Scapegoats and Bullies – Managing a Classroom

Along with being a yoga teacher, I’m currently in grad school to become a certified ELA teacher for grades 5-12. Right now I’m in one of my final classes before I start my student teaching in January and it requires some in-school observation and teaching. Instead of doing the undergraduate experience like I did last semester (which required me to be at an elementary school several days a week and was simply undoable right now while we’re down a man at work), I’ve been set up independently with a mentor teacher at a different school where I have completed two days of observation and will be teaching three days in a row starting Monday, April 1st. It’s exciting and scary and awesome and anxiety-inducing all rolled into one.

 

High schoolers are a completely different animal compared to middle schoolers. They have this amazing ability to talk to you like a fully-formed human one moment and then devolve into a whiny, petulant five-year old the next. It’s challenging, and sometimes that challenge is good and sometimes that challenge finds you sipping a glass of wine at home after a really long day. The day that I will describe to you here is one where I imagine Ms. Abba* may have gone home and had a glass of wine and binge-watched some episodes of The Office to wind down.

*All names have been changed to protect the identities of the teacher and students.

The 10:10am class started as it usually does, with five minutes of students milling around, chatting with fellow classmates, and handing it work to Ms. Abba. After the students settled down, Ms. Abba explained the activity for the period: they would be reading aloud from their class text, taking turns reading and using the little sticky note flags that Ms. Abba handed out to mark interesting, surprising passages or bits that generated questions. Ms. Abba started off by reading the first few paragraphs and then called out a student’s name to ‘pass the torch’ of reading.

As the students read aloud, I noticed that three of the boys that sat together covered one of their sweatshirts in the little note flags that Ms. Abba had passed out at the beginning of class. Instead of using these as intended, Queen and AC/DC covered Zeppelin in the note flags, all over the back of his sweatshirt. When Ms. Abba noticed this, she stopped the reading aloud and admonished Zeppelin, telling him to take those off and use them as he had been instructed. Zeppelin’s response was to blame Aerosmith, a student across the room who was sitting by himself and had never even been near Zeppelin for the entire class period up to this point. Zeppelin’s flippant response had a thread of bullying in it, this felt like a normal instance, where Aerosmith was their scapegoat for all unruly activities. This was confirmed when later in the class, Zeppelin was reprimanded again and he threw the blame verbally back to Aerosmith. Ms. Abba told Zeppelin that Aerosmith was across the room and had clearly not interfered with Zeppelin at all.

There were a lot of things going on in this revealing little incident. The first thing that this incident highlighted was the overall lack of engagement with the materials these three students had. Instead of paying attention to the reading happening aloud in the classroom, these three were goofing off and playing with the supplies, distracting each other. The second thing this highlighted was the group dynamic, both the three students sitting together and creating the mischief, but also the singled out student all the way across the room, being used as a verbal scapegoat for their antics. Aerosmith, the student sitting by himself, looked like a loner in general, having all the hallmarks: dark clothing, headphones around the neck at all time, sitting by himself, only participating when asked by the teacher, but not against reading aloud when asked. I wonder what happened between this group of students where this negative dynamic was created. Is there a peer relationship outside of the classroom that created this animosity? Is Aerosmith the injured antelope for the popular/alpha Zeppelin to prey upon? The room held tension during this interaction and there felt like history between the students. The third thing I noticed is how Ms. Abba did her best to mitigate the interaction to keep Aerosmith from feeling singled out, but there is only so much one teacher can do. She diffused the situation as best she could and moved the class along.

This incident forced me to think deeply about the importance of classroom management, but in the same breath think about how there is only so much a teacher can do when these students all have relationships in and outside of the classroom. How should teachers best manage these potentially tense relationships? And when do you decide to investigate if this is actually perpetual bullying and not just classroom antics? Is it ever OK to assume it’s just classroom antics? Where should we draw the line in the sand? This too highlights the importance of knowing your students. I imagine that Ms. Abba knows her students well enough to know that she didn’t need to interfere or investigate bullying between these two students. It was eye-opening to realize how large a role the social dynamic between students plays inside the classroom. This interaction made me come to terms with the fact that a lesson plan is really only as good at the classroom behavior management will allow.

