My friend recently shared this experience, and I thought it would be a good question for our site:

So, [my son] got in trouble in school today.

It seems that the kids were lined up in the hallway, listening to an announcement. Some of the kids were ignoring it in order to talk loudly amongst themselves. [My son] told them to be quiet and listen.

To which a nearby teacher told him to quit being a tattletale.

He came home humiliated and embarrassed, and assured my wife that he won’t make that mistake again.

Almost ten years of teaching him to not be one of those censored people who looks the other way and pretends not to notice when he sees someone who needs help or someone doing something wrong; undone in an instant by one of those same censored people who somehow managed to get a job influencing small children.

What is the best way for my friend to approach this situation, both with his son, and with the school?

  • 5
    Leaving aside what your child may or may not have done, if a teacher really said "don't tattle," I'd kick his sorry ass all the way to Gitmo. There's no excuse for perpetuating that ancient gang-related them of not reporting inappropriate (or criminal behavior). Just ask the residents of Southie during the Winter Hill Gang years. Jan 18, 2014 at 1:48
  • 12
    The teacher isn't even using tattletale properly (unless his purpose was for the teacher to hear it). The proper term would probably be busybody (hopefully, this wasn't an English teacher)
    – user1873
    Jan 18, 2014 at 4:10
  • 11
    Usually kids don't report exactly what was said. You would have to get the teachers side on this to learn the exact words. Each situation is different but my experience tells me that the child is consistently exhibiting this behavior that the teacher is fed up with it. There is a difference between confronting the teacher in private and telling that a child stole pokemon cards. It is a entirely different thing to blurt out constantly "Ms.Krebople alex is talking" "Mr.Krebople alex stepped on my toe", etc.
    – Vans S
    Jan 20, 2014 at 16:36
  • That's a terrible thing for a teacher to do.
    – DA01
    Jan 22, 2014 at 2:53
  • Note: I unprotected this (as it presumably doesn't need to be anymore, as it's well off of the hot topics list and such). If that's not the case and it needs protecting again (ie, attracts a lot non-answers or spam), please do so.
    – Joe
    Mar 17, 2015 at 21:55

14 Answers 14


I will answer this from the point of view of, once upon a time, the child in this situation. I don't know if any of this applies to your friend's child as I don't know him, but perhaps it will for others in a similar situation if nothing else.

I was the 'perfect' student as a child; always the teacher's pet, always the top of the class, always wanting everyone else to follow the rules. As such, I was very frequently the child in the OP: telling the kids in the class to shush.

I never was called a tattle tale by a teacher (certainly frequently by the students), but to some extent I wish I had been - not in that way, mind you, it sounds like (unless the child is leaving out details) the teacher didn't handle it in a very mature way - but at some point in my late elementary school or early middle school career, it would've been nice for someone to explain to me exactly what I was doing: putting myself above my classmates, and as such ensuring I would not have any friends until high school, at which point an older student who I had made friends with explained all of this to me.

The issue for me was primarily that I believed I was smarter/better/etc. than everyone else, largely because I was told that I was by my parents and my teachers - not necessarily in a bad way, I'd note; I was probably analytically smarter than the other kids, and they wanted to encourage me to keep learning, and I in many ways did act more mature than the other kids - and not really taught humility sufficiently (as hard as that is to do). When I was hushing them, I was reminding them that I was smarter/more mature than they were, and putting them in their place. That led to social issues, and led to me continuing to believe I was better than the other kids up until I ran into the brick wall of puberty - and even after, in many ways, until the lessons from my friend in high school.

So what I'd do in this case, is ascertain to what extent the child was taking the appropriate action for the situation. If he was shushing the other kids, it's almost certainly not the right action - whether it is "playing adult", or contributing to noise, or whatever, I've very rarely seen a situation where one kid telling other kids to be quiet was productive. If he couldn't hear the announcement, he should either raise his hand and tell his teacher that he can't hear politely - not addressing the cause of the noise, simply addressing the specific problem at hand - or after it was over, ask the teacher politely what the announcement was about, as he couldn't hear. If that is exactly what the student did, and it wasn't very well received, then perhaps let the student know that the teacher may have been having a difficult time (stress etc.) and to not let one bad experience throw him off; and then spend a little time reinforcing the correct ways to deal with the problem to give him some good tools in his toolbox.

