The Camera Never Lies

Welcome to teacher tales, a column dedicated to the experiences of Fernando Munoz—the face of here! Teacher talks—and how he dealt with certain predicaments along the way. Take note!

About a year ago, I was teaching a relatively new group of seven-year-olds. I had started the lesson and was collecting the students’ homework books for correction. When I extended my hand to collect a student’s book, the student threw it vigorously at my face. Not expecting this, I tried to deflect it with my arm but did so only after the book mold had already hit my eyelid. As the book hit the floor, I yelled “Hey!” and the whole class went silent. I stared sternly at the student for about a minute, in absolute silence. I needed the time to regain my composure, after which I calmly said in Chinese, “That’s impolite” (你不礼貌). I picked up the book from the floor, sat down at my desk and started to correct her homework. I noticed she was welling up, about to cry. I turned to her and held the student’s hands gently and softly said in Chinese, ‘I’m sorry I yelled at you.”

At that exact time, my assistant came into the classroom and told me that her father requested to speak with me. I went to see him. He said he wanted to withdraw his child from the center, he asked for a refund and demanded we give him a copy of the video captured by our CCTV cameras. He threatened to take the video to the authorities, claiming that I was causing psychological damage to his child. I tried to de-escalate the situation by explaining and apologizing for my reaction but he was having none of it. In the end, I complied, and they left. What would you do?

Ironically, many centers and schools install fake cameras in order to obtain the desired dissuasion with none of the reinforcement.

Later that night, after having reviewed the footage, the mother of the student contacted us via WeChat and apologized.

Whether you agree or disagree with the way I handled the above-mentioned incident, one thing is certain: Without the video to show how things really went down, my legal situation would have been at the mercy of the story a seven-year-old may have wanted to tell. CCTV cameras are installed in a classroom for various reasons. At my center, for example, we used CCTV footage to figure out what happened to one of our iPads when it disappeared; and to show to the law enforcement when one of our teachers suddenly dropped dead. But aside from these extreme cases, the fact is, I use CCTV cameras on a daily basis for management purposes.

Being able to see what a teacher is doing in the classroom provides me with invaluable information. I am able to ascertain that my methods and procedures are being followed according to the training that I give my teachers. I also recommend teachers to use CCTV cameras to their advantage. Due to their fly-on-the-wall nature, whenever a student is acting up, I simply point at the non-intrusive camera and remind the student that I can forward a video of what has just taken place to their parents. I never have to go through with the threat, yet, this is one of the fastest and most effective ways to get a student to correct a behavior.

But I must always remind myself of this ever-recording presence. Since many of these devices have two-way audio features, what I say in the classroom can be heard both in real time and upon playback. The possibility of having embarrassing situations being recorded is real and abundant; from passing gas or picking my itchy nose, to having phone conversations of a personal nature in the falsely-perceived privacy of a classroom. All of which could potentially end up digitally preserved for posterity!

Although some teachers fear this footage may be used in ways they do not approve, the truth is, most of that data is automatically deleted after it has served its purpose. At my center for instance, all we ever use the footage for is legal protection, crime deterrence, and to perform management duties.

Ironically, many centers and schools install fake cameras in order to obtain the desired dissuasion with none of the reinforcement. Knowing that the CCTV cameras in your classroom work properly and that appropriate backup equipment is maintained gives you peace of mind. Like airbags in your vehicle, one does not need to preoccupy oneself with the existence of such devices on a day-to-day basis, but when they are needed, they should be in top shape. Otherwise, you may end up facing a difficult situation like I did, or worse!