Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hello, Hello, Teachers Take Note

A Note To Teachers About to Go on a Field Trip:

Field trips are great opportunities to get kids out of the school and into the world. When I worked as a classroom aide years ago, I got to go to the theatre, to the movies, to the courthouse, to the museum and to art installations. I loved those days. I worked with teens with disabilities and went to provide whatever support was needed. I enjoyed it. The kids I worked with did too ... except back in those days getting in to places was a lot more difficult than it is now. The field trips gave all the students the opportunity to see things that are only discussed in the classroom.

What students who are out to see things forget seems to be what teachers seem to forget too ... that they are also seen and heard. Their behaviour is noticed. They are not invisible and their actions have consequences.

Joe and I went to the museum today for a few minutes to pick up a brochure we needed. We went in for a quick look in the gem room, which is an amazing place to spend some time. The main foyer was full of students, all in their early teens. I tense up around large groups of kids. I know that most of them are great kids but those that aren't aren't. I am fat. I am a wheelchair user. I am the perfect target for even those with poor aim.

That a teacher can't recognise what a risky situation is and react to it surprises me. It seems that they are just trying to get the kids from one place to another that they forget that while they have a responsibility to the students they also have a responsibility to the museum and to the other patrons there.

Our timing was terrible because we had to stop as the group poured up a set of stairs and headed by us in a long stream. We had to stop and wait for them to file by me. The 'pig' noises were one thing, the 'Whoa man, look at the fat guy,' was another but the outrageous behaviour, obvious to all in the area, a few other people stopped to wait, coming from the other side, looked at me with sympathy - and I think with a sense of gratitude that was a strong enough magnet to pull attention away from them. But the supervisors were oblivious, I think purposely so.

So to teachers.

If you've been teaching for more than 15 seconds you will be able to do a risk analysis for rude and immature behaviour when in the community. Risk situations should be responded to properly. Maybe do the following four things:

1) outline expectations of behaviour before leaving, places should not become unsafe because you are taking your class there

2) plan with your other chaperones for strategies to deal with high risk situations and be ready to intervene

3) don't be afraid to use your authority in public, it isn't shaming to call someone on shaming another

4) be unafraid of high expectations for your students

On our way out of the gem gallery we were on the second floor of the rotunda and Joe looked down and said, "Let's wait for a few seconds." He then told me that another group of students were filing into one of the rooms below. I refused to wait. I have a right to expect to be safe in public places. I rode down with anxiety in my throat. They were all gone by the time the elevator doors open. I was relieved.

It shouldn't be chance that keeps me safe, it should be your preparation and your supervision.

It should be.

But it hasn't happened yet.


Anonymous said...

High risk situation>!?!?! Really? For a big person you are fairly thin skinned. They are teenagers. Teachers are not responsiblity for "bringing them up" - they are responsible for bringing them home safely.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

I disagree with Anonymous. Teachers are responsible for teaching and if they are bringing students out in public then they are teaching them about how to behave in public simply by what they are willing to tolerate. Tolerating ridicule and bullying teaches the students that it is acceptable - and it is not. Do you think it stops at Dave? These teens will target anyone who is different. I know people who dread going out in public because of the ridicule they experience. Are they "thin skinned"? No! They have suffered this abuse for a lifetime.

High risk situation!?!?!?! Absolutely! Thin skinned? I think not. I think that Dave is just calling it what it is. Those teachers are not doing their job. Those kids are learning that ridicule is acceptable. And anyone with a difference is being harmed by their animosity.


Glee said...

Wow Anonymous!! People seem to think the word "teenager" is merely a synonym for words like lazy, rude, selfish, sullen, ignorant, menacing, out of control, etc and that it is "normal" and therefore ok.

NO NO they must learn to live nicely in this world and with everyone. Parents and teachers BOTH have a job in bringing children up (being the ones who spend most time with them). In fact we all have a job in helping every child to grow up and be a decent human being.

Teenagehood should not be used as an excuse for arsehole behaviour.

Dave Hingsburger said...

