One week, the 10th grade girls in my school were having a lot of “drama” due to some rumor that one girl had said something about another girl; they were now split into two rival sides, and a parade of girls were coming tearfully to me between classes and during lunch because they were worried about getting “jumped,” wanted to blow off some steam, or just had their feelings hurt. I felt like I was putting out many small fires, and I just didn’t have enough time in a day to give these girls the attention they needed. The boys, of course, found the situation hilarious. I had a strong suspicion that some of them were stirring the pot, so to speak, either by being party to the incidents that started the drama, or by off-handedly trafficking gossip to see what the girls would do in response. They certainly had no right to a moral high ground, at any rate. Their fights, when they happened during school hours, would usually end in blows. At least the girls weren’t at that point yet.
The thing was, if the girls had been resorting to blows regularly, probably more would have been done to help them out. In one of the previous schools where I taught, a program existed for boys who it was believed were susceptible to gang influences. In a targeted “intervention” of sorts, the boys were pulled into a weekly group meeting where they talked about the issues they were facing; they also had some special classes in which they watched movies and talked about definitions of masculinity, resisting negative influences, and resolving disputes in nonviolent ways. The program was not led by the guidance counselors or by social workers; rather, one of the deans (who also taught classes) and some selected teachers worked on it together. It was heralded as a success, and I wondered, now, why we didn’t have something similar for the girls at my school—all girls, not just the “at-risk” ones.
In my “dream” role, I’d want to run such a program in addition to (or in exchange for) some of my current course-load, which is entirely 10th grade English due to the size of our sophomore class. I’d meet with these girls weekly in small groups, and we’d all talk about issues pertaining to young women—what things make us feel empowered (or disempowered), how to make healthy decisions about romantic relationships, how to resolve disputes (without all the in-fighting), how to set goals for the future, how to find role models and mentors, etc. A complimentary program could be implemented for the boys as well, preferably led by a male teacher. In my view, the kids in 9th and 10th grade would benefit from this type of support whether or not they are gang-affiliates: The fact that certain kids do fewer things that arouse the ire of the on-campus security does not negate their need for guidance.
Such a program could easily be implemented by teachers—perhaps by teachers who expressed interest in mentorship and were known to have the type of rapport with students that would make them good fits for the role. In short, we teachers would take on a dual role as “life coaches” and guides for small groups of students, as well as being their classroom instructors.
I’d like to be able to interact with the kids this way, in a setting dedicated to their personal growth, rather than squeezing it in between lessons on Julius Caesar and Lord of the Flies.
Ilana Garon is an English teacher at a public high school in the Bronx, N.Y., and holds masters degrees in both English education and fine arts. She is the author of Teacher‘s View From the Bronx blog.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.