Teacher’s Corner: Talk to Me!

Today’s teacher’s corner is brought to you by the Little One, who apparently has a rough day at school. Some classmates seem to be difficult and today everything escalated, their class teacher cancelled tomorrow’s recess* and she complained bitterly that both the English and the P.E teacher had called them “a bad English/P.E. class”. Now, of course, that gets the mama bear mode activated, but luckily my brain kicked back in and I asked what exactly did the English teacher say? “Well, we were all a bit overenergetic and it was very loud and he said this had been the worst English lesson ever and he didn’t enjoy it at all.”

As you can see, that’s quite something different. The teacher hadn’t called them “bad”, he’d given them feedback about that particular lesson and let them know how he felt about it.

And what did the P.E. teacher say? “He said he had to be stricter with us than with other classes, because he knows that many of us like to do sports, but some kids always misbehave when he is talking and therefore we don’t get to do a lot of sports.”

As you can see, in both cases the teacher said something very different from what the kid reported back to me. That’s not because she was lying, but if you take the “communication model” that says that all messages have an affective component and that whatever message the sender is trying to convey may be absolutely lost by the recipient, it’s clear what happened: a pretty sensitive and ambitious kid who thrives on a teacher’s praise felt unfairly criticised and the emotional response made her unable to actually understand what was being said. We talked about what each teacher said, and that she had admitted herself that they didn’t behave during the English lesson and that the P.E. teacher was actually on her side. It made her feel a lot better. To understand the criticism, but also to understand that if the teacher talks about kids who misbehave and she didn’t misbehave, the reprimand wasn’t directed at her (funny enough, that’s so often the case: the kids who do behave are sad and upset while those who caused the trouble don’t feel like this has anything to do with them).

We also talked about how she can tell a teacher if she thinks their comments were unfair or hurt her, and how she can address that she feels it’s unfair that recess is cancelled. It’s important that she can stand up for herself, and she knows I’ll have her back when it’s justified, but from experience I also know how quickly those situations escalate when parents don’t talk these things through, but just believe their kids verbatim. Next day you have some upset parents on the phone or, even better, in school, demanding to talk to that horrible teacher NOW. The teacher in question doesn’t even know what they’re talking about, because the incident the parents are talking about bears no resemblance to what happened, the parents decide the teacher is accusing their kid of lying and before you know it you’re sitting there for an hour trying to untangle who said what, tracing back communication, doing heavy meta communication and reestablishing some goodwill, if you ever manage to calm down mama and papa bear at all.

So please, parents, if you’re reading this: talk to your kids. Find out exactly what was said, and not just what was felt. They will learn how to solve such problems from you, only while strongarming while being wrong will often work in a school setting (after all, if we give your kid detention and you decide it’s bullshit, we can’t call the cops on you, and I don’t want to, and it’s your kid to fuck up anyway), it will not work in a work setting. You can’t send mummy to your boss because you thought they were mean. No, you also can’t send your union rep, claiming that your boss called you lazy when in fact they said that the department was behind schedule.

But also, do have their back if their teacher did treat them unfairly. Assume the best at first, but I’ve been in schools for long enough and I know that some teachers are mean bullies who will take it out on the kids whose parents will always agree with the teacher.

*That’s, of course, not legal. “Collective punishment” isn’t allowed in our school system, but I guess I’m the only parent who knows that in that class and I won’t tattle. I absolutely encourage the kid to challenge the teacher, but I’m not going to be that parent either who completely undermines the teacher’s authority. They’ll live spending one recess in class. Should this be repeated, we can talk.

 

P.S. That’s also why I think the communication mantra “criticise behaviour, not people” is half bullshit. People will still understand “you are X”. At best you can have some meta communication later.

Teacher’s Corner: I beg your pardon?

