Proper manners isn’t a punishable offense

Published 2:38 pm Tuesday, August 28, 2018

In an effort to provide total transparency, I can honestly say that I was not a model student while in elementary and high school.

I spent so much time in the principal’s office that there was a chair outside his office with a placard which read: Reserved for Calvin Bryant.

Once inside his office I was first subjected to a round of verbal discipline followed by the mandatory choice: three licks or three days. Since I didn’t want to explain to my parents why I had a three-day mini vacation from classes, I always chose the three licks. (Yes, back in the day, spanking an unruly student was acceptable….I suffered no long-term effects from it, only to learn there is punishment to counter your unacceptable actions.)

However, I was never, ever punished (receiving licks or otherwise) for doing the right thing.

Facebook exploded last week with a troubling story….a student from Tarboro was disciplined by his teacher for saying “yes ma’am.”

According to published reports from various news agencies, fifth grader Tamarion Wilson, who attends North East Carolina Preparatory School, told his parents that he got in trouble in class on Tuesday, Aug. 21 by answering a yes-or-no question posed by his teacher. As previously mentioned, his response to the question was “yes ma’am.”

As his punishment, Tamarion had to write the word ma’am four times per line on ruled notebook paper (front and back). That punishment was carried out in class.

The child’s parents were puzzled over why their son was punished for carrying out the proper manners he was taught at home.

“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,” said Tamarion’s dad, McArthur Bryant, during an interview with ABC News 11 based in Durham.

It was also reported in the News 11 story that the teacher allegedly told Tamarion, “if she had something, she would have thrown it at him.”

“It wasn’t right. It wasn’t professional. As a teacher, it wasn’t appropriate. And I asked her why she thought it was okay to do that,” said the child’s mother Terethan Wilson during the same interview.

Ms. Wilson added that since the punishment was performed in class, she was concerned that her son missed a valuable opportunity to perform regular work.

As required, one of the child’s two parents signed his punishment sheet. The child was also required (I guess the next day) to write a definition of the word “ma’am.”

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines ma’am as a short to madam, which is a “woman or rank or authority.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t a teacher fall under the description of an individual holding rank or authority?

Another online story from about last week’s incident dug a little deeper and discovered that the teacher doled out the discipline after telling Tamarion that she didn’t like to be called ma’am.

I admire both parents for teaching their child some manners. That’s a cultural tradition which all parents and adult family members need to instill in our young people. Proper manners will carry you far in life.

What I’m having trouble wrapping my head around is the alleged reaction from the teacher, wishing she “had something to throw” at her student.

For saying ma’am??? I’m glad she didn’t have immediate access to a ready-to-toss object had the child said something ugly or terrible.

In the end, Ms. Wilson requested her son be moved to a different classroom, which the principal agreed to do. An official with the school released a short statement regarding the handling of the incident: “This is a personnel matter which has been handled appropriately by the K-7 principal.”

Personally, I will continue to teach my grandson to say ma’am and sir, just like I did his mother. Once he’s in school and uses those manners, if his teacher has a problem with it, he or she can come see me.


Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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