Teacher’s Corner: Toxic Masculinity

Well, this Wednesday there was a particularly rough fight at my school, and while this one escalated rather a lot, fights between the boys are in no way rare at my school. Quite often, I’m puzzled about what they actually want from me when they come complaining, and you never actually get to the bottom of the matter. You get different versions, depending on whom you ask, and usually they cannot even agree what started that particular fight. You get stories that sound like the clans in Asterix in Corsica going back weeks and months (with different versions for each chapter in the saga!), but the patterns of the fights are usually pretty much the same.

They start with some trivial matter like brushing past each other, somebody calling somebody else’s friend fat, or somebody looking at a girl that somebody else is interested in. This will often already start on the bus to school. Insults are traded, challenges are made. People push each other. Friends get involved. Until, at some point, one of them utters some magical words like “son of a whore” or “I fuck your mother”. Then the one insulted feels justified in starting a real fight, seeing himself as the victim*, and the other one feels like the victim because he’s the one being attacked.

Being the innocent victim who only reacted is very important because then you cannot get into trouble. Or at least in their mind you should not get into trouble. Because it’s not their fault, right? The fact that they all regularly get into trouble is totally unfair. Because in their mind, they did not have another choice. Because in their world, a world of adolescent boys trying hard to be a particular kind of man, losing your face or being seen as weak is the worst. Much worse than fucking up your education.

When trying to get to the bottom of the fight on Wednesday I asked the kid what the fight was actually about. He didn’t really have an answer. Many stories from last year and some minor stuff and somebody insulting his friend. I asked the kid why he didn’t just ignore that shit and either walk away or call a teacher. His answer was true and the actual problem: “If I do that they will say I’m a pussy!”

Our problem is not the two kids who had a fight on Wednesday. Or the ones from Monday. Nor the ones who’ll get into a fight next week. Our problem is a micro cosmos steaming in toxic masculinity. And so far i don’t have a solution because sadly, my solutions are worthless. Most of my colleagues are female, we cannot solve the boy problem, because we cannot enter their world. We’ll need to find some men, men of a similar social background, who can teach them how to be cool, and that being a man doesn’t mean getting into fights every day. I worry about our boys. They’re still kids, and so far the consequences are small, but if they keep growing up like this they’ll get into trouble. They’ll hurt their own chances, and they’ll hurt others. they’ll hurt the women and girls in their lives, directly and indirectly. they aren’s Donald Trumps or Kavanaughs, with enough money and connections to get them out of trouble and up the social ladder. They are already on the bottom rung, fighting many social disadvantages.

As a feminist I’m often accused of “hating men and boys”, but I swear that nobody hurts them as much as the people who go “boys will be boys”.

*This is regardless of whether the boys are native Germans, kids of immigrants or recent arrivals from the Arab world. I once had a boy trying to beat up another kid for “insulting his mother and his family”. When I asked that second boy what he had said, it turned out that the first kid had hurled those insults hoping to provoke the second kid to start a fight. That second boy was rather cool and just said “same”.

Teacher’s Corner: I hate parents

Obligatory #not all parents, but if you’re one of those I don’t hate, we probably hate the same people.

I basically have two types of special needs kids: kids with learning difficulties and kids with socio-emotional difficulties. The later group can basically be divided into three groups: kids whose issues stem from their environment and past, kids whose issues are medical (ADHS, autism spectrum, …) and both. Which is why I hate parents.

With this new system of inclusive teaching we can do a lot for these kids. We can give them leeway in a way that wasn’t possible, often with me acting as a calming influence, taking them out of the context that is causing the conflict, spending the time somewhere else. Some kids write their tests alone with me in a room because for them it’s important to keep talking. That way they don’t disturb their classmates and don’t have to waste their energy on keeping quiet.

Those things are great, but they are only ONE part of a complex issue. I am not a psychiatrist, I cannot prescribe drugs. I’m not a therapist, I cannot do behavioural therapies or talk therapies or whatever*. And most importantly, I cannot change their homes. Some parents will simply refuse to see how big their kid’s issues are. We’ve got one mother who is convinced that her son is a little genius. He scored 122 points in one subtest of an IQ test! Sure, he refused the parts where he was expecting to perform poorly, and even if you believe in IQ tests, 122 isn’t exactly a genius, especially not when it’s that one peak. She therefore firmly believes that her son isn’t actually a kid with the emotional development of a three year old who is still suffering from the abuse that happened to him as a three year old. Her son is just way too smart for us and plays with us. She also believes that she can tell us how to run the school. Charming.

Another mother’s hobby is to threaten the teacher, because her darling innocent boy whom I saw chasing another kid through the school building and had to physically prevent from hurting that kid badly is being unfairly picked on.

And then there are the ones who simply don’t care. You implement checklists, systems with rewards, you write into their homework notebooks like every day and they will simply ignore it. The kid hasn’t had a pen to write with for 3 weeks? Who cares?**

All of this makes me very angry. Not because it’s exhausting to deal with those kids. It is, but I get paid for it and in the afternoon I go home. I’m angry because when those kids go home nothing has changed for them. Their chances are getting smaller with every day they’re not getting the support they need and that their parents are denying them, and our hands are bound because without the parents we can’t even get the school psychologist to talk to the kid. And it makes me even more angry when I see how their peers are doing who are getting that support. Surprisingly, often those kids do best who are in group homes because their responsible adults can deal with all of that without having their own lives and decisions challenged. I just wished that parents would leave their own vanity at the door and work for the good of their kids as well.

