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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Why Do School Leaders Allow this to Happen?

This comes from a reader whose child is at Washington.  I am appalled at the poor judgment on the part of these teachers.  

Why, in 2013, does anyone have to tell teachers and administrators that awards should ONLY be positive?  That they think - after the fact - that some "humorous" awards might even be the cause of bullying is deeply troubling.

Dear Senior Music Families,
We are sending this letter home to address what has become a concern to many. As a “fun activity” that was planned for the upcoming Senior Trip this weekend (May 17, 18, and 19), an “awards ceremony” was devised with varying types of awards that were to be created for serious effect, and for humorous effect.


It is our observation that some of the awards that were created are coming off as offensive to many. Please understand that the intention in the awards ceremony was not to be offensive. In hindsight, it is easy to understand why many are feeling this way right now.


We now clearly understand that some of the awards listed were inappropriate. We now fully understand that there could have been damaging ramifications should the awards have been handed out, and that perhaps some of the process has already caused some damage for some students. For this, the music department heartily apologizes, and will offer the following in order to rectify the situation (to the best of our ability):


1. The awards process will be re-vamped, and highly scrutinized to be only positive in nature.
2. We will hold a class meeting with the students, offering our apologies for any discomfort that has been caused to them in the faulty process. We will also discuss at length why the contents of the awards were potentially damaging and prone to promote the act of bullying, which is something we strive to eradicate in this building.
3. We are sending this letter home, and will be available to answer any questions you may have, or listen to any concerns that you may have regarding this situation.
4. If a student should feel the need to discuss the situation with his/ her counselor, we will gladly send the student to see the counselor during third period.
Thank you for your support and please accept our deepest apologies,
The Music Department Faculty of WMS


According to my reader, this is what her student said:

She said that the band and orchestra teachers made up award categories such as “Most Likely to Be Left Behind” “Most Likely to End Up in a High School Dumpster” and “Least Photogenic.” My child said most of the kids ignored these categories because they were just too rude and mean.
This reminds me of those "most likely to" lists that some of the high schools participate in and put in the yearbook. My son,who has a disability, got named in one category (that was directly related to his disability) the year he graduated. He was very hurt that his classmates (and the yearbook advisers, some of whom knew of his disability) did that to him.

The principal? We got a bland "oh sorry."

All principals should be told that they MUST oversee what goes into school yearbooks especially if it is something voted on by the student body.  Apparently advisers can no longer be trusted with this kind of judgment call. 

A simple test - would it hurt your feelings if it were YOUR name on the list?  Would you want YOUR child singled out in this way?


I wrote to the Board and the Superintendent to let them know this is the kind of thing that can really hurt for a long time.  

27 comments:

mirmac1 said...

Melissa,

I'm sorry that happened to your son, and to ALL students who are the butt of these "humorous" actions.

yes, we need some sensitivity training and proactive measures so admin/teachers don't permit this to continue, all in the name of "oh, it's middle school"

Anonymous said...

Anyone have more details? Clearly something blew up. But, I don't think the simple guideline of "how would you feel if this was you or you're kid" is sufficient.

Back in the day, we did a list like this for our HS year book. "Most likely to be left behind" is supposed to go to the kid who is always late, right? And "Least photogenic" to the most attractive kid.

I'm not going to argue in favor of something that hurts kids, so I'm not trying to justify but I do understand that something that's supposed to be a joke can turn ugly. And, in the case of MS kids, even teachers can over-estimate the kindness of kids.

So are the teachers in the WMS program young? The mistake seems like a mistake of the young or the old to me.

zb

Eric B said...

Arrgh, what a stupid list of categories. It's hard to believe that a teacher would put something out like "Most likely to end up in a dumpster", but it sure happens. We had a teeth-gritting performance once where the teacher gave out "awards" to everyone in the class. Most of them were positive, but there were a few that were just weird (best hair?!) and some that were sort of back-handed compliments (most chatty). Oddly enough, the teacher is a woman and most of the weird awards were for girls in the class. So it happens other places, although nothing in that was anywhere near as bad as the Washington ones cited above.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Actually, I do think asking how you would feel if it were your child IS enough. It's not rocket science.

