Q: I am a janitor at a middle school. Because of where my office is, I sometimes hear things in the hallways. It’s not like I’m eavesdropping. Sounds carry, and I can’t avoid it. Anyways, lately I’ve been hearing one kid being picked on pretty badly. It sounds like typical juvenile behavior like knocking the books out of his hands, name-calling, insults, etc. I haven’t heard any threats, but it sounds like a group of students are constantly ganging up on this same one kid. I brought this up to the vice principal, but she said that there’s too much coddling in schools and that a little “teasing” (as she calls it) is good for making kids tougher for the real world. I disagree that this is just teasing. It’s bullying! I want to also go to the guidance counselor, but I’m worried that she’ll see this as insubordination. What should I do?
A: Your position as a custodian places you in a somewhat precarious position. My suggestion is to keep an eye (or ear) on things. If this bullying continues, bring it to the attention of one of the student’s teachers. Rule of thumb, in general, is always start at the bottom of the school’s hierarchy, which in this case is a classroom teacher. If that is unsuccessful, then approach the guidance counselor. If after that you are still unhappy, then go to the vice-principal and then the principal. If all else fails, and circumstances require some action, as a last resort seek out a parent of the child. It is never a good idea to ignore a situation when a child is suffering. Please understand that going outside of the school personnel can open a Pandora’s box, but if a child is being abused, I feel we must all step in and be prepared to suffer the consequences.
Q: I’m the mother of a first-grader. We recently moved, and my daughter had to change schools. She is having a terrible time fitting in with the other students. She doesn’t have the same interests as her classmates, and because of her sweet nature, she is becoming the target of bullying. I feel terrible! She’s trying very hard to make friends, but nothing is working. I want to talk to her teacher, but I don’t want to come across as one of those overprotective types or as if I’m blaming the teacher for what’s going on. What is the best approach here?
A: This is a general problem I hear from parents. They are afraid to “make waves” in the school for fear of reprisals against their child by the school’s staff. Frequently, I hear the term “helicopter parent.” Personally, I’d much rather have parents hovering over their child than to be completely paralyzed to take action to assist their child. In a gentle but determined way approach your daughter’s teacher and inform the instructor of your child’s plight. Once they are made aware of bullying, most teachers can usually ameliorate most situations. When circumstances improve for your daughter, compliment the teacher. On the other hand, if things do not improve, go up the school’s hierarchy. If there is a guidance counselor, seek out that person’s assistance. My experience is most counselors are well trained in these areas. However, if things do not improve, then approach a school administrator. In addition, if you can identify a friendly child in your daughter’s class, try to arrange a play date. Often having one friend in a class can diffuse much of the bullying and can easily open the door to more friends.
Q: I’m a high school math teacher. The other day, I ran into an interesting problem in my class. I was teaching a geometry lesson to one of my freshmen classes. It was on calculating the square footage of a rectangle. I finished the way I always do: I told them that someday they may have a home and need to calculate the carpeting for a room and that this lesson will help them do just that. I try very often to show real world applications for my lessons. Well, this time one my students raised his hand and countered that they didn’t need the lesson because they could Google the square footage needed online. And just to drive his point home, he took out his cellphone and demonstrated. Sure enough, within seconds the phone gave him the same answer I had shown him how to calculate. I tried to counter, but I could see that many of my students did not get the point. Instant access to knowledge is pretty tempting. How can I get through to them the importance of my lessons?
A: When I had a classroom of my own, one of the many signs displayed read “All Learning Has Value.” Both your student and you are correct. Most information is available on the Internet, but you never known when a given skill may be useful. Students need to understand that learning a concept may serve future needs, and for high school students, one of those future needs is closer than they may realize. Much of the information that may be found on the Internet is also found in standardized tests, and those students seeking education beyond high school must be able to comprehend questions and answer them without the aid of smart phones or Google. Eventually, each student must stand on the skillset they have acquired. You sound like a very good teacher so don’t have a sense of trepidation over computers. Remember, good teaching will always prevail over modern technology.