Saturday, August 25, 2007

Asking my African American Sistahs for help (warning strong language ahead!)

I am not trying to offend anyone with what I'm writing right now. I hope that what I write today will not cause me to lose any blogging friends, but I'm at a loss and I really, really could use some help.

okay, yesterday I had a major incident with an African American female student. Over my seven years of teaching when I reflect on these types of incidences, I'm always left with the feeling that I could have done something to prevent it from getting to a point of heated escalation. I will say this, I did stay very, very calm and it was only afterwards that I let my emotions come out.

Every time a student has ever sworn at me and used language that was very inappropriate and/or verbally threatened me with violence, it has been an African American female student. Now, I have had other students, male and female, of different ethnicities refuse to follow a directive, or become very upset with me and say something like "I hate this shit" or "this school fucking sucks," but every single time that something verbally derogatory has ever been hurled at me personally, it has been an African American female student.

It seems that for African American females they are much more willing to get into my face than any other group of students and I'm not sure why. I never go into the expectation that every student is going to like me. The major rule that I try to live by is to treat others as you want to be treated. Later on today, I'll post about yesterday's incident in all of its full (and ugly) detail, but for right now, I'm just curious as to what thoughts and ideas are out there was to why my ugliest incidences seem to be with African American female students.

(hitting publish and swallowing hard while I do so . . . )


Astralslop said...

That may or may not be true that Black females students are likely to get in your face more often than other races. But if a Black child does it's because of learned behavior in their neighborhoods. You have to learn how to handle it. The way is not to return the confrontation but to show them a different way of behavior. Some of these children live in very threatening neighborhoods that encourage them to show "face," look brave or behave fearlessly. It can be threatening to a teacher. (I have been a teacher). They also get harassed by other white people and by the police. Hence the aggressive posture. After the incident, reinforce acceptable behavior in class. Don't take it personally. It is not always about you. It's learned behavior that definitely should be addressed. Make your class feel like a safe haven. Is it a safe place for Black students?
That's what you have to figure out.
When children feel safe they react in a different manner.

Anonymous said...

I hope you don't call them "sistah."

ms-teacher said...

no, of course I don't call them "sistah."

Anonymous said...

I am a 48 yr old teacher in the south. Anon" writes, "If a Black child ......(express inappropriate behavior) it is a learned behaviour from the neighborhood." This implies every Black child with behavioral issues harkens from a violence-filled government funded home. Jim Crowe?

What I do find is that young, angry, black females often hold classmates and teachers hostage with their verbal and physical abuse.

Miss A said...

I don't know how to respond to this.

i am black woman and yes there are some young black females with issues, just as there are with young, angry white girls (i've had problems with them)

Not to sound like a textbook: But after having a course in Juvenile delinquency the numbers of female delinquents are rising. In my opinion this is due to rebellion and lack of positive role models. Visit as she discusses this trend in detail. TV glamorizes people doing bad things. . . our girls are growing up watching this. Girls in american society are headed for trouble.

You have problems b/c these girls are troubled and you have challenged them. They don't like to be put on the spot. Have you thought about your behaviors with black females? Are you harder on them? Addressing problems in front of the class makes things worse. I always pull my students into the hall and talk with them in private. Black students (actually ALL students)really appreciate that. When you see things escalating, why not simply say, will you meet me in the hall way and then listen to their perspective and then present your own. It has really worked for me! I know that classroom management hasn't been your issue, but in my opinion it looks like this is a possible problem.

I wouldn't say that there is hostility in Black women; we just know what we like and we aren't going to put up with anything. We don't like to be mistreated. But isn't that all people. Maybe these girl feel mistreated some how. . .

i know that i have rambled on and on but these were my thoughts as I was reading your post.

Anonymous said...

How would you respond to a young, white female student who told you she knew what she liked and didn't like about your classroom rules and simply wouldn't take anything anymore.

You're bring your own attitude into the classroom and it influences these young women.

ms-teacher said...

I have had white students challenge me as well, both female and male. I have had Hispanic students challenge me and I am not the type to get into anyone's personal space. I think the fact that I've only had this type of really volatile situation in 7 years of classroom teaching goes to the fact that I am pretty fair and consistent in my expectations. (Please know that had a student of any other color used that type of language, my reaction would have been the same.)

However, I agree with Miss A. in that perhaps when I first addressed this particular student, I should have had her step outside first. She needed to save face in front of her classmates.

Repairman said...

ms-teacher, the student was out of line and you reacted under stress. Sometimes until we are confronted with an extreme situation, we don't have the experience to guide our emotions and reactions. Hope there isn't a next time, but I know you'll be happier with the way you handle it! (And nothing requires you to keep an out-of-control kid in your class, regardless of race.)

You are willing to apologize and that is, in my opinion, a sign of a teacher who genuinely cares about kids.

Unless you know the child's history, it's impossible to second guess her behavior, but I'd say that the situation indicates for all of us that we need to pay attention to a subject that some would rather avoid, and that is "race," and all the psychological and social baggage that goes with it, for everyone, regardless of their race.

One of the things our supe talked about at the new teacher luncheon a couple of days ago was that we have to address racial issues in the classroom, not pretend they don't exist. Our teachers get continuing professional development to help them better deal with questions of race. Currently admin is studying Beverly Daniel Tatum's book "Can We Talk About Race."

We continue to learn and apply that learning for the benefit of our students.

