Behaviour and Bullying
This term, while on leave from my position as an Education Officer, I have gone back to the classroom as a casual relief teacher. I have worked at a wide variety of schools in and around Darwin, NT. This experience has been interesting in so many ways and in both the personal and professional spheres. I think it is important to reflect on some of these experiences and how they might help me be a better EO, and perhaps even a better person.
I had initially started another blog entry on discipline and respect, which I have yet to finish. Yet today, after a particularly difficult day, I felt compelled to reflect on the issues of behaviour and bullying. They are definitely related topics, but this entry is focussed more on questioning the student experience, from the teacher’s perspective. Rather than questioning the teacher’s experience. Also, both entries are about behaviour and relationships, rather than curriculum and content. This is mainly due to the role of a causal teacher, which, whether you like it or not, is inevitably heavily focussed on behaviour management.
One of the things I still really hope to do in the few weeks I have left is teach a lesson plan from one of the Education Resources I have written, so I can assess the strengths and weaknesses of my writing. But I have yet to have the opportunity to do that.
So, behaviour and bullying…
Today I taught a Year 2/3 class at a pretty standard public primary school. From what I could tell, most of the students were Caucasian and from middle-class families. The staff made a big point of telling me what a lovely class they were. However, for me, much of the day it was chaos. I had a lot of difficulty managing the dynamics of the class and challenging individual behaviours from many students. The students were not calculating and their behaviours were directed at me. But it was chaos. There was constant throwing, shouting, teasing, swearing, name-calling, tears, tantrums, kicking and a complete disregard when I asked for quiet.
None of the strategies I had used with other classes were effective: appealing to their desire to please, applauding good behaviour, stickers, stern directions, standard school punishment (time-out), being kept in at play, and more stickers! There were a number of students that were clearly distressed, and I was at a loss. A girl even quietly said to me “we’re never normally like this.” There was one student in particular that had serious behaviour problems that seemed to clearly stem from psychological issues (undiagnosed). He was completely disruptive. After a few hours in the class I also began to realise how much the other students were provoking him, often intentionally.
At recess I spoke in desperation to the head of the area. I must have sounded serious because she thought I was leaving! But I just needed some strategies, ones that would work. It was the first time I had, in a sideways manner, made a call for help since I started casual teaching. After recess the Assistant Principal came in a spoke to the students. I felt pretty awful. I don’t like asking other teachers to intervene because I see that as the opposite to the role of the CRT: we are meant to be helping alleviate the workload, not add to it.
During the AP’s talk, the students acknowledged that their behaviour was disruptive, uncaring and making the classroom environment difficult. They also offered good ideas on how to correct their behaviour. And it helped. A bit.
Afterwards they were quieter and definitely making an effort to do the right thing. They seemed much more aware of appropriate behaviour and confident in their ability to behave appropriately. It made surviving the day as a CRT much easier, but I was still unsettled by the dynamics in the classroom. The undercurrent of problems was still there. Speaking to the class teacher at the end of the day she was really shocked by their behaviour and the only thing we could deduce was that, as I was their first relief teacher for the year, they were completely unsettled and stressed by the lack of familiarity and an alteration to their very established routine.
After lunch there was an incident with some vicious shoe-throwing and the particularly challenging student was removed. This did calm things down a bit and it gave me some time to address other issues. One student, when put in timeout for talking back, said vehemently while kicking the wall “just another reason why I want to kill myself”. So I sat down and had a chat to him and while there seemed to be some attention seeking behaviour going on (he told me he didn’t really mean what he said, he was just angry), he was also clearly upset. He cried continuously while he told me about things that were bad in his life, his main problem being bullying in the yard.
This got me thinking. If I was at a loss on how to manage the behaviour of these students, how must the students feel? How can they stop their friends that are hurting, upsetting or bullying them? At this age, students are very much living in a self-focussed world where they struggle with empathy and often only remember the way they were wronged, and not what they may have done to cause it, or how they retaliated. I’m not trying to suggest bullying is the victims’ fault. But that the behaviour of the victim ideally should be monitored and changed in order to help them prevent future incidents.
On one off behaviours though, I have frequently had students tell me they were hurt/insulted, when I have in fact witnessed them (intentionally or not) provoke the person they are accusing. I am sure I was guilty of this as a school child. I was very self-focussed as a child and convinced my class, and the world at large, had it in for me for absolutely no reason. The truth was, as I can see now with the benefit of hindsight, I was a challenging person to be around. I was so unaware of the affects of what I said that I would often upset, offend or annoy people without any realisation. I also couldn’t let go. Because I was convinced people where in for me I was so hypersensitive to anything anyone said or did, however small, trivial or unintentional. I have seen similar behaviour in many children since becoming a teacher. Yet I still have very few ideas on how to help them. Particularly as they get older and their behaviours become habitual.
Most adults can recall in detail a time, or many times, when there were unjustly treated by a child or their teacher. I also fear at times I have said something that has been that ‘unjust moment’ for a child. But my comments have always been well meaning and aimed at improving the safety, happiness or learning environment of the children. I wonder, could I have managed the situation differently?
Earlier in my teaching career I was so focussed on the learning experiences of the students, I sometimes let the relationship experiences fall by the wayside. I cared about individual students and took time to listen to their stories and try to help. But when the class was together I focussed on order and quiet at the expense of getting to the crux of the issue.
However, as I have discovered, there is so often a reason behind disruptive behaviour that is based on passed experiences, feelings, health or state of mind, and is rarely malicious. This is particularly true in early primary and when considering behaviour directed at a teacher. But children can be cruel to each other. How can a teacher had the ability to manage and mend this complex interactions in a meaningful way, while still maintaining classroom order so learning can in fact take place? (This will likely carry on into my next post).
As a mature adult, I am able to go home, let the bad experiences go – they don’t stick (not very often anyway). For children though, they stick. They can be so consuming they affect so many facets of their behaviour. How do we teach children positive and helpful behaviours? How do we teach them to have empathy, resilience, self-confidence, and use positive defence strategies?
As this post is becoming quite mammoth, I will close here, but I am sure it will be something that I continue to consider. Relating it back to the experience of the EO, I wonder how this relationship experience plays out for the students we encounter so briefly? Is a one or two hour session different from a day with a CRT? Can students let the ‘unjust moment’ go, without letting it stick, because EO’s are not in the role of a trusted adult or friend? Does the new environment offer them sanctuary or stress?
So many questions that I don’t think there are definitive answers for. I would be very interested to know about other peoples’ experiences and thoughts on this issue? Please comment.