Saturday, February 15, 2014
Diffusing, Deflating, Denying The Bully.
I was hired to fill a long-term substitute teaching position in a fourth grade classroom just months after my December college graduation. Young, eager, optimistic, all appropriate and helpful attributes for a new incoming sub, nicely complimented my satchel stuffed with freshly acquired scholarly educational theories, philosophies, and cutting edge fail-safe strategies designed and promised to reach all and teach all. With squared-shoulder confidence and change-the-world spirit, I entered that classroom and encountered reality. Reality always somehow seems to smack of a bit of disappointment. People can frequently behave so disappointingly human regardless of their ages. Human nature depicts endless layers of self and emanating from this myopic vantage point can be a fairly insidious disregard for others. Somewhere between taking lunch count that first day and starting our new novel, the leaning-toward-the-toxic classroom cliques magically appeared with great clarity and unapologetically. This group. That group. The power group. The Loner. Just one loner. She steered clear of the fray, kept her eyes down, and tried to fly under the radar. They “let” her do so to a certain extent, that is to say, after “they” snipped and cut enough to make sure she knew that her radar flying was by their permission. Power. The lust for power starts young, but where exactly does it originate? I sincerely want to know that. It’s poison, of that I am certain. To the oblivious or insecure teacher, it will run rampant and dominate your classroom in extremely covert, though devastating ways. It is the root of bullying. And bullying is at the root of a pain that can be so excruciating, so consuming, so silent that it completely debilitates in its rendering of powerlessness. Who bestows this power? Who perpetuates it? Do we all? I was just a young long-term sub walking into a classroom with its established and accepted climate, but my eyes, as those of one who understood the wrath of a bully, remained fixed upon the loner. I would help her in quiet, unassuming ways. An encouraging word in passing. An affirming smile. A “random” opportunity to teacher-assist on an errand to the office. An extra superlative word written on a corrected assignment. Continual, covert building up day after day after day after day. The bullies, the exclusive cliques, the power seekers were not given voice other than to participate according to my directions. We were one class. We would learn to care for each other and recognize that each one brings gifts and stories that are unique and worthy of being celebrated. Not one more than another, but each one. On my last day with the fourth graders, the loner, who no longer was one, brought me a gift that she, her mother, and grandmother had made. It was a stunningly beautiful beaded necklace strung in the Native American tradition of their family and their tribe. She simply said, “Thank you for noticing me.” Her simple message did more to inform my teaching than all of the stuffing in my satchel.