There is of course a separate problem here, that the teacher may not be doing enough to control the class; that's impossible for any of us to really answer without being there. I've worked in schools where the teachers cared very little, and noise there was a constant; I've worked in schools where they cared very much, and controlled it effectively; and plenty of places in between. If this is a long term issue, your friend may want to go to the principal with her/his concerns, or even consider changing schools if the school is run poorly in general.

  • 7
    When I was in first grade, my teacher told my mother that I was very patronizing toward the other children. My mother didn't tell me this until I was in my twenties. I wish she had told me when I was six and explained what it meant. It would've saved me a lot of heartache.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Jan 23, 2014 at 0:17
  • 1
    +1 " If he was shushing the other kids, it's almost certainly not the right action - whether it is "playing adult", or contributing to noise, or whatever, I've very rarely seen a situation where one kid telling other kids to be quiet was productive."
    – A E
    Mar 17, 2015 at 21:52

Listen and sympathize with the child. "Oh dear. That doesn't sound good. I bet you felt bad afterwards". Then discuss the situation. Ask why the child thinks the teacher did that, what the child can do in future. This is supportive and encouraging the child to develp their own strategies. You can mention the fact that sometimes people make mistakes. You can mention that sometimes it is easiest to let a person struggle.

Then you have a quiet word with the teacher. You ask them what happened and what the situation was. You then compare what the teacher says against what the child said. You then document this, and keep it for future use.


I would address the accuracy of the name calling first. Was he shushing the noisy people, or announcing loudly that they should shush in order to get a teacher's attention? What was his true motivation?

If it was simply to tell them what is right, I would say something like "the teacher was mistaken (it happens) and thought you were trying to get them in trouble. You weren't. Don't worry about the name calling."

If it was in fact aimed at reporting, I would talk about whether reporting talkers (by talking) is a good behavior or not, and why a teacher might want to stop that while still supporting reporting rule breakers in general. This would be done mostly by asking questions and letting the child work it out for himself. I might also do this even in the wasn't-trying-to-report case.

Finally I would talk about the difference between "John, there's no need to tell me what I can see for myself, please stay out of it" and "John, don't be a tattletale" - the second is rude and doesn't have enough explanation in it. In my experience teachers quite often leave out important information that some children are not able to infer from context. I could also compare "John, correcting behavior within the school is my job, not yours" with "John, don't be a tattletale." After dealing with "sometimes grownups don't do the best thing" you could then talk a bit about which of those two sentences the teacher meant, and then take the actual lesson on board.

  • Can you also address Beofett's theory that the alternative was, "John, there's no need for you to hear those announcements, they're the same ones that come out every day?" Jan 17, 2014 at 16:38
  • @Ossum'sMom I'm confused by that remark... how is that my theory?
    – user420
    Jan 17, 2014 at 16:45
  • "Much more likely he simply couldn't hear over the noise, and felt that he should be able to." I extrapolated: that if that was the boy's complaint, and the teacher was calling him a tattletale in response, then the teacher was either behaving completely randomly, or thought that the boy had no legitimate reason to listen to the announcements. And then I (creatively) phrased it as Chrys phrased the others, because I want to hear her thoughts on that one, too. I think she then would have covered the three main possibilities as to what was happening; the fourth was just covered by Joe. Jan 17, 2014 at 17:26
  • I may yet post, but I see a lot of good responses here already. Jan 17, 2014 at 17:28
  • 2
    I like the idea of exploring "what the teacher could have said" - there could be so many options! Talking through them is bound to be useful
    – Chrys
    Jan 17, 2014 at 18:45

This is something Alice (who is quite a bit younger), as well as a number of students (who were also, mostly middle school students) I have had have struggled with.

