• Nepantla Teachers

The Storm Part II

Updated: May 7, 2020

This is a continuation of a previous post. Click here to read Part I


Part II Norms for Reading Our Blog

In Part II of the blog post, each author will have engaged with a reflective tool to analyze the powers at play in the situation. The purpose of reflection is to refine and redefine oneself, so that one can continue growing into a more disciplined self. Nepantla Teachers Community is using a reflection tool called Levels of Oppression (created by Mariame Kaba). This reflection tool is included below with the definitions of four types of oppressions. When we analyze the levels of oppression we are looking at, we are asking ourselves the questions “Who had the power?”, “Who had control?”, and “Who had access to what?”.



Part II Analysis and Resolution- (Written by David Salgado)


Levels of Oppression


Personal

I believed that students wouldn’t be able to change their behavior after a certain age.

Growing up, I witnessed friends with similar behavioral issues who dropped out of school, joined gangs or were killed in the streets. I put Peter and John into the same category. When I addressed Peter and John’s behavior in front of the class, I caused them more guilt and shame by pointing out their mistakes. I didn’t realize at the time I was projecting the situations and people I encountered during high school onto these students instead of providing them with strategies to deal with their challenges.


I believed that withholding incentives would demonstrate that negative actions would result in negative consequences.

I thought Peter and John would feel remorse for getting the class in trouble and that other students’ disapproval of their actions would make them realize that they could lose friendships and support from others. My approach to solving the issue was a result of my own upbringing. However, I learned that I had a narrow minded view of how society works. We all make mistakes and it is not by singling out a person’s drawbacks that helps bring harmony to a group.


Interpersonal

Addressing Peter and John’s behavior in front of the whole class most likely embarrassed them in front of their friends.

As I look back at the situation, I realize that I isolated them by setting an invisible line between them and the class. I didn’t try to mediate the problem and reestablish a sense of community adequately.


I wanted to let everyone in that class know that I was in charge. I lashed out at the whole class when other students had little to do with the behavioral issues.

But I think I lost more that day than I gained. I reacted how I saw my childhood teachers deal with these same issues. At the beginning of the year, a brief summary written by … shared that Peter and John couldn’t be taught by a “weak” teacher but by an authoritative one. I felt that I need to let everyone else know that I was mentally stronger, and couldn’t be controlled by this situation. Essentially, if they were going to fight for alpha then I had to show them that I was the one who was in charge. By me being the one authoritative figure in the class, I didn’t let them fully develop their own judgement of right and wrong or become responsible as members of the class community. People make mistakes, and not every single time requires you to be punished.By yelling at the whole class I might have disrupted the harmony with all my students.


Institutional

The CPS school system has few alternative methods and resources of dealing with students who disrupt class.

In our school at that time, we had no alternative way of dealing with students than by giving them punitive consequences. We had only one counselor (who wore multiple hats) and 1 part time social worker. I learned to control behavioral issues in house before sending them to the office. I noticed that students grew immune to detentions, because “it didn’t really get to the root of the problem.” The students held negative attitudes toward school and the staff.


Culture/social

Teachers and/or staff can assume that students with prior behavioral issues enjoy getting in trouble.

In our society, it can be easier to remember the negative qualities of people. However, both Peter and John started the school year making positive changes in their behavior. They participated in class, followed the norms, and were respectful with their peers. The idea that students enjoy getting into trouble is a way to easily assign blame. I have learned to look at all possible external factors that may have contributed to the behaviors surfaced in the classroom. Sometimes the students are not aware of why they misbehaved because they lack the knowledge to identify and control their emotions. Peter and John reverted back to seeking attention in any form, positive or negative, particularly while I was absent. My punitive reaction to their actions triggered both students to respond with a mentality of “if that’s who you think I am, then that’s who I’m going to be”. I should have talked to them about preventive ways to control their actions.


Society believes that people can’t change or will always resort to their prior ways. E.g. prison, school to prison pipeline

When they misbehaved, I assumed that they weren’t capable of change. Since admin had come to speak negatively with me about Peter and John at the beginning of the year, I never really gave them a chance. I was fearful of them falling back into their old habits. Looking back if I would have been more honest, authentic, and given them a clean slate I believe they would have grown and affirmed more positive attributes about themselves.


So What Happened?

After that day, students felt my reactions were unfair. I gave Peter and John punitive consequences without providing them with an opportunity to share out what happened from their point of view. Seven students also got detentions on the latter part of the year by their prep teachers who also found their antics less desirable. I believe I contributed in uniting these seven of the boys from my class in their efforts to prove that they were picked on by the school’s staff, as their behavior only got worse throughout the school year. Peter and John became the leaders of two groups that argued often, which escalated tensions among the boys. Peter and John’s friendship would end in disaster for the rest of the school year. I had a conference with the students’ parents and all parties agreed that they were not to be near each other. However, they would often find a way to interact and get into a fight.


Eventually, I made home visits, provided parents with strategies to help their children, and had conferences with the Dean of Students and administration to find ways to help them. However, the seven boys kept getting into trouble which resulted in more detentions and suspensions.


Towards the end of the school year, our school hired a Restorative Justice Specialist who helped tremendously to remediate the students’ behavior. This specialist came at the end of the school year because I sought help outside of my own school's resources. The restorative justice specialist would come in once a week and teachers would refer students who had behavior issues, and he would do a peace circle with the students. I also discussed peace circles with a colleague which expanded my perspective on restorative justice. I saw that it helped some students but not John who still struggled to improve his behavior. John enjoyed having other students see him getting picked up from class by the specialist as a way of feeling unique. I stayed the disciplinary figure I had set out to be at the beginning of the year. Each time they broke a rule I had to be the judge and sentencer.


Still, by the end of the school year once NWEA testing had concluded, the students seemed to be appreciative of the last few weeks we had together and their defiant behavior simmered down. Peter and John tried their best to mend any broken relationships with their peers and ended on good terms. The boys expressed how much they were going to miss the classroom. Deep down I knew I was going to miss them too. Peter and John taught me countless lessons on patience and how to seize opportunities to implement social-emotional learning. My teaching practice has shifted from a rule enforcer to a justice advocate and mediator. I acknowledge the value of peace circles more so than before. When I see Peter and John in the hallway, I smile knowing that the sun comes out after a storm.



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