I had toyed with the idea of posting a piece on the cruel, painful, and maybe not so uncommon, bullying that bus monitor Ms. Karen Klein was subjected to by school children while supervising on a bus in a suburb of NY. As important and poignant as the story is, it did not have that air of direct relevance to our sports and youth sports culture, which is the major focus of my blog.
However, as an educator and former coach, one who has seen (and most certainly heard of) like behavior from students directed at fellow classmates as well as adults (teachers), I simply could not let this go. The power and relevance to what I do in my career was too much to bear as the story, and its consequence, continued to unfold, tugging at me, insisting that I write and/or say something.
Now if you have been living under a rock and know not what I am referring to in this piece, well…you really need to take a look at this; it has deep meaning for the school culture within which we educate our youth:
Let me start by making a few important clarifications here. This type of behavior is not occurring on every bus and in every classroom on a daily basis. The majority of students, and remember I have been teaching for 33 plus years (and been at three different schools), are well-behaved, considerate, and learning to understand the importance and purpose of their schooling. Basically, most are good kids, some very good kids.
However, over the years, I have seen a growing percentage of these types of students (the kind on the bus), and a larger proportion of the general student body, demonstrate brazen disrespect for authority. Downright meanness, insolence, and disregard for the adults responsible for them, if you will.
And with this increased percentage comes a pulling, a peer pressure so-to-speak, that influences the middle group of kids (the largest group) who aren’t really sure where they stand. Seeking acceptance from their peers, some are influenced, engaging in similar types of misbehavior (something not normal to them without said influence). Their addition to this group helps create a much more difficult school culture in which to teach, and to monitor.
A common statement from confronted misbehaving high school students these days, one you would never have heard 30 years ago (and echoed in many high schools all across this country), is “I’m going to see my dean.” Something they state as they confidently walk right out of the classroom, without permission and in front of their classmates, as a teacher (or monitor) is frustratingly working toward redirecting their misbehavior.
In my classroom I try to create an environment of mutual respect, one where kids listen and are attentive when I am speaking, one where high expectation of effort is the norm, and one where they can enjoy and learn the benefits of physical activity. To me, respect, learning, and enjoying one’s ability to overcome difficulties go hand-in-hand. Yet, even when working toward building a classroom culture such as I have explained, I‘ve been given the “finger,” called an a--hole, been told by different students “you think I care about this class,” and even “f---- you,” along with a variety of other choice verbal abuses and actions, when trying to encourage students to meet classroom expectations. But I digress.
Bringing this conversation back to Ms. Klein and what happened to her, behavior as seen on the embedded video is becoming more commonplace (some deal with it daily), is not only directed at school bus monitors but teachers and fellow students, is creating a culture much more difficult to monitor and teach in as even the best students are indirectly affected, and the consequences for such behavior are not at the level they need to be to change said behavior.
At the end of an article I posted about a week ago, “Commentary: High school sports need re-examination” a little off base, I stated:
The educational woes in this country are a far more complex issue than what many might guess. They are certainly much larger and too multifaceted for me to try and highlight in one post or article as the solution is likely as multidimensional as the problem.
This piece here, and the situation Ms. Klein was (and many others are) faced with, demonstrates one of those more complex issues. You see no matter how good a teacher is, or how well a student is parented, the bottom line will always fall on the individual student themselves, the choices they make, and efforts they put in (whether academic, athletic, or otherwise).
Sure, a great teacher can make all the difference, as does solid, involved (yet balanced) parenting―the kind that holds kids accountable. However, that does not guarantee the student (or students) will make the right choices. All three must work cohesively in order for the best outcome, with the major responsibility falling on the junior high and high school age student to put forth the efforts to learn, act respectfully, and behave.
From my perspective, it is awesome to see the school hold the instigating students of Ms. Klein’s plight accountable. Suspension for a year and being forced to attend an alternative school (see this) based on their actions depicted in the video is most certainly warranted.
Personally, and from a parent’s perspective, I would add to this that these kids should be expected to serve Ms. Klein on weekends as helpers, mowing her lawn, emptying garbage, cleaning the yard, raking leaves, trimming bushes, shoveling snow, etc., for the rest of their junior high and high school lives, or until Ms. Klein feels they have earned her respect. That on top of a sincere apology and the school suspension seems just about right to me.
As a teacher and school employee, I would also add how humbling it is to see the overwhelming response and actions of so many to what happened to Ms. Klein. For people to financially donate in excess of $650,000.00 plus dollars to a fund set up for her by someone who simply viewed her story is nothing short of heartwarming. It demonstrates the “power of people” and will have an impact as the outcome of this horrible, deplorable situation shows others the “right” thing to do. It makes a difference, no doubt about that.
To Ms. Klein I say, on that one day of torment, you earned every penny of those donations, and then some. The people have spoken…ENJOY!!!