From the life of a teacher. I swear, I couldn’t make this up, because even my imagination is somewhat coherent. Today a colleague asked me to handle a kid who’d claimed to just have removed a louse from her head (I was itching all day, thank you, just the word will do that), could I please call her parents? I had a moment of time (well, not really. Sorry I. that you had to wrangle the whole class yourself) so I took over the kid and called her stepmum if she if she could please come and pick her up?

Well, it was a trite inconvenient for the stepmum (actually, the whole kid is a trite inconvenient for the stepmum…), could she get home by bus, and also she was very annoyed that after two weeks the kid still had lice…

I told her I needed to check with the assistant principal and would call her back. When I called her back she started ranting at me that we would need to finally do something about those damn lice and find out from which kid her kid kept picking them up! This had been going on for two weeks now and enough is enough. I politely informed her that I wasn’t a doctor and was neither qualified nor allowed to check the other kids for lice, but now that we finally knew there was a problem, of course all parents were given the “lice paper*” and that NOW of course parents were obligated to do so. “But my kid keeps getting them, you must find which other kid is giving them to my kid!!!”

Would you believe that she called a third time? Our assistant principal jokingly handed me the phone claiming it was sure Mrs. B. and look and behold, it was Mrs. B., for which I called him a juicebag and claimed he was bullying me**. Again she complained that her kid had been having lice for two weeks and she wanted to know what we had done during those two weeks she was sitting on that information (you are legally required to inform school if your kid has easily transmittable parasites or infectious deceases) to prevent the transmission of lice we didn’t know we had. Rinse and repeat the same conversation a few times. As I said, I couldn’t make that up because my brain can’t twist logic that much. There’s an old saying that teachers don’t get paid a salary, they get compensation for injuries suffered and today sure was one of those. though, do you think that woman could get a job in the Trump administration?

 

*an informative leaflet about lice, what to do about them, complete with a declaration the parents have to fill out that their child has been checked/treated and is free of lice.

**in good fun

Teacher’s Corner: Homeschooling

Content note: Child abuse

Homeschooling is generally illegal in Germany and the longer Corona goes on, the clearer those reasons become.

A)For one thing, not all homes have the same resources. Right now you notice a stark difference in what schools can do with remote teaching. Some schools, mostly “Gymnasien” which are the elite schools in the horribly stratified German school system with a generally well off clientele are doing some fantastic things with Google Teams and all that shit. Us? Not so much. We made sure we contacted all families individually to make sure they can access learning material. In some cases that means that I print that shit out at home and send it off by mail. I’m currently telling myself that the cost is set off by not having to commute, but of course not all teachers will do that. And that’s just accessing learning material. Children still need support and an occasional explanation. I’m a teacher and kind of a “Jane of all trades” since in special ed you teach basically all subjects, though the focus is usually on Maths and German, neither of which are the subjects I actually studied. Not only do I learn easily and have years of training in teaching, but also in learning, so I know where to find resources if I’m stuck. Like yesterday when I had to do a quick recap in mechanics before working on it with #1.

Many of my students’ parents didn’t finish even the lowest school leaving cert themselves. For them school was not a good place and they are not able to do the schoolwork themselves, let alone explain it. Many don’t speak German (well) and at least one single mum is illiterate. Homeschooling massively increases injustices in education. Kids of well off, well educated parents keep learning. On the whole their situation is much less stressful right now. My kids have different rooms, there’s a garden I can send them to, for now I don’t have to worry about money or food and we have plenty of entertainment.

B) Parents are not teachers. Not even the parents who actually are teachers. Parents and teachers have different roles and relationships with a child and each of these relationships has a different conflicts. For one thing, while I am very involved in my students’ wellbeing and care for them a lot, they cannot hurt me emotionally in a profound way. While they can annoy me and even make me angry at times, I generally don’t take it personally (they often do, but they’re teenagers so they take the weather personally as well). There’s the kid who has called me all kinds of names and I frankly care more about him getting his anger under control because once he leaves school he’ll be in a hell lot of trouble for calling his boss a b*tch. With my kids things are very different. They can hurt me. they can make me worry on a whole different level. And vice versa. If I teach them at home and there’s some problem and some fight over schoolwork, they cannot go home to a safe place afterwards and complain about fucking Ms Giliell. And right now, having a safe place is much more important than ever. This would always be a problem with homeschooling, but in the current crisis, the relationship between parents and their children is so crucial, it cannot be sacrificed to algebra. When I talk to parents on the phone I tell them that this is the most important thing. School will still be there after Corona. Maths will still be there. But their relationship might not be.

