This post is about a thing that happened last week.
Actually, I guess you could say this started several weeks ago, but came to a head last week. I’m going to change all these kids’ names to tell this story.
Around six months ago, Sam and Terry, two 15 year old boys, were moved into my class in an effort to change the class atmosphere of both the M2 classes – our most challenging group. Terry and Sam seemed to integrate well with the other boys in the class: John, Harry, and Tim. About a month later, Simon and Pete joined us. That was around the time I noticed that the boys used Sam for all their vocabulary examples. “Sam’s face is dangerous.” or “An example of hurricane is Sam.” whether it fit or not. Sometimes they used ‘John’. Sam never participated and always just smiled and sighed.
I got worried about it and decided to put a stop to it. I told them “You can’t use people in the class for your example.” I also let my boss know. It abated somewhat, but I might have just made the problem less visible. In any case, about three weeks ago Sam went home. A couple hours later his mother called – he doesn’t ever want to come back. He’s crying from being bullied one too many times by these boys, especially Terry. Sam didn’t come back, and he asked us not to tell the other boys why he quit. Terry still mentions him in jest, for an example, sometimes. Or he mentions John as an example and John replies, “What? Am I Sam now?”
And that conversation is what started last week’s issue.
Terry: “John is a danger.”
John: “Am I Sam? Why do you say my name?”
Terry: “Okay okay. Sam is a danger.”
Me: Hey. This isn’t okay. When you do that, it’s bullying.
Terry: “What is bullying?”
Students get out dictionaries. We translate the word.
Terry: “No way. I’m not bullying!”
Me: Why do you always use Sam’s name or John’s name in your example? How do you think they feel?
He didn’t say anything and I let it go.
10 minutes later I passed out a crossword puzzle for vocabulary review. Terry threw it down on his desk and said, “I’m not doing it.” I pointed at the door. “Goodbye.” “No no sorry sorry.” And he completed it and helped the other boys do it, too. I thought he was just acting big for his peers.
10 minutes after that I gave them their homework assignment. As the other students wrote it down and prepared to go, Terry said loudly, “We don’t have to do that homework.” I was irritated and gave him a look. Then they were gone.
I told my boss about the class afterwards and about Terry’s nagging at Sam and John as well as his attitude about classwork and homework that day. She said she’d talk to his mother.
My boss called me an hour later. Terry’s mother was shocked! Not my perfect son. He’s never had a problem with a teacher ever. She talked to him about it. He cried. He admitted about refusing to do classwork and homework. And he told her that everyone is like him in that class but I pick on him especially.
This set me thinking. Do I? What really happened that day? I wish I had recorded the class.
Yeah, all those boys are pretty rude in general. This is the class that calls me “the foreigner”.
Yeah, I probably call on Terry more often than the other boys – he’s bright and is usually the best model for a good sentence. (And more likely to be partially paying attention.)
Yeah, on other days other boys (particularly John and Harry) also refuse to do work or homework. Their moms don’t get phone calls.
So why did Terry’s mom get a phone call? The bullying. That constant poke poke poke that forced Sam to quit and he was now turning on John. What did Terry tell his mom about that?
As it turns out, nothing. He failed to mention it. She called back in the middle of the night and spoke to my boss again. They had had a serious talk about it and now she understood what was up.
And now I have a lot of questions.
How do I tell whether I’m treating my students unfairly?
What do I do when a student thinks he is behaving normally but is actually bullying, especially in a class of teenaged boys who aren’t willing to look weak in each other’s eyes?
How do I teach or structure the class in a way that this can’t happen as frequently?
How do I turn this class around and improve the atmosphere and motivation?