Thursday, February 03, 2005

My dilemma, part one

The word "dilemma" looks like it's spelled wrong. The spell checker says this is right, but I'm not so sure.

Anyway. This is long, so read at your own risk.

I'm having a problem in my classroom, and it's been eating away at me all week. I have 24 kids in my class. 21 Hispanic, 1 Caucasian, 1 Asian (Vietnamese), and 1 African American. Lately, the African American girl has been complaining that the other kids “bother” her. (She’s usually never more specific than that.) It wasn’t a problem before Christmas, but since we’ve been back in school, it’s become a major issue. I’ve had to move her seat in the classroom 6 times since the beginning of January (in the lunch room, I’ve had to move her twice) - and not because she gets in trouble. It’s because she says the people sitting near her bother her. I know my kids, so I’ve been very careful to put her near students that are not behavior problems. I find it hard to believe that everyone is bothering her, especially since I’ve never actually witnessed it. Not only that, but none of the other kids have tattled about someone bothering her (and these kids LOVE to tattle).

When I spoke to her mother last week, she told me that her daughter has been having problems with 2 girls in particular since Pre-K. Her mother went on to tell me that these 2 girls have been calling her daughter names, telling other kids not to play with her, and basically just harassing her. She said the girls say her daughter “smells like rotten eggs,” “looks like a monkey,” and is “dirty.” According to the mother, one of the girls even said that she doesn’t play with black dolls because “they’re ugly.” Her daughter has never told me any of this at all, and I have never personally heard or seen any of it happen. The mother insists that this is a race issue. Furthermore, she thinks that her daughter has no friends because those 2 girls have told all the other kids in my class not to be friends with her.

Over the past 2 weeks, this girl has become a major behavior problem - not just in my room, but also at lunch and in the after-school program. Things like telling people to shut up, stealing, throwing books in the library, throwing pizza on another girl at lunch, lying, and being defiant. It’s extremely uncharacteristic. Her mother says that her daughter’s behavior is a result of her constantly getting picked on in school.

After the behavior problems started, I talked to our parent-involvement counselor. She spoke with the mother at length, and came to me to discuss their conversation. The counselor told me that the mother is concerned that our school community is not very accepting of the African American culture. The mother is a social worker, an educated, well-spoken woman. I like her a lot. But I can’t help but wonder if she’s making this into a bigger issue than it needs to be. The mother is not in my classroom all day – I am. So how does she presume to know more about my students than I do? And while I agree that the 2 girls in question are indeed trouble-makers, I don’t think they wield as much power over my other students that the mother gives them credit for.

I think my main problem is that this is a race issue. It’s made me question myself and my teaching ethic. Am I being racist? Do I treat this girl differently and not even realize it? And what about the Pre-K and K teacher, who had this class before me? And the principal, and the lunchmothers, and the after-school teachers? Are we being insensitive, or is the mother being over-sensitive? And if all of students are allegedly harassing this girl because she’s different, then why aren’t they picking on the Asian girl? Or the Caucasian girl?

I have a lot of unanswered questions. And I have a bad feeling about tomorrow’s meeting. I have a laundry list of behaviors that I need to discuss with the mother, and I already know that she blames it all on racial tension. I just think the meeting is going to be unproductive and frustrating for everyone involved.

1 comment:

Sara said...

Dree-As teachers, we cannot read the minds of the students. We cannot justify or wholly understand their motives, especially when they are so young and cannot fully verbalize their own motives. We can illustrate to parents what we observe. If you are observing problem behavior from this student, be honest and tell the mother these behaviors you have observed.
It does sound like the two girls are affecting the little girl. She is acting out. Have these girls been spoken to about their hurtful words? These are just the types of teacher issues that show that you are a reflective teacher. If you weren't you wouldn't care about the little girl, the mother's concerns, and your role in it. I would start with your classroom rather than the school community because you can control the environment in your classroom. I would directly instruct on the topic of diversity and acceptance and how words hurt. I hope your meeting went well.