'Mullet' stuck in the gullet

5th November 2004 at 00:00
Q: I'm a female teacher. I have a girl in my class who has seemed to warm to me up until now - and I was told this is unusual for the girl in question.

But recently she announced in front of the whole class that I looked "like a a man with a mullet". I was really shocked that she'd said it. At the time, I laughed it off ("Thanks for the compliment" - that sort of thing) but by the end of the lesson I felt very upset.

I ended up giving the whole class a talk about respecting each other, not humiliating each other - because I wouldn't do that to them. Although it sounded as though it was directed at everyone, I hoped she'd realise that it was meant for her. What is the best way to handle such an insult?

A: You and the girl have lost sight of the boundaries that should govern the teacher-pupil relationship. She has made an inappropriate personal remark.

You are disappointed that she has reverted to type just when you thought you had begun to build a good relationship with her. Your first reaction - "Thanks for the compliment" - was fine as it took the heat out of the situation, but you should have followed it with a quiet word to the girl about what is appropriate in school. Your speech to the whole class about humiliation and disrespect has shown the group that you are vulnerable to their comments, and that you can be personally upset by them.

Why did the girl make the comment in the first place? Was it a bid for status in the eyes of her peers? Or was it her (clumsy) way of telling you that she'd gone as far as she wanted in "warming to you"?

In a similar situation in future, you must try to stay in role as a teacher, point out that such remarks are inappropriate and move on with your lesson. If you really think you are being targeted - because such incidents are becoming more frequent - deal with the situation yourself but with the pupil's form tutor or head of year to support you.

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