judifilksign: (Default)
[personal profile] judifilksign
This week, one of my students, "Mary Jane Doe" was triggered on one of her issues by one of the story selections we were reading, "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes.  It's a 5th year poem in the U.K., a 7th grade selection in my district's textbook adoption.  In it, Bess is tied up by the redcoats as bait for a trap for her lover the highwayman.  She shoots herself to warn him, and he comes back for revenge only to be shot down.  Their ghosts meet.

One of the other students said, at the redcoats sniggering, and kissing her, "They totally raped her," several times.  This student WAS redirected.  Mary Jane became upset, and asked to be excused, tears running down her face.  I nodded permission for her to go (she was clearly upset.)  She dashed from the room, followed by one of the staff.

Now, the next day, my boss comes into my classroom to discuss the incident, and question my decision to include a triggery and upsetting piece of literature. Summarizing my meeting, which consisted of my boss coming in as I was teaching the class before my planning period, and then a good chunk of my planning period unexpectedly became this meeting:

I found myself having to defend my teaching of "The Highwayman".  Um.  It's a famous poem, included in the middle school text adopted by the district, and is a key part of understanding the next selection, Angela's Ashes, in which the poem is prominently featured.  

- Well, perhaps I could remove it from the curriculum.  
  I'd had several Incident Reports written about me regarding the above incident with Mary Jane Doe.  Reviewing the Incident Reports, I found that one had written by a staff who wasn't even in my room, and thus hearsay, claiming that *I* had been the one making rape an issue.  I was grateful that another staff, who HAD been in the room, clarified that it was another student who'd been waxing on at length about rape, and that I had in fact, shut that nonsense down.

I then reported what had happened.

- Why hadn't I written my own Incident Report?  
Children ask for time away from class to pull themselves together all of the time.  No violence or property damage had happened in my class, no incident report.  Youth care staff would include information about time away from class in Mary Jane's daily notes.  The student who had made the rape comment appeared to be remorseful afterward, unhappy that she'd made another student cry.

-Christmas is coming up, a triggery time for students, what did I plan to teach?
"Hamadi", "Gift of the Magi" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee."

(Suprised face)
(Unspoken thought - you ask me, expecting an answer, and when I answer, you're surpised?) Spoken:  "Hamadi" is about an Islamic man who goes Christmas Caroling with some American high schoolers and teaches tolerance, something strongly needed in our post-9/11 world.  "Gift of the Magi" is a classic tale of love and sacrifice by O. Henry.  "The Cremation of Sam McGee" is a narrative poem that is also a tall tale, humorous, and set at Christmas."
-Well, good! Those sound fabulous.  
(Unspoken thought - so glad you approve.)

My boss winds up our little talk with another admonition to be cautious about what I teach to the students.  We review that I am NOT teaching Macbeth because of clinical concerns, instead teaching Hamlet, ( a decision previously made in consultation with clinicians) that The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter were off the list, but that I could teach Moby Dick.

I found myself seething at the implied notion that I am not able to decide what types of literature are appropriate for my students.  I often check with clinicians before teaching some of my content (Macbeth, Maus, "An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge"), and resented being micromanaged, like I was being censored.  I figured my boss was trying to be responsive to the clinical side of the treatment facility at which I work, because I'd had so many complaints.  I just couldn't figure out why I'd had so many complaints over something that within the classroom had been so minor.

Today, I found out that Mary Jane, after leaving my room, had led staff on a merry run around the campus, ending up in the horse barn, where she set off the fire alarm in her pique.  There was an equestrian class in session, and one of the other residents was thrown from her horse and trampled by it.  She has now returned from the hospital with a neck brace and her ribs taped up.

I now understand why so many people are waving pointed fingers.  Someone got hurt, and they want each step in the sequence of why this happened to be well-documented and blame laid firmly at SOMEone's feet.  I'm annoyed that I'm being tarred in the general roundup, though my meeting with my boss appears to have covered it.  

I still stand by my decision to teach the selection.  While saddened that Mary Jane became distraught while in my room as a result of something we read, it is not MY fault she decided to take that anger and set off a fire alarm, setting a sequence of events in which some one got hurt.  What Mary Jane decided to do with her anger and pain is on her, not on me.  If she had gone out, spoken with one of the available staff on hand for emotional crisis, been upset, that would be fine.  Breaking the law by setting off the fire alarm and sending the squad out on a false alarm is another.

(I find myself wondering whether the squad that responded to the false alarm ended up taking care of the trampled girl.  A false alarm, resulting in an actual run.)

