McArthur Bryant and Teretha Wilson had always taught their son Tamarion good manners. So they couldn’t believe it when they saw a note that had come home from school with him. Indeed, his parents became increasingly angry as they examined the piece of paper – and immediately sprang into action.
Bryant and Wilson live in Tarbaro, North Carolina. They send their ten-year-old son to North East Carolina Preparatory School, where he is in his second year. The school educates students between kindergarten and 12th grade and currently has an enrolment of approximately 960 pupils.
In 2018 the new school year started at the institute on August 8. But within a couple of weeks, Tamarion found himself in trouble. When his parents found out what had happened, however, they simply couldn’t believe it.
It all started, they believe, because Bryant and Wilson raised their son to always have good manners. You see, they taught Tamarion that when addressing his elders, he should call them “sir” or “ma’am.” But the parents never expected that their instructions would backfire.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the use of “ma’am” is a way to “politely speak to a woman who you do not know.” Wikipedia further explains that the word is a shortened form of madam or madame. It’s also the French term for “my lady” and is “a polite form of address for women.” However, not everyone appreciates the term, and some believe it’s the preserve of older women.
One teacher at North East Carolina Prep certainly appears to have strong feelings about the word, too. Because when Tamarion got off the bus on Tuesday, August 21, his mother could tell that something wasn’t right. “I asked him what happened. He said he got in trouble for saying, ‘Yes, Ma’am,’” she told North Carolina’s ABC 11.
Wilson said she had no idea what Tamarion meant, so she asked her son to explain. Then he retrieved a piece of paper from his school belongings. On it, the word “ma’am” had been scribbled over and over again – front and back – in Tamarion’s handwriting.
The fifth-grader reportedly told his parents that he had been punished by his teacher for calling her “ma’am” after she had told him to stop. She had then apparently made him write the word out on the paper and take it home for his parents to sign. The boy said he felt humiliated.
“[Tamarion] had a look on his face of disappointment, shame,” Bryant said. His dad also felt guilty that he had been the one to tell the boy to address his elders that way. “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,” he explained.
The boy’s parents said it was frustrating because Tamarion wasn’t trying to be rude to his teacher. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Wilson was also unhappy that Tamarion had to write his lines in class and worried that the young man was missing out on learning.
Wilson further revealed that the female faculty member had allegedly told Tamarion that “if she had something, she would have thrown it at him.” His parents added that the boy had spent time in hospital because of seizure problems the previous month. Although the teacher was unaware of this, they stated that some of his issues were hallucinations and loss of memory.
The day after the incident, Wilson had a meeting with the unidentified teacher and the school principal. There, the educator insisted that she had made the statement about throwing an object at Tamarion in jest and added that she thought the boy knew that. She also apparently said that she found the word “ma’am” irritating but did not elaborate.
“It wasn’t right. It wasn’t professional,” Wilson said. “As a teacher, it wasn’t appropriate. And I asked her why she thought it was okay to do that.” The mom added to Fox News, “[Tamarion] was disappointed because he felt like he had done something wrong.”
After the conference, Tamarion’s parents insisted that he move to another classroom and no longer be a pupil of the teacher in question. The principal agreed to approve the move. However, Wilson stated that as someone with several years of experience at schools, the educator should have known better.
The parents were nonetheless pleased that the school was able to deal with the matter quickly. But they believe that it will only be a matter of time before the teacher has a similar situation with another student. “If it happened to my son, I’m pretty sure [in] a week, a day, a month, a year, it will occur to somebody else’s child,” Bryant told ABC 11 News.
In a statement, the school said, “This is a personnel matter which has been handled appropriately by the K-7 principal.” Yet although the events were exclusive to North East Carolina Preparatory School, Tamarion’s story became news around the world. It also seems that commenters had a lot to say about it.
In fact, one relative had posted a photo of Tamarion’s note to Facebook, and it soon drew in over 1,000 comments. On social media and in news articles, too, people expressed their support for the boy’s family. Some even said that the phrase is in common use in the south and that the child was evidently trying to be polite.
“This boy was using a respectful term he’s probably been taught since learning to talk, as many kids have,” one person shared. “What a very strange rule to impose on little kids. The punishment and desire to ‘throw something’ should immediately render this teacher in the wrong profession. Wishing this young man good health and good luck.”
Indeed, most people seemed to agree, and some even called for the teacher to be fired. Yet others pointed out that Tamarion had not been listening to her. “The issue isn’t that he called her ‘ma’am.’ It’s that she repeatedly asked him not to and he continued to do it,” one commenter declared. “The child was not being respectful, he was ignoring teacher instructions. Whether or why ‘ma’am’ is offensive isn’t the point. The child was being insubordinate.”
Wilson said she plans to follow-up with the school board. However, she also came up with another way to make her point to the teacher. When she signed the sheet of paper for Tamarion to return, she included something else with it. In fact, the mom sent a second note in which the ten-year-old had written out the definition of the word “ma’am.”