Verbally Abusive Instructor

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Potentially abusive swim instructor

Aug 2008

advice please!

1. my five year-old who is extremely timid around water was taking swimming from an instructor in oakland. he was going slow but liked the lessons & was making progress. one day, the instructor totally lost his temper with my son. he was holding my son in the deep end. he said ''i'm going to let go and you're going to try swimming.'' my son started panicking & said, ''no, don't let go. i don't know how to swim.'' the instructor started YELLING in his ear, ''you are going to swim & you're not going to control these lessons anymore!'' my son pleaded no; the guy kept yelling in a tone and volume that even an adult would find scary.

i intervened and told the instructor that i thought that was enough and that i wanted to talk to him about it without my son. instead of stopping he said in front of my son while still holding him in the pool. ''If you're not going to try, you don't belong here. i'm tired of you controlling these lessons by pretending to be scared.''

long story short, it was a horrible experience, one that would certainly make a kid scared of the water.

i had a chance to talk calmly with the instructor w/out my son. he didn't apologize for what he'd done. he said it was a ''technique'' he used and since it hadn't worked, maybe my son should stop lessons. he also said he'd refund us for the remaining lessons.

my concern is that he obviously has some issues that cause him to behave extremely inappropriately with kids verging on being abusive. that's bad enough but we're dealing with water. you just don't threaten to let go of a child who is afraid of the water and scream in his ear that he doesn't belong. what will he do next?

if i had known this about him, i would never have sent my child to him. i learned from a parent that the same day he similarly screamed at their three year old.

my question is: how can i let other people know about what this man may be like? i don't think it's ok to pretend it didn't happen and let other parents unwittingly put their kids who may be scared of water in his hands. ideas?

2. the other issue - the swim instructor offered to refund us but now a month later he refuses to return calls or emails and hasn't refunded the money. it's about $100 that he owes us and the principle, too. i don't feel like it's ok for this guy to bully kids and then think he can get away with stonewalling people.

advice, please! concerned parent in oakland

Your poor son! I'm so sorry that happened! What a jerk that guy is -- and calling this a ''method'' just says he has very little sympathy.

Have you spoken to the swimming school -- or is this someone who teaches privately at a public pool? In terms of letting others know what happened, I would wait and see how the school or site responds. But frankly, I wouldn't hesitate to at least give a description of him that's recognizable to anyone looking into swim classes in Oakland.

I also would really encourage you to enroll your son somewhere safe and nurturing so he doesn't end up with this horrible experience being his only ''swim experience.'' I'd really, really recommend the Embarcadero YMCA is SF, where we take our almost-4-year-old son. It's just a hop across the bridge, very near BART, or parking is free on Sundays and free parking is available a short walk away (really) otherwise. Their # is (415) 615-1305. anon

Sounds like this guy is self employed? If there is no company you can report him to, at least report him to the pools who are renting him time/space. If he's not answering your phone calls and you have no address for him, show up where he works and hand him a letter from a lawyer requesting your refund that he agreed to give. More importantly, I'd like to know who he is, as i'm sure many others would...I'm in the process of looking for a private swim teacher for my very shy 13 yo. Good luck and thanks, June K

I'd suggest formally making a complaint to the Better Business Bureau. They have an office in Oakland. You can make your formal complaint on their website. They will relay your complaint to the instructor, who will have a chance to respond and/or make amends. Please do it. It might be he is burnt out and needs a new job. anon

Please tell us where your child had swim lessons. We need to know so we can steer clear of this place! Naturally Horrified

I would place an anonymous posting on the BPN, if they'll allow it, going into just the facts -- not more or less -- of a ''bad experience'' with a swim instructor, naming him and the place where he teaches. What he did to your child is SO WRONG and he should really be removed from swim instruction. (If he did this with you in view, imagine what he does with kids whose parents drop them off with him!) Do you have an recourse with the place that he teaches? (ie Is he a staff member of some swim club, school or other institution.) Quite concerned.

Thank you for sharing this story. I think it's so crucial for parents to stand up for children in situations exactly like this one. You are lucky that you were around and caught what happened. This man obviously has a power trip and takes it on on innocent children. I don't care if he thinks his communication is a ''technique''. No child should have to be in a fearful situation like that (or adult for that matter, but especially a child). I would definitely speak with his supervisor and post something on a blog so that anyone who googles him, will find your review. It helps so much for parents to have eachother's backs on issues like this! If I know the instructor's name, I will never take my child to him. Thanks for looking out. anon

Please, please follow up with this instructor's superiors to spare other children this experience. If I were considering swim classes at this place I would want to know about your experience. It is inexcusable, developmentally inappropriate, and harmful -- and it just breaks my heart to hear about it. I believe that a formal complaint should be made to a supervisor and/or the employer. I would encourage you to talk with your child about the experience in terms he can understand. For example, ''I wonder if that was scary for you, and I'm proud of you for speaking up for yourself when you said 'don't let go of me, I can't swim.' I would like to find a better teacher for you who can make you feel safe and enjoy learning to swim.'' As for your financial loss, I would pursue that too, simply because it is the right thing to do (but who knows if you'll ever see that money). And remember, the internet is a wonderful way to share information with your reviews on BPN and other family-oriented sites. I wish you the best of luck, and my thoughts are with you & your son for having to go through this. Suzanne

Whoa!! I am extremely concerned about this, as I'm sure alot of us are! I think there is no ''potential'' in this question, this guy is abusive. I suggest and URGE you to take action, this is to protect all of us others, and to show your son that what this guy did is not normal, which may help him in the future to trust others, when he sees you shut this guy down. So, I'm talking telling everyone. Where does he advertise? Tell your story there. Craigslist, tell your story there! Schools, in the area, tell them! And for heavens sake, tell the police. Seriously, this guy is quacked, and in charge of children in water? What if you hadn't been there, what would have happened, would he have let go? And he owes you money! And probably a lot of other people. I really think it's your duty to report, we may find he's not even liscenced, who knows. Anyway, that is my advice and request, spread the word!!!!!!! alison

I just wanted to chime in along with previous responders that I would also appreciate knowing who this horrible swim instructor is and where he teaches. My son is very tentative around swimming and having a negative swim class experience like the one you described would be such a huge setback. I'm not sure of BPN's policy on this, so if you can't post the details here, perhaps you could email me privately? Thanks so much. emily

I thought everyone's advice was great, except for one: reporting to the better business bureau. For everyone out there (and I am a business owner), this institution is private, has no clout and is seriously outdated. Yeah, if you join as a business, you had a BBB logo on your window, you might care a little bit (but not much), but if a complaint comes in and you choose to answer it, or not, it has no significant impact on your business whatsoever, especially if you're not a member. Nothing happens from complaints to the BBB, so save your time expenditure and go directly to the source and to local reviewers who can ''out'' people, like this sadistic, nasty swim instructor who needs to be stopped from scaring kids away from future swimming experiences. Don't bother with the BBB, business owners just shrug them off, cause they have no clout anymore. You're better off putting his name and affiliation on BPN to warn the rest of us away from this mean, nasty person. And take your kid to the YMCA for swim lessons, and you should be there for the lessons to make sure you kid is getting the assistance and guidance that he needs. Anon