I received an email yesterday and waited til this morning hoping for permission. It's from a teacher who was responding to my blog post a few days ago about the behaviour of the students and the teacher in the gallery that Joe and I were visiting. The letter has only been edited in so far as identifying information has been taken out. I am not going to comment at the end, I'm just going to reprint the letter. I was moved and excited by what this teacher did. Let me know what you think of her response to Both and Either
Dear Mr. Hingsburger,
I read your blog quite regularly and enjoy the opportunity it give me to be challenged. I found Rolling Around In My Head when a parent of one of the special needs kids in my classroom suggested I read it. At the time I think she was a much bigger fan of yours than mine! Your blog Both and Either about the inaction of the teachers in the gallery at the behavior of their students struck me pretty hard. After thinking about it for awhile and after finding the Creative Commons agreement on the sidebar of your blog, I decided I wanted to use that particular piece as an discussion exercise in my classroom.
I ran out the blog and made it look like a quiz with your article on the top and then several questions on the bottom. The questions were: Do you think that staring at someone or laughing at someone is bullying? Why do you think these students left the tour to stare that this man? The man says that these students terrorized him, do you think what the students did deserves to be categorized as a form of social terrorism? What should the teachers have done, if anything?
Usually these kinds of discussion in my classroom are tepid at best. All my students are just in their early teen years and struggle mostly to be coolly indifferent to their world. Well, this one caught their attention. I want to tell you what happened. I'm sorry that this letter is so long.
Many of the students were really outraged at the term terrorism and suggested what happened wasn't even bullying. The man in the story wasn't hit or struck in any way. I discovered that they all had a very narrow definition about bullying. I realized that some of the anger that was being expressed came because if they accepted your terms, they would have to redefine themselves as bullies. Beyond that the word "terrorist" here in the United States is a strong word and they were furious that it was used towards a student. In a way they were suggesting that you were a bully for using that word!
What I noticed though, and you are right I must admit to being willfully blind to what goes on in front of me, was that the unpopular kids were silent during this discussion. They looked actually frightened. I had noticed that most of them spend a lot of time trying not to be seen or noticed by the more popular students and they seemed afraid that the kids would take their anger at you for writing this and then turn it on them.
I have two special needs students in my classroom both who were paying a lot of attention to the discussion. They didn't contribute to the discussion but they were in their own way quite involved. When we got near the end talking about what should have been done. One of my students, who had Down Syndrome, put her hand up. I was pleased because the discussion had involved only those kids who would have done the kinds of things that were described in your article. The other kids, less popular or more different, had listened but not said anything. The room was silent went I called on her for her opinion.
"They should have done it and the teacher should have stopped it," her answer was short and to the point. One of the students most active in the discussion challenged her saying, "They just stared at him, what's the big deal." Before I could say anything, the response came, "It is a big deal and you know it. I get stared at all the time. It hurts."
The discussion changed it's tone and now more kids joined in. At one point I just sat back and let what was happening happen. It has been a long time since I felt the power of being a teacher. I believe that what happened will change my students. Some for a short while, but some for the rest of their lives.
I wanted you to know that I thought what you wrote was brave. I also wanted you to know that you moved me to action. Thank you so much for the courage you show in telling the truth. I am a better more informed teacher. I am going to take what I did to our next staff meeting and do the same exercise with the teachers as with the students. I'll let you know what happens.