Let me preface this by saying, I know Beofett is asking with a friend in mind, I am going to write this as if I am speaking directly to the parent just for the sake of simplicity.

Kids do have to learn how to figure out when to intervene in certain things and when not to and this can take some time. It is still difficult even for some high school kids, and frankly, even for adults in particularly complex situtations. Kids with parents that offer guidance, support and loving feedback along the way, probably often "get it" more quickly or better in the end (but I don't have specific research to back that up).

For The Adolescent In the Question

During your conversations about this, make sure your child knows that seeking quiet while trying to learn is not wrong. Sticking up for his/her needs is not wrong (it is called being a self-advocate). Trying to help a friend stay out of trouble is not wrong either and that you are proud of your child for making decisions with these things in mind. However, you may also find it helpful to point out to your kid that there are ways to do the above three things that are more likely to result in resistance/argument and other ways to do these three things that are more likely to "work."

Asking some questions and finding out exactly what and how the child spoke to the other kids (in a calm, loving tone) may help a parent find ways to guide a child to a "better" way to get what they want. For example, with Alice, she often "corrects" others because she sees it as a helpful thing to do - she is trying to help them not get into trouble. Young kids might word something like this as, "You guys need to be quiet or you'll get into trouble." and really mean it at the face value of what they said. Meanwhile the child/children at the receiving end of the "correction" hear a threat and an intervening teacher in a bad mood, with too much to do who is tired of interruptions might also react unprofessionally and poorly without even giving it a moment's thought.

I might offer up the following concept (though maybe not this specific wording) for discussion with your kid as well - especially if you think shades of the idea might be applicable in this situation, but over time all kids should have the following "idea" conveyed to them in some way or another:

Sometimes, being a "tattle tale" is absolutely the right thing to do. Lets consider an adult situation - coming to the aid of someone in the middle of a burglery at gun-point may not be the safest way to get help. At the same time, it isn't right to simply walk away and do nothing either. In this circumstance, being a tattle-tale and calling the police for help is most likely the best way to get help for the victim without getting yourself hurt.

One of my former teen students came to me to report her friend was likely to attempt suicide over the weekend (This girl's friend had even already obtained the means with which to do it and had a plan worked out) - thank God that child was a "tattle tale." At the same time, going to a teacher to say, "so and so called so and so a jerk." Probably isn't really helping anyone and kids need to learn to stick up for themselves and/or problem solve for themselves a little bit too.

Then, contrast the idea with examples where "telling" is really just about getting someone in trouble or exacting revenge - something that is definitely not helpful. There is also a range of in-betweens that could be discussed. Discovering or creating some differing examples and debating whether to "tell" or not to "tell" and what to do if "telling" isn't appropriate can be a really good exercise for kids. Having these kinds of discussions in an impersonal way over dinner is also a great way to show your adolescent how much you recognize about his/her growth. By discussing more difficult issues and asking them for their thoughts, they get exercise with tougher situations and see an example of you seeing them as more than a "kid." Plus, you still have the window of opportunity to offer your own thoughts and feedback too. I actually did this kind of thing with my eighth grade guidance groups and sometimes helped them "role play" situations with each other in a supportive environment.

With Alice (who is only seven), I've worked a lot on teaching "I messages" for the times when she really needs someone else to be quiet or follow a rule for her own reasons. "So and so, I'm really trying to understand this and I can't hear what the teacher is saying. Can you please be a little quieter" might mean she comes across as a total nerd, but she definitely won't come across as a "tattle-tale" or "goodie two-shoes." A confident nerd, can be proud of her nerdiness after-all and you do catch more flies with honey . . . i.e. "I" messages often just work better in these types of situations than anything else. I also taught this technique to my "homeroom, advisory group or guidance group" depending on the school and in particular taught to kids that needed to self-advocate with other kids, their parents, or other teachers for one reason or another.

