Friday, April 11, 2014

A Response to the Response to the Response

Have you seen this? (Click anywhere, it's all a link). It's the "Teacher responds brilliantly to student's profane letter"

I kept seeing the blurb pop up all over FB for a long time, so I finally looked at it. And it made me mad.

I didn't even read it. I probably should..Okay, I just read it. Still a little mad, but less at the teacher now and more at the response it's generating.

I wouldn't be so upset if this didn't happen to me, but because of my experience, I'm not so wild about the media response.

I currently  do school social work--I work with elementary and middle school students who have SW on their IEP (meaning I work with special education students).

I had one particular student in middle school who wrote an e-mail to the assistant principal. The email was about a particular class, specifically about the teacher of that class. It was full of grammatical and spelling errors, it had run on sentences, there were random capital letters and words that were capitalized, it was rude towards the teacher. It was way worse than this letter the student wrote to the english teacher.

The AP forwarded it to the SPED teacher, who gave it to me. At first I responded in the way that people are responding to this letter. In a word, judgmental and blaming the student.

I thought more about it, and realized that was the totally wrong response, but I wasn't sure what the right response was. I just knew that wasn't it. I talked it over with my field instructor and she said, good for her. Good for that student.

After mulling over that, I realized yes!! Yes, good for that student. I told the SPED teacher--This is awesome. One of the student's goals was to self-advocate. One of the goals is to share their thoughts. One of their goals is speak up when they don't like something or disagree with it. One of the goals was to take action.

And that student did all of those things. Were they done in the most appropriate way? Maybe not, but as of now, that's all this student knows. It meant I had more work to do with them, but we had done a lot. So in my eyes--in the social work eyes--and I explained it to the SPED teacher and they agreed--that student did awesome and met their goals. We were making profound progress with that student.

I talked to the student. And told them how proud I was of them. The SPED teacher and I didn't blame them or shame them. I so appreciated the SPED teacher because she trusted my judgment on the situation. I talked to the teacher of the whom the e-mail was written about and that teacher also agreed with me--that we should be proud of that student for meeting their goals and she also trusted my judgment and abilities.

We had a meeting with the teacher of whom the e-mail was about, the assistant principal, the SPED teacher, me, and the student. I coached the student and prepped them prior to the meeting. The student asked us if we could talk for them and I said no. You can do this. You've shown you can. I believe in you. I am right there with you, I'm your advocate, I can help explain things, but you're doing the talking. This is your fight. I'm not fighting it for you, but I am standing alongside you.

And that student did. And then afterwards I did a little bit of CBT with them and processed the meeting. And you know what? The teacher that the e-mail the student wrote about and the student get along well now. They better understand each other. I am willing to bet that this English teacher and student who wrote the letter don't get along--hate each other, most likely. This student, who actually included nice things about the teacher, probably no longer feels that way. I can almost guarantee it, in fact. And if they do get along, it is ONLY because they worked through the shaming, blaming, and guilt that fueled from it. I truly believe that.

I don't know the student's story who wrote that letter to the English teacher. I don't know if they have issues or goals or have a learning disability or anything. And I'm not trying to make excuses for that student, or for my student for that matter.

But I don't think shaming--and that's what this is, this is shaming that student who wrote that letter to the English teacher--I don't think shaming is a brilliant or appropriate response. I think doing what the teacher did whom my student wrote about it was the right thing. That teacher listened and engaged in conversation. Never once did she blame the student or make the student feel guilty. Never once did the teacher yell at the student or embarrass them.

So when I see this all over the media, I get mad.
The actual teacher's response, is more or less...whatever..I'm kind of indifferent to it, honestly. But the response to the teacher's response is what's getting to me.

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