Sunday, February 25, 2018

Luck of the Draw

I might allow this to be the last post on Teaching, Children and what is going on in public schools. I want to write a much more generic book on how I perceive Schools and Education and that schools are like Restaurants, and the reality of that comparison may explain why everyone seems to have an opinion about what defines one as good or not.  It is all personal and in turn people have a difficult time often seeing beyond their personal experience.  And guess what? That is fine for you and your precious cargo. What not snowflake,  Again Children are children and when you work with hundreds they are in your charge, your care that they make the ultimate destination to the end of their journey and be unloaded to become part of society in the same way stuff cargo is.  Now you wish I went with the precious snowflake metaphor aren't you?

After reading the idiot article about why we need to coddle kids and for the record even coddle can have different meanings to different people so the point is that you can't tell anyone how to parent.  You are on your own right Dr. Spock?  And no Teachers are not Parent, Psychiatrists, Social Workers, Human Shields nor are they horrific individuals that damage children, are super human nor master of their own domain, their own boss and have summers off.  Man how did one profession be the source of so many labels and myths? Oh I know why everyone has been with one, has gone to school for better for worse we all have had first hand knowledge of Teachers and in turn our own experiences with them.  Over the course of twelve years you will encounter many many Teachers and if you go on to College you will have four to eight more years of Educators so in that lifetime of Education that amasses to about one-fourth of one's life where you are subjective vs objective (means that you are seeing it through your own truth's and experiences) you are apparently an expert on Education.  Okay, then.

I have spent the largest chunk of my professional life in schools.  As a Student I attended public and private, secular and non secular schools and my longest stretch in private education was in Catholic schools, Grades 6-12, so seven years.  I can recall quite a lot about all twelve years and they were good, bad and fucking awful.   That is what being young is.  I am now 58 so I have ostensibly been out of school as a Student longer than I was in them and I have been and out of schools professionally for really less than 10 years as I took a 10 year break thanks to Marriage, having my own business and in turn doing other things that were not in a classroom.  But I have always been engaged and involved in the issues about schools as I think they are a reflection of the community at large.  And that much is true.  But then I moved to Nashville and it affected me in a way that even Oakland's public schools did not.  True I did not manage I think more than two weeks subbing there but I attributed that to my Divorce and my own fragile mental health and desire to do the gig than anything regarding the schools and I will never comment on that other than what I just said.  I do however still follow the local news and think that was a good decision even though it was inadvertent.

I read another article today about a young woman who tracked down the bully in her life and found he was dead.  She too was as a child undergoing a serious family problem which affected how she responded, how her Mother failed to respond and in turn the circumstances that enabled the bully to relentless torment her.  Her recollections seemed to focus on just the one boy and it appears that it was only him and despite that she survived and thrived.   Like everyone her story is her own and some do and some don't.  That is just the luck of the draw frankly and the reality that some make it and some don't when it comes to the choices of Adults, either those in their lives or those they become.

Then I read this former Teacher's blog entry on why she left the profession.  And yes I share her truths.  Again not all of us feel the same way or have the same experiences as Teachers. It can be age, it can be our training and education, the districts in which we work and those who are our Colleagues/Mentors/Superiors, our Gender or just  our own present lives and history than can affect how we enter any profession.  As I said to the acquaintance that is now a Student Teacher that he needs to find his core as a Teacher before throwing himself into the flame as many of the schools are just that, open flames that will burn you alive.  And he shared that a school that I will not set foot in offered him a job and in turn they told him the school is bad but he was welcome. Gosh what an offer!  Seriously would anyone of their right mind take a job like that?  What imperative other than needing a job would make one actually consider it when they are basically telling you that no this is not about you or your skills this is about we need a warm body.  I don't think he had a clue.. he fits in here perfectly.  Utterly incurious intellectually and frankly that is the last skill I want as a Teacher but they don't teach that way, its about tests.  And when a Hairdresser is telling me she is looking at testing data for a Kindergarten we gots some issues.