For situations where Alice is trying to help out a friend or acquantance, there are some subtler nuances, we haven't quite figured out how to help her with yet, but for the most part, teaching her to lead with, "hey, maybe you don't know about the _____ rule. Would you like me to explain it to you?" (or something like it) comes off as much more "helpful" in intention. For older kids, that can get more of the nuance, I'd recommend a more sophisticated wording, but that is how we've talked about it with Alice up until now. If the child doesn't want the help, she has been taught not to offer it - let the kid get themselves into trouble, they are knowingly breaking a rule and choosing to break it at that point. We are still working on how to help her figure out when to just not say anything and it may be that she just needs time and experience for that.

With the Teacher

The moment may have been so meaningless to the teacher (trust me, there are some "choice" people that have managed to get into the profession as well as some that truly are grade-A top sirloin), that he/she may not even remember it. At the same time, the comment may have come because the child in question is often trying to "help" others by reminding them of the rules and there may actually be a latent irritation even by the teacher over the matter. For this reason, I do suggest bringing the topic up with the teacher.

Much as Chrys points out, there is likely more to the story than we realize, so approaching the teacher with questions as opposed to accusations is a tact that will leave you much more informed (this likely includes feedback you can give your child in a much more loving way than the teacher did) and as James Snell points out, approaching this with an "ask" attitude rather than a "tell" one means you are more likely get you better results because you do catch more flies with honey. . .

Once you've heard the teacher's side of things, you can react accordingly using the same kind of "I" messages I suggest teaching to your child, just instead they'd be "we" messages -

for example, "I was just concerned about the encounter because Johnny seemed really taken aback by your statement about being a tattle-tale."

"I feel Johnny did not understand what it was he did wrong in the situation, and from what he has told, me I can't figure it out to help him understand either - could you tell me more about it?"

"I am concerned that because you confronted him in front of the whole class and so quickly he was left feeling confused and unable to ask questions of you. In the future, could you find a way to correct him more privately or, if you don't have the time for that, email me about things rather than confronting him in this way so that I might be able to take more time to explain things?"

As someone else mentions, it is always smart to make a record of the date and time of your conversation and at the very least, the topic you discussed and the concensus you came out of the conversation with. Just in case further problems crop up, it never hurts to have a record with dates and at least the "jist" of what was discussed if not a transcript (which can be hard to get without seeming too "official" about it. Keep all emails though

For the Parent

Don't stress too much about one teacher. Yes, they spend a lot of time with your kid, but only for one year. Over the long-term, the parents are still the most influential people in the life of a growing child, and often in the resulting adult as well. One flippant remark made by a teacher in an unprofessional (no matter how justified the statement may actually have been, name-calling your students is definitely something there is no excuse for) moment will not determine the type of child your kid will become. This does not undo all your work, it is simply a temporary set-back. Just the fact that your son shared this experience with you means he gets the teacher was wrong.


Kids are very good at putting their own spin on the situation and I feel there are a few things that seem out of place...

One of the things children need to learn is when it is appropriate to help and what help is appropriate. As someone who deals with a large group of children regularly myself I can tell you the noise of one or more children trying to 'be the adult' and asking others to be quiet contributes as much to the problem as the original noisy kids do. And since the teachers were clearly close by enough to know who was talking that they really didn't need the help. That is something to discuss with the son.

The use of such a phrase also seems out of place for what they boy was doing, since it was quite incorrect usage of the term which makes me suspect there could be more to the situation than you've heard. Since he felt belittled in front of his friends/peers, that may be a concern that should be discussed with their teacher/school.

When approaching the school / teachers keep an open mind, explain what the situation/problem is and take up an 'ask, don't tell' position. That way you will get a better understanding of the situation and ultimately a better resolution.