C) Some teachers just don’t get it. While across the country teachers are (rightfully) snickering at parents who are currently finding out that maybe the teacher isn’t the problem, there are also teachers who show no understanding for the problems I talked about in 1 and 2. There’s a video I’ve been sent where a teen dressed up as a teacher is going “oh, homework will help them so here’s my Corona remote teaching: Do every single task and exercise from page 1 to 349! This will be graded”. My social media is full with parents being desperate about not meeting deadlines and kids crying about schoolwork.

Yesterday I was like “are they fucking kidding me” when I printed out #1’s science lessons. Not only does the teacher expect people to have a colour printer, they also expect to learn all of mechanics all by themselves. These kids have never had even the most basic lesson about power, force, mass etc. and all those other important concepts you need to understand shit like levers and stuff. Nobody is telling me that they would have been able to cover all of that in 7 lessons at school. And honestly, I needed 30 minutes of preparation before I was safe enough in using the correct terms. I also bribed her, saying that her Easter gift would come as soon as we finished this because I know that this is the thing she likes the least and she’s struggling anyway, not because she’s having trouble grasping those ideas, but because she’s on the spectrum and needs her clear structure.

Apart from that it’s difficult for teachers to asses if their worksheets are working. In class I can read the room. I can see on the faces whether something makes “click” or not, I know where to look (Is little Jeanie still paying attention and what do I need to do to get her attention). With remote learning there’s little chance of that. Many kids will ask in class, but not write an email. And yeah, even veteran teachers occasionally produce bad material. To be honest, with #1’s physics worksheets I was occasionally wondering what they want me to do. And next on the list is calculating “work”. The formula remains obscure. It has not appeared in the book pages she’s supposed to read or the worksheets up to date. She will learn about it at some later time. I’m not sure if spoilers should be a thing in physics.

And this is the most damning point: child abuse:

D) In schools, daycare, all those institutions, people see kids every day. We notice if kids don’t have food. We notice if they have bruises. I remember a mother who accused us of not having noticed sooner that her daughter was cutting herself (after we informed her, the mother, who shares a household with her daughter). We notice if they don’t have clothes or don’t come to school at all because they need to “take care” of their parents who struggle and don’t manage to give their kids the care they need. Occasionally we just plain feed them. I sometimes complain about the days when I spend more time with adults on the phone than with kids in the classroom, talking to CPS, social workers, therapists. I write “notifications of child endangerment”. None of this is happening right now. CPS is mostly shut down right now. They cannot visit families at home. If they have concrete evidence, they can send the police who are absolutely not trained in those matters (and ironically kids in good middle class homes are most at danger here because if police come to a nice home with well fed kids they won’t do shit.) All of this is happening while people are packed in bad living conditions, struggling financially. Many charities have stopped working while some still try do give at least some support. Children are no longer getting meals at school. Welfare money is already not enough and now those families lose that safe 1 buck hot meal that their children got so far. In some schools it’s even more as for example the special eds centre I belong to (but don’t work at) offers free breakfast as well. We know that while there#s never an excuse for beating your kids, such situations lead to an increase in violence. We have already seen this in China, and children are the most vulnerable. As one CPS worker who still staffs the crisis hotline said: “a four years old can’t dial my number.”

Teacher’s Corner: Why I Prefer to be Pseudonymous

On my last post about a mother sharing my private phone number with her son, brucegee1962 remarked the following:

I would never put anything on any social media that I wouldn’t want my students to come across.
This is why, aside from anonymously commenting on other peoples’ blogs, I don’t use any social media.

