Tag Archives: back to school

Back to School: Conversations with Kids about Safety and Speaking Up

Preparing for the start of the school year seems even more somber this year than others. Back to school mayhem has begun in some parts of the country. Florida just had its tax-free weekend and parents were no less aggressive about stocking up on supplies. But, all of us, at some point, looked at a pencil pouch among our stacks of spiral notebooks while snagging glue sticks on the way to check out and wondered if our children would really be safe.
None of us needs to watch the news in order to understand the anxiety that many children, parents, and educators feel when thinking about the start of a new school year after the horrific violence so many students experienced last school year.
And, yet, it’s there, coming straight toward us.
Anxiety Looms
The opinions and arguments about who ignored what in the recent school shootings riddle the news and the Internet. In hindsight, anyone would have done more if they knew there would be this kind of violence targeting schools.
I know, when thinking of my own students this coming school year, I just want them to feel safe with me. To just tell them this would be pointless. They won’t be able to look at me and think, Yeah, this teacher’s tough. She can deal with a school shooting, no problem.
I certainly pride myself on being a strict teacher simply because I can’t stand it when kids bully each other; however, my demeanor isn’t at all tough even if you stuck me in a security guard uniform. Then again, I don’t know that many people, let alone school children, have much confidence in security guards at this point.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to dialogue and taking the time to actually, yes, literally, really, genuinely care. Enough teachers and educators just don’t care and the students know it. The fact is that teachers are human and have an extremely stressful job.
Ensuring SafetyTalkSchool
Here’s the thing, any school worth its salt will be putting together several plans to maintain a secure environment as well as other important safety precautions.
But, dialogue, conversations between the administration, teachers, parents, and students will create a powerful bond and help everyone deal with their concerns and outright fears instead of hiding them.
CBS News addresses dealing with students’ concerns in How to Talk to Kids about School Violence.

Reminding students that they do have control over what happens to them and that they are in a safe environment in general gives them a sense of peace in the midst of an already stressful circumstance.
Many schools encouraged student Walkouts last school year, giving students a much needed voice at a time when so many were left speechless not just because of the violence inflicted on students but the repeat violence. Just watching the news and listening to the fears of the students involved in the shootings caused students across the country to worry about their own safety.
Speak Up
Students know that they are returning not just to schoolwork and homework but also to gossip, bullying, and social interaction that some love but most have a hard time dealing with in one way or another.
They need to talk to someone about their worries, so it’s important to ask questions as teachers and parents and then to listen and reassure them that there’s no reason to believe that their school will be attacked. However, if there is a reason to believe that, then students need to be encouraged to speak up.
They especially need to feel safe when speaking up. So many students don’t want to “tattle” or “rat out” other students because they are the ones who have to deal with the insidious ways bullies operate.
Watch Out for Bullying
Students experience bullying in various degrees and forms on a daily basis and often don’t speak up about it for fear of being bullied even more afterward.
A former teacher, school counselor, and school administrator wrote a good piece titled Bullying: What Schools, Parents, and Students Can Do for the Huffington Post.
Often enough, students handle the bullying themselves thinking of how much worse it would be if they were to ask teachers or administration for help.
But, students need to know when to get help. That’s something they need to be allowed to figure out for themselves.
That’s why there needs to be multiple conversations every day between teacher and student and student and parent and student and student and school counselor and student and administrator and student and right back to teacher.
And, it shouldn’t stop there. The whole of our communities need to look and listen. Ignoring problems often makes them worse.
Conversations 
Conversations need to happen often and need to be ongoing and available. The teachers are asking students how they are, if they got sleep, why they didn’t do the homework, why were they late? That’s just the basics.
There will be rules, oh so many rules. There is and will be security. Then, there’s life.
Students may not roll their eyes to your face, but they’ll definitely do it behind your back and then some if they think you’re anything less than genuine.
In other words, they aren’t stupid enough to think that if they simply tell on a bully that, poof, they’ll find themselves in a magical world of unicorns who fly them away to a cloud city with no guns and only sparkly do-gooders. For the most part, they wouldn’t even want that.
So, when you strike up that conversation, be ready to talk about everything… oh yeah, and be ready to talk about nothing at all, especially if it’s a tween or teen.
Then, try again tomorrow.

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Why the School Year Begins with Nightmares

He jumped back. He was so startled that I thought I had a bug on my face when I went into my son’s room at 11 a.m. to wake him.

Seeing is believing.

“Wait, what day is it? Is there school today?” he asked. I shook my head and laughed nervously because I had been thinking that I needed to start waking him up earlier to prepare him for the coming school hours.