  • 3
    If the sound of the other children talking was preventing him from hearing what was being said, I don't believe telling them to be quiet can be assumed to be "trying to 'be the adult'". Knowing my friend, I really doubt his son was "playing adult", or even "trying to help". Much more likely he simply couldn't hear over the noise, and felt that he should be able to.
    – user420
    Jan 17, 2014 at 15:57
  • We can only answer on the information included in the question... The clarification doesn't change the fact that asking the other children to be quiet was as much a contribution to the noise as the original chatterboxes or that calling someone 'tattletale' is inaccurate for the situation. There's a discrepancy and it's worth 'talking to' the school to see what that might be or for them to be aware of. Jan 17, 2014 at 16:13
  • Fair point. Although if the noise alone were an issue, you'd think the teacher would step in before a student felt the need to intervene on her behalf. Unless the intervention were exceptionally loud, which, while a possibility, seems very unlikely in this particular instance (again, based on my knowing the child in question).
    – user420
    Jan 17, 2014 at 16:24
  • 1
    More likely that the lead teacher was using a 'give silence, get silence' technique which involves shutting down all the other noise often nonverbally until the offenders realise they're holding things up. The teacher that did the telling off doesn't appear to be the same one that was leading the class(es) at that point, although that could be me misreading the question. Jan 17, 2014 at 22:53
  • 1
    Also, different people have different noise tolerances. Most kids might not be distracted by a little whispering while another kid might not hear another word that is said while anyone makes any noise at all. So, in response to Beofett's "if noise alone were an issue. . . " It may take a teacher a little longer to intervene than a particularly sensitive child may prefer. Jan 18, 2014 at 1:03

Taking the whole account with a grain of salt, that is, assuming what you have related to be generally accurate, I have an opinion which is only that, an opinion from experience raising wonderfully successful children. here are the relevant factors:

  1. A child's responsibility while in school is to learn what he's taught and to interact with others according to an established set of rules including obedience to teachers' directions.

  2. Every child (and adult) breaks a rule at times - whether aware or not. Some more than others.

  3. Children are especially given to doing so because of the nature of youth. If you try to take that away from a child, you'll harm them.

  4. Parents have the responsibility of a) preventing unacceptable behavior through training. (Good for you - soundslike you are one of the few who actually do this!)

  5. parents also have the responsibility to discipline their children. NOTE: root language translations of the English word 'discipline' relate more toward discussion and teaching after the fact than attaching a physical response.

  6. We all have an innate right to choose right or wrong in everything we do. This includes our children.

  7. Part of learning is to discover and remember that there are potential consequences to every decision one makes.

  8. Ignoring wrongdoing, while not the same as perpetrating the error, runs a close second and can attach a degree responsibility for the acts of others on the one choosing to ignore such acts.

  9. Any individual, when witnessing wrongdoing first hand, (intentional or otherwise) must act on what he sees quickly IF the actions place himself or others in imminent or direct danger.

  10. Petty little things happen constantly with us and around us. most of them pose no immediate threat to life or limb.

In summary, teach your son to recognize real issues. Make sure he knows he also makes mistakes (which talking in line is- a minor thing) but that he is learning as he matures, how to minimize them. He needs to know that while he wasn't breaking any rules during that event, what if he was? How would he would have liked it to be handled? While he's thinking of the right answers, you can explain that this is why the kids at school aren't supposed to discipline each other, and that the teacher is best equipped to do so.

The term 'tolerance' is overused today. We tend to tolerate the wrong things - many of which are harmful, yet we turn around and pick on small human imperfections - because there are no societal implications involved with doing so in such cases. Tolerance is specifically well suited to putting up with the minor imperfections of others, which I think applies here perfectly.

Your son had the right to choose to react or not, and if so how. If your child really couldn't put up with such a small thing - the likes of which happen in schools regularly - he needs to be taught how to do so. He needs to have realistic expectations of self and others, or he will grow up thinking he is superior - and may be harmed for the rest of his life.