Obviously I have a different opinion here, and I really wanted to reply to this, but then I thought it deserves its own blogpost. This is in no way meant as a take down of brucegee1962 but an explanation of why I think having a pseudonym is a good thing for a teacher.

  1. Maintaining a professional relationship

It’s not that I’m in any way ashamed of what I write. It’s just that it’s occasionally very personal. I’m not one of those teachers who jealously guard every titbit of their personal lives. I always found that type to be quite stuck up when I was a kid myself. I share certain general information like my family status, I chat with kids about hobbies and movies. There’s a bunch of teenage boys who also play Pokémon Go. I occasionally will also tell them about times when I had problems or felt bad, because we’re all humans and I want them to know that it’s ok to have problems and that you can still make it. But we are not friends, we are just friendly. On here I will talk about health, grumble about Mr, share anecdotes  about my own kids, and occasionally well cover issues like sex and pregnancy and childbirth. While there’s nothing bad about these topics, they’re pretty intimate and nothing I want some teenage boys to know.

 

  1. Protecting my students

Writing pseudonymously means that my students are also not identifiable. This allows me to talk about some cases, to raise awareness to issues concerning education, abuse and child welfare. Just take the easy case of yesterday’s post: If I wrote this under my legal name, the kid would be identifiable. Instead of me complaining about a breach of trust on part of a parent and raising awareness about the issue of parents disrespecting a teacher’s privacy, I would be publicly shaming a kid whose friends and family could all read about it.  And that’s just the easy case and not cases where I talk about abuse and such. If I ever outed a kid like that I would and should lose my job. But we need to talk about these issues, so I will do so as Giliell.

 

  1. Protecting myself

Well, they’re teens. Not exactly the kind of people with the best decision making skills. Occasionally a kid will be angry with me and I really don’t want to have my Twitter mass reported and permabanned because I gave somebody detention. While I talk with the kids about Pokémon I won’t tell them my team or my name. And that’s just the kids and not their parents. We’ve had an older brother chasing the principal around school and the family of an expelled student making threats so they were only allowed to pick up his stuff with the police present.

 

  1. Nazis

Sadly, in 2020 that’s an issue. The right wing AfD has several portals where you can “report” teachers for being “too left” (i.e. not a Nazi and standing up against them). And while the school I work at has a high proportion of migrant kids, it is also in a place with a serious Nazi problem, the kind of Nazis with motorbikes and baseball bats. They know that I won’t let their kids use slurs or racially abuse the other kids. I guess I’m not on their Christmas Cards List.

 

I hope this makes clear why I don’t want my students to discover my online presence. Not because I’m ashamed, but because it’s better for all of us.

Teacher’s Corner: In case you’ve been wondering…

In plain text, for when Twitter fucks up.

A teacher’s day:
We write a class test. A student goes to the toilet. he returns 5 min later, sweaty and out of breath. There’s dog shit on his shoes. He smears it all over the floor, 2 chairs and a table.

The first kids finish the test. I tell a student to stay in his seat and not talk to another student (I told them to bring something to occupy themselves with) because others are still writing. He yells at me and runs out of the room. Everything smells of dog shit

I spend my break supervising the dog shit student. He has no explanation for how this happened. I need to call his mum.

I’m supporting a trainee teacher. After he tells some students to stay after the bell has rung, one of them kicks my rucksack. I spend my next break coaching the young colleague on classroom management.

School’s over, but I still have a parent teacher talk scheduled. After the parent doesn’t arrive, my colleague phones him. He thought it was in an hour! He’s on his way. I use the opportunity to go to another parent teacher talk. I should really be in two places at once.

Talks went well, parents have gone home. I phone the mum of the temper tantrum kid. She more or less throws her own tantrum. Her poor boy is always picked on! Teachers never do anything about the things the kid doesn’t tell us because teachers never do anything. Makes sense

It’s three o’clock now. My breakfast is still in front of me. I really need to write a report but thankfully my principal postpones the meeting until Monday. And it’s not even the worst day of the week. Except for the dog shit.

