When I was a student, I loved being in the drama club and playing volleyball and basketball on the junior and senior teams at my high school. I wasn’t a star by any means, but I was a member of the drama club and a member of the team which was important at that time. Those extracurricular activities made my life almost bearable during my teen years. I wanted school to be more than just the 3 rs. I didn’t just want to be in a classroom living in my head during my school years. I longed to be part of something more than a class. eEtracurricular activities enabled me to satisfy my longing to part of something more than a class. When I became a teacher, I decided I would participate in extracurricular activities to enable students to benefit from extra curricular activities much the way I had benefited all those years ago. Imagine my surprise when I realized that as a teacher I was still benefiting from participating in extra curricular activities. I recognize students participate in extracurricular activities for many reasons, not just the reasons I had for participating . Extra curricular activities are important for students in many ways.
I’ll be honest here. Participating in extra curricular activities is important for me as a teacher because participating in extracurricular activities would often help make my classrooms more bearable . Over the years some of my classes have been very challenging- to say the least. Many of my academically at risk students were disengaged from school. They were only at school because the law said they had to be at school. I felt really great when I got to see students who were disengaged from the classroom become more and more engaged in the classroom because they were began participating in extracurricular activities such as basketball, football or yes even the knitting club. I’ll admit I got to see my academically at risk students in a different more positive light during extracurricular activities and my students got to see me in a different light too that resulted in a more positive student/teacher relationship. That is a very good thing.
When I think of school and the student body, I think of classrooms as the head of the student body and extracurricular activities as the heart of the student body.We need to balance the head and the heart of the student body. Life is not only lived in the head, but it is also lived in the heart. Students’ school experience and yes even teachers’ school experience needs to include developing and satisfying the needs of their heads and hearts, and when teachers are told not to participate in extracurricular activities for political reasons, students and teachers suffer.
Of course I want my students to be successful. All teachers do. But, I think the Ministry of Education and I have different ideas about what student success means. I don’t think students are successful if they only develop intellectual skills. Earning a high school diploma may be a necessary condition for student success, but it is not a sufficient condition for achieving student success. Students aren’t just one dimensional beings. Students, like everyone else, are multidimensional. We all have an intellectual, emotional and spiritual dimension that needs nurturing. Students need help developing intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually (not in a religious sense but in the sense of dealing with alienation, with sense of identity, ) . So Ministry of Education, what are you going to do to help meet the spiritual needs of students?
I don’t know how many times I’ve asked myself and anyone else who was within earshot of me why weren’t my academically at-risk students more successful. I was doing everything I could except stand on my head and yet some of my student’s still weren’t getting it. I’ve got professional development coming out of my ears. I’ve tried to keep my student-centered teaching practice fresh and up to date by including things such as problem based learning, differentiated instruction, assessment for, of and as learning , computers and other digital technology, student created rubrics etc., etc., etc. What is preventing students from doing their best?
The conventional wisdom is that students’ lack of engagement or distractability in class is due to such things as poor preparation, the break down of society, too much TV, too much time spent on the WWW, etc. Students seem to be “brain-dead” and need teaching strategies that are like IV systems that would give students the information they need because they can’t to do it themselves (Parker, 1993 ). Spoon feeding is the metaphor that comes to mind when I think about the problem. But, Parker (1993) argues conventional wisdom is mistaken.
Parker notes poor preparation, the break down of society, too much TV, etc. are not the most significant causes for students lack of engagement or distraction in class. Student fear is responsible for student underachievement. Students believe their lives have no meaning, the future has little to offer, and that adults don’t really care about their problems. Young people ” have been thoroughly marginalized by the elders of this society, and their deepest response is not an angry rejection of us but a fearful internalization of our rejection of them”(Parker, p.11). This fear causes students to hide behind masks of silence and indifference. Parker suggests educators aren’t even aware that students have this fear. Educators can’t recognize the fear in students because they don’t recognize the fear in themselves. This fear is the fear of rejection by students. Parker admits he doesn’t know any techniques to overcome the fear of rejection, but he says whenever he sees past his students silence and fear and tries to understand the inner lives of his students, his students learn more.
I have to agree with Parker when he says when we try to know and understand the inner lives of students, students learn more. In order to get to know the inner lives of students, we need to build authentic relationships with students. The bonds of trust that develop between teachers and students within a positive relationship leads to a more positive classroom climate and more student success. It’s been my experience that when students feel more accepted for who they are by their teachers, the fear of rejection no longer exists to thwart student success.
The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer
I wrote this article about bullying in April of 2007 and would like to share it again since bullying continues to be a problem in school and in society.
Bullying behaviour is really a cry for help. One that we ignore at our peril. Esther William’s book entitled Help for Bullies, Victims and Bystanders is a very useful resource. One that I’ve used in preparing this post. It’s always nice to have your own observations supported by someone else, and it’s always nice to learn something new. I recommend it highly. It’s available through Youth Light Books.