I knew that when I wrote this that I'd be accused of being too sensitive. I KNOW, because I'm told often enough, that my feelings aren't valid and that the violence isn't real. I believe that those of us who are entrusted with the care or supervision of others have multiple responsibilities. I believe that bullying happens and will continue to happen in schools until there is an expectation that it will not. Clearly there's a long way to go before that is even on the horizon.

Just Heidi said...

A teacher is a teacher in whatever environment they may be in; a field trip is no exception. By the teacher not saying anything to the students he/she is accepting that the displayed behaviour is acceptable which is NOT acceptable.

Anonymous: No one is saying it's the teacher's responsibility for 'bringing them up' HOWEVER they do play a role in supporting/teaching children and teenagers in learning appropriate behaviour. In making the comment: "They are teenagers" you are excusing their behaviour because of their age? Their level of adaptive ability? Their right of passage as a teen to be rude, obnoxious and carefree? REMEMBER these teens will someday be the adults who will bathe you, take you on outings and provide other support services to you when you reach an age/ability when you ar eno longer able to do so independently...

It takes a thick skin to speak up against such abuse... a thin skin to ignore it and make light of it...

I am sorry you and Joe experienced this Dave. <3 Heidi

Susan said...

I am apalled at the first comment.

I was shocked that teachers in this day and age - would allow this scenario to happen. It's UNBELIEVABLE.

I hope this post, and the ideas expressed go all through the College of Teachers and that the bar is thus raised.

What is tolerated in silence is assent. Those teachers were saying "it's okay, just carry on" by their inaction. What a disservice they did, not only to you, and to those kids, but also to those who are bullied and looked down on every single day in that class. (Because you KNOW in an environment where it is tolerated, it happens.)

This kind of disgusting behaviour in our society is not going to stop until we ALL start to take responsibility for it and tell others that it is NOT SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE TO BEHAVE THAT WAY.

Smoking in public places is no longer socially acceptable... because the silent majority stood up and made it so. Dirty look by dirty look. "No Smoking" sign, by "No Smoking" sign. Request to "take it outside" by "take it outside.

Teachers of ALL people should be setting the bar high for kids. They can't be expected to learn this stuff on their own when the adults in their lives are giving silent assent. If that were the case, there would be a group of teens hanging out at every mall, passing smokes around, just like we used to. But we don't anymore because society wouldn't let us.

Especially teachers, but not "just" teachers. We ALL have to be ready to stand up and say, "Not here. Not now. Not ever."

Thank you for paying the cost of your vulnerability to raise awareness, Dave. I'm sorry you have to open yourself up to things like that first comment in order to make a difference... It ought not to be...

Lotte said...

So, Anon, teachers don't teach, they babysit, is that what you are saying? If their responsibility is only to get them home safely, then their job can be done by almost anyone. I always assumed that teachers would be teaching and to me this is a situation where teaching is necessary. The reason they are called social skills is because like other skills they have to be learned and in order for them to be learned they have to be taught.

John R. said...

The first anonymous comment is frightening to me. ALL teachers have a huge responsibility in the classroom or on a field trip. This responsibility is to model, teach and create environments conducive to learning. Bullying, bigotry and hateful behavior creates an environment of despair and fear. NO learning can take place in such an atmosphere. Therefore, teachers are obliged to apply the risk management strategy that Dave outlines. It is not about how thick someone's skin may or may not be. It is all about how teachers are entrusted to bring our children into a humane, sensitive and loving world. Maybe anonymous should read a book called, "Nobody Left To Hate" by Elliot Aronson. The book is about teaching compassion as studied after the horrible Columbine shootings in Colorado on April 20, 1999.

Lianna said...

I bet "Anonymous" would be the first one in outcry if the teacher failed to keep those kids safe on a public outing too.

By giving the kids guidelines and social boundaries (which everyone in the ELEMENTARY school sector is hellbent on doing it seems...) we are doing SECONDARY students are HUGE service.

Do you really think that school ends with a textbook?

Shame on you if you do.

School is an integral part of our community, "Anonymous". I suggest you take a real look at the reason WHY you posted.

Anonymous said...

