One of the (many) benefits of not being a first year teacher is that I know a little bit about my students this year because I saw them around last year. For example, I know that they were very cliquey last year, that the girls were really sassy and would spend 15 minutes in the bathroom every morning “fixing their hair” (yes, as an 8 year old). I also known that they had a lot of interpersonal problems last year, ranging from cruel picking at each other to full-out fights on the playground.
This is part of the reason I decided this year to focus so much on how we treat each other. We spent a lot of the first week talking about what makes a person Respectful, or why you would want to have Integrity. On Empathy Day, we talked about seeing things from someone else’s perspective and caring about people. I think they missed the memo.
At recess that afternoon, I had to make copies of their homework, so I left them with another teacher. When I got back, it was bedlam. As far as I can tell, one of the boys from another class found a praying mantis. Now, my class has been well-versed that just because we see a living thing, it does not mean that we have to kill it. Believe it or not, this is pretty much all of their first instinct, and it was the other boy’s first instinct too. So my class got upset and tried to stop him from killing the bug.
Cute, right? They’re trying to protect the bug. Empathy!
Not quite. The method of protection they chose was to scream at the boy, who screamed back with his friends, then choke him with his own shirt and kick him. Oops.
Of course, I was livid, and we had a huge discussion about how they are growing up, they need to start thinking about what kind of person they want to be, nobody thinks it’s OK when 10-year-olds kick people, and high schoolers who choke people get expelled and never go to college or get a dream job. Then they wrote, silently, in their journals about respect and empathy for 20 minutes, which nearly killed them because right now they can’t a) write or b) be silent.
But from the other side of things, it’s pretty funny. Especially because the following day they seemed to really understand and be able to verbalize the idea of empathy, so we’re not too worried that they’ll all turn into renegade bug-saving serial killers. They were just a little over-enthusiastic this time. Oops.