by Marisol Rexach (Part 1 of a Series by Ph.D. Students)
Recently I’ve been spending some time in K12 classrooms. These classrooms have been in Los Angeles and Orange County. All have been a call for help. Teachers who need another set of eyes to witness the student behavior in their classrooms. These teachers, who believe that teaching is their calling and wish to make a difference in the lives of children, have asked me, “What else can I do?”
I don’t usually enter the classrooms right away. Instead, I hover outside the classroom to listen and catch glimpses of the behavior (In this way I hope to avoid the slow release of the gas pedal when a police car is seen at the side of the road). The noise is a bit alarming- students in constant motion and frequent outbursts. It is a bit like the sounds of a food fight- only this is happening while the teacher is attempting to teach. To decide which behavior gets the attention is futile; there are too many fires to put out. Students walk around the room. Sometimes their sloth-like movement coincides with the teacher’s direction to open a book; a demonstration of power. It is a challenge to the teacher, “Try to teach me. Prove you want to teach me. Go ahead. Teach me.” I am witnessing teacher bullying.
While this overused term is gathering steam, it is rarely used to describe students’ behaviors toward teachers. As we expand student numbers in classrooms, teachers find themselves confronted with groups of students who are in desperate need of attention. In K12 classrooms, teachers attempt the usual strategies: classroom rules, referrals to the office, detentions, calling parents, etc. None of these garner the results we need. Administration and parents look back to the teacher to solve the problem.
Meanwhile, we worry about standardized test scores and the instruction needed to move kids forward. There is an added urgency to cover the material. No time to stop and attend to emotional connections or disconnections – tic-toc, tic-toc. I pull some students aside. These are good kids who have lost the will to learn. Their scores have been posted “Far Below Basic,” “Basic” on classroom data walls. They have received year-after-year of standardized test reports in their mailboxes comparing themselves to an entire nation. In some ways, maybe this behavior is their armor.
What would you do?