At the end of every school year, I look back at what I learned and make plans for a new crop of students in the fall. I can always find something to tweak or improve, and when I looked around my classroom in May, I knew without a doubt what my focus would be for 2010-11.
And so, for the last eight weeks, I have declared war on bullying in my classroom. Lest you think I actually permitted bullying last year, rest assured I did not. I just vowed this year to take a zero-tolerance stance on it and not let up until I got what I wanted.
Let me be clear: I'm not talking about physical contact between students; I'm talking about the verbal abuse they can dish out by the truckload. I hear it in the hallways, in the lunchroom, before school and after school.
It comes in so many forms. It passes as joking; it looks like flirting. It sounds like friends giving each other a hard time. It has the feel of two people teasing each other, all in fun. But I've been around teenagers long enough to know that good-natured ribbing can go from funny to fighting in a heartbeat.
So this year, all that kind of negative talk is forbidden. I try to address every "Shut up!" or "That's stupid!" or "You're dumb!" that I hear in Room 406. We're learning that if we can't say something nice, our lips aren't moving. Some classes get it, and some classes struggle.
At times, we have to conduct class in complete silence because moving mouths cause trouble. I will admit there are days I have to abandon the lesson and practice the correct way to speak to one another, the polite way to disagree, the kind way to correct a classmate.
Yes, the kids hate Ms. Kuhens' "positive peer interaction practice" where we turn to one another and make kind statements like, "Your polo looks positively smashing today!" or "Yes, I would love to loan you my notes from yesterday!"
But despite the eye-rolling, the students have met my expectations and some days even exceed them. They correct one another and remind those who slip to "encourage, don't discourage." There is something powerful about stepping back and watching students monitor one another and do so in a positive way, with polite reminders to stay in line.
At times I wonder if this is wasting teaching time. I'll admit I dislike stopping my lesson for something I feel the students should know by now. But there is some truth behind the words, "They don't know it if we don't teach it." So I do.
Fulton High School English teacher Olivia Kuhens is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My thoughts on the topic:
While I completely appreciate this teacher's effort and work, and hope others will also follow suit, I think it *must* be said that much of this bullying is a reflection of failure to teach and model kindness, respect, empathy, & human decency to our children as parents. If my child is a bully, it is largely my fault. ...We have hitting and kicking and all matters of unkindness among my children, but you better believe I am all over it and there are consequences. in short, it is not a teacher's job to show my child how to behave toward others. It's mine. again, kuddos Ms. Kuhens, but also, I'm sorry its necessary. you are right, these kids *should* have learned this by now.
***Feel free to chime in***