Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Big Break In

I heard something interesting the other day shared by someone in a fairly high position in the district. Basically, this person stated that until a teacher (or anyone in a new job) has experienced something that really shakes them to the core, they haven't been "broken in". Lets look at a hypothetical situation. Suppose a student makes personal attacks on other kids as well as adults while using a popular teen website. The person in the position of authority takes what he/she believes are the correct steps to address the situation. In no time at all, the situation has drawn the attention of the media and a civil rights group.

Has anything happened to you this year that has really made you question your teaching or decisions you have made? Possibly difficult conversations with parents? Students that fail to take responsibility for their own behaviors? How have you dealt with those situations? What did you learn from them? Were you able to get resolution? This can be from a past teaching experience or job.

Please list the problem itself in very general terms (as this is a public forum). However, share in more detail how it affected you as a teacher

If you want to share something confidential, please use the journal format and email to Ray and I.


Blogger MickiL said...

I had an experience a few years ago that was difficult for me in several ways. I had a student in my second hour class that was lethargic and withdrawn. I had a difficult time getting him to talk to me or participate in class. The third week of school I called his mother to discuss the situation. She was very concerned about his behaviour and had noticed the same thing at home. She told me she was an elementary school teacher in the same district, and the school was actually two blocks from where I was teaching. Therefore, we could communicate via district e-mail. She would often e-mail me after second hour to see how her son was in class that day. About three monthes after the initial converstaion, this woman e-mailed me with some concerning information. She wrote (in district e-mail) that she was concerned about her son because his father had roughed him up the night before. He had pushed, and punched him. She went on to describe the situation which was clearly inappropriate and abusive. I was shocked as I read this and unsure how to handle the situation. She was a colleague of mine and I was a mandatory reporter by law. I printed the e-mail and saved it and immediately went to my administrator. I handed him the e-mail and explained the situation. He was very supportive and told me that I did the right thing by reporting to him. He contacted the HR department and they invovled social services.

The student was then absent from my class for a few days. When he returned he was more withdrawn and refused to speak to me. I felt guilty about this. Approximately one week later his parents enrolled him in a school in another town. I was concerned for him and wondered if they were hiding a problem. I never did find out how social services handled this situation. I felt that I did the right thing but I was nervous to see his mother, who I knew I would eventually run into. I wondered if she was crying out for help when she sent the email. She must have known that I would have to report it.

The next school year I was a mentor for new teachers. I attended some mentor training in the summer. The mother of this boy was still teaching in the district and was also at the mentor training. The first day she confronted me and told me that she understood why I had turned the e-mail over to the administrator. I didn't feel it was apporpriate for me to ask specific questions. I did ask how her son was doing and she responded that he was great! I doubted this.

I learned many things from this situation. First of all, e-mail can be a tricky way to communicate. You cannot read the tone or body language of the writer. I also learned to be very careful about what I write within e-mails to both parents and other colleages. I also expereinced the process one goes through when they report abuse. However, I didn't feel resolution because I was never sure if this boy received help.

10:04 AM  
Blogger mmarchino said...

I had a student commit suicide when I was at Heritage. That is probably the most difficult experience that I have had. Looking back there were many signs, but they only seem to be clear when you have the end to put those things into focus. I don't want to ever repeat that, but difficulties in this job are what refine us if we let them. It is with struggles that we to grow not necessarily in the nice easy moments.

They are our teachable moments that we can learn from if we don't allow them to make us bitter. I see what you went through MLillie as an experience that is hard, but affirms your care and concern for your students. You made a tough choice and it must be hard to not know the outcome, but you did the right thing!

2:15 PM  
Blogger Jared Robinson said...

One of the less dramatic but more common dilemmas that seems to be a theme is students begging for grades at the end of the semester. I had a student who failed my class and came in begging for ways to pass after I had submitted grades. I tried re-doing the math several ways, but the student had not completed the requirements set for the class. To make matters worse, my failing grade would make him inelligible for the extracurricular activites he was involved in. I also happened to really like this student as a person. I certainly feel like students desperate for grades they haven't earned is a situation that tests my resolve and challenges my fundamental beliefs about education.

2:56 PM  
Blogger Cheryl S. said...

Wow - some of you have really been through some tough situations! This is my fourth year of working as an SLP, and I consider myself fortunate not to have had such encounters...but, it may just be a matter of time. Most of what I work w/ is small groups and individuals - and, I do not provide a grade (which eliminates a lot of conflict). These small group situations do not typically lend themselves to as many of the behavior problems. I am learning from those of you who have had tough situations which helps me to feel better prepared to handle those situations should they arise!

1:58 PM  
Blogger Melissa Mindell said...

My teaching experience ended with a poor note at the school I was previously teaching at. I was physically pushed and cursed at by a student. That alone was a scary thing to go through especially because of the fact that this particular student was heavily involved in gangs. The situation was not handled the way I felt would have been appropriate and I felt I was not supported at all. Therefore, what I leared the most out of the situation was how important it is to have an administration that supports their teachers. I am so thankful that I have experienced a supportive admin here at AHS.

2:15 PM  
Blogger Caroline S said...