Teacher’s Corner: School’s out for Summer!!!

Let’s start with the obvious sentiment:

The last day of school was on Friday and now we’re all free for six wonderful weeks of holiday. The last week was damn hot and since we had a lot of excursions planned it was also exhausting.

There were report cards on Friday and one of the boys did absolutely not agree with his grade for behaviour and thought he deserved a better grade. To inform us of this great injustice he yelled swear words, threw things through the classroom and kicked over the dustbin. That particular kid often feels like Pratchett’s Carcer in the making and it’s our job to try and prevent it.

My own kids’ report cards were something to brag about, with one “C” in PE between the two of them.

Now for the first time in my life I also get paid for the summer holidays, which is a nice thing to have. On Sunday we set out for Spain, so don’t expect me to catch up on my blogging duties soon ;)

Teacher’s Corner: All You Need is Love (and other bullshit)

I’m home today, with the Little One having caught a stomach bug and me not being sure if I caught it as well, or was simply feeling sick from having to do the cleaning up and not sleeping all night, so I called in sick.

So I’ve got some time for a post that has been stewing in my mind for a while, on some pretty toxic notions of parenting and raising kids who fail.

One of the ingredients was a tweet on German Twitter where a woman posted that “kids don’t need boundaries, all they need is that you love them enough and they will always behave”. In the further discussion she doubled and trippled down, linking all unwanted behaviours to lack of love. Your kids eats chocolate cake instead of dinner? You don’t love them enough? (Also, healthy eating is overrated, we’ll come back to this) You disagree with this person? It’s because mummy (!) didn’t love you enough. Whatever goes wrong, it’s ultimately the fault of the parents, especially the mothers, who didn’t love their children enough.

Do I have to explain why such an idea is toxic and destroys all healthy parent-child relationships? If the blame for inappropriate behaviour ultimately resides with your lack of love, then you must at all cost prevent that behaviour. This usually means removing al sources of possible conflict, often by fulfilling your child’s every wish and desire. If a temper tantrum  over no ice cream means you don’t love your child, you give them ice cream. Here we come back to what I wrote above, because the person literally said that i should just let the child eat the cake, nutrition is overrated anyway. This is the second coping mechanism of this philosophy: move the goalposts. Everybody who ever parented knows that your kid will still show behaviours that are inappropriate. Even if you obey their every command, they will have temper tantrums because the world does not indeed revolve around them and most of them will still eat sweets, no matter how much you love them. Therefore, the behaviour that was a sign of lack of love a minute ago is redefined as benign.

And as an aside, some people are just damn lucky and have children who hardly need any parenting at all. I know this because I have one. I also have one who needs a lot of parenting. And I don’t love the former more than  the latter. If anything, the latter had 2 years of my love all to herself before her sister was born.

This “philosophy” gets even worse when seen in the context of disabilities like AD(H)S or also kids on the spectrum. Those children will show lots of “inappropriate” behaviour because they often cannot deal with the world, or with themselves, and if parenting of neurotypical and able children is already hard, then  those parents’ lives are in expert mode fro  the start. If their behaviour is no longer a result of their disability but an indictment of your lack of love, then seeking the help you need is twice as hard, especially if an ADHD kid is raised on “no limits or boundaries”.

Linked to this, and therefore my second “ingredient” is the idea of “snowplow parenting”, which is apparently the kind of parents even helicopter parents curl back from in disgust. In the wake of the US college admission scandal, where the only surprising thing was that some people were surprised, the NYT published an article about parents who baby their kids well into adulthood. The results are devastating for the young adults, who are dropping out of college because they cannot cope with the presence of sauce in the cafeteria. But least you think that this is a phenomenon of the American upper class, I know similar complaints from doctors, who have parents accompany their mildly ill adult kids to a doctor’s appointment or even to a job interview. I see it on a smaller scale when parents try to protect their kids from the consequences of their actions (where every consequence we throw at them is ridiculous compared to what the world is going to do. Missing out on some fun because you got detention for being late is nothing compared to losing your job), or parents fretting over their big bulky 12 years old son waiting for 45 minutes after school before some activity starts. Because a meteor could hit him or something.

