Our Non-responses Tell Students How to Act 2

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21 thoughts on “Our Non-responses Tell Students How to Act 2”

  1. Oh dear, Ben. I feel the weight of this. I wish I had a slick strategy to offer, but all I can say is YES, today your classtime with that group must be devoted to acknowledging this offense and to taking some steps toward healing. Again, I am sorry I cannot say, “oh, I have tried x, y, z” but I think these are the situations that demand us listening to our hearts. You are great at this. You are more in touch with your heart than most people I know. This is your strength. I am not naive enough to believe that one 45 minute session can erase hundreds of years of structural racism, but it is like that starfish story…it will have an effect on those kids in that room. One step at a time.

    I don’t know that you are overreacting. Your observation of that student’s pain shows that this is a grave offense, not to be ignored. That said, please do not go so far as to cross the line into the self-flagellation that some of us can tend toward. This is a misdirection of energy. I guess if I were in this situation (again, I can only imagine, so I’m taking a big leap / guess) I might do some combination of the following. I am not sure in what order, but, sharing my observations of what happened, asking for the students observations (maybe in writing?), acknowledging the pain that I observed and the tricky position I was in because of the guest, using the rubrics and other tools already in place, and deepening the understanding of WHY we have these tools (not for a French grade, but to help them be more human…precisely because of these very situations). I would include some period of silence at some point, maybe combined with a meaningful quote? Something that just popped into my head as I wrote this is something we discussed in my yoga teacher training: probably I am misquoting, but the gist is that before we open our mouths to speak we should ask 3 questions: 1) Is it true? 2) Is it kind? 3) Is it necessary?

    I will be thinking about you and your kids today and sending lots of love your way.

  2. Thank you jen. I know that if I plan something it wouldn’t go as planned anyway. I guess I’ll just go in there and do as Napolean Dynamite advised Pedro to do before his student body president speech, which was to follow his heart, because that’s what Napolean says he always does.

    But I think that Victim David should be out of the room on some pretext. I think it would be too much for him. What do you think?

    1. I think that I might start by talking one to one with the victim. Acknowledging that you feel responsible for what happened and want to be sure that it doesn’t happen again, and then asking him what he thought would be the best action you could take. Not asking him to solve the problem, but treating him as someone capable of participating in your search for a solution, capable of making suggestions that you would respect. Quite probably he’ll say that it was nothing and you should do nothing, but you can make it clear that you feel the behavior of the other boy is totally inacceptable, and if you hadn’t been distracted by the presence of a visitor, would not have let the situation develop in the first place. I would tell him that I felt I had let him down, and I wanted him to know that I would do whatever it took to make sure it didn’t happen again. Showing him that you respect him will go a long ways in making up for the disrespect of the other boy.

  3. Ben,

    I agree with your sentiment that it would be best if you can get the victim out of the classroom on some pretext. For him it would be like reopening a wound that he would prefer to leave in the past. I am speaking more as a kid who was in a similar situation than a teacher here. It sucks.

    1. Yes David I was writing that in the middle of the night as a response to having that scene replay itself from the classroom into my sleep. I’m sure that has never happened to anyone else, just kidding, but losing sleep over shit that happens in school is not my idea of fun. I think it is a big unacknowledged factor in teacher burnout – being overwhelmed by those little insults that, taken together, we call teaching. Thank you David

  4. I will be brief. Yes, address, but just the bully. Privately or with an administrator or parent.
    I wouldn’t address the class, but I would start enforcing those norms like a big dog.

    If you want to speak to the victim (which I probably would), it has to be private, private, private. He’s already been humiliated publicly and can probably hardly bear the thought of “you” talking to him. I’d do it anyway.

    The conscious/unconscious complicity of the class with the bully is something to address sideways in your class. I wonder if you could start exploring this in a class story with imaginary characters? There are many silent “victims” in all our classes who have learned to be very quiet and “look like” they agree with the bullies. They need empowerment and support. You’re the guy! Do it!

    1. Yes there is a history to this where there are two other boys who have sided with this kid from the beginning or French 1. They sit miles away from the bully, but the energy is there.

      Now you also said this:

      …I would start enforcing those norms like a big dog….

      Now if anyone has a question as to the value of these norms, if we have thought that the norms and jGR and the Classroom Rules (poster page on this side) are merely there to address purely academic outcomes, we need to think again, right? Those norms on jGR, especially, suddenly become the very key to everything we do in the classroom.

