Thursday, August 27, 2009

Doing a Disservice to My Students? - A Conversation with my Daughter

Today, my 9th grade daughter, Ali, and I went with my husband to his classroom to help him set up for the year. At one point during the day, Ali started reading a poster he has up on the wall. It was about how to handle a bully. One of the suggestions was to walk away. Ali began to tell me how that never works. So, we started a discussion about it.

"What if someone did this?" I said, as I pushed her.

"I would do this," she answered, as she pushed me back.

"Well, you've just escalated the situation." I now proceed to talk to her about war and...well, I guess I went too far. She brought me back to the bully in the classroom.

"Walking away never works," she said.

So I told her to sit next to me. I said, "This is how it usually works in a classroom," and I moved my arm onto her desk and pretended to do my work while encroaching on her space. "Now what?" I asked.

She put on an angry face but had no response.

So I said, "This is when, in my classroom, I would expect you to take your work and go sit at another table. Or ask me to move to a bigger table in the room."

It was at this point that she rolled her eyes, saying, "You need to stop doing that." I thought she meant talking about my classroom. Instead she explained, "You are really messing up your kids teaching them to move. Nobody else lets kids move. They're not going to be able to move in another class so they might as well learn how to handle the situation without moving."

As my mouth dropped open, she continued. "All those things you tell them. To use a computer for writing, or getting a toy to play with, or taking a walk for a break, or moving away from someone who is bothering them. That messes them up for the next grade."

I tried to explain that I was preparing them for life. "As an adult, I would move away from a worker who is annoying me."

"What if you had to work with them?"

"I would move to a bigger table and give them more space. Still make decisions with them but give them what they need and take what I need."

"Yeah, well," she responded, "that doesn't work in school. And you need to get them ready for 6th grade, not adulthood."

Wow. This really has me thinking. Is she right? I know that sometimes my students come back and tell me they aren't allowed to do what we taught them to do in our classroom. But I have to believe that, in the long run, it will help. Learning how to deal with obstacles is an important life lesson. Or should I just prepare them to sit in one seat, never moving, never asking for extra help, never talking to their classmates? What is the answer? What do you think?

Image: 'bullyingDM2810_468x720'

'The Burden of Thought'


Anne Van Meter said...

We need to teach children to do the right thing. Even, if they are old enough, that different situations require different "right things."

Just because other teachers don't, doesn't give us an excuse. When the elementary teachers tell the students that the hole in the ozone layer causes global warming, I don't let it slide ;-)

Martha said...

I think that you are right in teaching your students several strategies for handling a problem. Perhaps, Ali is just giving you some more issues to address with your students. When I can't get away from the situation, how do I handle it? Nothing wrong with what you are doing, but maybe Ali is suggesting that they need a few more tools in their tool box that you hadn't considered. Smart girl you are raising!

Kathleen said...

Hi Lisa,
As a fellow fifth grade teacher, I also use your methods when student are dealing with issues in the classroom. Your blog has given me much food for thought, as I too have students telling me they can't do what we did in sixth grade. I still think, however, that teaching them strategies to solve these problems without escalating to a "fight" is the way to go. But even as I say that I am wondering if it is just because I dislike "conflict" so much?????? Lots to think about.

Deven Black said...

The question raised in this post is very unsettling to me. I have always said that our goal as teachers should be to raise a competent adult, not a better fifth grader, but now I wonder.

I am with you, Lisa. I think we have to teach our students that different situations require different behaviors. We've already taught them that school behavior is different from home behavior and street behavior. Why can't your classroom be a different setting from the prior one and the one to follow?

Dr. Eviatar said...

I'm wondering if you could talk to the 6th grade teacher and find out why they are so rigid? I mean, my kids are allowed to move AFAIK ... seems like common sense!

Certainly in a high school class I would expect kids to be able to move. Is your daughter in such a rigid environment that 15 year olds aren't allowed to move? Sheesh.

Good luck! I think you need to stick with what you are doing.

Joe said...

Great Post,
The right thing to do is simply the right thing to do. We create a slippery slope when we allow what others are doing (in this case other teachers) to influence what we know in our hearts is the right thing to do. Changing the world starts with one child in one classroom.

Anita Strang said...

I don't have an answer for your question - I have been wondering about this dilemma myself. I believe in what we are doing so I (like you I'm sure) won't be changing what I am doing but it is concerning to send them off to a place with such contradictory expectations. My students from last year that have gone on to Middle school will not have access to the resources they did previously. Their teachers expressed their eagerness to support the kids but they don't have the resources and technology that the kids had access to. Then there is the other issue - willingness. I was so excited when I downloaded a dictionary app for my ipod touch - what a great tool!! I showed my 11 year old daughter and she also thought it was pretty cool. Then I said wouldn't it be great for school and she said - "But that would be cheating!!! How will we learn dictionary skills?" Arghhhh. As an adult I NEVER look things up in the dictionary. I read professional books and articles constantly but am extremely lazy about this aspect of reading. Now with my ipod app I am always looking things up. I love it!! Sad that our kids think that using new technologies is classified as cheating...

Paul Bogush said...

argh....same conversation with my wife last night.

Daniel said...

