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?

Yin Yoga – Slowing Down the Practice


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.


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.


Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone: Barre Class

I joked to The Hubs that I was “going to the bar tomorrow at 630am.” He looked at me with concern for a second, only then to ask, “What bar is open at 630am HERE?” He had a point. There are no bars open at 630am in the area of rural NH where we live. I wasn’t go to drown my sorrows in booze, I was going to a barre workout class.

I am a regular attendee at inferno hot pilates at my Bikram yoga studio, so barre shouldn’t have felt too far out of my comfort zone. It was at a studio I had never been to, but a friend had a free pass for me if I went with her, so I figured, “why the hell not?”

Well, it was really freaking hard. Like REALLY HARD. Who would have thought that tiny little movements would burn so damn much? Now I have an even greater respect for the athletes and artists who call themselves a ballerinas. I mean, holy shit, my legs were jello by the end of class. When I had to do the stairs at work later in the day, it was torturous.

We did ab moves, leg moves, arm moves, booty moves. Some at the barre, some not. Some with a squishy ball behind our backs or between our knees, some not. None of the movements were big, they were all tiny, torturous pulses that burned every muscle in my body. I hated it while I was doing it, but I loved it when we were done.

What I really liked about it was the realization I had when I was walking out of the studio after with my friend: I didn’t even hesitate to say yes to going when she invited me. Five years ago I probably wouldn’t have done it. I would have been too anxious, too consumed with What Ifs to get myself to the studio. I was still out of my comfort zone- I know NOTHING about barre workouts- so I didn’t really know what I had agreed to.

Will I go back? Probably. I have a regular pass at two studios already, so I don’t see myself plunking down the cash to get a regular pass at another studio, but I would go back again to take barre. It was a great low-impact workout and I felt the burn!


Today: Bikram Class


Bentley trying out my hot yoga towel

I remember the first time I went to a Bikram class. I hated everything about it. It was so damn HOT. There were too many people in the room. I was sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat. It was a free class over Thanksgiving, so the room was maxed out and we were literally mat-to-mat, three rows spanning the entire room. The teacher never stopped talking and he never left the podium. The entire experience felt oppressive. I swore I would never go back again.

Two years later in June, I was doing a dietbet and needed I change from the exercise programs I had been doing. Our local Bikram studio has a new student deal (30 days unlimited classes for $30) and I figured it was time to give it a chance, especially since the one and only time I had gone before it was a free class that was sure to have more students in it than normal.

So I tried it again. It was so HOT and it was so HARD, but the feeling I had afterward got me hooked. Now’s it January and I’m still going. My job sometimes keeps me from making it to the studio as often as I would like, but I try to go at least once a week at the absolute minimum.

Today’s class had me in the front right corner of the room- the very hottest spot with the way the air flows through the room. I hadn’t been to Bikram in two weeks, so I knew it would be a little tough. Bikram is one of those activities that proves the rule that the more you go, the easier it feels- particularly with the heat. You don’t serve yourself well in Bikram if you have overly aggressive modesty when it comes to showing skin. The tinier the shorts and tank top (or just sports bra for the ladies), the easier it is to combat the heat in the room. No one cares if you haven’t shaved your legs in two weeks, or if your belly is not as flat as you would like after having children, or if you’re covered in moles. No one is paying attention to you. Bikram only has mirrors in the front of the room so you can focus on yourself and your form. This practice gives you 90 minutes of complete and total “Me Time.”

The oppressive heat combined with the same set of postures every class almost forces you to go inward. You are so focused on your breath and getting into the pose that it becomes solely about your own body- you can’t focus on anyone else or judge yourself against another because you are in survival mode! Today’s class was a bit like that for me. I had a laser focus on my own body, breath, and heart rate. The sweat is so cleansing to the soul, at least it is to my soul. After class is done and I’m lying in final savasana, I feel sweetly wrung out and connected with my inner self, awed at what I am capable of. They say you never feel more alive than when you are close to dying, and I think that’s a bit extreme a comparison to Bikram, but there is a nugget of truth for this situation. You’re not dying, but you are definitely pushing yourself in a way outside of your norm and that’s GOOD sometimes. We so often sit in our desk chairs at work and let our bodies and minds simply ease along. Bikram takes you out of that and says, “Wake the fuck up! It’s fucking hot in here!”

Sure, there are some things I find problematic about Bikram yoga: the leader/founder of the style has an extremely skewed moral compass that I don’t agree with and is currently running from the law (I’m not joking); I’m not sure how I feel about locking your knee in certain poses (as a student of Vinyasa we are typically told NOT to lock the knee in poses); and there are often few adjustments provided by the teacher.

BUT, the benefits far outweigh the problematic aspects for me. I feel amazing after class. I’ve lost weight, gotten more toned, my anxiety has eased with consistent practice, and most importantly, my lower back doesn’t hurt anymore- something Vinyasa alone has never been able to do for me. I also love the studio I go to. The teachers are fantastic and friendly- they’ve worked to build an incredible community of practitioners.

I still practice Vinyasa and I am training to teach Vinyasa, as Bikram came into my life later and I’m not sure I can commit to the 500-hour at-a-shot training compared to my 200-hour weekend-module training. I highly recommend you give Bikram a try if you haven’t before. It has been amazing addition to my yoga practice and could be good for you too. As always, trust your intuition to keep you safe in ANY yoga class.