Telling me what I want to hear

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“Ms. Q, Ezra is bullying me. He took my pencil!”

“Ms. Q, Chris is bullying me. She talked to my boyfriend at gym and at lunch!”

“Ms. Q, Micah is bullying me. He’s breathing my air!”

Students are often grinning as they throw out these verbal salvos, enjoying the brief disruption they create. These students recognize true bullying, but sometimes they just want to see if they can make an adult jump through hoops. I try to keep us focused and balanced as I manage silly pencil dramas. I try to remain alert to actual bullying, possibly disguised as a joke.

This post helps explain the following post. By middle school, students know what teachers want to hear. They know the buzzwords that will get a reaction. Bullying guarantees a response. So does any intimation that you might not want to go to college. Students know when to talk the party line and when to deviate from that party line to get attention.

Teachers often begin talking about college before kids can have any real idea what college represents. Some have been on field trips to colleges before they left elementary school. In some classrooms, a teacher can ask students if they intend to go to college and every hand will go up. An honest discussion may reveal that many of those hands are tentative and some are outright lies. But students know the correct answer to the question “Do you plan to go to college?” and mostly they’d rather duck the lecture that follows when they say no.

That’s why I am so worried about the fact that many of my students are outright telling me that they don’t know if they want to go to college. Some are telling me they know they don’t want to go. If I thought they wanted me to coax them back on track — if I thought they were looking for attention, in other words — I’d be less concerned. But I don’t think that. I think I have tested the hell out of these kids, week by week, following a scripted curriculum in which I had very little input and, as a result, these kids have decided they don’t like school any more.