After a tough day at school, teacher Belia Mayeno Saavedra shared on her Facebook page a story about one of her 7th graders. The way she told it, one minute her student was eloquently participating in a classroom discussion about how unfair it was to expect women to do all the housework, and a few minutes later he was throwing a half-eaten muffin at the classroom wall and telling his teacher she was "hella old" and her skin was falling apart.
Belia's first thought: "Cada cabeza es un mundo," or "Each mind is a world."
Belia, who's in her 30s, obviously has a sense of humor, to say nothing of a generous heart. But, at a later date on her blog, she reflected on an unintended consequence of posting her story on Facebook. Although she meant to convey her wonder at the degree to which students are works in progress, she found that that some of her readers responded with negative comments about her "knucklehead" student and how awful kids are in general.
Now that teachers are blogging student stories or tweeting teenage bon-mots, the intimacy of the learning process, with all of its embedded mistakes and miscalculations, is open to judgment by complete strangers…. That means I need to be extra thoughtful when I relay stories of muffin-flinging aggression…. We're sharing (our stories) in a culture that often assumes ignorance and/or criminality in youth, in blackness, in poverty.1
She adds that such stories can be misinterpreted "as evidence against the people we've dedicated our professional lives to serving."
Another teacher insight comes from the ASCD blog Inservice. Our blogger Laura Varlas describes an upcoming documentary, The Bully Project, which dramatically illustrates the message that violence and harassment are serious problems in our schools while decrying the failure of educators to respond effectively. Once again, a teacher's reply brings a nuanced perspective to the important classroom issue of respect.
In response to the question, "Have you felt frustrated in your attempts to address bullying?, Teresa, who teaches 8-year-olds, writes, "Yes, I have kids who believe that bullying is when someone looks at you (even if they are looking at me and you happen to be in between)."
Despite her irritation, especially with parents whose only concern is their child, she is not one of those adults who ignores bullying. She notes:
I can spot bullying. I know what it is and what it feels like—both as a child and as a grown-up. We talk about it every day…. I've shared my experience with it and so have the kids. We are learning: A disagreement with a friend is not bullying. Sitting down in a chair next to you is not bullying. Tripping on your own two feet and falling into someone is not bullying…. Teasing someone about something that upsets them on purpose can be, but you have to determine if it is being done maliciously or not. We are EIGHT.2
As Belia does, Teresa takes into account that her students are still learning; they are "learning to be social, learning to be kind, and learning to be respectful toward others." Respect takes work, and both kids and adults make mistakes.
In politics, in sports, on Facebook, in traffic—and, yes, of course, in schools—disrespect and incivility sometimes overwhelm us, prompting us to respond in kind. This issue of Educational Leadership addresses what educators are doing to change our disrespectful culture into a respectful one. One of the powerful insights in this issue is that we are all capable of bullying and being bullied. Another is that we are all capable of giving and deserving respect. A little respect can go a long way.