I went to a college renown for polishing young teachers, and—although it was evolving at the time—still did. I wrote a column in our college rag. Enjoyed it, I did. But I suspect those that read my column and knew what I looked like (I was about 20-years older than the youngest of them.) were a bit more cautious when I was around after this one. They could be the subject of my next story. (Keep in mind my student-editor wrote obits for the local newspaper.) Read along with me as I realize I was swimming against a powerful tide.
So here goes…
Several months ago, I was sitting at a table where a group of students had gathered, and I overheard education majors talking about their internships in classrooms. These internships were and are precursors to education majors taking their places in our education system after graduation.
Conversation drifted to discussion of the process of singling out troublemakers in classrooms. Goosebumps rose on my arms, and my hair rose in a defensive posture common to spines embedded in the flesh of porcupines. And yes—I became angry.
This derogatory terminology can follow a child throughout an academic career. Would you help a troublemaker work through his/her issues? Would you help that same troublemaker work through frustrations relative to schoolwork in the classroom? Or would you single out that child as the one who is not worth the effort?
Let’s literally transform that child from a troublemaker to one of the following: learning-disabled; battered child; biologically-brain disordered, etc. Now, what is the reaction to that child? All these terms, in the place of “troublemaker”, deploy a different response from adults. (Yes—I use the term deploy because the classroom is often viewed as a battleground.) Would you be more apt to help a troublemaker—or a learning-disabled child? I would lean toward the learning-disabled child.
There is much talk about what labeling a child can do to his/her future. But what’s to say we affix our own labels for want of nothing else to put in their place? Are labels necessarily a deterrent? I say no. From where I sit labels provide direction for a proper response to a given situation.
A “troublemaker” who is learning-disabled who is learning-disabled becomes a child who needs extra help in the classroom, and s/he elicits compassion rather then disdain. A “troublemaker” who becomes a battered child elicits protection. A “troublemaker” who becomes biologically-brain disordered gains the help of professionals in the field. A “troublemaker” just spends too damned much time in the disciplinary category.
“How do I know these things?” you might ask. I spent time in the battered child category. Survival taught me to keep adults at room’s length. Survival taught me that adults inflicted pain, and the best thing to do involving big people was to make them not want to be around me. I succeeded quite well. My thoughts were geared towards staying alive rather than education.
I only learned that I had developed this survival technique when raising my own children. Because I was a battered child, I had inadvertently imparted my survival techniques to my children. It wasn’t until my oldest was 6-years-old that I knew I had taught him survival in the realm of adults was paramount to education. I have a vivid memory of a conversation I had with him—telling him he had to trust adults, then seeing the look of utter incredulity on his face in reaction to my coaxing.
So you see—we can add yet another corrective label to “troublemakers”: children of troublemakers; adults who were battered children. In previous articles, I have said that teachers are, indeed, surrogate parents who take charge of school-age children for 6 hours out of the day.
If I could teach my child to fear teachers, is it not possible for teachers to reinforce that lesson with angry labels? When one thinks the label “troublemakers,” does anger or compassion flash on a teacher’s face? Am I, as a parent, responsible for a teacher’s facial flexing? I think not. Is it possible that teachers’ reactions towards these children have an impact on pecking orders established by children in school systems? I think so.
In the aftermath of Harris and Klebold, it is important for our teachers to learn that words can become barbs simply on the strength of the emotions they employ; that those words, even unspoken, fling meanings into body language and facial expressions easily captured by a distrustful child. Children who have learned to become wary depend on those communicative mediums far more than the spoken word.
So when you deal with children, remember to smile inside as well as outside—even if frustration gets the better of you. You own that frustration, and there is no need to make the child you are dealing with responsible for your emotions. Find something that works to engage those difficult cases, and help them respond to you without fear or frustration. It’s called having patience, and patience is not usually inherent—it’s learned.
There is a marvelous educator by the name of Michael McKnight who has some revolutionary proposals regarding education. Look him up on LinkedIn.
Copyright 2000 Joyce Bowen
About the Author: Joyce Bowen is a freelance writer and public speaker. Inquiries can be made at email@example.com
Sobre el autor: Joyce Bowen es un escritor independiente y orador público. Las consultas pueden hacerse en firstname.lastname@example.org
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