That it is adults that started this is the most troubling. Where was their common sense?

Kids are NOT adults. They don't have the same sense of humor nor do most of them like teasing (except within their own group).

Melissa Westbrook said...

ZB, I just checked WA Middle School's staff list. It does appear that the music staff skews young (and apparently hip as two of them are showing their tattoos in their photos).

Anonymous said...

I do have kids, so my saying "what if it was your kids" doesn't really works for me is sincere. How would we feel if my kids got any of those awards? Well, we'd shrug it off without concern, because they'd obviously not be true (it's hard to imagine how they would be, though we might spend some time trying to figure it out and we'd end up coming up with an explanation that wasn't negative -- i.e. end up in a dumpster because they are always curious or something like that).

The child the tagline hurts is the one who can't shrug it off, and the people who make the mistake are the ones who can. It's like the quote from Elie Wiesel that neutrality helps the oppressor not the oppressed. So, I'm not saying that this should happen, just that it is not obvious to the people who do it. It requires a conversation to prevent and modify the behavior.

zb

Anonymous said...

The orchestra teacher at WMS, though youthful in appearance, has many years of experience and was quite beloved last time I heard anything about her. My kids had her as an instructor at the Wintergrass kids' education component, and it was a wonderful experience. This is a serious misstep, but I wouldn't judge the teachers involved on one incident alone.

Anonymous said...

"This is a serious misstep, but I wouldn't judge the teachers involved on one incident alone."

I would. That old saying about sticks and stones? Well, words CAN hurt-and the scars can last a lifetime. I'm especially appalled at the "least photogenic" as someone who had really awkward middle school years and was bullied for my appearance in particular.

And the dumpster award-mind boggling. If the teacher is actually older than a newer, less experienced one, that's even worse, since she should know better. Maybe she's better in a smaller setting and you didn't notice her mean streak.

Least Photogenic

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately our family is not the least bit surprised to hear about this. The band director fancies herself a peer of her "senior" level students and treats them accordingly. Our student bore the brunt of her bullying numerous times, and before the end of first semester requested to be removed from Senior Band and Senior Jazz. We wrote a letter to the principal about our student's experiences. Our student was called into the principal's office to verify what we wrote in the letter, and the principal was astonished at the amount of detail our student was able to provide. Nevertheless, we did not receive any kind of follow-up from the principal -- presumably because we had already pulled our student from the classes.

There is something seriously wrong with the music program leadership at Washington, but it seems that most of the parents are clueless about what's going on in the music room with their students.

Former WMS Music Parent

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Anonymous said...

I'm the parent of a Senior music student at WMS, and I saw the "Awards" list. It came home with all the kids last week. Maybe four or five out of the twenty or so "awards" were offensive or on the edge, the rest were fine (e.g., Best Improviser, Most Likely to Change the World, Best Impression of Ms. ___, etc.)

The music program teachers at WMS teach hundreds of kids between them - more than any other teachers at that school. It is a huge and popular program. The teachers do a fabulous job on the whole - the quality of instruction my student is receiving is really quite amazing, as are the performance opportunities. I feel we're very lucky to have this program available in a public school. It's because of the dedication of these teachers that the program is such a success, and so popular. They are all very talented musicians and educators.

That said, the Awards list was clearly a mistake. I was surprised, and disappointed, given the regard I have for these teachers, that they made this choice. (As the teachers themselves would say, "they beefed it," big time.) I'm not surprised some were offended, and I'm glad the teachers immediately took responsibility and apologized.

I don't think the incident is worth the kind of pile-on I see starting to happen here, though. This should not be a reason to indict the entire music program or to personally attack the teachers.

Ruthie

Rufus X said...

Thank you, Ruthie, and ditto

Anonymous said...

Ruthie, did you agree with the decision to have middle school students perform regularly in bars? We didn't. The principal didn't know about it. Once SPS Risk Management found out about it, they pulled the plug. In our family's opinion, that decision was another example of poor decision making on the part of the WMS Music Directors. They are taking far too many liberties with the students and are coasting on their "stellar" reputation. If they are doing such a good job, why aren't the senior ensembles winning awards at all the competitions they attend? They used to. They don't now.

