IT'S USEFUL AT TIMES TO HAVE A FRESH PERSPECTIVE TO “MAKE THE GRADE.” WITH THIS IN MIND WE HERE AT OUTLOOK-12 HAVE CREATED A SPECIAL COLUMN WHERE YOU, OUR READERS, CAN WRITE TO US WITH YOUR PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL QUESTIONS AND GET PERSPECTIVE AND INSIGHTS FROM OUR RESIDENT AWARD-WINNING EDUCATION VETERAN AND CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST GARY COOPER. AN EDUCATOR FOR MORE THAN 45 YEARS, GARY HAS TAUGHT STUDENTS FROM NURSERY SCHOOL TO COLLEGE AND IS ALSO A GUIDANCE COUNSELOR.
Q: My son is a seven-year-old school “terrorist.” He is the class bully. When I asked him about it, he said he acts the way he does because it makes him “feel good.” Can you advise my husband and I what to do?
A: The trick is to identify other actions that make him feel good. In my role as a guidance counselor, I had students exchange aggressive and cruel behavior with altruistic acts towards other students including former victims. Coupled with my guidance, I found that almost always former bullies became student leaders. They replaced verbal and physical bullying tactics with acts of friendship, kindness and even wisdom. In addition, I counseled the former victims to express appreciation and praise for this new behavior. As a parent, I recommend after discussing how to conduct himself more appropriately, invite a “friend” of your son’s to your home for a play date. While the boys play, observe their behavior but do not get involved unless your child has resorted to bullying behavior. After the playmate leaves, discuss with your son what he did well and where he could improve. Continue this routine until your son demonstrates he can be trusted to behave well. If your son returns to previous conduct, do not become discouraged. Almost anything can become a teachable moment. Good luck and keep in touch.
Q: I am an elementary school guidance counselor. My vice principal continually attacks my efforts to counsel students. He says what I do is “too slow” and that he gets things done quickly through “swift consequences” for the students. Is he right?
A: Administrators want to solve the immediate problem and then move onto the next issue. Most often, students (regardless of age or gender) return to poor behavior in spite of the severity of the punishment. Guidance counselors may be asked to “put out the daily fires” of a school day, but their primary purpose is to identify solutions that completely end problems. Although these methods may require a greater investment in time, the results usually are worth the amount of time the effort takes. Your vice principal does not fully appreciate the difference between the role of an administrator and the function of a guidance counselor. Please remember, solving an immediate problem is very different than providing guidance and advice on how to completely alter a student’s poor decisions. I suggest that you continue with your method of assisting your student body.
Q: Dear Mr. Cooper. My parents asked me to write to you. I am planning to quit high school as soon as I turn 16. They said that if you support me wanting to quit, then they will let me. So, you’re probably asking why I want to quit. Well, I’m failing all my classes except one—industrial arts. I’m pretty good with my hands. So the way I see it is I’ve got two choices. I can stay in school and keep failing almost everything. Or I can work for a construction company. Whatever you tell me to do here, I’ll do.
A: As a professional educator my entire adult life, it is difficult for me to advise anyone to leave traditional schooling. Without a high school diploma or at lease a G.E.D., most doors to employment are usually shut tight. Not even the military will enlist a high school drop out. Abandoning your education will almost guarantee a difficult road to travel for most of your life. With that said, if you do drop out of high school, learn a trade or learn how to operate a piece of large equipment. If you can increase your skill set beyond that of a day laborer, you increase your likelihood to be hired. In addition to becoming more employable, these more sophisticated talents will dramatically increase your earning potential. I strongly urge you to stay in school, maybe find a trade high school program. However, if you eventually choose to become a high school drop out, statistically your education does not end. Never stop trying to improve your circumstances, and most of the time that is through some form of formalized learning experience. Remember never give up.