To stop bullying and other behaviors this is where the concept of SEL (social emotional learning) would be great and would be needed to be implemented in Kindergarten. It needs Parental buy in and active participation. And guess what? Well there are the "coddling" parent who may in fact refuse or be over engaged, the neglectful parent who won't and everyone else in between.  People raise their children the way they raise them.  We have no business telling anyone how to but we can ask that they and their children respect our personal boundaries and space.  So that means actually restorative justice which we know is also a failure as adults have problems with conflict and dispute resolution.

But we are unable to handle even the most smallest of truths. From the blog I referenced above there are 100's of comments and the writer responds to each but this stood out.

 I taught secondary English/Language Arts in Michigan for 19 years before I resigned. I was five years from retirement when I just could not take it anymore. My doctor told me the stress was killing me. You see I was a good teacher. Administrators admired my classroom management. Parents requested that their children be put in my classes. These are good things, right?
As you and other teachers know, teaching is a profession where you are penalized for being good at your job. You are given the toughest students because you can handle them. You are given the apathetic students because you can reach them. You are given 3, 4, or maybe 5 different types of classes to teach because you can handle all the extra preparation. You are assigned to endless committees and asked to mentor new teachers because you have such a wealth of experience. You ARE until you CAN’T anymore.
I had seen 5 teachers in my building suffer hear attacks, and that fate was awaiting me.
I also left because of the increase in threats and violence towards teachers (including myself). These attacks came from both students and parents.
My student teacher was stalked by a parent. A teacher in my building suffered a concussion when she was head-butted by a student. I had to confront a parent who had come on campus with her adult daughter to “talk to” a girl her other daughter had a dispute with.
The assistant principal was punched in the face. The last straw for me was when a six-two, 210 pound, 17 year-old in my freshman English class charged at me because I asked the class to turn in a homework assignment. I avoided his fist, but was told “off the record” that I should have let him hit me because then he could have been expelled. The suburban middle-class high school I loved had become an unsafe and hostile environment in which to work.
I missed the students terribly, so I started teaching part-time at the community college level. This means my income was cut to less than half of what I was making, and I have to pay for my own health benefits. But I’m alive and healthy and I still do what I love.
This man's story is a story repeated across Schools across the country. Just some of them don't end up with Students who come back to the building to settle those scores. 

So when I was recently "criticized for speaking truth"  I was unclear what that meant. I think it means stating my opinions in which you may not agree or even get but instead of stating yours or inquiring about mine, you choose to tell others or name call. Good plan.  How are we to become better communicators, better citizens or just be better members of a community if we cannot talk to one another? Well I guess we punch people out.

It is why I found my way writing.  Funny in most situations I have little problem communicating, making sense, having a voice or sounding stupid/ignorant/lacking comprehension etc.  Then I do when someone doesn't like what I have to say or my truths/opinions.  Yes this is why we have online bullying, trolling and doxing to the point people are afraid and then what? More laws or guns or whatever it is in which to provide safe spaces, silent zones, trigger warnings in which to push our heads further down the rabbit hole.  Funny Alice emerged in tact and whole and she survived.

Here is a skill set that works - teaching people how to stand up, use their words, their voices to express their anger, their fear and their frustration.  Had that little girl who now uses said words to write such a great article had that skill at age 10, things might have turned out better and certainly different for her and maybe even her bully.  Or not. Some shit always happens. That is the luck of the draw.

I thought my bully deserved an awful life. But then he had one.
I never thought I could feel empathy for the boy who tormented me in childhood.

By Geraldine DeRuiter February 22

Geraldine DeRuiter is the voice behind and the author of the memoir “All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love, and Petty Theft.”

As a child, I was an easy mark for playground torments: smart, insufferably rule-abiding, decidedly unpretty. The tormenter I remember most distinctly was not my first bully, nor my last, but his attacks would turn the others into footnotes.

