This morning, Twitter is all a’flutter about a photo that was apparently posted to a teacher’s Facebook:
The immediate question arose about whether the teacher overstepped her boundaries in doing the student’s hair. Was it the teacher’s place to judge the condition of the girl’s hair? Was it OK for her to style the hair? Was it acceptable that she posted it on social media?
My first reaction is that I need the whole story, but I don’t have it at all. Too often, social media captures a portion of a situation and runs wild with assumptions. It happens all the time from celebrity deaths to everything else. People need to learn not to make snap judgments when they don’t have all of the facts in front of them. There’s no way to form an educated opinion if you don’t have a full picture (no pun intended) of what’s happening. My initial questions are myriad: Does the girl normally come to school looking unkempt/neglected overall? Was this a one-time event? Is the girl’s hair really all that unkempt or is it just that it was “out” instead of neatly braided/twisted? Is her overall appearance unkempt or was it just her hairstyle? Were the parents notified/asked permission? Did the teacher ask the student’s permission to do her hair? Since she was non-verbal, what checks were in place to make sure the student was comfortable with her hair being styled by the teacher? What were the other students doing when this teacher was styling her hair? There are too many questions left for me to come to a definitive conclusion! That being said …
I’ll admit, my first reaction was one of defensiveness on behalf of the parents. I am territorial over my child (what parent isn’t?) and am not generally a fan of someone who is typically outside of the realm of day-to-day caretaking/grooming performing that role with my child. I’ll never forget the first time my coparent dropped COM off with a fancy new hairdo, courtesy of his new girlfriend. I was taken aback because I wasn’t expecting it, hadn’t really given my “permission,” and it was more creative than most of the styles I normally use. I was uncomfortable about it and in my feelings a lil bit! I then had to wade through a bunch of internal questions about whether this was a “shots fired” moment at my parenting and grooming. (For the record, I tire of styling thick, curly little girl hair and she’s pretty good at it. I now see the times when she does her hair as a blessing and time-saver for me. Coparenting ftw).
I imagine the feelings a parent seeing a fresh hairstyle on their child when they come home from school are conflicted. I’m sure the range of reactions would be anywhere from “thanks for taking the time to do that; I appreciate it but I prefer you don’t do it again” to “You’ve clearly lost your mind and I’ll try to have your job for not knowing how to stay in your place.” Whether the parents were glad or irate, the teacher should understand that no matter how good the intentions were, it doesn’t necessarily justify the actions where someone else’s child is concerned. It’s important for people who care for children to realize that they need to maintain a positive relationship with the parents and sometimes your actions may overstep what that child’s parents are comfortable with. Unless there is a serious concern about the welfare of the child, the teacher should just stay in their place and out of grooming.
People have to balance this with one’s beliefs on child grooming in general. Some people feel that children should always look pristine and put-together, even at the expense of a parent’s appearance (“I might look a mess, but my baby will be on point.”) Others feel that kids will be kids and can be disheveled as long as they’re happy and healthy. I tend to fall in the middle, believing that as long as she’s healthy and happy, it’s OK for COM to have a few hairs out of place, but I don’t want her to look dirty. She’ll always have on clean clothes, be showered, face-washed, and teeth brushed, but yeah, I’ll let her play outside in scuffed sneakers if it means she’s having fun. I can tell that some of the differing opinions of this incident are around the “neglect” of the parents who let their child go to school with her hair looking wack. To this, I say “different strokes for different folks.” If the child is generally healthy, outsiders don’t really get to have a lot of say.
There’s also a bit of info that is somewhat overlooked in the conversations I’m seeing. The teacher stated the student is typically non-verbal, which I assume means she is a special needs student. That itself could be a factor in in this that people don’t understand or ignore altogether. Who’s to say that the parents didn’t try to style the girl’s hair, but weren’t able to for that reason. Maybe it was upsetting to her and they opted to leave it and come back to it at a better time? I don’t pretend to know, but I’m loathe to pass judgment on them.
Another piece of this is that this image and its backstory ended up on social media. I am not comfortable with adults posting other people’s kids on social media without permission from parents. When this happens in the context of an adult who works with said children, it crosses professional lines of appropriateness. I love COM’s teacher, but I don’t want to see my child on her Twitter, Instagram, of Facebook feeds! Just like the school can’t just post pictures of their students on social media or print all willy-nilly, teachers and other staff members shouldn’t either. Even if the girl’s face isn’t in the picture, it’s not appropriate. To make matters worse, the post is pretty self-serving and shaming. You feel that you did your student a favor by styling her hair? Great, why do you need to brag? You think her parents/guardians don’t provide sufficient grooming? Why is it appropriate to air them out on social media where they likely don’t have the access to give their side of it? It was in poor taste and should never have been shared because now it’s gone viral.
I think the bigger question is definitely about professional boundaries vis à vis advocacy. On one hand, you have a teacher who thought she was acting benevolently on behalf of a child by providing hair maintenance that she assumed/knew wasn’t happening at home. On the other, you have someone who potential acted well outside the scope of their position and relationship with a child and used personal expectations and judgments to do so. It highlights that people have to take a step back before they act and consider the bigger picture and the potential impacts of their choices, especially where those actions pertain to another person’s child. What you think may be a favor or no big deal can really come across as a slap in the face and do more harm than good. Ultimately, everyone’s actions need to be in the best interest of the child, but you can’t ignore the people at the center of that.