I have a group of mean girls in my class. They are bullies. They are rude and disrespectful to both students and teachers alike. Well, some of them can hold it together enough to be respectful to my face, but the bullying is getting out of hand. One girl is particularly mean. She is angry, coming into class scowling every morning and spends her days speaking unkindly to classmates, snatching things out of people’s hands, rolling her eyes at me, and making faces behind my back. I know she lacks attention at home – mom travels out of the country all the time, dad present but completely uninvolved, and her adult siblings also pay little attention to her. Naturally she acts unlovely because she is unloved. When I have one-on-one moments with her, she can be quite a pleasant person, but obviously with a classroom of 20 students, many of them equally needy, I cannot give her the one-on-one attention she needs. So she continues to be mean.
Last week I met the class in the hallway after PE. This particular student was sobbing. I asked her what happened, and she told me that she had said that she “didn’t want to be around no white people.” She said she didn’t mean it “like that”, but now everyone in class was mad at her and calling her racist. In the gentlest way possible I said, “Well, that was a racist thing to say. Imagine if someone had said, “I don’t want to be around no black people.” You’d be pretty mad about that, wouldn’t you?” She completely understood.
Race is something that’s come up a lot in class recently. We started discussing it in Social Studies with the Texas Revolution: Anglo settlers brought slaves, Mexican settlers did not. The Law of April 6 did not allow slaves. Then racism became more personal when one of my students yelled out from the back of the line one day that I was racist (and then promptly denied it saying she said “macist” instead – sweetie, you better learn to lie better, especially in front of 19 witnesses). We delved into further racism discussions around MLK Day. In fact, students didn’t actually know what racism really was until we watched a short video about MLK. Again, how I wish Social Studies were given more importance so that we could spend more time on these topics, instead of quickly brushing over them.
Then last week my student realized first hand just what being racist means. She has finally gotten a taste of her own medicine as all the Hispanic kids – they say she said she didn’t want to be around no Mexican people – have shunned her. I’ve just sat back and let it all play out, watching them completely ignore her, refuse to sit near her, move away from her if they end up near her in line – all the behavior she normally exhibits to others she doesn’t like. Suddenly she has become a polite and attentive student. I have had no behavior issues with her for the past week. She’s stayed on task with all her school work, hasn’t talked out of turn at all, and hasn’t rolled her eyes or scowled at me once.
We’ve had a couple conversations about how sorry she is that she said what she did and how she has no friends now. She also admitted that now she knows how other people feel when she treats them the same way. I reminded her that that group of Hispanic girls are not the only students in class and maybe she should work on making some new friends. We talked about how she’d actually have to be nice to people now to earn their friendship. A couple days after that conversation, she told me she’s been working on “what we talked about”.
Yesterday I noticed that one of the Hispanic girls has started talking to her again. Darn it. I was hoping this would play out a little longer. It will be interesting to see if this experience has any kind of lasting impact on her.