Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Welcome to the middle school snakepit

I lost my temper with a class today. I didn't curse or throw desks or anything, but I gave this class a tongue lashing with a level of emotion that they rarely, if ever, see from me.

A few minutes after the beginning of 4th period, a brand new student walked in, class schedule in hand. She was tall, pleasant-looking enough, and morbidly obese. Within a few seconds of her entrance through the classroom door - she was still standing in front of it - the murmur of male voices began: "Whoooah" "Daaaaamn" "Hee Hee Hee Hee" "No Waaaaay" "Beeeep Beeep Beeep". That last sound effect is supposed to be a large vehicle backing up. I was livid. My jaw clenched, and I had to fight the urge to dress down the class right then and there. However, I thought that to do that would just embarrass the new student even more. Instead, I ushered her into the side computer lab that is attached to my classroom through a door; as much to give me a chance to cool down as it was to have the opportunity to talk to the new student about class procedures and expectations. To make matters worse, she told me she was home-schooled, so I really felt like she was being tossed into a snakepit.

I assigned her a seat, and we went on with the day's lesson. At the end of the period, after the students had packed up, cleaned up, and straightened up, I waited until about ten seconds before the bell was to ring and then I told the class I had some information about one of their assignments that I forgot to mention. I told the new girl that since she wasn't here for that assignment, she could go ahead and head out to her next class. After she left, I told the entire class to sit back down in their chairs. I can't remember exactly what I said to them, verbatim, but I will try:
Ladies and Gentlemen - and I stress the gentlemen part, because I only heard male voices - I have to tell you that I am ashamed, embarrassed, and shocked at what happened when that new student walked through the door. What in God's name were you idiots thinking? "Daaaamn!" "Whooooah!" I take it you were trying to let everyone know that she is OVERWEIGHT? That was stupid, stupid, stupid! And I am so ashamed that you would treat anyone that way, let alone a brand new student who hadn't been in the classroom more than five frickin' seconds! I hate to break this to you all, but none of you are frickin' perfect either! Now get out of my classroom - go!
The students got up, and for the first time I can remember, a entire class of students departed from my room without saying a word. They were in total silence. Maybe it was shock at my uncharacteristic outburst, or embarrassment at being a part of the misbehavior or for laughing at it. After having a few hours to reflect back, I am sure that I could have controlled my temper more and used some more mature words to express my displeasure (at least I didn't drop any full-blown cuss bombs even though I wanted to) - however, I hope that the severity of my rebuke will establish an understanding among those students that further mocking of this girl will not be tolerated.

During my lunch, I sent out the following email to the administration and the other teachers who are on this new student's schedule:
Hi All,

I got a new student today at the beginning of 4th period named ******* ******. She is noticeably overweight, and that caused an issue in my class of which I wanted to make you all aware.

The second she walked in the door, some of the boys in the classroom began uttering things under their breath: "Whoaaa" "Daaaaaamn"

I was mortified, I'm sure ******* heard it, and I was embarrassed for the class and for the school. To make matters worse, ******* told me she is a homeschooled student, so she is basically being thrown to the wolves here.

I ushered ******* into the side computer lab to brief her on my class procedures and ask her some get-to-know-you questions, and also to give myself a chance to cool off before I said something to the class I could regret.

At the end of the period, I came up with a ruse about having to speak to the class about a previous assignment and I dismissed *******, while keeping the rest of the class there.

In my ensuing speech, I kept my language PG, but I definitely was barely keeping my temper under control. I was talking to the class as a whole, but I was directing my comments at the students (all boys as far as I can tell) who found it necessary to mock ******* like they did. Like I said, I didn't curse, but the class knew I was extremely angry and upset because I rarely if ever get that emotional when talking to my students. The students then filed out of the classroom without saying a word.

Based on what I witnessed in my class today, I wanted to make you aware of possible problems that ******* might face on this campus in dealing with other students who have apparently never been taught to keep their rude thoughts to themselves.

Thanks,

Mr. Chanman
So fellow teachers/readers, how did I do? What would you have done if that had happened in your classroom? Was I out of line? Did I overreact? Could I or should I have done something differently? Any input - positive or negative - is appreciated.

Good Day to You, Sir

12 comments:

John W. in E. TN said...

Well done! So many kids aren't taught simple decency anymore.

tamaraeden said...

Man I think you handled it impeccably. I was specifically impressed that you sent a memo out to everyone. I wish all schools had open communication like that.

500 Extra Credit points for you :)

Larry said...

As I recall, you are in California, so if I were you I would get my affairs in order because a long jail sentence is likely.

But it is a damn shame that you couldn't have paddled thme one by one, which would have been the drill in my day (n a California sschool).

Donalbain said...

I hate to be annoying, but there is really no way yet to tell how you did. You will know how it went in your next lesson with that class. If they tease her, it didn't work, if they dont it did. (Sadly, I dont think you can expect to have changed their behaviour outside your classroom, but if you can make your lessons an oasis for that girl it will have been some level of success)
But, I certainly think you did the right thing. Especially the memo to all her teachers. That was a nice touch.

Law and Order Teacher said...

I think you did well in not totally blowing a gasket. Your language seemed appropriate and every once in a while they need to see that bad behavior and no manners is not acceptable. Apparently their parents taught them nothing so often it is up to us to tag them on bad behavior. I can only imagine the pain that girl felt.

Texas Truth said...

YOU DID GREAT!!! I probably would have gone crazy and used a good number of four letter words. I believe that one must react to such disrespect with COLD, HARD, IN THEIR FACE facts about decenty and respect.

YOU DID GREAT AND AM VERY PROUD OF YORU ACTIONS!!!

nunoftheabove said...

I think you handle the situation very well--probably much more calmly than I would have.

The concept of compassion is missing in so many young people, but most of them "get it" eventually. Your message reached those kids. Those who are budding sociopaths didn't understand and never will.

The problem in the future will be if peer pressure over rides the need to be cool and go along with the sociopaths and continue the torture of this girl and others like here.

It was one of the most immportant lessons you will ever teach and none of it came from the curriculum standards provided by the state.

Samuels Daddy said...

Man that was a really, really good job. That they left the room without saying a word lets you know that they saw you draw the line. It is true of course that some of those kids probably will try to push that boundary again. To which I say, hold the line again.

One thing though. I am not a teacher in the strictest sense, but I am a very proud daddy. The kids I KNOW mocked her...I would MAKE them apologize to her individually and in front of me.

If they refused, I would bar them from my class until they complied. It is a debt that each of those boys owe her...it boils down to that.

Every time my boy (who is a wonderful boy) hurts somebody...I make him say he's sorry. EVERYTIME. There is no alternative.

If he doesn't learn now, he won't know how to say it later.

Just my .02

Again...Good work Chanman.

Miss Profe said...

I can relate. I had a very visceral reaction last week to something a student did. Sometimes they need to see emotion, but, we also need to turn it into a teaching opportunity.

Mark said...

Bravo!!!We need more teachers like you. Students need to know they can't get away with cruelty. Meanness and cruelty need to be stigmatized. Job well done.

Mister Teacher said...

I don't know where anyone got this idea that teachers are supposed to be emotionless observers, always calm and pleasant, saying, "Now, now, let's please not say bad things to other people -- that isn't very sweet and nice."
Sometimes the little turds genuinely make us angry!
I hope that what you said to the kids truly impacted on some level, and wasn't just immediate shock and awe. At the very least, they were probably some background laughers who did it without even thinking, but your words have made it so that they will be hyperaware of the effect of their background laughing the next time this sort of thing happens.
Kudos to you.

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