      No wonder we have been so changed, those of us walking the walk right now with jGR, by this one document. Thank you Jody and David, I’m good to go now, with class in just one hour. And I will even do my best to treat the bully with respect, since only God in his omniscient glory knows why that poor young man says things like that. All I can do is try to remember the Golden Rule.

  5. I’m sorry that happened to you, Ben, especially while you were being observed. And I’m glad my posting provided some insight and help in dealing with the seriousness of it. That is a perfect example of a bomb set off in class. I know there are situations where certain kids have impulse control problems–with Ethan, for example, he just gets on a kind of compulsive spiral where he can’t help but blurt out anything to get a rise out of me or the class. And it is hard to know how to deal with it in the moment. But they are still responsible for what they say to each other. I am now arranging things so that I ALWAYS have a place to send him out where he will be supervised, and giving him one warning during class.

    In the moment, if I had my wits about me (but often in the moment I freeze just like we all do, and try to move on), I would have stopped class, looked straight at bully David, pointed to rule #7 on my poster which says “good will attitude” and said to him “You may not say anything like that in my classroom. Go sit down, be quiet, and think about what kind of apology you owe him at the end of class.”

    If I were in your situation, where I had not reacted, I would probably begin the next class by speaking directly to the class, point to the rule, and say: “Class, David here said something mean, offensive and inappropriate yesterday, and I want you to know that I will not tolerate this kind of talk. If anybody says something hateful in this class, I will throw you out of this class immediately, and you will have to have a lot of serious conversations with me and the principal and your parents. I want to apologize to David #2 and anyone else who has been hurt by mean words that I have allowed in this class, and I will make sure that everyone is safe and respected in this class. If any of you feel like you are being disrespected in this class, please talk to me outside of class and I will make sure it stops.” and then begin class.

  6. Sabrina Janczak

    Sorry I read your post after the fact and I wasn’t able to offer some words of comfort but luckily Jen Jody David and John were able to catch you before you went back to your classroom.
    Just like everyone else who read your post, I too feel really bad for you and I am sorry to hear some jerk kid made you lose your sleep! I m also glad you found room in yourself to show this kid respect despite the fact he doesn’t deserve an ounce of it after what he did! It reminds me that the one thing we always need to do is to teach and lead by example, always. Gosh this job is so hard… And our world is in a sad state of affair.
    Please let us know what happened today with these kids. So sad….

  7. So many great responses here. . . I wish I could help in some way like you are always helping us, Ben. I know we are supposed to always stay ahead of the kids and be prepared for every situation but that is impossible. They catch us off guard all the time and some even look for the opportunity to do that. Then we relentlessly punish ourselves because we feel like we should have done something on the spot. So first, let yourself off the hook. Know that just being compassionate enough to recognize the pain that kid suffered is already working toward building a better world than what kids see around them every day where the toughest guy is always the winner. Then respond in a way that shows the bully that what he did was wrong.

  8. I thought I would add a little something else here . . . Tamula’s tips for having a better weekend after a rough week. I had an obnoxious kid tell me today that he’s not learning anything in my class and got a lot more out of the old method. It really got under my skin for a couple of hours so here is my list of how to get rid of bad feelings for the weekend:
    –blast things/blow things up in video games. Not people but objects. I do this a lot.
    –Watch the TV show “the Walking Dead” and think about how everything would change if the world was taken over by zombies
    –Call my 9 year old niece and ask her school is going, then spend the next hour listening to stories about the travails of elementary school kids. It gives me perspective. Even better if you go out for pancakes or ice cream. And don’t forget to ask what the latest knock-knock jokes are going around school.
    –Play with cats and dogs. I have two of each. Their needs are so simple that it always gives me perspective.
    –Clean something you never get around to like vacuuming the car. You will feel very accomplished afterward and the exertion takes your mind off bad feelings.
    –read a good book. I recommend “We Die Alone” about a WWII spy being chased around Norway by Nazis.
    Have a good weekend everybody!

  9. I am trying to put myself in your shoes Ben and I’m not having a hard time doing so because this similar kind of bullying has happened in my class and I have done nothing. And this is mostly because the “victim” seemed to think it was ok (he is very small for an 8th grader and has very red hair-and he’s my best actor.) I feel so lame that I’ve had these same students for the last 2 years and have yet to say something to students who remark on this kid’s red hair or small size (he did chose the name “chiquito”-seems to embrace this part of him. But is it like internalized racism/bullying?) But this comment made by your student directly addressing the “race” of another student-this is such a loaded topic. When the student said, “the darker one,” I guess there was a negative connotation? Esp. due to the reaction of the victim? Was the student who made the comment a student of color also? I don’t know what I would do in this situation. I would probably address it privately with the bullier and than the victim as Jody suggested.