Our children need to know that these are important decisions, which will, later in life separate them from the Enron perpetrators and socially awkward people in society. Often these behaviors start with small amounts of off-course thinking which is permitted to continue and grow. the memories of how our parents handled small situations set us up to justify our misguided actions for the rest of our adult lives. (Before disagreeing, think honestly and deeply of your own experiences and you are sure to find a few instances of your own.)

so, unless your child sees someone about to do real harm to someone, he's probably better off learning to be quiet and pay attention to how well he's following the rules. You want to be sure his motivation at such times is to help others, rather than to build himself up. There are numerous reasons he might do the latter, that's up to you as the parent to discern and correct if needed.

Of course, your own values come into play with how you respond, but you should double-check yourself to be sure your family pride and emotions are not influencing your response.

Have you done the exercise where you play out all the possible scenarios with him? What if you did this, what might they do, what might the teacher have done, how would you have felt, they have felt, etc. - from the perspectives of all those involved, including the view and feeling of whoever it is you teach your child to supplicate in times of need. better yet, have you done so yourself? Our children need to make this a regular practice in life.

Your son may have made a better decision that day. Teach him these principles and he'll have a better chance of learning to make better decisions in the future.

  • I wish I could give you more than one upvote here. You clearly delineate the many issues the child and parents had and have to sort through in engaging discussion regarding the "rightness" of the child's actions. You insist on discussing a delineation between petty and significant rule breaking and ask the child to consider his own rule-breaking while also sticking up for the child's right to ask that his right to hear and not be distracted be regarded in the mix. What a clear and thoughtful answer. And Welcome to the community. Jan 18, 2014 at 17:20

There are a few things going on here, and a lot of it has to do with rules and intention.

If no one was being hurt by the activities of the other children, then the idea that he will learn to "pretend not to notice when he sees someone who needs help" simply by being called a tattletale is absurd. Further, if the teacher is right there, giving instruction, then there is already one person of authority who can evaluate the situation and manage the students. If she needs help shushing the students, she will ask for that help.

If the teacher has a rule about other children talking while she's talking, then him shushing the other students is also a violation of the rule he's telling them to obey. This isn't tattling. Perhaps he was trying to help the other students not get in trouble. Perhaps he was having a hard time paying attention and was trying to make it easier for himself. Perhaps he was trying to get them into trouble. Regardless, he may have been breaking the rule as well. Telling him not to do this is fine. Again, he will learn over time to be able to recognize when it's appropriate and not appropriate to speak up.

Now, assuming that he's actually tattling, that his intention isn't to help the students but to get them into trouble, then the teacher is right - our society does not appreciate people who speak up if their intention is only to get another person into trouble, or cause a problem between two other people. This isn't polite or appropriate behavior. IF this is what he's doing, and you as a parent want him to get into other people's business and cause such problems, you should consider home schooling, because this isn't acceptable in school.

Children, however, are clearly able to learn, over time, the difference between turning a blind eye to something that should be tended to, and actively hurting people by sharing information that would have and should have been kept private.

Talk to the teacher and discuss your concerns. Then talk to your child and explain when it's appropriate to speak up, and when it's not. Then reinforce that over time by your own actions and example.

  • 2
    If the one student was distracted by the other kid's chatter enough to sush them on his own - they were hurting another student by taking away his right to learn what he can while being offered his education. He may need to learn how to "sush" in a way that is most likely to get him what he needs, rather than in a way that pushes the buttons of students (and, possibly teachers), but your claim that the teacher can access how destructive the behavior is, is inaccurate - every child needs to hear and see the instruction given and for some, a lot of side chatter makes that impossible. Jan 17, 2014 at 22:57
  • @balancedmama If the teacher has given the students permission to shush each other, then it's appropriate for this student to do that. If the teacher isn't keeping control of the classroom enough to make sure every student understands, then there's a discussion to be had with the teacher about making sure all the students hear and understand.
    – Adam Davis
    Jan 17, 2014 at 23:04
  • 1
    I see a middle ground here. A student saying, "hey guys, I can't hear and need to" is something I would have overlooked when I was a teacher in terms of "breaking the rule" of no-talking. In a large classroom, the teacher can't always hear every whisper, but the kid next to the small group of whispering kids can hear such things and be distracted by it. It is called supporting self-advocacy. Jan 17, 2014 at 23:45
  • I don't disagree with you. A good teacher will support their students. Part of the problem with is that we don't have all the facts, just one third party story about an incident. There's no way to answer this question except in generalities. Perhaps what really happened is that this student shushed someone else, then another student asked the person next to him what the teacher just said that he couldn't hear due to he shushing, then this student shushed them, causing further problems, and the teacher said no tattling, which is inappropriate since it wasn't tattling. Everyone is wrong!
    – Adam Davis
    Jan 18, 2014 at 1:08
  • Totally agree with that - the only answers we can give are in generalities and it does make giving an clear and complete answer tough. Jan 18, 2014 at 1:32