What do you think? When and how do we draw the line between goofing off and harmful bullying? How do we best defuse these tense situations in our classrooms? What should you do when you have a student who is mean?

Easier said than done, but you find a way.

12291816417774352923811136602.jpgMy last post talked about how hard the previous year had been. I realize now, months later, that that was taken as a challenge by the universe. A “hold my beer” moment. I get it, Universe, bitch and moan and boy will you show me how wrong I was.

The last six months have been nothing short of horrendous with brief, beautiful moments of joy and peace (Looking at you, K & B!). Otherwise, it’s been nothing short of a shitshow. It made the previous six months look freaking golden in comparison. How do you cope when you’re getting it from all sides? When there’s no safe space? Where there’s not a single part of your life that doesn’t include deep, complicated suffering?

You keep going. You just fucking keep going. Every goddamn day. 

My dad has been battling several, intense health issues. Cancer. Pulmonary Embolism (PE). Kidney Stone. Inability to eat food. Sepsis. The universe really has had it out for him this year. Our family is super close, regular BFFs, so this has been an emotional struggle of a magnitude I was truly unprepared for. We head into battle as a family and I do not regret the effort and emotional toll for a second (because LOVE), but it’s so disorienting it’s hard to describe unless you’ve been through it. This is round two for all of us, the first round we battled was with Nan (my paternal grandmother), and I thought that everything we went through with her would prepare me for this. I was wrong. It’s different. It’s not any less hard or emotional, it’s just different.

Along with Dad’s health battles, I am entrenched in the most intense part of my graduate program. I spent the entire fall term (while Dad was in radiation and dealing with the horrible side effects, see also: PE, kidney stone) driving back and forth to Plymouth Elementary School (PES) to teach 7th graders as part of my graduate degree and teacher certification. The day Dad went into the hospital via ambulance for the PE, I went to PES, taught, and then drove straight to the emergency room at DHMC. I was at school four days a week for most of the semester. It was hellacious. I wrote a 40-page final project. I am still not sure how I managed to get that done. I’ll be doing the same sort of class, plus an extra online class this term (yay?).

Add on top of this my full-time job working for a demanding consulting firm, and well, you can start to imagine how it’s just been about survival. This fall my coworker was also out on maternity leave (having the most adorable child), so we were down a woman and no one at work figured out how to staff things properly in her absence. My job is not a 40-hour a week job. Some weeks it could be done in 30 hours, others it’s 60 hours. Nothing is predictable other than that things won’t go as planned and the deadlines will be completely unreasonable.

Here’s the thing. I have felt like I can’t take a break. That’s what all the damn articles say you need to do. “Don’t forget self-care.” Yep. Totally aware that I need to fit that in, but when exactly do I have time for that?1229181641a2924485318701250632.jpg But here’s the real kicker, this is exactly the time when you need to take a break. 

My friends and family have been amazing, constantly showing support, and for that I am immensely grateful. They’ve been nagging at me to take care of myself, which is good, because I need that. Even when I’m snapping at them, being Queen Bitch of the Martyrs drunk on self-pity, my support system comes and hits me over the head with the self-care bottle and drags my body out of the Wallow Bar. It’s what we perfectionists, we survivors, we warriors need. We need someone to be That Guy and force us to sit our ass down with a cup of tea and a good book and a warm blanket and an adorable damn cat, even if only for an hour.

We can’t keep fighting if we don’t find the time to recharge, but holy shit it’s hard. I am constantly worried about how I should be doing this for work, reading that chapter for school, etc. My brain thinks taking a break is quitting. And sure, finding the time to take an hour to yourself is easier said than done, but you find a way. YOU NEED TO FIND A WAY. You’re worth nothing to anyone if you don’t take care of yourself. So take it from someone who sucks at taking a break and who actually decided to make their 2019 New Year Resolution: Take fucking care of yourself, even 10 minutes of quiet, non-rushing time can save your ass in the long run.

