a tone of voice I promised myself I would never use. I would find myself calling kids out by name. Demanding they do better, telling them their stories were excuses. Telling them they needed to stop being the worst. I have a word for it now; I was shaming my students.

I shouldn’t have. I am in no means excusing my behavior. What I did was wrong. I was reminded of the times I lost control when I was watching this video. (It is Brene Brown on Oprah talking about education….so….yeah of course I love it.) I was reminded of just how wrong I was.

I work at a school. I hear the things teachers say to their students. I have been the teacher saying those things. And I am afraid, in school, the shaming is only going to get worse.

Shame rolls down hill. It just does. It is passed from the principals, to the teachers, to the kids. And they have no one to pass it on to. The current climate in regards to education is this: shame schools into doing well. Rank the schools top to bottom, publish the numbers, let everyone know. This school is the best, this school is the worst. Make sure your school is on the right side of the cut off.

I am all for everyone having all the information. As a parent of a three-year-old I want to know all the things about the neighborhood schools. I know the decisions that parents have to make are hard, and I want them to be fully informed.

It isn’t the availablility of  information that is the problem, it is the tone of the conversation.

I know what school shame feels like. In elementary school I needed to have less opinions. In middle school and high school I was repeatedly shamed for missing too much school. Mostly my teachers were cool, but I remember the comments the secretary made when I had to sign in at the front office. I don’t remember the comments exactly, just the way they made me feel.

That wasn’t the last time I felt that same shame. As an adult, I have sat in auditoriums where percentage scores have been matched with teacher names, and those at the bottom of the list were shamed. This from principals who have sat in county-wide meetings where the schools are listed from top to bottom and the bottom principals are shamed. The shame is landing on our students. That is the bottom of the hill.

I don’t know what to do about it, how to have a better conversation. I am learning to stop the shame cycle with myself, honor the criticism but know that it doesn’t make me a bad teacher. But more needs done. Shame rolls down hill, and our kids are standing in the puddle.