Well, I haven't actually been censored.  Maybe I'm being over-sensitive.  Yet, I am still unhappy that coworkers think I would set off a student by being oblivious to their emotional issues in what I teach.

Much of literature at the middle and high school level starts getting uncomfortable.  "Most Dangerous Game," "To Build a Fire," and Romeo and Juliet are just the beginnings, y'know?

Date: 2011-11-05 12:31 am (UTC)
chryssalys: (from then on it got complicated by ligno)
From: [personal profile] chryssalys
Huh. What I find totally unacceptable is the acceptance of a report by someone who was not present when the incident took place. Yes, I understand the CYA attitude going on here - but there ought to have been a red flag given by the two contradictory reports that should have led to a much less confrontational "meeting" with you.

Sorry this happened, hon. But you are right - what the student chose to do with her anger and upset is not your fault, you behaved appropriately and correctly.

Date: 2011-11-05 03:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] judifilksign.livejournal.com
Understanding the "why" I had to stand on the carpet doesn't make me happy I had to, no.

Date: 2011-11-05 12:56 am (UTC)
madfilkentist: Photo of Carl (Carl2)
From: [personal profile] madfilkentist

I'm surprised "The Cremation of Sam McGee" was allowed. It deals with the death of a friend and presents a talking corpse. Sounds triggery to me.

What happened sounds in part like inflation of terminology. What happens in "The Highwayman" isn't rape, but some people hyperbolically use "rape" to describe any degree of sexual harassment. Taken at face value, this turns a great many classic works (and even more modern movies) into rape literature.

They're allowing Moby Dick? Did the bluenoses read the end of Chapter 10 and the start of Chapter 11? That's as close to a gay scene as Melville could have gotten away with in the 19th century.

Date: 2011-11-05 03:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] judifilksign.livejournal.com
I believe that the fame of Moby Dick, and the fact that its vocabulary list has 80 percent of the words seen on the Advance Placement Tests give it enough gravitas to overcome its unfortunate name.

Date: 2011-11-05 03:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] catalana.livejournal.com
I can understand your concern and unhappiness - while I can see why someone discussed the incident with you, I'd have expected them more to be trying to find out what happened, not just pointing fingers. (And I'd think that by now you'd proven you don't need micromanagement. *sigh* I hate bureaucracies.) You certainly aren't to blame for her actions after being upset.

I'm not really hugely surprised at the classmate's comment, though, since we don't live in Tom Smith's Rocket Ride - the times when we thought villains fought by rules seem to be long gone. *sigh* (I thus disagree to some extent with Gary below - I don't think it was someone using "rape" to cover a case that wasn't rape; I think that the student assumed that's what would happen because, after all, bad guys don't act honorably.)

Date: 2011-11-05 03:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] judifilksign.livejournal.com
I certainly don't want to fall into the "Oh! If only I hadn't exposed the youth to something upsetting, this never would have happened!" false sense of responsibility.

I worry that in their need to DO Something, the literature (or me) will be blamed, and what I can do will be censored (a sensitive topic for me.) And since I've been here for 17-18 years, there certainly is an attitude of "She should've known better" that is harsher than what the newer teachers face.

While I don't want to trigger post traumatic stress on anyone, it's probably good that the counselors know where Mary Jane is on the issue, so it can be dealt with more.

I agree that movies, television and books are much more explicit, and that codes of honor among the bad guys is pretty quaint. All the girls in the class were pretty sure that the redcoats were far from honorable. They drank the landlord's ale.

Date: 2011-11-05 03:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] billroper.livejournal.com

I can't see that you did anything wrong. Certainly you were doing your best to redirect the discussion and it isn't your fault that the staff member lost track of Mary Jane after she left the room.

Date: 2011-11-05 01:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] judifilksign.livejournal.com
Not so much lost track of Mary Jane as not as fast as Mary Jane.

Date: 2011-11-05 07:40 am (UTC)
callibr8: (hodag)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
Ouch. What a mess! FWIW, I think that your actions were exactly right, all along. I don't know whether you explicitly mentioned to your boss what you've shared here about checking with the clinicians before teaching specific literature -- and omitting some based on their recommendations. If not, I hope you will - that deserves to be acknowledged.

I don't know whether it would be appropriate or not - let alone likely to be a deterrent against such behavior from her and/or other students in the future - to charge Mary Jane with a misdemeanor, re the false alarm. It's something I think deserves to be considered, though. You're absolutely right that SHE and only she is responsible for her behavior, and too many kids don't learn that (bad) choices have (unpleasant) consequences. Sigh...