You are NOT being too sensitive, Dave. You have a right to be safe from verbal assault!

If there were parents helping chaperone that field trip, they equally share the blame. I've accompanied many a classroom field trip in my day, and refused to tolerate poor behavior from any kids. It was MY responsibility to call them out and correct them, so that everyone could get the most out of the experience, and so that the kids learned the rules of the particular environment we were in. Common sense, common decency!


Tamara said...

I'm so glad Anonymous @ 3:40 posted and got everyone responding! :-)

Seriously - you are exactly right. Even if parents are bringing their kids up "right", the kids might act entirely different when they're away from them - and we entrust the teachers and other adults to teach our kids when we're not there to do so.

I think the other thing that could happen in these situations, is that more of us "bystanders" could speak up as well. You mention that other people noticed and looked at you with sympathy. I think that we all need to think about these types of situations and be prepared to do more than look sympathetic.

Anonymous said...

I think the person who commented first would be screaming if this were done to them, in minds that theirs it is ok until it is done to them. This generation scares me. I know not all kids are like the above and its only a handful that behave this way..yada yada yada BUT this is the generation who will be deciding our future, in a sense what will happen to our lives when we are old, fat and have a disability of some kind. If people are not taught to bully and not taught how to be socially acceptable and not taught to have compassion, then our world will be a scarry place

Anonymous said...

sorry if people are not taught not to bully

Mike said...

Bullying can be an incredibly traumatic event. I think one becomes sensitive to it in a way that others may not be aware, but this is not being "thin skinned." I was assaulted physically and emotionally at home and school for most of my childhood. I turned my body into a defensive structure by lifting weights 7 days/week and running 5 miles every morning. I turned my mind into a place where I could escape whenever I needed to. I turned my face into a mask to make others afraid of me. Whenever we go over the Iliad in class and we get to the part where Hector frightens his child because he is wearing his helmet, I think of myself. Hector laughs and takes off his mask, has this incredible moment with his wife and child, then basically goes off to die at the hands of Achilles. I have trouble feeling emotions the way I think others do and I'm very childlike in my relationships with others. My little girls are teaching me a lot about feeling more fully human. Bullying is torture, nothing more. Beyond the immediate act itself, bullying has the consequence of creating an environment that is deemed safe for such behavior. It's the same thing that happens when someone tells a racist joke or when someone is sexually harassed. People wonder how someone can be beaten to death in the street and how 40 people can simply stand by and watch. I think there is a direct line between events such as the latter and bullying. They aren't different in kind, they are part of a continuum. As people become more comfortable abusing others, the violence they bring to bear grows in intensity. We must see that bullying is an inherently dangerous, aggressive, and ultimately dehumanizing act, and *absolutely* resist it wherever we encounter it. This is what Dave did when he rode his chair down and wouldn't accept the abuse.

Tyger said...

It is amazing how easy it is to sit behind our anonymous screens and pass judgment. . .

I lived in a world where my concerns were invalidated as me being "too sensitive", that I was "overreacting" . . . You know? That kind of talk gets internalized, too. . . to the point where it took me a while to realize that, while I might feel emotions a bit more intensely than the average person, the emotions were still *mine* to have, that I could learn to deal with them on my terms, and that I *wasn't* screwing up by having them. . . just a little bit of acknowledgement of the hurt that we can cause each other is a huge step forward.

Last night, I couldn't fall asleep, as I'd gotten an email from someone who, essentially, bullied me in a supervisory role for years. . . it was sort of the last time he could get at me with one final jab . . . and it was the kind of thing that, on its own, wouldn't have been a big deal, but with the years of baggage associated with it, my heart rate rose, and I was physically angry in a way that surprised me.

That incident, along with others, got me thinking about intent. Does it really matter whether the insensitive/bullying party is aware of exactly how much their behaviour hurts, or whether they're just clueless, selfish, and unwilling to admit that they, too, are imperfect?

I came to the conclusion that, honestly, intent doesn't matter, and that one can only feign ignorance for so long before it becomes active denial.

Debbie said...

