The mother of a middle school student met with several of his teachers for the purpose of finding out how he was doing. She was concerned that he didn’t seem to have friends and was avoiding school. One of the teachers lives within the community, has known the family for a long time, and because of this, has particular insights into their situation. The Sunday after the meeting the mother called the teacher with whom she was acquainted to tell her more about her son’s unwillingness to attend school and about his being harassed by other students. Because the teacher works with the boy, she also knows that he causes some of his own problems. He irritates his classmates and doesn’t seem to know how to reach out to them for friendship. With all of this in mind, the teacher arranged a time to talk with the boy. The boy concurred that he is being harassed but says he doesn’t know the students who are doing the harassing. Because the harassment is occurring at his locker, the teacher invites him to use her room as a substitute for it. In the course of the conversation, the boy starts to cry, saying that the same thing happened to him last year. The teacher knew that the boy had returned to the area last year when his mother and father divorced. They discuss whether this kind of harassment happened at his previous school and if he would rather be there than in his present school. He definitely wanted to go back to his old school. As a result of the conversation, several things took place. The boy started using the back hall to avoid the students who were harassing him. This doesn’t help him to form friendships, but it does help him avoid harassment. The teacher connected him with the school counselor and as a result of their discussion, he was moved out of a class in which he had a major conflict with another student. His mother is realizing that the boy’s behaviors are off-putting to other students and she is trying to get him on medication to address the ADD induced behavior issues. Changes are occurring for the boy, but the teacher is concerned that she has not done enough to help him and doesn’t feel that it’s really all that much better for him now that it was before he talked with her. She wants to know what else she should/could do.
A teacher in such a situation feels helpless because she lacks the information she needs to know how to help. A teacher feels doubly responsible because she knows the mother personally and doesn’t want to let her down. A teacher feels helpless because she can’t control the situation. A teacher feels ineffective because it’s a teacher’s job to know how to help kids and she doesn’t. A teacher feels angry with the kids doing the harassing. A teacher feels compassion for the child because of his situation. A teacher feels unsure about what is the major problem. Is the child more a victim or an aggressor and the cause of his own problems? A teacher feels ineffective in her own eyes. A teacher feels resentful about the whole situation because it fuels parent’s fears about bad things going on at the middle school. Teachers will be blamed if the situation isn’t resolved. The teacher in question identified the last two hypotheses as those with which she connected most strongly.
Theories behind practice:
Social development is an important part of becoming a healthy adult. Social development is an appropriate concern of the school because all kids should have the chance to succeed in life, socially as well as academically. Teachers are responsible for creating a safe, caring environment for all students. This is based on the value of respectful treatment in school being everyone’s right. Schools are also expected to promote, and perhaps ensure, respectful behavior amongst students. Community members support schools through taxes and expect kids to have good experiences. When this doesn’t happen, they expect action to stop problems early before they become bigger. When problems aren’t stopped, bad reputations are built and rumors fly.
Impact on others:
The student may have felt valued by having the time and concern of both his teacher and his counselor. The experience may have been positive for him because his fears and frustrations were recognized, and he actually saw some action taken (switching classes). The students may have felt even more powerless because he told the teacher about the students who were harassing him and that part wasn’t really resolved.
The teacher could check with the counselor about the availability of friendship groups that the boy might join to build his social skills and network. The teacher should feel good about what she has done because she has already gone an extra mile for the boy. The teacher and/or counselor should turn the family situation over to the social worker because the family may need more and different help than the teacher can give; i.e., depression. The teacher might want to make another contact with the mom to see how the boy is doing and to suggest some activities he might want to join. The teacher might want to talk with team members about the boy’s experience so they can all be more alert to harassment and work to help him find a place in the school. The teacher might want to initiate some journal writing experiences where students can address concerns they have about school and offer suggestions for/to other kids who are having trouble fitting in.