Now, I don’t doubt that all those parents mean well, that they truly love their children. But they don’t do them good. Especially when the boys, but not only them, grow up, the parents lose all their chances of turning the wheel around. I have parents who are obviously afraid of their sons, who keep doing their bidding so they can avoid the dreaded conflict or the consequences.

Nothing here says “don’t love your children”. Love them, a lot. Tell them often. But don’t mistake helicopter or snowplow parenting for love, consumer goods for love. Give them what they need, and occasionally also what they want.

 

International Women’s Day

March 8 is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter.

A balanced world is a better world. How can you help forge a more gender-balanced world?
Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.

There are events worldwide to celebrate the day and I encourage you to check the site International Women’s Day to see what’s happening in your area. They have a search feature by country and city so plug-in and see what’s up. The site also has a wealth of resources and they’re hosting an international photo competition.

The world is still a dangerous place for women and there is much work to be done before that will change. International Women’s Day is a chance for us all to stand up and say we want a better world; a world where women are paid on parity with men, where access to birth control and abortion services are freely available, where rape is regarded as violent assault and no woman ever is accused of “asking for it.” Every woman I know has a story of inequality or harassment or worse. Let’s change that so that the stories of the next generation reflect a world where people are judged by the content of their character, not the content of their underpants.

Teachers Corner: Bullies

Sorry for basically having played dead last week, but work was intense and long and I had a cold. I still do bbut I only feel like almost dying, not completely.

Sign for the national anti-bullying month

Ever so often users on FtB remember the bullying they received in  their school days and say they wished the adults back then had done something. Now, teachers are adults whose fucking job it is to stop bullying, and I can tell you, it’s fucking hard.

There’s basically two kinds of bully: the loud and violent ones and the smart and sly ones. You can now guess which type is easy to deal with. When somebody calls someone names or becomes aggressive, we can act quickly and without hesitation. You broke the rules, I saw you! Or heard you. Whatever. We can now both talk to the kid about why the behaviour was wrong and deal out sanctions. that kind of bully will usually go for the obvious low hanging fruit of calling kids fat, stupid, gay, you know the drill, and because they basically insult everybody, nobody will side with them.

And then there’s the smart bully and I can tell you, dealing with them is more than complicated. Smart bullies are like ice bergs: 70% is under water. The kid is rarely at the centre of conflict, but always in its periphery. They try to “help”. I have one who mysteriously showed up in a couple of “let’s try to talk about this and solve your conflict” meetings. And they often seemed so very reasonable, trying to mediate, until I and my colleagues caught up and excluded them from  such talks unless the conflict was especially about them.

They still and increasingly try to stir up shit by pulling strings and spreading fake concern about some thing or other.. They choose their victim very carefully. Usually it’s the simple kids with a short temper. Kids that they know will react loudly and who will therefore be in the wrong (yes, sorry, but you need to control your temper as well). Kids for whom the idea of a double take is one too many. And most importantly, kids who have little support in their peer group, though these kids will often do double shifts by being the victim one half the time and the partner in crime the other half of the time.

When conflict is finally here, the victims and co-perpetrators will wear their heart on their sleeves. The bully will operate with plausible deniability. They will even publicly condemn bullying, do a “I was wrong” speech and thus shift the responsibility. And as a teacher, my hands are pretty much tied. I cannot sanction behaviour that I cannot prove. I cannot sanction stirring up shit, the little needle pricks that will make kid A ill disposed towards kid B until the situation escalates over something minor. I cannot protect the victims who will good-heartedly and good-naturedly accept a fake apology only to be pulled into the next drama the very next day.