The parents need to get the most honest story out of the kid as possible. (It sounds like we might be getting dad's version of mom's version of kid's version of what happened.) What was described wasn't tattling; it was dealing with his peers. It's possible the teacher just spoke wrong (and really meant, "Calm down" or "Mind your own business"), but it's also possible the kid was tattling and it wasn't clear from the way he told the story.

It matters because the namecalling can be dealt with slightly differently depending on whether it's accurate or not.

The first priority is to try to sooth the kid's hurt feelings.

If he really wasn't tattling, but just telling some people to shush, then it's important to reinforce, "You're not a tattletale, you know that." Insults that aren't accurrate tend to sting less. Either way, help him to blow off some steam in whatever way he prefers. If he's a typical middle school boy, he might be interested in jokes about it. If he's a more sensitive soul, a favorite meal or some ice cream might do more for his mood. Despite the fact that he's referred to as a small child, middle schoolers tend to cope in very similar ways to adults, and meeting him half way is apt to help cheer him up.

How to proceed depends largely on how the kid wants to deal with it. This was unfortunate, but it alone does not automatically necessitate parent-school interaction. Respond to what the child needs in terms of resolution. Simply losing this battle and dropping it is an option. Him, if he's fully calmed down, directly telling the teacher she(?) hurt his feelings is an option. You providing moral support is an option. You approaching the school is an option. This should be about helping the kid to resolution. These last options are the riskiest and likely will end with a disappointing lack of concrete response.

I found the last paragraph a bit disconcerting.

We need to teach our kids to be people of character. This involves doing what is necessary when someone needs help, including going to the authorities (and for that matter, including disobeying the authorities.) If the lessons that go into have strong character are learned, they are not easily undone.

That's NOT the same thing as tattling! When a kid (or an adult) goes to the authorities, it needs to be to get someone out of trouble, not to get someone into trouble. It sounds like the parents might have confused "noticing when he sees someone who needs help" with having an overgrown superego. Talking in the hallway simply isn't one of these situations.

I would share a lot of indignation--the teacher did act wrong--but I'm afraid the parents might not have their heads screwed in quite right at the moment and could do more harm than good if they try to act without calming down and taking a step back.

  • 1
    +1 - "it needs to be to get someone out of trouble, not to get someone into trouble" very important distinction. Jan 18, 2014 at 17:25
  • I dunno, reporting a crime gets somebody into trouble, not out of trouble. That doesn't make it a problem. Perhaps a more important distinction is between matters of safety or justice, versus trivialities that aren't really doing anybody any harm.
    – lgritz
    Jan 21, 2014 at 22:44
  • @Igritz: A crime typically causes a problem for someone else. Reporting it should help the people being affected, and/or help make sure more don't get hurt. With that said, if you were to, say, call the police about someone driving without a seat belt on...you'd be tattling.
    – cHao
    Jan 27, 2014 at 5:56

It's so hard to know where to begin, because the account is so sketchy (and has passed through both a child and a 3rd party before getting to us).