He was in my class for years; his mom was my softball coach, driving me to and from practice when my single mother could not. In class photos his face is round and almost cherubic, but I remember it contorted in anger as he spat insults at me, telling me to shut the hell up, flailing his hands against his chest and moaning — an approximation of what he said I sounded like. We were seated next to each other in class, year after year, and when I finally complained about this arrangement, one of my teachers said that maybe I’d be “a good influence on him.”

My proximity to his mother did nothing to protect me. Sitting in the back of her van after my team lost a softball game, he snapped: “It smells in here. Close your legs.” Reflexively, I did as he instructed. When his mother climbed into the driver’s seat a few moments later, oblivious to what had happened, he was still doubled over with laughter. I was 10.

When I returned home, tearful and broken down, I comforted myself with the idea that one day, I would be happy and successful and my bully would not. I internalized the bromide used to soothe all bullied children of my generation — the universe would mete out some sort of karmic justice. This idea is everywhere: Biff Tannen waxes George McFly’s car at the end of “Back to the Future,” having been beaten into submission (literally) years earlier. In “A Christmas Story,” Ralphie finally snaps after years of torment and attacks Farkus, who is left tearful and bleeding. Regina George — the Machiavellian queen bee in “Mean Girls” — eventually relinquishes her bullying crown, but only after she’s publicly shamed (twice) and flattened by a bus.

Now, as an adult, looking at the fate that befell my bully — a perverse fulfillment of a childhood prophesy, one that left him dead at 25 — I realize how problematic and how ingrained that thinking is. In the past few years, our culture has started to see bullying as a serious problem, one whose victims need help, support and protection. As for the bullies? They’re the bad guys. Why they bully doesn’t matter, only that they get what they deserve in the end. But this paradigm only further stigmatizes children who often need help in their own right.

The idea of cosmic retribution for bullying feels just. “It’s a natural impulse,” writes Emily Bazelon in her book “Sticks and Stones,” which looks at the culture of bullying and its consequences. According to a 2014 study that gathered data from more than 234,000 teenagers and children, victims of bullying are more than twice as likely to contemplate killing themselves than their non-bullied peers. That number goes up considerably for LGBTQ teens, who are five times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts. Studies have shown that individuals who are bullied are more likely to experience low self-esteem and anxiety, more inclined to abuse alcohol and drugs, and more likely to suffer from a host of physical ailments such as headaches and sleep disturbances.

We seem well prepared to discuss the stakes of bullying. Dan Savage, the journalist and gay rights activist, launched the It Gets Better Project in 2010 after a rash of suicides by teenagers who were bullied because they were gay or because their peers thought they were. The Obama administration established a Bullying Prevention Task Force, and by 2015, all 50 states had passed some form of school anti-bullying legislation. Celebrities from Justin Timberlake to Tyra Banks have shared their stories about being victims.

But the idea that bullies themselves might be more than one-dimensional villains is harder to swallow, especially for those of us who’ve dealt with them. “Who doesn’t want to wring the neck of the thug who punches a weaker kid in the face, or the mean girl who starts a hateful gossip thread on Facebook?” writes Bazelon. The Internet is rife with stories of bullies getting their comeuppance, from viral videos of little kids fighting back to Reddit threads describing justice doled out against an antagonizer. “It’s an age-old story — the idea of bullies getting theirs,” says Meghan Leahy, a licensed school counselor and parenting coach. “It’s a very human part of us that likes revenge.”

In this respect, we’re embodying one of the key characteristics of bullies — we’re acting without empathy, says Leahy, who has written about changing the way she looks at bullies. Nobody wants to extend sympathy to a tormenter. The trouble is, school and neighborhood bullies aren’t adults. They’re kids, and many are grappling with their own problems. In 2008, the Institute of Education in London published a report that found that bullies had higher levels of anger, depression, emotional disaffection, paranoia and suicidal behavior. Other studies have found that as they grow up, bullies tend to have more trouble keeping jobs, have more problems with alcohol and drugs, and are more likely to have criminal records. A large number of bullies are also victims of bullying, meaning they face some of the same pathologies that they induce in others.

