“One of the most sickening realities teachers face is when they hear of the awful things their little darlings do to each other while we sit thinking they are wholly engrossed in the school-world we create for them.”
That was a recent post by a teacher who writes a blog called From the Trenches. She goes on to tell a story about two boys harassing and bullying a girl during a field trip. It’s a troubling tale, and a reminder to educators that what happens outside the realm of academics could have particularly damaging effects on student motivation.
The teacher’s story sparked memories of my own school days, especially those days when I had just moved to a new school and was destined to be tested by the local bully. As a new kid in high school, I was in a French class in which a boy (who often came to class high on marijuana) would sit behind other boys and smack them in the back of the head. For the first month of the semester, I had an A in the class, but felt very uncomfortable going there because I knew what I would do if he smacked me in the back of the head. I would do what I had done at other schools when I was the new guy on the block -- I would turn around and punch him and probably get suspended.
To avoid that scenario, I started skipping French class and going to the library instead. I even skipped class one day when we had a test. I got a zero and my grade dropped to a C. The teacher was concerned, but I never told her why I was skipping classes.
There was never a fight and I eventually returned to the class. But I sat through every class worrying if he was going to smack me and how my parents would react if I fought back and was suspended. I did not do very well in the class.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.