A preschool teacher has been charged with serious misconduct after she allegedly removed sweet food from children's lunchboxes, punished them for not eating their lunch and physically mishandled them.
The teacher, who has interim name suppression, was described by witnesses as "an old-style disciplinarian" with "inflexible" views on how children should behave.
She was an experienced Pākehā kindergarten teacher working in a large Auckland private childcare centre in a room with three immigrant teachers, and told the centre manager that she felt she was "providing the New Zealand way of doing things".
She was also taking anti-depressants at the time of the alleged events in 2017 and was under stress because she was trying to buy a house.
A business manager who was responsible for the centre and seven other centres in the same chain told the Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal in Auckland todaythat concerns were raised about the teacher's "communication with parents, children and colleagues" soon after she started work at the centre in September 2015.
Early in 2017, the teacher raised concerns about an immigrant child's name, which sounded like a rude word in English.
"There were numerous conversations with [the teacher] about how she felt the parents should change his name," the business manager said.
But the head teacher, who is from the same ethnic background as the child, said she explained to the teacher that naming a child was "a very big event in our culture".
"They choose a child's name carefully according to that child's time of birth and so on, so we can't just go and ask the parents to change it," she said.
The business manager said the teacher told the children in July 2017 that if they didn't eat their lunch they could not have afternoon tea.
The head teacher said that when one of the children who hadn't eaten lunch ate afternoon tea, the teacher "snatched the bowl from the child" and became "very angry".
Rebecca Scott, a lawyer for the tribunal's complaints assessment committee, said that on several other occasions the teacher "removed food from students' lunch boxes and negatively commented on the food that their parents/whānau had provided".
"The child later said to [another teacher], 'I can't eat crackers because [the teacher] said it's not fit for my brain,'" Scott said.
"[The teacher] acknowledged that she sometimes took children's highly sugared food away from them."
The business manager said the teacher complained that the centre administrator, whose 4-year-old son was in the teacher's room, often came into the room and "interfered".
In August 2017, the teacher filmed the 4-year-old sprawled across a table throwing play dough on the floor, and later showed the video to the boy's mother.
Scott said the teacher then told the boy's mother a story about another boy whose mother "jumped in and solved her son's problems for him".
"Now he's 34 and he's been in an out of prison," the teacher said, according to Scott.
"[The teacher] acknowledges that saying that in front of other children was inappropriate."
On other occasions, Scott said the teacher "would grab the child by the hand and take them to the door and push/shove them outside" into the play area.
The teacher's lawyer Daniel Church said the teacher would give evidence that the bowl she took from the child eating afternoon tea was already empty, that she filmed the 4-year-old boy to gather evidence that he needed help, and that other allegations were based only on hearsay.
The hearing will resume on August 12.