It's not easy. Thats why we get paid the big bucks! ;-)

Repairman said...

PS: Not all racial incidents are interracial. Check out the discussion that The Field Negro kicked off when he posted about his day on the way to court where he is a public defender in the Philadelphia court system...

Eric said...

Miss A's point is excellent in taking it to the hallway. This is how I always tried to handle problems with subordinates in the military (understanding the intrinsic differences between the military and education).

But I think your ability to stay calm in the face of such stress, pressure, and personal attacks speaks volumes about yourself.

Additionally, your intent to apologize to the girl is excellent mentoring, leadership, and example. Hopefully, she takes it to heart.

As Repairman said, we really don't know how we will react to something like that until it happens. I always try to roleplay out those scenes in my mind before it happens.

It reminded me of the first time I had to give a negative counseling to a soldier. He happened to be an African-American guy who was about five inches taller than myself and probably outweighed me by 25 pounds or so. He walked in and perhaps didn't notice how bad I was shaking. Then I saw him shaking worse and it allowed me to relax! In retrospect it was funny!

Unfortunately, I don't find this incident funny in the least bit.

Frumteacher said...

Dear Ms Teacher,
I can't offer you any advise on this, I just wanted to let you know that I symphatize with how you must have been feeling after it all happened. It's wonderful that you will apologize to the girl for trashing her stuff, this will show her that you do respect her. I do understand that you did it though, and I really credit you for not yelling!

Mrs. Bluebird said...

It may not be a race thing so much as a poverty thing. One of the things that I learned at a great workshop I attended on poverty (put on by the organization run by Ruby Payne) was that people in poverty have different "rules" they live by than those of us for the middle class. Often times these people have very violent home lives and being aggressive and confrontational is one way they can exist in their home environment. I've seen this with students of all races, but the one thing they had in common was coming from poverty. One of the things we've learned to do in my building is to teach that there are "home rules" and "school rules" that we need to learn and live by. After all, if you tell a kid that they're wrong behaving in a certain way in school that is perfectly acceptable and necessary at home, you're sending mixed messages.

Polski3 said...

I hope this child is not being returned to your classroom. IMO, ANY student that promises physical violence against ANY teacher has lost their right to be in that teachers classroom. IMO, race, economic level, good/bad homelife do not matter. ALL people choose the way they act and respond.

I hope your school administration are backing you up on this. IF not, I'd file a grievance with your union about dangerous working conditions.

Jane said...

I think Mrs Bluebird is on to something with the poverty issues. I had similar situations with two students in the past. One was an African American boy and one was an Iraqi boy. Both boys went out of their way to disrespect me on several occasions. One on one I was able to talk to the AA boy and he told me he didn't think I was serious because I never raised my voice. He truly believed that a soft voice was a sign of weakness. It was cultural-but maybe the culture of poverty. The Iraqi boy had severe post traumatic stress -generational in his family. It wasn't personal no matter how much if felt like it. A year later he came back to visit me. Could have knocked me over with a feather!

Good luck and it isn't over yet, there is still lots of time for the situation to turn around.

Good luck.

Miss Profe said...

Ms. Teacher, you did the right thing. I am a Black woman, and I would have dealt with the student in question in the same way. Yes, we need to be aware of and sensitive to students with respect to race and their socio-economic situations, but these are not excuses for foul behavior, and her behavior was extra-foul.

BTW: I realize that it took a truckload of courage to post what you experienced, and for that I give you a "You Go Girl.":)

Co-signing on what Polski 3 and Repairman said.

Re: Ruby Payne: She's made quite a name for herself, and some of her thinking is on-point, but some of it is not. Be careful with her.

ms-teacher said...

Miss Profe, your words mean a lot to me. Thank you so much for commenting.

Ahermitt said...

I was enjoying your blog until I got near the end of this post. Sigh.

I was a black student once... from a rough neighborhood. My school fortunatly was well balanced... (but the city has since fixed that problem).

Anyway, I was once of the best students, but found that it took teachers half a year to realize that I was bright... and well mannered.

Yes, I could be abrasive at times (I was a little snot), but I was more abrasive with teachers who repeatedly mispronounced my name (Andre'a) as AAAAnnndrea instead on Ondraya because it was a 'typical' pronounciation, or with teachers who showed surprise that I did well.

In summation (whew... sorry for the length) I think Miss A is right. When you make statements like "only black girls" are confrontational, it tells me you expect them to be. Kids tend to do what is expected of them.

ms-teacher said...

Hi Ahermitt,

I thank you for your perspective. The whole reason for my post was to get it out there and not to make it appear as if I have all the answers.

My only problem with what you wrote is the assumption that I'm lumping ALL African American female students with the behavior of the three I've had difficulties with. This is not the case. As trite as it all sounds, some of my very favorite students have been African American females.

I love any young woman who can stand up for herself. I don't mind if a student is a obnoxious and/or strong willed, what I have difficulty with is a student having no problems with using profanity and telling me she's going to kick my ass.

Finally, I take great pains to find out how a student says their name. I have some kids who will actually say to me that they don't care because I think after a while they get tired of having to explain how to pronounce their name. I tell them they should care because their name is part of their identity. I also tell them that my name is spelled in a very unique way and I always get very annoyed with people who never bother to spell it the right way.

I'm hoping that you'll be back to visit my blog. I think the more we dialogue about issues such as this the better.