The only thing that can stop that kind of bully is a peer group that shows solidarity towards one another. It#s easy to call on adults to intervene, but reality is complicated.

Teacher’s Corner: Things I don’t have to worry about

As you might know by now, being a teacher can be “exciting”.  From wrestling out of control teenagers over having misogynistic slurs hurled at me to a mother and adult brother trying to beat us up (fortunately I was in another parent-teacher talk). Still with that level of violence, there’s some things I don’t have to worry about. A big one is guns. While there have been some school shootings or massacres in Germany, the number is low, and actually yes, we’ve tightened gun laws after the first big one in 2002. The one in 2009 could only happen because the father of the shooter had disobeyed those and was subsequently convicted of manslaughter by negligence. Never say never, but  absolutely don’t worry about somebody shooting up my classroom with a military style assault weapon (and no, I’m not interested in the discussion of technicalities. You all know what weapons I mean).

I am worried about knives. They’re easy to get, easy to carry and can be deadly. But my chair is a very good defensive weapon against a knife. There’s a good chance I can get my students out of the room when somebody draws a knife while I try to calm that person. There’s a good chance that I will survive the extreme case of being hurt by a knife, which gets me to another thing I don#t have to worry about:

Healthcare cost. Should I or my students get hurt , we wouldn’t have to worry about who is paying our bills. I wouldn’t need to worry about losing my job for being sick or not getting paid because I used up my “sick days”. And I wouldn’t much need to worry about people blaming me for not having had a gun and killing somebody first.

 

Teacher’s Corner: Come for the stress, stay for the misogyny!

It’s an open secret that female teachers often have a harder time than male teachers*. Not because we’re worse teachers, but because society tells kids, especially those assigned male that men have to be respected and women not so much. This is especially obvious when there are serious clashes, like it happened today.

As usually, the matter at hand was pretty unimportant. During class one boy put a handkerchief in front of his mouth, like the bad guy in  western. I told him to put that thing away and that if I saw it again that day I’d confiscate it. As the bell rang for recess, he had that thing in front of his mouth again and I told him to hand it over, which he did. But the hanky wasn’t his, but a classmate’s, who now protested loudly. Now, since he knew what would happen if I saw that thing again and still lent it to his classmate, I saw no reason to hand it back there and then. I told him he could pick it up after the 6th lesson, as it is usual in our school when we confiscate things. I had momentarily forgotten that they only had 5 lessons that day, but before I could correct myself, he yelled “are you fucking kidding me?”

I told him that I had just been about to correct myself, but for that disrespectful yelling, I would stand by lesson 6. Now, many of our students have problems with the difference between owning something and possessing something and the right to use something. They keep thinking that us taking stuff away from them for a defined period of time is theft (sadly many parents think the same). So the kid tried to threaten me with calling his mum who would pick it up for him! I called his bluff and invited him to do so. After lesson 6, because then I would have time to talk to his mum.

At that point he yelled the German equivalent of “go fuck yourself, bitch!” Well, he got part of what he asked for, I called his mum and told her to pick him up because he could no longer participate in school that day. I still have the handkerchief.

What was kind of surprising was my internal reaction. I’m used to a lot. Again, I work with kids with many issues in a neighbourhood with many social problems and I don’t take their shit personal. If they yell at me I usually shrug my shoulders, wait until they calm down, tell them about the consequences and move on. And I’m also not angry with that boy. He actually apologised and I accepted it, but for 5 minutes, I was completely shaken. Not because a kid had yelled at me. Or insulted me. But because for those words that cause a gut reaction in me and many other women, because we know that they are so often accompanied with violence. Because they are meant to put us into our place, to make us afraid. Just for a moment he succeeded. And there are no equivalent words that would do that to a man.

 

*Exceptions apply. I once had a male colleague who had serious problems with a class with whom I went along fine. One of the boys in his late adolescence chose that particular colleague to have his dominance fights with.