Take care of yourself, peeps. I’ll be trying like hell to do the same. ❤

Waltzing Together

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Lord Huron’s new track 🙂

A new song came out from one of my favorite bands, Lord Huron, and as soon as I heard the first few measures, I knew I would be in love with it for one simple reason: it was a waltz. For some reason, I am sonically attracted to waltzes. I can’t resist them. Most of my all-time favorite songs are set to a 3/4 waltz time. Music has always been not just an important part of my life, but a crucial and vital element of my every day. It’s core to who I am. When I can’t focus, music helps me. When I can’t sleep, music helps me. When I’m feeling lonely, music helps me. The deep love of music is something The Hubs and I share. Some nights, we’ll sit on the couch and surf Spotify together, listening to new music or playing Name that Tune or simply enjoying an album we both love.

Along with being sonically attracted to waltzes, I think that music at it’s most base existence, vibration, is what also attracts us to the people in our lives. Think about it- sometimes you just don’t like someone and can’t explain why. I think that the reason for that is dissonance on a vibrational level. I think the same goes for the idea of ‘love at first sight,’ it’s not really sight that does it, it’s our energetic vibrations.

When people meet The Hubs after knowing just me for a while, they’re often completely confused as to how our relationship works. We’re very different people and we don’t make sense on the outside. Where we do make sense is vibrationally. We all emit energy, and I’m not talking about auras or anything like that. Humans, as do other living (and many non-living) things, emit energy, and those waves of energy (vibrations) match up to other human beings in my beliefs. It explains the weird friendships we have, the ability to start a conversation with someone in the supermarket line as if you’ve known them for your whole life, and why some people become your ride-or-die and others will always be warm acquaintances.

It explains why when you’re having a bad day, that hug from your significant other or best friend or parent or your dog is the only thing that can make you feel better. Their positive ‘vibes’ help change the negative frequency of your vibes. Your vibrational energy affects the people around you. I can always feel when The Hubs is not feeling 100%, his energy changes and there’s dissonance. He doesn’t have to say anything or make a face or anything, I can just feel it. Some of us are more sensitive than others, but we all can feel that kind of energy, whether we want to admit to it or not. It plays into our interpersonal intuition.

This energy is equally crucial when teaching or participating in a yoga class. If I teach the class and my energy is low and negative, everyone will feel it and it will take the class down with it. There will be a strong dissonance and none of the students in the room will feel as positive after class as they should. If I teach from a place of positive energy, emitting positive vibrations, the whole class will feel it and will leave class feeling better. These vibrations are the same as emitting confidence or not. What are you putting out into the world?

A waltz is a great analogy for teaching a yoga class or interacting with your friends or presenting something at work: are you in time with each step? Is your energy matching or bringing up the energy in the room? Are you creating dissonance or harmony?

I plan to do some work on my waltzing.

~Namaste,
Katie

 

Bunny and Kitten Yoga!

Tonight my sister and I went to a yoga class sponsored by a local SPCA that had adoptable bunnies and kittens join us for the practice. It was beyond adorable.

The yoga was fairly upstaged by the cutest little yogis, but it was still a solid flow when you weren’t too busy petting a guest of honor.

All class fees went to support the SPCA, since the kind teacher donated her time. I definitely see myself offering this once I am a registered teacher!

~Namaste

Yin Yoga – Slowing Down the Practice

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My practice has always included a lot of active, strong Vinyasa flows or the challenge of a Bikram class in the hot room. As of late, I’ve realized I need to broaden my practice and slow down a bit. This winter has been so cold (until just this week) and it makes me want to curl up in a ball on the couch or in a blanket fort. This has encouraged me to take my yoga practice to the blanket fort and incorporate some slower classes more, such as restorative and Yin yoga.

