Exploring Truth on the Playground

Violent Words and Children

I am in charge of monitoring lunch recess for first, second, and third graders. For part of the time, a teacher who has worked at the school for about a decade accompanies me on the playground. In the hierarchal system of power at the school, I, as a new employee and a paraprofessional (which means I work “next to” professionals, ha.) am at the bottom of the hierarchy. I have little power. Only the students occupy a place below me on this scale. 

My playground colleague likes to exercise her power over the students with a megaphone: the playground is large and she needs to project her voice across the expanse of monkey bars, slides, swings, and grass. We are required to carry a megaphone, and I try to use mine sparingly. The playground rules are logical and have been designed to minimize risk to students’ well being as well as to minimize risk to the school as an institution – to reduce liability. These rules, I believe, should be implemented on a case-by case basis. One loan student jogging across the blacktop to the grass, for example, does not constitute a punishment while a group of students racing and chasing on the blacktop do.

My colleague waits for the students to burst through the doors with her megaphone in hand, raised and ready for action. She is ready as soon as the students arrive. She spends thirty minutes barking commands, “Don’t run!” “Don’t push!” and exclamations of outrage, “There is no running on this playground!” “What do you think you’re doing!?” Her language is abrasive both in content and in its aural quality.

I believe that students should be given the opportunity to correct a minor infraction without punishment – to choose to follow the rules – and that, as people, should be treated with kindness and respect. The character of the lunch recess is such that students are releasing the repressed energy and frustration that a classroom environment can create.

In the staff room, the same teacher often makes inappropriate comments about students, “Keith was probably dropped on his head. That kid can’t do anything right.” My usual response to such a statement is to offer a technique that works with that student and to give an example of something good the student can do. This, however, is ineffective and indirect.

I want to confront this teacher more honestly, by saying what I’m not: I want to tell her that her attitude and voice affect kids so dramatically that they hate her class. I want to offer her different language. Instead of “Quit breaking the rules!” “Students who can follow the rules are welcome to play the game.”

I’m currently working on a solution…