Last but far from least: *hugs*

Date: 2011-11-05 01:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] judifilksign.livejournal.com
Whenever a student pulls the fire alarm, the fire department presses charges if it's a false alarm. It isn't much of a deterrent, because most of these types of things are anger-impulse when kids "don't care" anyway, but as after the fact consequences of their actions come home on them, they start realizing that there are other people in the world who are affected by their actions, too.

I made certain to let my boss know I that I do check with clinicians about material I think might be problematic, and named the names of the clinicians, too, so she can check on that by name if she feels the need to do so.

(On the defensive much, me? Just a lot.) Thank you for the good advice. It marches well with my feelings, too.

Date: 2011-11-05 09:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] slweippert.livejournal.com
Wait, a staff person followed "Mary Jane" out of the classroom and YOU'RE getting blamed for the mess? Huh? What about the adult that was right there behind her? Where was she/he in all of this?

Date: 2011-11-05 01:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] judifilksign.livejournal.com
Mary Jane was never out of staff's sight, but MJ was faster.

I find myself resentful that I am being looked at like I'm the person that started the avalanche of emotions that led to someone getting hurt. I may not have *meant* to, mind, but I must be more *careful.*

Of course I am mindful of my students' emotions! Sometimes, all the mindfulness in the world still results in unforseen results. This is in the same box for me as the idea that it is teacher input alone that results in how well students do on the proficiency tests, as if the students themselves have no control over the issue at all.

Date: 2011-11-05 02:55 pm (UTC)
kyrielle: A photo of kyrielle, in profile, turned slightly toward the viewer (Default)
From: [personal profile] kyrielle
I don't have anything useful to add, except that it seems entirely wrong to have taken that tone with you. You did everything that seemed reasonable including pre-vetting your material, and ... seriously, they took a report from someone who WASN'T in the ROOM about who said what? I suspect that the mere hint that you said something about rape (instead of another student) inspired that tone, but it never should have started that way, given that it came from someone not in the room, and someone who WAS in the room said otherwise.

That just doesn't seem very professional to me, and to come at you with the tone that he did rather than starting out by saying something more like, "You didn't file an incident report, but it turned into an issue; can you tell me what happened, please?" ...augh. Seriously, he should have gotten your impression of things before coming at you. Not just to let you defend yourself, but to get a clear impression of what you remembered before he tainted it with what others told him / what he knew / what happened after.

It would serve him right if you do start filing an incident report every time a student so much as cries, never mind asks to leave the room. I wonder how many more incident reports he'd have to read. :P

Date: 2011-11-05 04:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] needlewomyn.livejournal.com
Bleh. Social skills somewhat lacking by the leadership, as per usual. I would have thought that starting with the "we're trying to sort out the sequence of events that lead to a false alarm / injury sequence" would have been the most useful approach.


Date: 2011-11-05 05:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] green-knight.livejournal.com

There is absolutely no excuse for the incident report filed by someone not in the classroom or to call you on the carpet without telling you what had happened.

A better course of action would have been to say 'there was an incident involving Mary Jane after she left your classroom, I see you didn't file an incident report, can please have one.'

A wider issue that I'd be interested in is how you (as in the school as a whole) balance the desire to not trigger your students with teaching them coping strategies? Because 'I am sorry, this upsets me, I need to leave the classroom for a while' sounds positive to me - walk away from the situation, gather yourself, cope. And since another adult followed, you couldn't have guessed what would happen.

(Much less could you have known that someone would get injured - that really was an accident. Horses spook at all kinds of things, riders fall and injure themselves or not, but it would be worth considering whether a) the horses can be gotten used to the sound of the fire alarm, and b) the alarm can be situated so that it will alert people without panicking the horses - because evacuating a barn full of panicking horses does *not* sound like a great idea. Now you know that when the alarm goes off, horses will be panicked by the alarm - that needs addressing.)

Date: 2011-11-05 08:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] peteralway.livejournal.com

Here's hoping this doesn't get any stupider, especially not at your expense.

Date: 2011-11-06 12:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jhayman.livejournal.com
It is regrettable in the extreme that we live in a society where unacceptable behaviour is always someone else's fault, rather than our own. I appreciate that teaching that concept is part of what your school undertakes. Apparently that isn't entirely clear to your boss. Bess is a character written large to be sure. Her lover is outside the law. Nonetheless she teaches, as does he, about what great love means in terms of personal sacrifice -- a concept that your kids probably need to learn in spades. I remember being in tears each time I read this poem.

So sorry you got hassled. Teachers who love teaching, love what they teach and treasure how they enrich the lives of their students are among the most powerful and influential individuals in society. You may not have reached MJ, but there are others who heard the message of the poem.


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