Playground Pain Limits Classroom Gain

A simulpost with TechLearning

All the technology in the world and the excellent teaching in the world doesn't matter a “hill of beans” if kids aren't watched properly on the playground.

How can we tell students to have excellence in the classroom when the PE coach sits idly by as the children rough-house and the bullies roam free?

We often take the teachers who cannot control their classrooms and move them out of the classroom. Where do many of them go? Onto the playground, the last place they should be.

Attentive, diligent, loving adults must vigilantly watch children. Every room must be a safe zone. Children must feel safe. They need to trust that teachers are watching keenly enough so that the initial perpetrator is caught… because more often than not, when the kid who is being picked on retaliates, they are the ones who are victimized all over again.

Meet Me, the Underdog

I write this because I am an underdog. I was picked on horribly in middle school.

Tomorrow I have my twenty year class reunion and you know what? I don't want to go. I really don't.

I feel fat. I feel angry. I don't want to watch the slide show with 2000 photos (most of which I took) and see only 3 of me. (Uh, we had only 32 in the class.) I want revenge… and yet that is not what I do nor what I believe in.

After twenty years it all comes rushing back. Every time my own children go through it, I have flashbacks.

Those who have never had a child or grandchild experience the traumatization of incessant “picking” or gone through the gauntlet themselves cannot imagine it.

You can usually see those who haven't been through it because they say,

“My high school class just wasn't that way. We just didn't pick on anyone.”

Can the cat in this picture identify with the mouse? Not if they've never been cornered and helpless!

If this is you, you need to know that every school has their child who is picked on… every class… every school. It is there.

We are human beings and we are very good at being unkind to one another. If humans are there, so is happiness… so is hurt. It just is.

Make your area a Safe Zone

This is not a pity party, this is to point something out. Kids learn where they feel safe. I tell students my story so they know that I don't put up with it. I don't like the rolling of the eyes, the sarcasm, the looks… I can see it a mile off because I lived it… I still live it.

Will this pain ever leave? I doubt it.

Is this pain for a purpose? I know it.

Do you seek to help the hurting?

I know what it feels like… I actively seek out those who are picked on to actively find out what they are good at. I give them extra love. After all, everyone loves the popular, it is the one who isn't so popular who needs a little extra.

When we have our senior slide show, I make the students count how many pictures are in there of each senior… it is going to be as even as I can make it. It happened to me, but as far as it concerns me, over my dead body will it happen to someone else if I can help it.

Technology isn't the only thing. It's one thing.

And don't get so enamored with technology that you forget that physical or emotional trauma whether in the classroom, on the playground, or in the home has a profound, indelible mark on the student's performance and your performance as a school.

A hurting child is expending a lot of energy on pain management.

A safe school with watchful teachers creates a good learning environment which then promotes excellence.

Don't forget.

For if this pain and agony that I feel at this moment can make you a little more watchful and help just one student, I'd like to say it was worth it. I'm not feeling so charitable right now. Right now, I'm just hurting and it goes so very deep.

Tomorrow is my reunion.

Today, it was my child on the playground.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Raenette Taljaard October 27, 2007 - 7:22 am

My son is small for his age, but with the heart of a lion. Last week, he had his shoelaces untied, and as a 12 year old boy does, he was idly kicking his shoe off his foot. Unfortunately it struck someone in the face. An onlooker – the same age – grabbed the shoe and wacked him through his face, hard. I reported it to the school, and the perpetrator was admonished. His reaction: threatening my son that he was ‘gonna get him’. As a teacher I have seen this before, and tried to deal with bullying as best I can. As a mother, it breaks my heart!

Karyn Romeis October 27, 2007 - 1:23 pm

I wonder if we will ever have gotten to the bottom of this one, Vicki. We’ve experienced our fair share of it in this family. When it was my turn at school, I learned how to blend in and ended up being one of the “in crowd”, I have watched each of my sons in turn figure out their ways of coping, too. My elder son has become one of the “beautiful people” that everyone wants to know. My younger son has become one of the eccentrics, so far “out there” that it’s considered cool.

But is the answer? To change who we are to avoid being picked on?

In my current job, I am that person and it still hurts.

Go to your reunion, but before you go, watch the YouTube video of Taylor Mali on “what teachers make” and hold your head up high.