“Uuugggh, I thought you were waking me to tell me it was time to go to school,” he said and breathed a sigh of relief then buried his head in his pillow. He proceeded to describe a horrific dream where his teacher gave the class an assignment and he got an F.

I felt terrible because I know how much he hates getting bad grades and how generous some teachers are about giving them. I’m especially fond of the teachers who hand the papers back with an imaginary pair of bifocals hanging on the end of their noses as if to remind students that they just aren’t good enough.

Do teachers really need to give kids F’s?

It might’ve already started for you: The nightmares, the rising tension, the fear that you’re missing something, the sting of an impending headache…. It started in our house about a week ago.

The mere mention of school shot the hairs up on the backs of our necks.

And, it ultimately seems to amount to judgment. How will you be judged by other kids, parents, teachers, principals, administrators and so forth? You just aren’t good enough seems to vibrate in our collective subconscious.

But, what kills me and my kids, are the F’s. I don’t understand that need to give F’s, especially with no second chance. Granted, some students seem to live for the F.

I’ve been there. As a teacher, you’re this short of moving the pencil for the student because you’re trying every technique in the book to get the kid to learn and the student refuses.

Most of the time, however, those students who get those F’s just need a second chance. They need to take the test again. They need to hear the lesson one more time. And, it’s not just about percentages such as 50 percent of the class failed; therefore, the teacher must reteach and retest. No, let’s say 5 percent failed. The rest aced it. Why wouldn’t a teacher try to offer that student a second chance? Most likely, it’s too much work and the teacher doesn’t feel like administering another test and definitely not re-teaching an entire lesson to one or two students.

Second Chances

But, what if it was easier than that? What if it was a matter of spending one or two lunch periods with them and chatting about what they didn’t understand? Ask them what went wrong. Even if they’re brutally honest and say they just don’t care or they didn’t bother to study, what if you said well, then, study here and I’ll give you a second chance.

What then?

Would the student succeed?

And, then, how would that affect that student’s future?

Would the student try harder next time, especially if they found success the second time around?

Yep, that’s right, I’ll tell you. That student will succeed because you’ll have connected with him or her in a deeper way than most teachers. Contrary to the way we judge the kid who gets the F, that child simply doesn’t want it even if he or she vehemently claims to want it, even to deserve it.

A highly intelligent and insightful gifted student once told me that he got F’s because he had gotten so many that he finally just got used to it and didn’t care anymore. He was one of the first students I ever taught and those kids taught me more about teaching than I’ve ever learned before. I asked them everything and he was one who I felt so sad about but even more so, I was infuriated with him. He was so freakin’ smart so when he got F’s, I felt like he just did it on purpose. And, judging from his observations, he kinda did do it on purpose.

However, there was one other very important insight. He said he hated seeing an “F” anyway. That’s why he just gave up and gave in to so many teachers’ labels like that he just didn’t care or that he refused to learn, that he was wasting his talents. That was exactly what I was thinking as I was talking to him.

But, it still didn’t register right away. I still didn’t get it. Give him a second chance? What?!

Then, I did, by accident almost. I experiment a lot when I’m teaching, which is why I hold myself at least partially accountable for every performance estimation that I inflict on my students. I give them second, third, and fourth chances so that I can average scores and teach and reteach. Does it make for a crazy exhausting school year? Yeah, but then, I couldn’t call myself a teacher at all if I didn’t do that.

I asked him if he wanted to take a test again. Different questions. Same subject matter.

He accepted. That acceptance in itself taught me a lot. He actually did want to try. So the label that “he didn’t care” made no sense.

Reset the Mind

Before he took the second test though, I talked to him during lunch and asked why he chose some of the wrong answers. I saw where he went wrong and then helped him adjust his logic. It felt like magic when I scored his second exam. He went from an F to a high B. Plus, the questions on the second exam were much more difficult and somewhat more confusing.

When I gave it to him, he held it as if it was a rare piece of parchment paper. Then he smiled and laughed a little. He blamed his success on the questions being too easy, but I insisted that the questions were harder. I had thrown them out because they were too confusing.

After that success, he never got anything lower than a B. Most of the time, he got A’s.

So, what of it? I think the story speaks clearly.

F’s are like viruses. They spread quickly and they’re hard to get rid of. But, you can wipe them out with a little love. And, that just takes a lunch or two.

Don’t get me wrong. My students who don’t like me will tell you I’m the detention teacher. And, I would have to agree. But, guess when I give detentions? Yep, during lunch. Some students, especially in middle school, don’t think it’s so cool to have lunch with a teacher, hence the detentions (and second chances), but that’s another story.