*Though a big part is actually listening.

 

**Yes, I know many parents in our school are poor. But just giving the kid a bottle of water to drink instead of a soda would both free enough money for a dozen pens a month and do the kid some good.

Teacher’s Corner: Retarded!

As you may know by now I have recently started a new job as a special ed teacher without having actually trained as a special ed teacher. This is pretty challenging on top of the job being challenging anyway, and I’m trying to desperately read up on the concepts and theories of the discipline. In doing so I stumbled across a word that is one of the nastier ones flung around in English: retarded.

And I discovered that it is a good word. Or at least used to be.

See, special ed went through it’s development just like regular teaching. Concepts and ideas about children, learning and teaching have changed, change which is often (though not always) reflected in our schools. In its earlier stages, special ed saw children who were slow to learn as “defective”. Children who could more or less keep up with the classwork were “normal” and the other ones were broken, damaged goods, lacking. You see where this is going.

Then came science and studied children and how they learn. They put many things educators had long known on a scientific basis and formulated scientific concepts. One of the still most influential people in this area is the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, who described the processes through which we learn and also formulated stages through which we develop.

Screenshot of Piaget bok covers

Yes, there’s an endless amount of books on and by Piaget

All legitimate criticism aside (it relates mostly to how far you can take his models and where are limits of their application), his models are still important. As teachers we want and we need to challenge our students to help them in that development, which isn’t an automatism. We need to construct our input at the right level. Primary school teachers will endlessly use concrete things and pictures to teach their students. They need to literally take away five marbles to find out what 12-5 is.

What especially Piaget’s students found out was that not all children develop at roughly the same pace. Some children are much slower than the average, they stay behind, they are “retarded”. The concept as such was revolutionary. The children were no longer seen as defective, just slower. They were not inferior to their peers but would reach the same levels of cognitive development as their peers, just later. This had, and has, great importance for teaching children with special needs, as it means that we need to give them different input, teach them using a much more hands on approach than with their peers and most importantly, get them to the same place, just a little more slowly.

It’s sad to see how ableist ideas turned such a revolutionary concept into a nasty slur. It also shows that you need to change society, not just words. The slur does not mean what the word means in a professional context. It still means “broken and defective”.

 

Teacher’s Corner: Bathroom Breaks

Teacher’s Corner will be an irregular feature containing my mumbling and ranting on issues of education  and people.

The theme of today’s post is probably going to be a reoccurring one: Why are the USA determined to be so horrible? On Twitter somebody posted the following note which apparently was handed to their child:

Note about bathroom use

Mrs. White’s 8th Grade Admin/Bathroom/Water/Nurse Pass

I will only have two passes for the ENTIRE month during Focus, BOTH Math Blocks, Community, Lunch, Restoration, etc.

I understand that once the number is circled, it indicates how many times I have went (sic) thus far for the entire month.

I understand that I need Mrs. White’s signature for EVERY TIME I leave to go to the Bathroom, Nurse, speak with Admin or to get water.

I understand that once I have used my 2 passes for the ENTIRE month, I will not be able to go to the restroom, get water, or go the nurse (sic).

I understand that only special accommodations will be made if my Doctor writes a note regarding a medical condition.

I understand that failure to comply with the Bathroom/Water/Nurse Pass will result in an Automatic Detention and a zero on whatever assignment I decide to walk out on.

I understand that Ms. White is petty and although we both have options, I can be denied going to the bathroom/water/nurse during the lesson.

 

I mean, WTF?

As a teacher, I know that “the potty goer” is a nuisance. It is disruptive in class when every other minute somebody asks to leave, leaves, comes back, etc. That’s why we encourage our kids to use the breaks, which are, btw. included in this bathroom pass. We have two big breaks of 20 minutes between 2nd and 3rd, and 4th and 5th lesson, and short five minutes breaks between the other lessons. And still we don’t deny our kids bathroom breaks. At the most, they get some extra work (I have a whole book of extra work that “fits the crime” where the kids have to reflect on their behaviour). Some classes have a system where you automatically move to “yellow” if you go during the lesson. In most cases we use common sense. The kid who asks to go five minutes after the end of their break needs to learn that yes, going to the bathroom is part of their “during the break” activities, same as eating*. The kid who asks to go after 30 minutes probably couldn’t have known during the last break.

 

*You wouldn’t believe the amount of kids who return to the lesson and then take out their breakfast. Many of them react angrily when you tell them to put it away and feel treated unfairly because they are hungry.

 

Although the school issued a retraction (see below), this isn’t the first time an American school is in the news for “strict”* bathroom policies.

On Twitter, while many people shared their stories about peeing/vomiting/etc. in class due to similar practises, many people replied that they didn’t see the problem and that it would teach kids discipline. It’s a dangerous gateway to the authoritarianism we currently see.

*strict as in dehumanising, cruel and completely fucked up.

 

Retraction letter from school

Retraction letter from school