Our Non-responses Tell Students How to Act 1

This is from John Piazza:

This posting has been prompted by an editorial I read in the NYT today about how a right-wing Christian group has effectively shut down an anti-bullying campaign because they think it is some sort of gay indoctrination. Mix It Up Day is an event that encourages students to have lunch with different students than they normally eat  with in the cafeteria, and was started in response to the Columbine tragedy. Calls from parents have caused some schools (mostly in the South) to call off Mix It Up Day. Of the few schools that responded to the NYT, some of them had the nerve to say that teachers are too burdened with their teaching requirements (i.e. content) to spend time on something that is outside of the curriculum. To think that dealing with bullying interferes with curriculum is probably a very common view among teachers and administrators, who refuse to see the cruelty that’s going on in their schools and classrooms.

Ben has mentioned elsewhere that students are masters at passive aggression, and that some of them are seeking to destroy the classroom cultures that we are working hard to create. This comes together in what I call “the test.” A test is anything intentionally said or done by a student that they know is against our expectations. I would guess that not a minute goes by in the average classroom in which teachers are not being tested in subtle or not-so-subtle ways. How we respond to these tests will make the difference between success and connection with our students on one hand, and a year of frustration and self-doubt on the other. The most powerful response we give as teachers is when we decide not to respond. It’s as simple as this. If we do not respond with an immediate and tangible consequence for every sign of disrespect, the student has been given a green light by us. It’s also a green light if we give the class as a whole a lecture, instead of isolating and dealing with the offending individual(s) outside of class, or give an empty threat, or stop and look at them disapprovingly. ALL of these responses are green lights for students to be disruptive at best, and cruel at worst.

I’m not claiming to be any more competent than the next teacher on this, but as I become more aware of this dynamic, the more I am convinced of its centrality to the work we do. I see this in my class all the time, and some days I am good at dealing with it, and on other days I’m not. In the past, I used to see these little interchanges as separate from my work as a teacher, as an unfortunate digression. Now, I see that these little lessons are core to my calling as a teacher, and how I respond in those moments will not only allow more language to be acquired (because this is the only way I will be able to create the safe classroom culture that makes acquisition happen), but these little lessons are the ones that will stick with the students and inform their own decisions when they witness disrespect and bullying in the future.

This is our work. We cannot afford to hide behind content.

Here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/15/us/seeing-a-homosexual-agenda-christian-group-protests-an-anti-bullying-program.html?smid=pl-share

John

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3 thoughts on “Our Non-responses Tell Students How to Act 1”

  1. Teaching Tolerance is the free magazine that promotes the Mix-It Up Lunches. They are a division of the Southern Poverty Law network. These lunches are about reaching across the lunchroom aisles to know the people we share our school with.

    I cannot think of any better comment on the times we live in than NYT reporting on a group protesting an anti-bullying program.

    If you have never checked out Teaching Tolerance, I suggest you do. It is an excellent resource. There are thoughtful teachers doing the same kind of life conversation work you are doing in your classrooms. The activities are fabulous. I used one of their activities last summer in the workshop I did at Vegas.

    For those of you who have been looking at trying to talk about deeper subjects within your classroom conversations, this is a great place for ideas.

  2. I am the green light teacher. I do not allow kids to say things that are intolerant of others, however, I suck at classroom management and I allow kids to totally bully me. I am so over it but I am not sure how to change the behavior especially because I always say I will change my behavior at the beginning of the year and I never do. I feel so intimidated by the glare of the teenage bitch.
    I would do so much better working with at risk youth because I want so desperately to be real with these kids but I do not want them to run and tell mommy and daddy I said something wrong or tell a principal that I am not teaching in the way they have learned in the past so therefore I must be wrong and that is what I deal with where I teach. I think that was a run on sentence.

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