I suspect you are an orchestra/fiddlers parent, not a band/jazz parent. Ms. Fortune does a much better job with the orchestra than Ms. Barr does with the band. Our child experienced bullying and shaming tactics, in the classroom, by the teacher. Our student was not alone in this treatment by Ms. Barr, but of course we have no way of knowing if any other parents have complained to the principal. Again, I think many parents are not aware of what actually occurs in the band room.

Former WMS Music Parent

Rufus X said...

Former WMS music parent says
The band director fancies herself a peer of her "senior" level students and treats them accordingly.

Our student bore the brunt of her bullying numerous times

There is something seriously wrong with the music program leadership at Washington.

it seems that most of the parents are clueless about what's going on in the music room with their students.

Ruthie, did you agree with the decision to have middle school students perform regularly in bars?

Once SPS Risk Management found out about it, they pulled the plug.

If they are doing such a good job, why aren't the senior ensembles winning awards at all the competitions they attend? They used to. They don't now.

Our child experienced bullying and shaming tactics, in the classroom, by the teacher.


Former WMS Music Parent: I'm really sorry your student did not have a fulfilling experience. I am of the opinion that all students should have the opportunity to enjoy the sheer absolute joy of music. I also recognize that serious music students (ie audition-based) should be afforded an atmosphere of high standards and accountability because they are part of a group. I may be one of those parents you assume are oblivious to what goes on in the band room. I could be a parent who is involved in my children's education in that same band room. Maybe I'm one of the parents who are aware of standards set by instructors for their sr. students; maybe there are many more parents who are completely aware of those standards and expect that our students will meet them if they plan to continue in what are, and should be considered, honors band. If my students constantly talk or play card games during class, they and I will expect that there will be consequences, and those consequences do not = bullying.

To be clear – Some of the “awards” for Sr. band members to vote on were ill-conceived and a BIG mistake.

However, I would encourage parents to not take advantage of this acknowledged misfire by the music instructors as an opportunity to air anonymous and unsubstantiated dirty laundry. The view changes depending on where you’re standing.

Jet City mom said...

Why the need to give any awards? This isn't preschool.
I think this incident is major enough for the adults responsible to attend sensitivity classes, on their own dime.

Robert said...

Classroom management and mandatory education in general could be viewed(and is by many students) as coercion, a.k.a. bullying. I know when my students report that the band teacher is threatening to narrow the concert program because disruptive behavior is interfering with practice, she does not consider it shaming or bullying.
Is it really wrong to point out to a student that their behavior is affecting the whole group adversely?
As regards the list of most likely to's; band has a reputation for highjinks, jokes and fun, which is great. It also has a history of hazing, which I find so disturbing, particularly the beating death of a band member in Florida recently in a run the gauntlet in a bus hazing ritual. I would like to turn this incident into a moment to talk about hazing in general and in band programs in particular.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Rufus, since you opened the door - how do you know your viewpoint is any more accurate than Ruthie's?

I will note that I did hear from Jon Hafker (who was vice-principal when my son was at Eckstein). He made it clear that the administration did intervene as soon as they knew there was an problem. There was a lot done in terms of corrective measures including talking about it in the fall at staff training. He said it will not happen again and I believe him and know he will follow-thru.

Rufus X said...

I don't know that my viewpoint is any more accurate than Ruthie's - I agreed w/ Ruthie's assertion "This should not be a reason to indict the entire music program or to personally attack the teachers."

I also don't know and don't think my viewpoint is any more or less accurate than someone I may disagree with. An assertion was made that most parents are clueless as to what goes on in the music room; I suggested that perhaps many parents aren't as clueless as one may think. And I should not have used the phrase "unsubstantiated dirty laundry". Poor choice of words on my part.

Anonymous said...

As a recently graduated WMS family, I am saddened to hear this but also not surprised.