“These kids have been told that they’re worthless, that they’re stupid. They’re dealing with trauma, and they don’t have the social skills to process it. Punishing them just makes it worse,” says Julietta Skoog, a school psychologist with Seattle Public Schools and co-founder of Sproutable, a company that creates video-based parenting tools. “It’s never just ‘I feel like being a jerk.’ ”

I never could have imagined feeling empathy for the boy who made my life hell, or for any bully. During that period, my mother was dealing with her own abuse, at the hands of a man with whom she’d been romantically involved for several years. He fluctuated between charming and volatile. When on one of his violent tirades, he would yell, throw objects and furniture, punch holes in the walls of our home and tear doors off their hinges.

At the time, I’d never seen my mother’s boyfriend hit her, but my bully, who lived nearby, had witnessed it. He saw him pull my mother from her vehicle and throw her to the ground. The next day at school, he told everyone within earshot the story of how my mother “got her ass beat.” He laughed through his impersonation of her, lying on the ground whimpering. Until that moment, I’d believed my mother when she told me that her bruised face was a result of “walking into a door.”

Even though it was the final year that my bully and I would share a class — he was held back, I moved on to the sixth grade, I gave up softball for soccer, and my last ties to him were severed — I continued to hate him.

As the years passed, those promises of karmic justice, given to me in childhood, came true. I went to college on a full ride. I graduated with honors and became a professional writer. My mother eventually extricated herself from her abusive relationship. Determined not to follow in her footsteps, I sought out soft-spoken men who never yelled. I met and married someone wonderful. Everything turned out better than I could have dared hope.

I occasionally searched for my bully online, determined to see my story to its promised end, to relish all the ways my life was better than his. A 2013 study found that bullying victims tended to be more successful than their antagonizers in adulthood: They made more money, had more friends and were far less likely to be convicted of a crime (though they still fared worse than those who had never been bullied).

In 2010, after years of finding nothing, I learned from a friend that my bully had been murdered in his home not far from where we grew up. Consumed by the story, I pored over every news article on his death I could find. He had been dealing pot and was killed in a robbery gone wrong. One of the murderers had been his childhood friend.

I read that he had anticipated an attack. His friends said he was so terrified in the weeks leading up to his murder that he’d slept with a hammer under his pillow. I was haunted by what I imagined his final moments were like, by how scared he must have been. I cried for the boy who had made me so miserable.

Now I had to wonder: What kind of fate would I have considered sufficient retribution? Would I have been satisfied if he was merely unsuccessful or unhappy? What sentence are we comfortable bestowing upon a fifth-grader for his crimes? What’s the statute of limitations for revenge?

Bazelon calls this a dangerous side of our newfound focus on bullying: When we think we know who the bullies are, the drive to condemn and punish spins out of control. I wanted my childhood bully’s life to turn out rotten, but when it actually happened, it didn’t feel like justice had been served. It simply felt like I’d watched a building collapse in slow motion. The cracks in the foundation started long ago.

If right-thinking people want to care about bullying as a social problem, we need to see some nuance. Look at every bully and their victim, and you’ll often find two kids who need help, not just one.

“Bullies are often the kids that are hard to love,” says Skoog. “That’s where the hard work is.”

My bully ridiculed me for having a mother who was a victim of domestic violence. He was dead at 25. I think of his anger, his struggles in school, his unhinged rage, all at the tender age of 11. I look at the narrative we are so often told as children — that our lives will be wonderful and our bullies’ lives will not, and I see the error in thinking that a troubled child somehow deserves a terrible fate. “Ignore him, and he’ll go away,” adults told me. In the end, they were right.

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