I would bet anonymous #1 has never been bullied, and in fact, probably has bullied others in the past. Thin skinned, kids will be kids, all are tactics to shift blame onto the person being bullied.

Mike said...

What I've discovered is that most people have experienced things like stigma at some time in their lives. The larger point, at least for me, is to recognize that sometimes I myself am blind to ways that others suffer, others who are different than me. The first person I came out to about my DID was a psychologist who I felt would be sympathetic and who I know has experienced stigma because of her sexuality. She ignores me daily in the hall. I suffered quite a bit from that experience but it taught me quite a bit too. We are all brothers and sisters but sometimes we need to be reminded of that, I think.

Moose said...

"Too sensitive" is a common silencing tactic.

These phrases can also include "It's normal for someone like that!", "You're being too emotional", "It's free speech!" or "Just suck it up and deal with it."

What these phrases really mean is, "Shut up, I don't want to hear what you have to say."

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,

my mother is a teacher and none of the reactions of the kids would have been tolerated if occured.

She is a good, kind and loved teacher but she is teching her children that that kind of bullying is never acceptable!


Kristine said...

Speaking as a teacher, thanks for the reminder. Not just this one, but many of your posts have come to mind while I've been in the classroom, and they've helped encourage and guide me in how I approach kids about bullying, stereotypes, etc. I absolutely consider it a huge part of my job to help my middle schoolers develop empathy and compassion, and the social skills to express it.

Most of the time, if a hurtful comment was made loud and publicly, I'll address it to some extent or another, instantly and also publicly. But not always. Sometimes I get the impression that the victim wouldn't appreciate the continued attention. It's a judgment call. But EVERY time, whether or not I said something in front of "everyone," I try to pull the kid aside later for a private conversation. Often a teen will be so focused on saving face in front of their peers, all their defense mechanisms go up. But in a private conversation, we can usually get a little more real and heart-to-heart, and I feel like the lesson actually sticks.... By the time I've taught some kids for 1-3 years, I've often talked to the same kid in the role of offender and offended! They know I won't let them get away with being cruel to others, and they know I won't let others be cruel to them. A strong relationship makes all the difference, so behavioral corrections are taken to heart, not just brushed aside. There have even been a few times where I saw a kid leap to my defense when someone else make an unkind comment about me, and their loyal defense removed any of the potential sting. :)

Jayne Wales said...

Completely unacceptable. Manners first of all atrocious, comments insulting and gang aggression. More like a mob than a class. They are in a public museum not a field with a herd.
My old headmistress could make 30 kids on a trip have a good day. She was 5 ft and elderly. She would not tolerate bullying but would be one of the most open and interesting women to lead. Granted she was completely brilliant and so could inspire you with her knowledge.
We just would have been told to line up, wait and keep respectful until say we could be loud on the bus! What's wrong with that approach?
There are still some places where seen and not heard above everyone else or saying shit things needs to be the order of the day

Jayne Wales said...

I am just thinking of my friend Bobby who due to severe burns o her face and body from a childhood accident has had to endure so much cruelty. She tells me about the cruel jibes from kids and how she can't help dribbling and how they taunt her. Together we have gone own the same road, reported people, done all we can. She knows they are wrong, she knows what to do but it hurts every time so badly and she cries with the pain of it every time.
She loves my son like no one else on this earth because she says he doesn't treat her like that or his friends. He would just not let anyone hurt her and she knows it. That is small comfort but he is a teen at least she can trust. She wants to get to know teens but she is scared stiff of them. Maybe that is the lesson. She with someone like a couple of decent kids would go and tell these kids in a controlled class what it's like.

Shan said...

I DO 'wait a few minutes' when there's a school group. Let the plague of locusts pass by and then go on my way in peace. I'm not afraid of those punks, but just being around them depresses me and I'd rather be happy. Maybe it would be different if they routinely picked on me, but maybe not. Maybe I'd wait even MORE minutes, just to be rid of them.

Cynthia F. said...

I don't think you're being thin-skinned at all, Dave. And personally, I took this not just as a call to teachers but as a call for bystanders - like me - to step up and make clear what public behavior is and isn't acceptable.