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?

Sometimes you have to break down to break through.

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It has been a very hard last year or so. Probably longer, if I’m being honest. Grief, stress, constant change, constant obligation, exhaustion. It all adds up until one day, you hit the bottom really hard and the only choices you have are to stay at the bottom and wallow or use the event to inspire good change.

Last weekend, I hit rock bottom. I hit it so hard I bounced. Let me set the stage:

It was my last weekend of yoga teacher training. One of my closest friends was getting married on the Saturday, so I would miss half of my classmates’ practicum classes. I was teaching my class second on Sunday, right after lunch. We got home from the wedding on Saturday not too late, but it didn’t matter because I couldn’t sleep a wink. The anxiety I had had in control for the last month thanks to acupuncture, yoga, and meditation, was back full force and there was no way I would find sleep. I still rolled out of bed and drove to teacher training Sunday morning, doing two hours of asana  practice before finally getting to my class. I felt prepared, I had practiced the shit out of my class, even teaching it to two co-workers all the way through. I knew this class in-and-out. It all started out fine, but I could feel the pressure of expectations, my own and my teacher’s. I made a mistake, not that the class knew, but I KNEW. Then it started to unravel like a ball of yarn in a hurricane. I unraveled. I managed to teach the entire class without any of the students (and even my teacher) from catching on to my disintegration, but I broke down hard at the end. Bursting into tears, I quickly picked up my mat and books and ran from the studio.

When the time came for the last practicum class, I pulled myself together and took the class, managing to stop crying for the entire hour. Then Judgment Time had arrived- final assessments. At this point, I was so certain I had failed and I was already trying to figure out what to say to my family and friends about my failure. I walked in and sat down with my teacher and the first thing she said was, “You taught an AWESOME class, so what the hell is going on in your head right now?!” She and I speak the same language, I appreciate her directness and it allows me to respond in-kind. “When you’ve internalized that a single mistake equals absolute failure for five years, it can be hard to get out of your own way, especially when you’re exhausted.”

When my teacher hit me with that direct question, it charged my brain and the reason hit me like a brick. I have always had high expectations for myself. These were never imposed by my parents or teachers because they could always see that I didn’t need outside pressure to perform well, I had enough intrinsic motivation to do well. This only becomes a problem when you start working for a company (or start a relationship with a person) that recognizes your intrinsic motivation and exploits it to demand perfection at all costs. In my case, it’s my job where my perfectionism is exploited. At work, anything less than perfect is failure. There is no positive feedback, no recognition of effort or that you’re even a human being who will make mistakes. It’s merely, you made a mistake- you failed. Five years of that can be incredibly damaging to the psyche.

Dr. Brené Brown talks about perfectionism and its relationship to shame in many of her books, and I highly recommend you read them (links below) because they are making a huge difference in my understanding of myself. I broke down at teacher training because I felt deep shame for making that mistake. I wasn’t good enough. I failed. All of that hard work, for naught. Five years of that attitude forced on me at work, and I had internalized it as if it were truth. We live in a culture of perfectionism and shame. I think about all of the young moms I know who are in constant fear of being perceived as a bad parent. The level of judgment and expectation has gotten out of control and it’s part of what is contributing to rampant stress and mental illness (IMHO). Talking about what’s going on in our head is still somewhat stigmatized. Breaking down is seen as weakness in a world that has no room for weak moments.

Breaking down at yoga teacher training is probably one of the best things you can do. Why? Because where are you going to find a more spiritually enlightened, safe, open place to breakdown? Where are you going to find more kind, compassionate, understanding people? Yogis are an exceptional group of people on a good day, but they really shine on a bad day when you’ve ripped yourself apart from the inside out. To my fellow classmates: I have so much gratitude for your kindness that day and every day.

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The good news: this absolute breakdown helped me have a breakthrough. Five years of repressed emotion burst through the walls I had built to keep them at bay so I could function. I didn’t just cry on the way home from yoga teacher training that night, I sobbed myself dry. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, tears I should have shed so many times and just couldn’t because that too would be a sign of failure. I sobbed away the weight of perfectionism that had me stressed and anxious every day of my life after starting at my company. I came out the other side of those tears a different person. A person who was going to do her best not to let other people define me. A person unwilling to except the unrealistic expectations of others. A person who could make mistakes without feeling like a failure. It was the beginning of something.