I wanted to try a Yin class first and I decided to try a 60-minute Yin class on YogaGlo called “Yinspiration” taught by Carole Westerman. The class was designed to ‘get you out of your rut’ and get you to try some new transitions from pose to pose. I have come to really appreciate Yin yoga as a counter balance to my very active and busy life. The opportunity to pause in a pose and develop a deeper understanding of the pose and its relationship to my body has been refreshing to me and has positively affected my personal practice.

In terms of this class…I didn’t love it. I thought the ‘creative’ transitions were a little too creative and disrupted from the overall flow of the practice. Maybe that was the point, and maybe I wasn’t in the right mind for it, but it didn’t work for me. This class challenged me- some of the holds felt reallllllllly long and I wanted to move out of them, but forced myself to hold on, which was good for me and something I need to do more of in all areas of my life. It’s hard to stay with the discomfort when you can easily get out of it, particularly when you are taking an online class and no one else is there to provide the peer pressure to stick it out.

Aside from the funky transitions, I thought Westerman’s cuing was solid and I didn’t find myself having to look up at the screen much to get into the actual pose. Her pacing was good and I didn’t feel rushed. She included some interesting poses that I haven’t done in a Yin class before, and I felt really stretched and relaxed afterward. I plan to include more Yin classes in my regular practice. It is so easy to keep doing a regular vinyasa class like I always do, but sometimes, especially during these winter months, to slow down and try a slower practice.

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Jensen and Bentley encouraging me to slow down a bit.

So if you’re in the mood to slow down a bit and try something new, I would recommend a Yin yoga class, either online or if you can find an in-person class near you.

 

The Pose You Hate is Probably the One You Need

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Tools for class

The pose you hate is probably the one you need. This is also true for entire classes. I had to make up a third chakra-focused class because I had to miss that day in my yoga teacher training program last month. I was…well, let’s just say I wasn’t looking forward to it, because third chakra means abs. Lots and lots of ab work. The third chakra, located roughly around the belly button/solar plexus is where the energy of will and decision comes from, so in order to help balance that area it’s best to do ab exercises that target that area of the body. This means a lot of plank, a lot of side plank, and many many bridges.

So yeah…I wasn’t looking forward to it, but it had to be done, so I fired up YogaGlo on my phone, mirrored it to my tv, spread out my mat and got down to business. I’ll start by saying the things I didn’t like and get them out of the way. The class was taught by Jo Tastula, who did not make me a fan by the end of class. Tastula’s cuing left something to be desired- she often did not cleanly move people from pose to pose, rarely offered modifications, and the pace was highly irregular in such a way that it was disorienting. I know that I’m probably pickier because I’m in the midst of my teacher training program, but it was a tough class to follow and I plan to use it as an example of what *not* to do.

Now to be fair, this was a Level 2 class, so I understand that the cuing might be a little brief because you only get to Level 2 if you’ve been doing yoga for quite some time and already know the poses. I still think you should still provide modifications, but that’s just me. Tastula was very strong in her conveying the focus of the class, connecting the poses to the third chakra, and providing ample time at the start and end of class in savasana for centering and some breath work. I found it interesting that she included kapalabhati breathing during some poses, as well as lion’s breath, and it was a novel tactic for me.

I find side plank extremely difficult. Plank is also not my friend, as my shoulders, elbows, and wrists are weak (though improving!). This class was hard for me, and I know that at least part of my ire above is because of being baldly faced with my own weaknesses and faults. This is ultimately when the yoga really starts. This class forced me to look at my weaknesses and see them as they are- parts of me that I need to accept and recognize that they are parts of me TODAY. I can get stronger and I am working toward that, but today it is all about working to the edge and being comfortable with that. As much as I would love to avoid plank and side plank, I’ll never get better if I just continue to avoid it, no matter how much I hate plank.

And ultimately, I really don’t hate the poses, I hate how the poses makes me feel weak and incapable. By the time I was done with the class today and lying in savasana, I had finally gotten around to all of this. It’s ok to not be perfect, but it’s not ok to avoid what’s hard because it’s hard. The hard place is where the best work happens. The hard place is where you need to be. It’s where the best parts of you are formed.
~Namaste