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.

Teacher’s Corner: I hate teachers

 

When last time I ranted against parents, it’s my esteemed colleagues this time. And sorry guys, this one’s on you. Of course #notallmaleteachers are problematic, many of my male colleagues are wonderful, dedicated people who work hard for their students, but those colleagues who are problematic are overwhelmingly male.

One issue is the sexualisation of girls. While my school is grades 5-10, my building only holds 5-7, so we’re talking about children. Some time ago one of our headteacher team asked who was teaching a certain class now, because there was a new girl here for that class. Their teacher asked, loudly, probably within earshot of a kid between 11 and 12 “is she nice and pretty?”.

A colleague at a different school told me about a male colleague who had told a primary school girl who had misbehaved “if she liked pushing? Because soon she would be pushed a lot and she would like that, too!”

In the first case, we reacted quickly with several women saying in unison that this was not OK. In the second case, my colleague, young, new at school, female, was too shocked to say anything.

Another aspect is the discipline issue. For many teachers (not just the male ones, but they’re loudest about it), kids have to obey and to function. If they don’t, well, that’s their problem. So today I had a fight with one of them. There was an incident with a kid who is totally beyond (self) control right now. I’m not going to go into details, but think your basic tragic neglected childhood that leads to aggression and delinquency. While the kid causes a lot of problems, he also has a lot of problems. But just hearing about the incident, that guy went “he needs to disappear from here, immediately!”

Not just that this isn’t possible anyway, because the school for kids with severe behavioural problems has a waiting list, we cannot just “disappear” problematic kids. I snapped that yes of course, that’s the solution to all our problems, send the kids away. He tried to argue that “we just don’t have the resources and we have to think of the other kids”. I told him we were working at it.

He later tried to make peace by telling me that it wasn’t meant as an attack on me (because I’m the special ed teacher) and I told him that this wasn’t about me, this was about how he was talking about a child. Fuck that shit. I know those kids are exhausting and draining, because I get them all. But they’re children. Children who have been told they’re good for nothing for their entire lives and thank you for adding to their sense of not being worth shit and nobody wanting them.

Thankfully our principal (also a dude, #notalldudes, eh?) is firmly on my side. Not that he was involved in that conflict, but in seeing those kids as children in need, not problems to get rid of.

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