PS I’m feeling pretty fat at the moment, too :-(

Graham Wegner October 29, 2007 - 10:43 am

Vicki, I understand the receiving end of bullying all too well. My experiences in boarding school still feel like yesterday and I wonder how much of an effect it has had on me as an adult. I’m convinced that the nagging self doubt that comes up every time I step into a new and challenging situation has something to do with it. I’ve been to one Class of ’83 reunion back in 1993 and as far as I’m concerned that was one too many. I found that everyone in the room regardless of success or failures in their adult life defaulted to their secondary school pecking order. I have no desire to continually revisit that part of my life. I also don’t recall any form of teacher support during my secondary education – despite the fact the school I was attending was supposedly the “best Lutheran” school in the state. Bullying is an ongoing problem and I applaud my own school’s efforts to stamp it out using surveys, grievance procedures etc. – it’s also well documented that most bullies have problems of their own and we as teachers need to be proactive in giving all students coping and resilience strategies. There are a number of excellent programs developed here in Australia that empower students and help to make them more “bully proof” – teachers who don’t take a proactive stance are allowing an age old problem to stay entrenched in schools.

Karyn Romeis October 29, 2007 - 12:36 pm

Ah, Graham – the penny drops! Hence your tendency to run yourself down before anyone else gets a chance to do so.

Vicki, Graham. Can you both just take a step back for a moment and look at the breadth and depth of your sphere of influence? Can you even remotely appreciate the impact you are having and the difference you make?

You’re both pretty amazing people and it’s high time you realised it! Can I bully you into seeing that those negative labels are well past their sell by date?

Graham October 30, 2007 - 11:49 am

Thanks for your comment, Karen. You are right but in the words of a famous American we see on daytime TV down under, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.” This online world I seem to have stumbled into does seem to play to my strengths – I love writing and blogging has given me an audience to explore aspects of learning that I would not have done on my own. I am in awe if anyone finds my efforts to be useful but I balance it against the fact that most of the people I deal with on a day to day basis find my blogging to be a quaint oddity or nerdy obsession. Add to that the aversion that a lot of Australians have to self-promotion, and self doubts cultivated during childhood and adolescence follow through to adulthood. The breadth and depth of influence is flattering and scary all at the same time.

Sorry to have taken this slightly off topic, Vicki, but I think it’s pretty obvious that bullying effects last a very, very long time.

Anonymous October 31, 2007 - 12:48 am

Ms. Davis,
You discuss feeling terrible while being picked on during youthful school experiences, and that you did not want to attend your reunion. Even though I was a rather quiet student, I was never picked on so badly that it still bothers me today. I felt rather startled when reading her post because she talks about safety in schools. I think many people make the naïve assumption that most school safety problems are present in dangerous neighborhoods where gangs and drugs are prevalent. Your post reminded me that each student needs to feel safe in the classroom, even if it means that they sense respect among their peers and can raise a hand to participate without fear of ridicule. Making students feel safe should be one of the first goals teachers work for at the beginning of their experience with a group of students. If that sense of safety within the classroom is not instilled from the beginning, there will be students who dread the class, its materials, participation, and interactions with other students. I think the best way to ensure students feel safe at the classroom level is to institute a zero tolerance policy for disrespectful behavior and abrasive language and conduct. Some teachers might believe that students are just “being kids,” but in reality, their behavior affects the well-being and attitudes of all the other students in a class. To be quite honest, I think we would hear of fewer and fewer cases of student violence and weapons brought to school if students were consistently assured of their safety and well-being in the classroom and on school grounds. Thank you for your reflection. I hope that those who read your blog can realize that ill-intended words and abrasive behavior can be some of the most harmful weapons in a classroom.

prov November 1, 2007 - 11:33 pm

I too was picked on in middle school (I still have the horror of spit balls in my hair every day that I came home). However, I had a mother who was also a teacher, to help me through the experience. My father, part of the popular crowd, didn’t get it. My husband, also part of the popular crowd, doesn’t really get it–except feels the anger when it happens to his kids.

So what did my mother do? She encouraged us to do things outside of school that we excelled at. I did plays and took dance. I encouraged my own children to make friends with others in other classes, so when things got tough, they could go find others that appreciated them. However, I have found that there currently are three places where bullying takes place in schools: on the playground, on the bus, and online. Yes, technology is great, but many who would never think of being mean face to face start hurtful rumors, say the most awful things, and break their classmates spirits through betrayals, lies, and innuendo.

In terms of your class reunion, I will repeat something I always tell my own kids. The “popular” kids that bullied others in the class to do what they wanted are now the ones that are stuck in Junior High. They still live in the town, trying to relive their glory days, many of them did not go on to college, have failed marriages, and are all together miserable. I have moved on. So why look back? Except to see all you have accomplished despite what they told you in Junior High. This, more than anything, got my kids through the difficult times–knowing that they would go on to bigger and better things and be better people for having overcome the bullying.

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