Monday, June 23, 2014

What Teachers Do Matters, But What Teachers Don't Do Matters More

                What teachers do matters, but what teachers don’t do matters even more.  When my late father was in his early eighties, I asked him to recall the most memorable experience from his school days.  Since he had dropped –out of school in ninth grade, I thought it might be revealing.
                On Sadie Hawkins Day, the students were expected to dress in bib-overalls, but my father couldn’t because his mother could not afford to purchase extra clothing. Although they lived in an affluent neighbor for the late 1930’s, his parents were divorced and his mother had moved into her parents’ home to raise her two sons as a single parent.  His grandparents had money and lived in the old Sweet’s mansion on Ninth East and Ninth South in Salt Lake City, but his mother did not. 
                When my father arrived at school, he saw a group of boys “pantsing” another boy who was also not wearing overalls.  My father tried to silently sidle away, but they spotted him, chased him down and captured him.  He fought back with everything he had.  During the attack, he looked up at the school and saw his teacher peering down through a window watching the victimization, but she made no effort to intervene. My father claimed that the knowledge that his teacher made no effort to stop this event was more painful than the humiliating event itself.
                Students perceive teachers as their protectors. When a young person sees a teacher watching any form of persecution without stopping it, his sense of safety is diminished.  My father escaped his persecutors and ran home.  He did not return to school that day, because he was humiliated.  Within a year, he dropped-out of school.
                If a school wants to decrease absenteeism and lower the drop-out rate, all staff members need to be student advocates. All students need to feel safe.  Schools must carefully select activities to include all students, not just those who come from financially stable homes. Surprisingly, all neighborhoods have students whose families are not financially stable.  Schools need to focus on activities that are inclusive, because there are fewer incidents of bullying when students feel like a community.  By focusing on shared positive experiences and student similarities, students more often care for each other, rather than bully each other.  When differences are emphasized, students often punish and mistreat those who seem outside the norm.  Above all, in schools it is everyone’s responsibility to intervene when a student is being victimized.  Students count on teachers to protect them, advocate for them and teach them.  What teachers don’t do does matter.