I received a major email today from a member of our group. Here it is:
I have had a great year with four out of five classes. Students love the personalized Matava and Tripp story scripts. My smallest class of eighteen gifted students, which should be a dream class, has become my worst class. I have no yelling out or classroom management problems with this group. This homeroom has “the popular girls” who are also extremely mean girls. I have no choice in students so I can’t refuse to teach them. They are not overtly mean so I can’t right discipline referrals for bulling, but the students are too scared to be risk takers because they might be mocked by the mean girls. Students no longer offer cute answers. I often find myself asking a question and all I hear are crickets. I am at a loss of what I can do with these students. I might have to go back to the Look I can Talk book which takes out some of the personalization but allows students a problem and relies less on their creativity. Any suggestions, help would be greatly appreciated.
My take is that mean girls like this can and have ruined many classes and many careers. In a group, they are young witches, and so much more a source of stress on a teacher than one could ever imagine. And you said why – because the kids who would play well in class are subject to their disapproval. It is a form of mental control of a class through individual bullying, and we must react to it most seriously. I would do the following and I encourage others to chime in please.
First, I would act. This one ain’t going away.
I would stop all stories and not do any more. I would go with Read and Discuss of novels in the way it is outlined here. I would continue until they start asking for stories again (they will) and I would respond that the reason you are not doing stories is because of the energy in the class.
Then I would just bring it out into the open. It is not a secret – those two girls and their hold on the class is known to the group, certainly. I would tell the class what you think is going on. You can explain how the class depends on the good will of all and how you feel that (name each witch) has created a situation where the other kids don’t want to play, so you can’t do stories.
I can just hear people reading this as they gasp in horror at outing the ringleader. I disagree. I confront bullies and I do it publicly. More on that below. While you are in the novel doing R and D I would call the individual parents and explain jGR and say that you are asking for more good will from their daughter in class, that she is smart and capable but, the way the standards are now requires communication skills (have the interpersonal skill ACTFL description there and be ready to read it to them) and not judging others and how you feel that their daughter is hurting the class by not bringing her best effort to the class. Just be honest.
Of course, it would be good to contact each mean young witch individually in the hall before calling the parents, but some of these girls, who can be so mean, may not respond so you may want to go straight to the parent phone call. One thing that has really worked for me is I go to the ringleader alone and say I need her help.
I did that last week with a mean boy and it worked. His behavior is completely different. He sits apart moreso than where I put him away from his buddies and it really helps. He pays attention. I think I got him on the human level – I saw it in his face when I said it, when I said that this way of teaching is so hard and I really need the natural leaders in the class to step up and he did. I don’t know if it can work for you in this situation.
Whatever you do, we must act in situations like this. This is what courage is all about. You are confronting bullies. Get a mediator there in the form of a counselor if you get to the level of a meeting with parents and/or the child. I would only get to that level with the ring leader(s). There is usually just one, but here it looks as if there are two. But go for the leader of that group of two first. That is the bully who must be confronted.
The teacher then responded to my response later today:
Your take on the situation is correct. Sadly the mean girls are only two, the rest of the girls (there are seven of them) are really sweet but submissive and allow these girls to have power over them. They are desperate to be accepted and my two mean girls hold all the cards and stir the pot so my sweet girls are too scared to get in the line of fire. This group (led by the mean girl) has decided that they learn through making up skits, apparently the teacher last year was fond of this (less work and the kids appear to be working collaboratively). How do I explain to an eighth grader that they in fact do not learn by making skits?
Skits are code for “let’s screw around with English and not do any work”. Tell them that. Then call mom and dad that nite and say that there is a crucial thing that their daughter is NOT GRASPING about the standards – your need, your professional obligation actually, to keep 90% of the class in the TL, and that skits don’t fall in that classification. Here is my definition of bullshit – skits and projects. My definition of bullshit is skits and projects.