It's impossible to know from the original post whether or not this child is a constant busybody and thorn in the teacher's side. I know kids like that, and they're insufferable. The teacher may have been rude, and without excusing it (assuming the language the kid reported is fully accurate to begin with), let's just say that it's easy to imagine it came from a place of exasperation rather than malice. Is the teacher habitually demeaning to students, or is the teacher good overall and this is more likely some combination of misunderstanding, misreporting, and just a bad day on the teacher's part?

As far as "those censored people who look the other way" -- it's an important social skill to learn to distinguish between issues of justice or safety that can't be overlooked, versus injecting yourself into every little perceived minor infraction and causing more of a disruption by doing so than if you'd let it slide.


If the teacher makes a habit of using name calling with your child, I'd be concerned. If this is a one-time thing, use it as a learning experience .... your child is going to get a lot worse in the future and being humiliated for more than a few minutes over an offhand, slightly rude remark is not healthy. By escalating this into something that involves a discussion with the teacher is counterproductive- your child will get the idea that being embarrassed by offhand, slightly inappropriate remarks by a superior is properly handled by going over the superiors head-- a strategy that will serve him poorly in life.


What you can do is you can teach your son that he SHOULD tell an adult if he is concerned about his own safety or wellbeing, OR the safety or wellbeing of others, but that he DOES NOT NEED to tell an adult if it is a minor infraction.

Another thing I would try to do is go to the principal, school superintendent, other higher ups at your child's school, or whomever you need to go to, and share this incident with them.

I have seen some videos online about parents sending their kids to school with a hidden recording device, and recording their teachers bullying them.


For the school: start with the teacher. Explain why what the teacher did was WRONG and let him/her know what you expect him/her to do going forward. If a satisfactory response is not received, ESCALATE.

For the son: geez, that's rough. He was doing the right thing, as you've taught him, and is at that age where peer regard is starting to be SO important. However, even if he was embarrassed by this teacher singling him out (grrrr, what a jerk), he's not likely to throw away everything you've taught him all at once. Keep on modelling what you believe to be appropriate behavior in this and other instances.

If he's still processing things, maybe try some more discussions and role-play with him: put him in the teacher's shoes, the other kids' shoes, and his own, and see how each one feels and what he believes the right (not comfortable) thing for each party to do would have been. Let him figure out how he would have behaved in that situation if the teacher had not said that, if the teacher had tried to single him out even more, if the other kids were supportive of him, if they were derisive of him. Help him figure out what he wants to do next time, and what he feels comfortable with.

  • 1
    Wouldn't it be better to first ask the teacher's side of the story?
    – Robert
    Jan 17, 2014 at 16:27
  • I wasn't clear; that should definitely be part of the discussion with the teacher.
    – Valkyrie
    Jan 17, 2014 at 16:35

I think that the matter should be forgotten, if we keep looking back at the past we get worried. In my more helpful matter you should address the teacher as what your son calls him. For example 'Mrs Hollows.' Besides, we can't change the past. However, I do agree that teacher was really unfair and humiliating. Perhaps it would help for your son to stay away from that teacher. My teacher has humiliated lots of children who were in my class but we found forgetting it very easy, no matter how humiliating it was at the time.

  • An interesting perspective with some truth to it - over analyzing and overworrying about things can become a problem for kids in my experience. The part about addressing the teacher as what your son calls him is a bit confusing to me and it would be nice if you elaborated a bit on what you would say to the child to show empathy while also helping that child to learn to move past such things with the ease you indicate here. What would you actually say, "oh forget about it because we can't change the past?" Jan 19, 2014 at 1:14

Call your local news station,

"snitches wind up in ditches"

is just plain bad for society.

Your son should be taught the difference between crying wolf and snitching and be taught that informing "the authorities" of an infraction in any case, micro-culture etc. is his civic duty. If necessary.

but seriously get that teacher and their comments on your local news.

  • 2
    Cause of course, the proper response to being called a tattle-tale is to tattle to the evening news about it.
    – cHao
    Jan 18, 2014 at 21:03

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