Friday, August 10, 2007


This excerpt if from a paper I wrote this summer for one of my graduate classes.

"James" is a 14-year old boy in my 6th grade self-contained class this summer. While reading in a remedial language arts class, James got stuck on the word ‘that’. “Th… ha… thi…” And then finally, he stopped. His eyes became empty and the room fell silent. "Ms. B.," the cooperating teacher, walked into the soundless room and became very upset: “What is going on in here? James, why aren’t you reading? If you don’t want to read, you don’t have to. Just know that you will turn out like those dumb dudes (points out of the window to the young men in front of the Projects across the street) who do nothing but drink and smoke all day. It’s your choice James. It’s your choice.”

Tears flooded down his face as James stormed out of the classroom. As he reached the door at the threshold, it appeared as if James had an epiphany and an internal conflict- Should I ditch this, flee my fears, and decide to leave, or should I continue to feel stupid, reinforced by a teacher who knows me, but doesn’t know me. He looked the teacher dead in her eyes and venomously roared, “I DON’T GIVE A FUCK IF I CAN’T READ. BUT I BET YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO READ EITHER WHEN YOU ARE DEAD, BITCH.” Needless to say, James left the classroom, and never returned to school. Maybe to this day, he is hanging out on the block, which was suggested by his very own teacher.

Maybe Ms. B. never read the article, “Understanding and Addressing Oppositional and Defiant Classroom Behaviors.” In this document, authors Spencer J. Salend and Shawna Sylvestre critically look at this behavior like the one James exhibited, and have put together a list of ways in which oppositional and defiant classroom behaviors can be reduced to promote learning for all. According to the article, characteristics of Oppositional and Defiant Behaviors are when students exhibit the following:
• Losing their temper
• Being easily angered, frustrated and annoyed
• Cursing and using inappropriate language
• Having low self-esteem (p. 32)
Ms. B.’s denial of the real problem with James, which has in part to do with the fact that he needs appropriate help, love, and someone who cares for his well being is not being addressed.

This article would be very helpful for Ms. B. Salend and Sylvestre list 14 suggestions for ways to effectively deal with students who participate in the listed characteristics of this behavior. The 7th suggestion is to “build relationships with students” (p. 33). This seems key. It was clear that James has very little respect for his teacher. Perhaps, this is because it is also quite evident that Ms. B. has very little respect for him. Another suggestion that the authors offer is to “give students choices” (p. 33). This is another key point. Life is about choices. However, choice should never be presented like this: if one doesn’t (or isn’t able to) read a single word, than he can choose to reject school, hang out on the block and do nothing. That is not choice. This way of thinking is negative and can potentially produce self-prophetic realities (like that of James) in which a child chooses the streets because he or she thinks “[the teacher] hates me” (Bolitzer, 32).


Nancy said...

I can't tell you the number of times I've seen teachers inflate a bad situation when they had the power to quell it or avoid it altogether. I almost feel like it's basic psychology to recognize a situation that has the potential to go either way but some teachers just don't have the ability to think before they speak.

Brooklyn Teaching Fellow said...

Yea, it was a trip. And this was the teaching I was supposed to be learning from?? I still think about that student What is he doing now? What is he thinking about? Where will he be in 5, 10 years??

Tim Fredrick said...

I've read about Oppositional and Defiant Classroom Behaviors. I find it amazing that we have to give a special category to kids who are treated with disrespect. This kid is completely normal and belongs to the category of human being. The teacher was completely disrespectful and hurtful to a sixth grader! He reacted in the only way he knew how. This isn't oppositional or defiant - it's normal!

Brooklyn Teaching Fellow said...

I hear that. 100% Give respect- Get respect. My mother taught me that as a child.

happychyck said...

I think the student's behavior seemed rather normal, too. Fight or flight. That student has probably had that happen to him many times in his life.

subtext said...

Too often teachers use the power they have in a destructive manner. So much of successful teaching comes from giving up the power, or at least giving up the dominance; power never goes away. Early on in my teaching I decided that it is often embarrassing to be in this profession. The teacher you discribed is one of the reasons. Good luck in your career.