One of the jobs of a school psychologist is to go into the classroom and observe students who are having difficulties. It is one of my favorite parts of my job. Working with a student one-on-one is a whole different world than seeing the kid in action in class.
I have apparently had an affinity for observation since long before I became a school psychologist. Last summer, I went home for a visit and my parents dragged out boxes of my papers from elementary through high school. My folks were moving and wanted me to condense my childhood to one box. (Fair enough—I don’t need my high school essay on The Great Gatsby anymore). I came across a small blue notebook from 4th grade that made me laugh. It was like a little detective’s notebook filled with the times and actions of my classmates:
10:42: Mary goes to snack table. Takes more than her porshun! [sic] 10:44: Nick tries to sit next to Mary at snack table. She says the seat is taken. 10:45: Nick tells on Mary. 11:28: Michaela tries to be friends with Erin but Erin is best friends with Desiree 1:15: Back from P.E. Nick was being a sweat hog
Of course, since 4th grade, I have developed some modicum of professionalism in my write-ups of my observations—I try to remain objective and state just the facts of what transpired. And “sweat hog” is no longer in my vocabulary, thank god. But sometimes I still feel like a detective in my job, trying to piece together the constellation of information from many different people’s perspectives.
Observations are an essential "clue" in the detective/psychologist's assessment. I have been in many classrooms and seen many illuminating things. One kid who was an absolute joy to work with turned into an argumentative bully in P.E., another kid who was painted as the "wolf" aggressor by everyone was actually more of a "sheep" in class, getting picked on relentlessly. Turns out the aggressive behavior was the reaction to the bullying; He wasn't the instigator after all.
I have seen a lot of classrooms over the years, but I have never seen anything like what is secretly taped from kids’ cell phones and put on YouTube. It’s really quite shocking. There are a number of angry teacher moments captured on film that make me cringe. I cringe for the students experiencing the angry teacher and I cringe for the teacher that has to cope with months and months of students acting up in their classes. And we wonder why there’s a teacher shortage. But how does it get to this point? How can a teacher-student relationship go so awry to warrant yelling at a student in front of the class? And what can be done before it gets to this point?
I will search YouTube and find a good clip we can analyze together. Stay tuned. And fellow colleagues, don’t worry about me observing and documenting your snack-taking behavior in the teacher's lounge. I’m really not watching anymore, I promise. Unless you go for the last piece of cake. Then it’s on.