This is where strong leadership is needed in a school for it to be truly successful. Your behaviour management techniques are clearly excellent, but without consistency across a whole school they are undermined. Pupils like consistency, if the boundaries change from one hour to the next it must be difficult to remember what's allowed in that particular lesson.
I've seen many schools where this is a problem because there isn't strong enough leadership to drive the consistency across all staff.

Allanah K said...

I like to encourage children to solve problems in a 'toolbox' of different ways but don't encourage the just walk away option.

If you just walk away the other party has no idea of why you are doing that.

I encourage my kids to tell the other party what they are doing that disturbs them and then maybe walking away.

In this way the aggrieved party at least has said how they feel and what they want rather than feel bullied and helpless.

loonyhiker said...

First of all, I commend your daughter for taking the time to explain her point of view and to you for taking time to listen. But I have to disagree with your daughter. My high school students and I have talked about this very thing and that is why I push for teaching self advocacy. Students have to learn the appropriate way to act (which you are doing) but then they need to learn to advocate for themselves when they are in other situations. They need to be able to talk to the teacher and convince them that moving their seat is the right thing to do. Learning to communicate with others about this is important. If this doesn't work, then they need to enlist the help of others (like parents or you). This happens in the adult world too so it is okay. We do a lot of role playing in these situations so they will be more comfortable if it happens in real life. But this is just my opinion.

Lisa Parisi said...

Lots to think about here. I think some people got the wrong idea about what is being taught. Allanah,you are correct. Walking away is not the only strategy to learn. Both my daughter and my students learn multiple strategies for dealing with difficult situations. We just happened to be discussing one. My consternation comes from Ali telling me that I am teaching my students strategies that other teachers do not allow them to use. I think, then, that Martha has the right idea. Teach them also how to deal when they can't use these unique strategies.

Devon, I do teach both my daughter and my students that not all classrooms are the same. But it still doesn't make it easy.

Anita, often both my daughter and my students claim that something is cheating if they are looking it up online. Sigh.

Daniel, our administration does encourage UDL strategies to be used in classrooms. But it is uncomfortable for many teachers to allow students so much freedom in choosing how to learn and take care of themselves. Teachers need to be retaught.

Loonyhiker, it is not always so easy for students to advocate for themselves. I have been teaching my daughter this since she was talking but it hasn't seemed to have taken...unless, of course, she is dealing with me or her father. Then she advocates too well.

Thank you all for your thoughts. I can't imagine going back to a one-size-fits-all classroom simply because that is what the children will be encountering after they leave me. So they will just have to learn to deal with all kinds of teachers and classrooms.

Paul Hamilton said...

What a great post, Lisa! Seems I've come along after some excellent discussion. I affirm what you are doing and encourage you to keep on keeping on doing what is right. What happens in our classrooms MUST be more about learning for life than about preparing for the next level.

Jenny said...

Anytime I'm wondering about the same things as you and Paul Bogush I feel like I'm on the right track.

I'm impressed with the comment that we need to be sure we are helping our students find strategies for times when they can't make choices we've allowed.

In your shoes I think I would be more frustrated for my own child than anything else. Maybe she doesn't advocate for herself (except with her folks) because it doesn't seem worth the energy.

Finally, it seems to me that the more teachers begin to offer students these opportunities the more likely that they will continue to spread.

Jasmin Loire said...

Granted I teach an older bunch of kiddos than you, but I try to teach my 9th graders how to respond by using their words and voice and proper authority channels for self-advocacy.

If you had a coworker who was consistently a bully, no doubt you would approach your boss about the situation.

Similarly, I'm teaching my students to, after a reasonable period of time trying to verbally work out differences with any classmates who may be bullies, approach me and concisely state their concerns, backed up with evidence. I then usually will make a decision to reassign seating, because of it.

Self-advocacy is a huge skill. Moving to another table without making someone else aware of the situation may take one target away from the bully (good for that one student), but what if you could both remove yourself as a target AND put the bully on someone's radar? Isn't that twice as good?

As for toys and whatnot when finished with work, very few teachers in my high school have problems if students once again use their words and ask, first.

I respond positively to, "Ms. Elle, I have finished my assignment :: shows assignment, complete :: and I know that the rest of the class is still working. May I [insert something non-disturbing]?"

I respond negatively to a student jamming away to music without having cleared it with me, first.

Knowing how to speak to a person in authority over you without being too worshippy (which is what I see sometimes in high school students), and setting the right tone, is truly a life skill. It is also a soft skill that we assume students are learning at home. Not all are.

Allanah K said...

I suppose too that sometimes just walking away is the only reasonable outcome when the only other way is to escalate the issue.

I think this guy handled the situation really well.

Walk Away

KC said...

Slate had a big article about what works in stopping bullying:

Walking away almost certainly just postpones problems with the bully.

Paul Bogush said...

Geez...took a while to find this post!

I recently had a conversation with

The conversation was outside of the podcast. The topic in your post came up. He said two things that really made me re-think your/mine/others situations like this. I know I have kind of changed the words but he said...

"If you were sending your kids to Ethiopia would you prepare them by giving them less food or more?"

"If you were sending your kids off to a less loving environment would you prepare them by giving them more hugs or fewer hugs?"

Keep stuffing their faces and giving them lots of hugs ;)