Teaching is challenging. Yet, over the years, I feel that I have been able to meet that challenge successfully and my students left me with increased knowledge and skills. Even if they were not motivated to learn or faced their own personal challenges, together we could overcome them and they would grow as learners. Things are different now, however.
While I am able to still move them forward as learners, I am struggling to move them forward as people. Many of my fifth grade students are just plain mean to each other. Despite a school-wide goal of empathy and focused lessons on it, despite morning meetings where role playing is done, despite small group lunches with rich discussions, despite individual conferences with students and parents, my students continue to be mean to each other. They often recognize it in others, but they do not recognize the words that they say and the actions that they take are hurtful to others. When called on it, they will sometimes cry and say they are sorry and promise to change their ways. And they do…for about 2 or 3 days. Then they are back at making snide comments and name-calling, both in person and on social media.
Creating a classroom climate of acceptance and respect has always been a primary goal of mine. Children’s learning is hampered when they are uncomfortable or fearful. School is a place where they should always feel safe. However, I have been unable to tap into the cause of this source of meanness in order to rectify it. If my classroom is a reflection of what society is becoming, it makes me sad. I will continue to try to help my students to use their words positively, to build others up instead of tear them down. Perhaps any change that I am able to make in my students as to their humaneness will be more important to them and society than completing a math problem or writing a report. It is worth facing the challenge.