The Senior Band class last year was a mix of very fun moments as the teacher can be very entertaining to painfully poor judgement decisions in dealing with over 100 middle-school kids with band instruments in a single classroom.

I do think the teacher means well; however, it seems that she includes many more students in Senior Band than is warranted. Which I believe leads to issues in classroom behavior and may also be why the ensemble is not performing to the levels that it has in the past.

The auditions are not all that selective and then she tends to remind those kids who are not "good enough" that they "shouldn't be in Senior Band" all year long.

Our kid left with a mix of good and bad memories - but unfortunately gave the class an overall mostly negative appraisal.

-GHS Parent

Anonymous said...

One of the most difficult things for a music teacher is that everything we do is on stage. We are often in the difficult position of ballencing high standards with including everyone... It can be alot of pressure! I have had the honor of observing both of these teachers, and I have not met two more, tallented, dedicated individuals. No one is perfect, but the lesson here is that when you make a mistake, you own up to it, learn, and move on. They clearly did that, and I am proud to call them colleagues.

-Michelle

Melissa Westbrook said...

"One of the most difficult things for a music teacher is that everything we do is on stage."

As opposed to other teachers who are "on stage" as well?

Michelle, not sure if you are a teacher but fyi, talent/balance - one l.

I agree with owning up to a mistake, learn and move on. I mean "moving on."

Mercermom said...

I was a student in senior band last year, and unfortunately I have to say that this incident really doesn't surprise me. Ms. Barr's seemed to humiliate and bully students quite often. I think she thought of herself "one of the kids", but in truth few of the students truly liked her. But her teaching style isn't the only problem. It seems pretty clear that ever since she took over from Mr. Knatt, the quality of music at WMS has been on the steady decline...

Anonymous said...

Melissa,
When was the last time you called out a Language arts or Math teacher? Yes, I think that Music teachers are "on stage" all of the time. For example, if a music teacher makes the wrong choice in music and kids flub in concert, the feedback is immediate and personal.

I would like to ask you to reconsider this entire post. Two teachers made a mistake, they apologized to students and parents in their programs. The letter they sent was never meant to go onto a public forum, because frankly it wasn't addressed to the public.

Forgive my melodrama, but this thread has become a public whipping post. I would argue that this thread is bulling, damaging and if I were the teachers involved, I would be shocked and horrified by it. I don't believe that the spirit of this blog was ever to be a place where students and parents from other schools bash individual teachers, especially teachers who work tirelessly (imperfections aside) to provide the best education possible for their students.

Can you or anyone else state that they have never had need to apologize?

Speaking of bullying, hello snarky. I misspelled a couple of words.. oops. I personally like 2 l's in balance and talent... I think that they look better that way. Honestly, I guess I was more concerned by the words I was using than the spelling of them.

I would like to humbly ask that we put our pick axes away and show some compassion.

Michelle

Anonymous said...

Michelle,

Your passion in defending the teachers in question is admirable, but really, most elementary school kids would know that "awards" like "least photogenic" and "most likely to be left behind" are unkind and even cruel. Don't we tell our kids from toddlerhood on that if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all?

This was no small "mistake". It was stupid, insensitive, and very deliberate. The fact that it was being done outside the public view doesn't make it any less so.

If I had a student in the music program there, I would have raised holy hell.

Least Photogenic

Melissa Westbrook said...

Michelle, music teachers are not giving concerts every day so I would not agree they are on stage all the time. But every teacher is in front of students every day.

Second, I apologize when I get it wrong all the time. There is no real shame in saying "I made a mistake."

I understand what you are saying about this being a school issue. I'm sure many would like to keep it that way. If you read the original post, I pointed out this happened to my son (and this was years ago).

That we still see teachers using poor judgment in these "awards" to the point where they have to apologize, not just for poor wording, but wording that is so bad it may cause bullying? Yes, that is part of a larger issue.

We are here to cover large issues.

Anonymous said...

Former WMS Music Parent,

Is your student a trombone player? I ask because I've heard some absolutely horrific stories from my current band student about the comments made to the trombone players.

-- insert name