The past 24 hours have been a rough and enlightening for my professional life. Yesterday during study hall, I was going through the students' folders and saw a note in big letters left on a paper that was sexually suggestive to say the least. I won't share that here. What you need to know is that it repulsed me and I was overwhelmed with anger and frustration.
I spoke to the student who had the paper in his folder out in the hallway. I held up the paper and said, "What's this?" His faced dropped and he stared and immediately said it wasn't his. "Really? Because it's in YOUR folder." He told me his partner wrote it. I called the second boy into the hallway and showed him the paper, "What's this?" HE SMIRKED.
S. M. I. R. K. E. D.
My brain started to explode with a wrathy lava. I'm sure my face was bright red and tight with anger.
The social worker (a female) was walking down the hallway and I asked her to come over. "Do you think this is funny, Ms. G?" (I'm changing names and initials). She read the paper and shook her head, "I'd say it's incredibly disrespectful." Another female teacher walked by and I called her over. "Do YOU think this is funny, Mrs. H?" She, too, shook her head. The boys wouldn't make eye contact with them. I sent them right down to the office and listed their infraction in our online system.
But I didn't feel like it was enough. I was worried this would be a case of "boys will be boys" and that they were just "using bad language." I was really upset. I was sick to my stomach. After study hall, I walked down to the office to check on the situation where the boys had apparently been waiting for an administrator because all of them were up in a meeting. I took them in the hallway and, "What I want to say to you might get me fired, so I'm going to let Mr. Z handle this," and sent them back to their classrooms. I knew I had to say more, so, to "Mr. Z," I wrote this:
I want you to understand the gravity of the situation for which I sent "X" and "Y" down to the office during study hall.
What they wrote on the paper is not just words to me. Those words carry the weight of women with whom they will and do interact with for the rest of their lives. Those words are me and their other teachers, their mothers, and their future girlfriends and wives. Is that how they view us? Me? It's degrading and much more than upsetting for me. It's personal.
To compound this situation, they are currently learning about women's rights in their language arts class, and, in fact, I was just in their classrooms talking about the Women's March on Washington and its impact and necessity.
Please don't take this lightly. These are not just words.
Fortunately, Mr. Z took my words (and theirs) seriously. The boys were given punishment.
I was still seething, though. Because, sadly, I knew this wasn't an isolated incident in these boys lives or their interactions. I kept thinking about the girls in that class with whom they were interact and flirt. I kept seeing their futures in a world where they were never taught that they weren't wrong because they got caught, or that Miss Bolte was offended, or that girls don't like to be called bad names. I wanted them (everyone!) to understand that the things we think and say become actions and when we begin to think of women as objects, we lose our ability to see them as worthy of respect.
Last night I racked my brain to come up with a plan. I knew I wanted to bring this up with the other 8th graders in that class. I started looking online and found some Ted Talks that I thought would help put another perspective on the situation.
We watched the first four minutes of this video because she gives specific examples of interactions she's had in her life that I thought would help all students put words to actions.
And we watched all of this video because he talks about the impact of verbal and physical abuse on men, women, boys, AND girls. His work shows a perspective that I don't think many young men hear from adult men.
Here are the students watching attentively. While there were a few side comments after they had been sitting for a while, the majority of students paid close attention to the words and sentiments.
After the videos were over, I had them write 2-3 sentences on their reaction to the videos we watched. I was happy to see thoughtful reactions, but sad that some of the girls brushed it off with a "this is something we see all the time, so why does it matter?" attitude.
Look. I know I didn't solve the problem for the world or even for these kids and that the work will take more time and effort and discussion. But I feel good about taking a first step and addressing the issue outside of a disciplinary action.
I HOPE I made a good decision as a professional, but I KNOW I made a good decision as a role model.