Dear Kid Whisperer,
I am a high school creative writing teacher. My students are often disrespectful to me. Often they will make fun of my mannerisms or phrases that I use. It is usually as an aside but is often right in my face. I really hate this but I have no idea what to do. Any thoughts?
– Sarah, Dayton, Ohio
I do have some thoughts! There are two different ways to handle this. One is an intervention and another is a consequence. Feel free to experiment with both, either, or neither! If it’s going to be both, try out the intervention first.
So here’s the thing: you are being bullied. These kids in your class are having a great time making you feel terrible, so we’re going to stop this now. Just to be really clear: anything that goes on in your classroom that you don’t like is not OK and it is your right to stop it from happening. So here’s the intervention. I’m going to coach you through this the same way I coach kids to deal with bullies. For a blog entry on how you can help kids to bully-proof themselves you can go to http://askthekidwhisperer.wordpress.com/?p=886&preview=true. These concepts work no matter what the age of the bully and bully-ee!
As far as you are concerned, I can give you some specific interventions that work for your situation as a teacher. Remember, the bully bullies in order to make the bully-ee angry/sad/depressed/scared, so don’t show that you are any of these things and the bully will stop. The disclaimer here is that it will probably briefly get worse before it gets better! This is how I would use a bully-proofing intervention to deal with your situation.
Kid: (In a mocking tone) …and that is the magic of creative writing!
Kid Whisperer: (Laughing louder much longer than everyone else) That is true! That is true! I do say that ALL THE TIME. Hah! I do love creative writing and I DO say that A LOT! Whoa! I say that! YAH!! (More laughing until everyone feels uncomfortable).
Later, while the students are working quietly, for no apparent reason, with a big smile and with a pirate accent…
Kid Whisperer: AND THAT IS THE MAGIC OF CREATIVE WRITING!!!!! Arrrr!!
Later, while the Kid is trying to work…
Kid Whisperer: (In a really loud whisper): Hey! Hey! Psst! Remember how I always say “and that is the magic of creative writing?” (Crazy smile, thumbs up)
Obnoxious Kid rolls his eyes and probably never messes with you again.
If kids make fun of a mannerism or tick, walk in one day only doing that mannerism or tick. Play it up times 100 and draw as much attention to it as possible. If you have a slight limp, make it a huge limp. If you have a facial tick, stare at the kid who make fun of it and make the tick constantly with a smile until the kid looks away. If you are clumsy and fell once two months ago, fall like Chevy Chase all over the room for fifteen minutes. The kid may try once to make fun again, but if you don’t show that you are angry/sad/depressed/scared, the joke just won’t work and the joke will be on him because he won’t get the same response from his cheering section.
OK, so here is the Love and Logic way to deliver a consequence for your scenario:
Kid: …and that’s the magic of creative writing!
Kid Whisperer exhales and rubs his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. Kid Whisperer finishes his lesson, assigns silent seat work, and moves in on the Kid from behind and whispers.
Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. We’re going to have to do something about this. But not now, later. Try not to worry about it.
Kid Whisperer: (walking away) I only say things once.
Later, in this case during the child’s lunch, and with no one else in the room, I have this conversation.
Kid Whisperer: (Rubbing his eyes) Ugh. I am exhausted. When you are mean to me and make fun of me it drains my energy.
Kid: I wasn’t making fun of you.
Kid Whisperer: I respect you too much to argue. After having to deal with your hurtful words, I don’t have the energy to go hang out with my friends and wife after schooI like I usually do. Therefore, I am going to ask you to come in during your lunches and give me back my energy. Every week I scrub the desks and floorboards in this room. I am going to have you scrub them instead so that I can get my energy back and live my life the way I want to. Feel free to go back to lunch with your friends as soon as I feel that you have given me back my energy. The harder you work, the faster I will get my energy back. Feel free to stare off into space for as long as you’d like. You know what you need to do in order to return to lunch. Thanks.
I have calmly set a limit in a way that makes me the boss of the situation. I have also given myself another intervention! Whenever this child makes fun of me or looks like he is about to make fun of me, I can simply rub my eyes with my thumb and forefinger while exhaling. This is now a cue that the child will recognize as “You are taking my energy. We will talk about this later.” It also tells the child and everyone else that I can handle them by being calm and without being entertaining!
Thanks for the question, Sarah. I hope this helps!
-The Kid Whisperer
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