A Teacher’s Perspective on the Ostracism Incident and its Relation to Her Teaching
Ms. Smith taught a ten-week Facing History and Ourselves unit as part of her eighth-grade Language Arts course at the school where the conflict took place. The students involved in this case study were in her class.
Below you will find word-for-word excerpts taken from interviews conducted in 1998 as part of a Facing History and Ourselves evaluation study. Please note that the names have been changed to protect the privacy of the students. Also please note that the voices on the audio recordings are those of actors, and are not the actual voices of the students originally interviewed.
MS. SMITH: This eighth-grade is a class that has gone through a lot of social, friendship upheavals. There’s been a lot of- especially last year, but it’s flowed over a little bit to this year- some tension in the break up, particularly in girls’ group of friendships that kind of broke apart last year... It was very painful for some girls and there was definitely victimizing, and the victim and all that sort of thing going on and so in that case it’s been a very interesting class to watch and yet that seems to have leveled off and that seems to have pretty much taken care of itself, so now, again, it’s interesting to watch the different groups as they move around, making friends, that sort of thing. It’s a fascinating group.
INTERVIEWER: The incident that happened last year--do you think it influenced the kids in this class in particular, in terms of the kinds of discussions you are having at all?
MS. SMITH: Um, I think, um, when we talked about The Crucible- when we talked about victimizing, there are a number of times in the discussion, without saying outright, you know, using the example of what happened last year, because it would have been too painful or too personal. I did talk a lot about why certain people in certain situations seem to have a power over other people and it’s a really, for me anyways, it’s something that we will talk about as we do more of Facing History, but we've talked about it as a group, how people get a certain amount of power and kids, through the discussion of The Crucible, they were very aware that sometimes the totally incorrect person has the power. And with The Crucible we did talk about it a bit, and its something we are going to pursue more, and when I do that I really am definitely hoping, some of them- and I think they are- are making the connection to what happened in the school.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, I was going to ask you--did you get a sense that they did make that connection?
MS. SMITH: I, yes, again, I. Yes I did. I got a sense that they kind of knew what I was talking about without stating it, ‘cause I never would, because it’s just too, too close to home.
INTERVIEWER: Did anyone raise their hand and say; "Wait a minute. This sounds a lot like..."?
MS. SMITH: No, no. But I think again, it’s too, I think, partly because there's still a person in that room with power, or, not in that room, but in that class, with power who kids are still afraid to go against.
MS. SMITH: Yeah. I think kids, I think that one thing that happened last year and I think it’s kind of a negative, a sad thing- is that kids realized how quickly depending on the outside, how quickly you could be isolated, how powerful a group, in this case a group of girls can be, and in fact, when I was filling out the questionnaires I said a lot of kids have had the experience of standing by and not getting involved with someone else who was a victim. And this was the class. That because of that, there were very few kids who tried to jump in and help out in that situation. They all, I think, were afraid that they would be the next victim. It was really an interesting situation.
INTERVIEWER: Can you just outline it? You don't need to name names, but...
MS. SMITH: It was basically a friendship, a very intense, close friendship of a few girls who had been friends down through the years. A few things happened, and, again, I don’t think any of them were major, but enough different things happened amongst the girls, and then there was a new girl that came into the school. This is part of it too, and when that happens, you know, people are, kids, other girls are curious, for whatever reason this girl tends to wield a lot of power.
INTERVIEWER: The new girl?
MS. SMITH: The new girl. And, all of the sudden, not all of the sudden, but slowly but surely, one of the girls that used to be a very close member of this girls’ group became isolated. She couldn’t understand quite why. Um, there was a lot of cruelty, a lot of backstabbing, a lot of just meanness. And a, definitely shut off - this girl is not any longer a part of this group. And, it eventually involved teacher intervention. Not myself, I mean, I was concerned about it, but it was really something that the counselor really had a part in, and the principal and some parents were called in, and even then it wasn’t resolved because some kids just couldn’t see it. They just couldn’t see that this was, you know, something that teachers should be involved in, or parents should be involved in. Some parents thought it was silly and foolish that, you know... It was really an interesting situation, and yet, one girl was tremendously hurt by it.
This happened last year, I mean this girl is very bright, the one who was isolated , um, very talented, always gets A’s, although a few of the other girls who were doing this to her are pretty much in that same bracket, so, I think there might have been some of the jealousy issue. She might have, you know, she might have turned them off in some ways and maybe her attitude was a little, she might have come across a little too sure of herself, a little too, you know, sort of cut her down a little bit sort of thing. But I also think, you know, I’m not the only teacher who thinks the um, the idea of this new young woman coming to the 7th grade and just, again, having the kind of personality that draws people to her, and then she can do things with that personality that, you know... It’s really fascinating. We’ll talk more about it as time goes on. It may come out in some of the discussions with the Facing History... I hope it will, you know some of the issues surrounding what happened last year.
INTERVIEWER: So that's definitely in the room?
MS. SMITH: Oh, yeah. That’s part of this class’ history. It’s a big part.
And what breaks my heart is some of the brightest, some of the most insightful, some of the most mature students in the class still seem to need her approval. Still seem to... It’s just fascinating. And, you know, they will kind of, there is a little adoration there that I would’ve thought wasn’t necessary for them. That they were self-assured enough not to have to do that. But, I think everyone is afraid of not being on her right side. Because if you’re not on the right side you could be isolated, or you could be not one of the in crowd. It’s pretty interesting. She is also the kind of kid who will tease other kids. She’ll be supportive of other kids and she’ll also tease.
…So, you don’t want to do anything to jeopardize your position in the group. You don’t want to be one of the kids who doesn’t have a group. You don’t want to be one of the outsiders,
…We’re taking a great leap here - when we talk about what happened in Germany - how willing are you to go against what your neighbors are doing, what your neighbors are joining, you know, what country, you know, people are advocating, I mean, how many of us are willing to take a stand against that even if we feel morally that, you know, we should, and then, you bring that down to in our school. How many of us would be morally willing to take a stand against some of our friends if they were doing something that we think is wrong, and I hope to get into that discussion with the girls and the boys. So, we’ll see.
>> What stands out for you about the teacher’s perspective on the incident?
>> If you were a student in this teacher’s school what would you want the teacher to consider that was not apparent in what you read here? What if you were a colleague or parent?