'Yes, Ma'am' Student Respectfully Said; Teacher Punished Him

TARBORO, NC — In the South in particular, failure to use the courtesy title “ma’am” as a show of respect can quickly earn a child a one-way ticket to time-out. When 10-year-old Tamarion Wilson responded “yes, ma’am” to his teacher in Tarboro, North Carolina, her response went against generations of cultural learning.

The North East Carolina Preparatory School teacher, who wasn’t named in a report by television station WTVD, punished Tamarion by requiring him to write “ma’am” four times on each line on each side of a piece of ruled notebook paper. Her reasoning, according to the report, is that Tamarion kept calling her “ma’am” after she told him she didn’t like it.

But that wasn’t all that happened at school Tuesday.

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Teretha Wilson, Tamarion’s mother, told WTVD that her son reported the teacher told him that “if she had something, she would have thrown it at him.”

The boy’s father, McArthur Bryant, told the television station that he and Wilson have raised their children to refer to their elders as “ma’am” and “sir” and that his son wasn’t being disrespectful to his teacher, but the opposite. When Tamarion got off the bus Tuesday afternoon, “he had a look on his face of disappointment, shame,” his dad said.

“At the end of the day as a father, to feel kind of responsible for that — knowing that I have been raising him and doing the best that I can, it’s not acceptable,” Bryant said.

“It wasn’t right. It wasn’t professional,” Wilson said of the punishment meted out by the teacher. “As a teacher, it wasn’t appropriate.”

After a meeting with the teacher and principal Wednesday to discuss the matter, Wilson said Tamarion was transferred to a different class and the matter has been resolved. The school said in a brief statement to the television station the incident was “a personnel matter which has been handled appropriately by the K-7 principal.”

Because using “ma’am” and “sir” is such a deeply embedded cultural tradition, Wilson and Bryant worry other children may be similarly rebuked for using the courtesy titles.

“If it happened to my son, I’m pretty sure if not a week, a day, a month, a year, it will occur to somebody else’s child,” Bryant told WTVD.

Here’s a tweet showing a picture of the punishment:

File photo via Shutterstock / media_digital

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