It’s been a week since all of this. The Hubs told me last night that he can’t believe how different I am. He told me I’m so much more relaxed and lighter, that he can tell I’m not sitting next to him on the couch and thinking about all of the things I should be doing. I’m more present. My new goal is to maintain this to the best of my ability. I do not want to go back to that world of repressed emotions and feelings of constant failure. Life is far too short and beautiful to waste it letting other people define you.

Books I’ve read by Brené Brown:

Rising Strong

I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t)

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

 

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

Doing a Whole30, Channeling Saucha

The Hubs and I had to go grocery shopping today- something you do a lot of when you are doing a Whole30. We had both decided around the holidays that we really needed to change our eating habits. We had both put on a ton of weight, were super unhappy with how our bodies felt and looked, but also recognized that our skin and our sleep habits would probably improve if we got our shit together and started eating better.

Since we’re all-or-nothing kind of people, we decided to start a Whole30 eating program (with the rest of the world) on January 1st. New year, new us. It was a tough sell at first to The Hubs. He’d have to give up beer for the month and bread, and those are two staples of his diet. I would desperately miss my glass of wine at night and cheese…and sugar…and everything else (legumes, dairy, added sugar of any sort, grains, and alcohol are all off limits for the month), but if not now, when?

One of the Niyamas in yoga is Saucha, which roughly translates to purity. Purity can mean a lot of things, but I definitely think it applies to your body and how you treat it. All of those glasses of wine and nachos are not exactly what I would call “purifying” for the body, so it was about time I took this Niyama more seriously and worked on purifying this ol’ vessel of mine!

The first week was freaking HARD. You feel terrible, all you can think about is food, and planning food, and all of the food you can’t have, and on and on into infinity. You’re cranky because you’re depriving yourself of your easy, normal foods, and your body is going through detox/withdrawal from all of things you’ve unknowingly (or knowingly) become addicted to over the years: sugar, alcohol, carbs, etc. Your body is fighting you tooth and nail and using cravings, headaches, irritability, and upset stomach to try to get you to come back to the dark side and eat those candy bars taunting you at the checkout line.

Once you get through that first week, things do start to slowly get better. The headaches go away for the most part, the cravings start to dull, and the GI issues abate. You’re feeling less like hell and much more human and sociable. If The Hubs and I hadn’t done it together, I couldn’t have done it on my own. At least we could be miserable together through the first week.

We did have to make some adjustments for The Hubs’ eating. He’s a truck driver for his day job, so he needs to be able to eat on the road. We lifted the ban on bread, legumes and sugar just for his lunch meal so he could have a PB&J for lunch, and not make a mess of his truck in the process of eating it (unlike the tuna salad wraps I made him the first day…sorry, honey). He also had four beers over the course of our Whole30 (thus far, but we only have two days left, so I think it’s fair to say that). He only had it on the weekends and it was his treat for being good during the week. You’ve gotta start somewhere, so I was not going to be a brat about it.

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Grocery shopping on the Whole30: you spend a lot of time in the produce section!

We are finally on Day 28. It feels good! We both feel good and we both can’t believe how much our lives have improved since starting this. Overall sleep is better, skin is better, hair is better, mood is more stable. We are much more aware of what we eat, and we don’t snack as often. We also both cheated and weighed ourselves and lost significant amounts (me, 7lbs; The Hubs, 15…damn male metabolism and muscle mass!). We feel so good and are so happy with the results that we plan to maintain this way of eating going forward, with small additions of pasta once a week and not making every single thing free of added sugar (which is amazingly hard to do!).

If you need to change your relationship with food, I highly recommend this eating plan. It’s only a month, so it’s something you can get your head around and commit to. It really helps you break from the foods you’ve been using as a crutch. I am an emotional and boredom eater. After going on this plan, I no longer feed my feelings or my periods of boredom with food. My meals are more filling so I am not hungry all the time and that also cuts down on all those extra calories from your between meal snacks.

I’m not saying it wasn’t hard, but is anything really worth it easily had? If purity was so easy, then everyone would have perfectly pure eating habits. The Niyamas are things to aspire to, and I think the Whole30 can help your aspirations toward a little more Saucha in your life.

~Namaste