Two of my students have lost their mom this year and I have taken a hit to the gut in how to help them. I am glad that I have had the privilege in talking to them in depth. I hurt for these girls.

11:23 AM  
Blogger tstlouis said...

One of the hardest things I've delt with as a school counselor was the murder of the mother of one of my sudents. She said goodbye one morning and got on the bus to come to school, and shortly after her mother was killed. I remember the victims assistant telling this 15 year-old that her mother had been killed. It was horrible. The guy who shot her turned out to be the mom's boyfriend who ended up shooting himself later in the day. The girl actually came to school the next day... trying to act as normal as she could. I'm sure that will go down as one of the hardest days in my career.

12:17 PM  
Blogger jaredr said...

During a parent conference, a parent asked a question about recieving credit on homework. She phrased the question in a strange way and I took a second before a started to respond. In the mean time, she exploded out of nowhere saying answer my question, and on and on. I didn't know where this outburst came from and stopped her in her rant saying, "I'm not going to sit and listen to this." It was the most bizzare experience I've had in teaching. She then went on to the counselors and "told on me" that I was acting unprofessionally and that I wouldn't talk to her about her sons progress in my class. For some reason, this went straight to the princilpals office, I was called in the next day for an explanation. Here I am, having to defend myself when no one else had heard the conversation or witnessed the incident. This escalated into a very stressfull situation for a few days.

Well, it turned out okay. It turned out that this mother had dealt with one of our other assistant pricipals on several occations, and this type of behvior from her was not uncommon. With that support from the administration, I felt vindicated.

I'm not sure there is a lesson here. Maybe that when dealing with irrate irrational parents, you can choose to stop a converstion if it gets out of control?

3:27 PM  
Blogger Scotty W said...

As a counselor, I feel like I am always on the forefront if something goes awry. I always wonder what would happen if a student accused me of something I didn't do. I usually try to keep the door open when possible if I have a student in with me. But in order to protect confidentiality I often need to close it. I am careful when I talk with students to make sure I am getting everything. I always error on the safe side which is sometimes very uncomfortable. I have had to call social services at times this year when I knew the student and/or parent would get very angry at me. I just feel like if there is someone to blame, a counselor is a likely choice. Sometimes it makes the job harder than it needs to be!

11:14 AM  
Blogger Kimber said...

Although there are many situations that come to mind, this year included, that have helped "season" me as a teacher one particular incident stands out. Early in my career I was the lead teacher in a PACE program. In this program I had a student, who was in seventh grade at the time, that was in my class because he had Fetal Alcohol/Drug Syndrome.

It became apparent that it was difficult to determine whether he was telling the truth or making up stories. My paraprofessionals and I took everything he said with a grain of salt. He would show up and tell us that he had dinner with the president or played basketball with a NBA player. Always outlandish stories.

One day he can to school with bruises on his upper arm that were the pattern of four fingers and a thumb. When asked about his bruises he said that he and his stepdad were jumping on the bed and he fell off. In his mind that was the best answer that he could provide. Of course at this point I went to the school counselor and asked for assistance. We tried everything to contact the mother, never to reach her, and finally called Child Protective Services.
The next morning the mother came storming into my room, that was only connected to the gym (far from the office), screaming about the call to CPS. She basically trapped me in my room. Thankfully, one of my paraprofessionals quickly went to the office for assistance. She quickly cooled off when my principal arrived.

I spent the rest of that year and the next with the student in my self-contained classroom. Nothing ever came of the call to Child Protective Services, not the families first. Although I felt I did the right thing, I realized how accessible I was to possibly upset parents. Then and now.

And I was vigilent about checking for anything out of the ordinary, every single day.

7:02 PM  
Blogger Sally G said...

I am so broken in, I must be old! In my first year of teaching in an inner-city Baton Rouge school I had the opportunity to break up a fight with boys who were using "picks" as weapons. (Those of you who were plugged into 70's social norms will relate.) I had my tires slashed. I watched a teacher who had been attacked in the classroom implode. I learned how to get a student to the office by digging my fingernails into his upper arm so that he feared pulling away. Not an easy experience. But that year also convinced me that teaching was my true vocation. Up to that point I saw teaching as a means to an end: getting my then-husband through law school. I discovered I loved teacxhing and have been at it ever since. Go figure!

10:56 AM  
Blogger kleibsohn said...

My first two years of teaching were in Denver at GWHS. There were many different experiences there that opened my eyes to what teaching should and should not be. I also experienced what life truly is like for those kids on a daily basis and why they have to grow up so fast. On a weekly basis there were fights in the school. As a school policy teachers were not to break up fights but to call security and wait for them to come and break up the fight. My instinct and conscience told me different. I could not stand there when a fight would break out outside my classroom and wait the three minutes while the students could spend that time brutally hurting each other. If I could get in between them and break it up so be it. If I could stop them injuring each other so badly that they are hospitalized, so be it. All the times I broke up fights I was never injured, I was able to yell loud enough and restrain one while the other was restrained by others until security got there. I was always told it was not smart to get inbetween them, but I would still make the dame decision.

1:18 PM  

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