An S.O.S.

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My heart is breaking; and quite frankly, I’m more than a little frightened.  Recently some intermediate students were sent in to my office at  recess for fighting.  One student was irate – another student reported to him that he had been called the n-word.  Last week, he reported hearing it again from a different student.  Then it showed up on some graffiti in a bathroom stall.  Couple this with the prolific use of the word “That’s so gay”, or “That’s retarded”, or calling others fags, and my head is in a tailspin.  I’ve reached out to our school social worker about running a restorative circle with the group involved, but I also want to reach out to my colleagues for suggestions: what can we do as a school? 

So I’m sending out an S.O.S.  Do we limit it to older students?  Do we include the younger students? Open to suggestions, feedback and comments.

With thanks,

Erin

5 thoughts on “An S.O.S.

  1. Hey Erin,

    Language is so powerful. I don’t think there is a quick fix here – this one is going to take some time and some effort on behalf of all staff and students. Do staff intervene and call out those students who are using derogatory language in the halls? Silence on this one is permission. It is a question of what kind of environment you want to have at your school. And it will take some time and probably countless conversations to have kids see things differently. I think you are bang on with the restorative approach. Also, quite frankly, it might be that after that work is done, a tough line is taken. We spent last year having many conversations around language and we continue to have them this year. As I mentioned the other day, I also sent a kid home for 2 days and removed bus privileges for 2 weeks for calling another student “faggot” – it was something that had been happening and had been addressed earlier in the year. I’m not a fan of suspensions and harsh discipline, but I felt that it was appropriate for this one. A tough message for both the parents and the student who was sent home, but if I am going to say that my school is a safe place for all students, I need to walk that walk sometimes.

    p.s. love the blog list!

    Shannon

  2. Thanks Shannon. In some morbid way, it’s nice to know that I’m not alone in facing this kind of issue. Our situation is complicated in that we don’t know who’s using the language, but we’re putting our focus broader. The issue is that this language is being used, and who exactly is using it is secondary. I love how you wrote that silence is permission – that’s the other issue. In none of these situations was it reported to us by a student involved – it was a duty teacher, or our chief custodian in the case of the graffiti.
    Thanks for the words of support. It just kills me that this language is being used, and I sometimes feel powerless to do anything, but I’m optimistic this forum will be helpful.

    P.S. My blog list is getting quite long. I find I’m compulsively collecting them – my husband keeps exclaiming, “Another one? How many of them are out there?” If he only knew!!

  3. Oh wow. I have no definitive answers! But I’m just thoroughly convinced that the conventional “No Bullying” strategy isn’t effective at all. My intermediate kids have taught me that they don’t believe that adults can help them or fix it at all. Too many adults have let them down.

    Something I did this past fall (completely unplanned) in a teachable moment like that which lead to some very surprising results: I told them about my own excrutiatingly painful bullying story in high school, and then asked the kids to write to me in complete confidence about a time that they had been painfully bullied themselves. The results were touching, and very surprising. A few said they didn’t have any stories, but they wrote about other kids’ problems in the class. Most telling of all – it turns out that noone had ever asked them to tell their OWN stories!! They wanted to tell me, but they said they were afraid to, or didn’t know how. I guess giving each individual student a voice and a vehicle for support got overlooking in all the No Bullying Programs they’ve been through?

    It was the start of some genuine conversations between different students and myself, and when the issue raised it’s head again, one of my “little” intermediate guys actually spoke up for himself, and for the first time, told the hockey team bullies to stop, and sought adult help! And that started a whole new conversation…

    I also learned to stress that bullies RARELY stop the first time — which is why I believe the kids don’t believe that we can do anything about it. The bully comes right back and does it again (or worse), and the kids take that to mean that what we did “didn’t work”…. But if it takes 28 times to make something ORDINARY into a habit, why would anyone expect a bully to stop the first time around? Of course they’re going to try it again, if for no other reason than to see if anyone’s going to stop them!! The kids — and the adults — need to understand that it’s the 2nd and 3rd and 4th times they need to pursue it again and again until it stops.

    Restorative circles, simply sharing their own painful stories – most kids around here who aren’t severely traumatized by abuse themselves – respond to seeing other’s pain, by being listened to themselves, being cared about, and supported through a process of growth and change.

    Hope there’s some helpful kernel in here?

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  5. When my son was three, he discovered the “naughty” words and was mightily impressed with the visible impact such words had on adults when he used them. I tried to fix on a strategy that might curb his newly acquired salty language. I had an inspiration. I told him that, for some people, hearing those words was as bad as being physically punched. We talked about it and he got it. I was lucky.

    I think you need to involve the whole school community, especially the parents. Good luck. Heart-breaking indeed.

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