  10. Or ride 30 miles with the pedals mashed the entire time, no stop signs, state park roads, head down, Willy Nelson singing gospel to me.

    It went o.k. I talked to both kids briefly after class. The bully got it right away, and I said I wasn’t done, I’d follow up next week. The victim was gentle and understood and I could tell was grateful for both my own and my proxy apology for the other kid, who will apologize next week.

    I’m out for the weekend – y’all rest and relax. It’s been a hard month and we ain’t done yet. I may release some articles in as time-stamped over the weekend. I have a pact with skip, though, not to come here this weekend starting now.

  11. Hey, Ben….Man, I’m sorry I didn’t catch this when you needed it. I’m glad things are semi-sorted out now. I think this has happened to all of us. Now, in the state of New Jersey (since last year) teachers are legally obligated to report incidences of harassment, intimidation and bullying. It’s the HIB law.

    Sadly, the root of the problem is not stopping the bully in his/her tracks but finding a way to connect with kids to prevent them from becoming a bully in the first place. The organization rachelschallenge does a great job of this. I want it in my school.

  12. leigh anne munoz

    Ben-Goodness knows that we humans are terrible to one another. The bottom line is — yes, you were witness to a hurtful act, along with others in your class.

    But — you are kind and sensitive and you are doing something about it.

    That’s what David #2 will remember. 🙂

    Do have any experience with mediation? It is not hard to do, and it can be very effective.

    Short of mediation, my best long-term advice is to think of a way to use the school district’s resources (psychologist?//counselor?) to focus on David #1, to teach him a new way of relating to others. This may to more for David #2 that you realize. IMO, David #1 needs the attention, because he’s *really*asking for it!

    Good luck!

    “You can change only what people know, not what they do.”
    ? Scott Adams, God’s Debris: A Thought Experiment

  13. Our profession exacts a huge emotional toll. It sounds like you did the right thing. Maybe you will be the one to get the bully to think about not using words as weapons. Let’s hope. Bon week-end.

  14. I am glad that you talked with both boys. Like John, I believe when I get it wrong in making public apologies. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to stand in front of the crowd and admit my failings.

    I do this because that is the only way students see adults actually taking responsibility for their lack of responsibility in a previous time. How can we ask them to step up if we can’t? And I think it important for students to realize that EVERYONE MAKES MISTAKES DAILY. It is how we learn.

    so, I would address the issue with David #2’s permission (he can choose to be there or not) to your class. We tell them we will be be there for them and when we aren’t we have to step up and say why. People are much more willing to forgive given an honest open apology.

    This may have be the best lesson you teach all year. Because it is a lesson that says–I’ll blow it as a human, but when I recognize I didn’t get it right, I am willing to step up and try and make it better. That is huge in this political and educational climate of today.

    Your students will respect your actions for not being a bystander and letting it go by.

  15. “Your students will respect your actions for not being a bystander and letting it go by.” And they will learn that it can be done with strength and grace. Every time we let it go by we tell them “It’s okay for this to happen and the best thing to do is nothing.” Ouch.

    with tons of love,
    and hoping for grace in a new week,

  16. I just had something similar happen in my class but the kid thinks that he is a class clown and not a bully. There is a new kids from Texas that has brown skin. He is so mild mannered and gentle. Class clown decides that new kid’s name is Encarnacion. New boy has not seen Nacho Libre and is not comfortable with this. Class clown decides that new boy is his gangster friend. New boy is annoyed and totally not getting where class clown is coming from. I talk to class clown about this in the hall. I think the kid is an idiot. He is born without the ability to empathize and cannot see the other side. I am sometimes to empathetic, so much so that I might call myself an empath, so I cannot understand this type of sociopathic behavior. Where in the hell is class clown coming from? I am glad that we are discussing this. Intolerance is not okay. Comments are not okay AT ALL EVER. Gosh I also remember telling another kid today that once he steps through threshold of my door he can no longer call things “gay” or say that he looks like a “faggot.” I missed this phase as a teenager and I refuse to say that it is just kids being kids. It is these “kids being kids” that grow up to be adults being assholes.

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