Why do people bully other people? Notice, I didn’t ask why do kids bully other kids. I asked why do people bully other people? I did that for a very good reason: kids aren’t the only ones to bully other people. Adults bully other people as well. In fact, kids who bully often will grow up to be adults who bully if nothing is done to help them change their behaviour. Why do bullies bully? There are numerous reasons. We know that bullies bully because they get something out of bullying. What do they get? Well they get material things. They just intimidate kids or worse and take what they want. It could be money, clothing, ipods, bus tickets, sex etc. It could be anything. Bullies also bully because it gives them a sense of power over the victim. They feel omnipotent. They stand out in the crowd because they are bigger, meaner, louder than anyone else , and they enjoy the attention they get.
Interestingly, bullies are not less intelligent than other kids- although sometimes it seems that way because they’re behind their peers at school. Basically, this is what happens. Kids who bully and exhibit aggressive behaviour fall behind their peers in school because they miss classes due to the suspensions and detentions they get because of their inappropriate behaviour. They can’t keep up if they are not in class- especially in subjects like math where one concept builds on the previous one. I found this to be the case when teaching math to at-risk kids. They have huge gaps in their knowledge because they’re out of class so often between the skipping, sitting in the office after being sent out of class for bad behaviour or being suspended. Often, they have no idea what’s going on. When they go back to class, they simply misbehave again to amuse themselves. The vicious cycle continues.
It seems to me that many at-risk classes just consist of bullies and victims. There are no positive role models for the bullies to emulate, and there are no good role models for the victims to emulate. What seems to happen is that instead of encouraging each other in positive ways, these kids encourage each other in negative ways so the inappropriate behaviour escalates. It’s really difficult for teachers to teach when we have to deal with all the behaviour first. It’s taken me over two months to develop a positive relationship with all the kids in my math class this semester- over two whole months. It’s just now they are starting to change their behaviour so that they can actually learn math. They ‘re becoming more respectful of one another and me. Unfortunately, with these at-risk classes the behaviour gets much worse before it get’s better. I work hard to develop positive relationships with these kids because that is the only way I can reach them. I could almost send everyone of them to the office almost everyday. But, what’s the point of that! They need to be in class so that I can develop a positive relationship with them. Once I have a positive relationship with these kids , I have a better chance of helping them them change their attitudes and helping them make better choices that result in better consequences. It’s not an easy job, and I sometimes wonder why I actually choose to do it.
Bullying is mostly a learned behavior, although there is a genetic component. Violent video games, TV programs and movies can teach kids to deal with the world and it’s frustrations in violent ways. Kids model the behaviour that they see. Of course the longer the inappropriate behaviour continues the more difficult it is to change. What is encouraging though is that bullies can be taught appropriate behaviour at school that will change their tendency to bully even if bullying and aggressive behaviour is the norm at home. Inconsistent discipline, lack of parental emotional support, family problems, and a history of physical and emotional abuse manifest themselves in depression and increased thoughts of committing suicide that bullies exhibit. Imagine living in a home environment like the one I described above with its physical or emotional abuse, inconsistent discipline, lack of emotional support, and family problems. It would be terrible for adults to have to live in such an environment, never mind kids. Oh sure, we can all point to people who did not become bullies who lived in environments like that. That’s great. I wish more people could rise above all those problems and not use aggression to deal with life. But, there are many people who can’t. We need to recognize that bullying behaviour is an indication that a person’s basic human needs haven’t been met. Their actions are speaking louder than their words. We need to see this inappropriate behaviour as a cry for help, and we need to help them so they can meet their needs in more appropriate ways. That’s the way I see it.
Next time, I’m going to talk about what schools can do to help kids who bully meet their basic human needs in more appropriate ways. I’m going to start by looking at teachers who bully their students. Yes, you heard correctly. Some teachers bully their students, and yes some teachers bully other teachers. The bullying needs to stop.
I’m going to ask for a favour. I’m writing my blog and doing these podcasts because I want to share what I have learned after teaching all this time with as many people as possible. Life at school is tough. I’ve learned things that can make it easier for teachers, for kids and their parents. If you think what I have to say is helpful, please go to itunes and write a review of my podcast. I have the itunes link on my website.
Jason was kind enough to write one for the UK site, and I believe that is the reason why itunes put my podcast in the New and Noteworthy section. Itunes says there are over a 100 new podcasts each day so it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. I don’t want my podcasts to get lost. I want to share what I have learned with as many people as possible with the hope that something I say will be useful. If you can help me make my podcast more visible, I would really appreciate it. Thanks.
Here are links to other articles I wrote about bullying. I hope you find them helpful