Teacher Myth #3

Teacher Myth 3:

A critical aspect of a teacher’s job is teaching resilience to their students

Forgive me, because I seem to be alone on this one.  As much as colleagues and friends have tried to persuade me that I am barking up the wrong tree, I am still firmly of the opinion that teaching children resilience, whilst not without value, is extremely overrated.

The data shows conclusively that children are more resilient than adults in absorbing severe events. Educators are blind to this fact.  They keep on stacking the curriculum with resilience training, completely blind to the fact that most students could model resilience to their teachers more effectively that vice versa.

Let me illustrate how this is true.  When adults don’t like something about their lives they have the option to make radical change.  They can move overseas, cut off their parents, separate from their partner, quit their job and break off a friendship.  Kids can’t impose radical change, especially at school.  They are often stuck at school whether they like it or not, they don’t get a choice who they sit next to and who their teacher is.  When an adult is being bullied they can more often than not find a way to leave the situation.  When a student is being bullied in the playground, there is nowhere to hide.

I’ve been to a number of professional development sessions on bullying, where teachers are given strategies on how to curb bullying at school.  In every single session, the teachers have at some point hijacked the discussion in a bid to find strategies that would assist them with issues they are having due to bullying on the part of parents and students.  We expect that these same teachers, who are at a loss to deal with their own bullying, will be able to successfully fortify a student suffering from the same problem.

When you consider these factors, children do a pretty good job of maintaining their cool and carrying on.

The definition of resilience seems to contrast significantly with what the resilience programs seek to achieve.  Resilience is defined as “recovering readily from adversity.” A recovery involves being able to completely let go of hurt and disappointment and carry on unabated.  Resilience programs instead of aiming for a recovery, focus on changing the child’s response.  They encourage students to deal with problems with greater maturity and perspective and avoid turning it into a scene or prolonged incident.

What is wrong with that?

Absolutely nothing.  As I mentioned before, the program has value.  In fact the concept of resilience is set up to be a major win/win for both student and teacher. The student learns to calm their response and the teacher faces fewer incidents that require intervention.  Instead of making a big deal about a problematic event, the student learns to internalise the pain and carry on.

The problem with that, is that on the surface of things it seems like there is no problem to solve, when in reality the problem is very real and very present.  It is just hiding where the teacher can’t notice it.

When a child confronts a teacher and accuses a fellow student of calling her fat, the typical responses include reassuring the child that she isn’t, claiming that the child doesn’t really mean it, recommending that she play away from the perpetrator or confront the other child with a reprimand.  Only the last measure comes close to properly dealing with the problem.  The others are unworkable because they expect a child to be able to accept such a put down without being too badly hurt by it.

But that is virtually impossible.  Sure the child can internalise the pain, but it asking too much of any individual to completely recover from such a remark.  Human nature dictates that people have a longing to connect with others, be a part of groups and avoid confrontation.  That means that we care what people think and say.  So any comment like that hurts.

It hurts adults too.  When I was a student teacher I witnessed a teacher remark to another teacher who was wearing a new red outfit, that “red didn’t suit her.”  The teacher in red got full marks for resilience (ie. she didn’t make a scene), but the internal pain caused was very evident.

Whilst resilience is important, instead of dealing with the problem it often disguises it.  It tries to fortify the student by helping them absorb the pain.  This pain often lingers and surfaces at another time.  Reading about child suicide, there have been plenty of resilient kids who were able to absorb shocking bouts of bullying for staggering periods of time, before it just became too much.

I wrote a post a few days ago which contained the following quote from Parenting Victoria’s Elaine Crowle:

“The best way to prevent bullying is for parents and schools to work together to build resilience within your child.”

No Elaine.  The best way to tackle bullying is to confront, punish, educate and reform the bully. Whilst resilience has its place, it is human nature to be effected and deeply hurt by bullying no matter how good the resilience training is.  The best way to deal with bullying is to make sure it stops immediately, before the damage is even more severe.

In summary, resilience training has its place.  There are very emotionally fragile students who require strategies to toughen up a bit.  There is no doubt about it.  But the side-effect of resilience is worth noting.  It often leads to burying the problem beneath the surface where it can do untold damage.  Teachers need to be aware that just as insulting comments and bullying behaviour hurt them and are not easy to recover from, their students exposed to the same types of behaviours are bound to struggle too.

Resilience should never be the centrepiece for an anti bullying program.  The only way to effectively curb bullying is to deal with the bully.


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16 Responses to “Teacher Myth #3”

  1. Gene Tunny Says:

    Great post Michael. We can hardly expect kids to be stoic if they’re worried about the bid kid who wants to punch them out during the lunch break. Keep up the good work on bullying.

  2. Margaret Reyes Dempsey Says:

    Great blog! There’s a lot to think about here. I’ve changed my mind about this topic a dozen times and probably will continue to do so.

    These things are handled much differently than when I was a kid. (I’m 45.) Back then, it was “kids will be kids” and you learned to fend for yourself. I had a mouth on me, was quick with the comebacks and always able to talk myself out of situations that today would be considered bullying. I think that served me well in life.

    I worry that so many things are considered bullying that require adult intervention that we’re paralyzing our children and not helping them to think on their feet. There’s a cold, cruel world out there. Who will they run to once they’re out of school?

    With that said, there are definitely times when intervention is required–for serious incidents and times when a child is singled out and constantly bullied day in and day out.

    I’m sure there’s another person my age out there who wasn’t as successful in fending off the bullies and wishes they had had an adult come to their rescue. Perhaps the answer is for adults to be aware of what’s happening in their midst and children’s individual responses to it and intervene as requested or required.

    There’s also the case of children who have issues that affect their social development/interactions. Their perception of what is a slight may be highly sensitive. If another child looks at them, they perceive it as staring. I think we shouldn’t forget that kids are unique and there can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution.

    A policy on bullying that is spelled out, addressed with the kids, and hung prominently in the school lets everyone know what won’t be tolerated. But it’s only the beginning.

    Jeez, so much to think about and I haven’t even had my coffee yet. Thanks for getting my brain jump-started this morning.

  3. kadja2 Says:

    I agree fully that resilience should NOT be the centerpiece of any bullying reform program. I am no brand new teacher–and have excellent PDAS and recommendations to prove it. I’ve been around bullies and such all of my life, as you are aware from my own blogs. When I came in to teach, I saw an erosion of the environment–not an upgrade. One can rest assured with all of the cuts being made to education in my state, these ridiculous programs will continue–as well as administrators in counties as small as Bell Co., CA who draw 6 figure salaries at the expense of the children. By the same token, they will lay off teachers and replace them with aides so they don’t have to pay them as much. That is Rick Perry’s plan for TX–to cut 13.4 billion next year. Teachers will lose jobs here. Ironically, no matter what party our politicians are in, they all do the same–sacrifice the Indians so the Chiefs can have the pie. Hence since there are going to be less teachers, that means there will be more trouble because the aides CANNOT intervene in any way. Also law requires they be certified and have, so I want to see how TX gets around that one.

    These kids are drowning. The bullies are not disciplined–except to have “lunch detention” IN the cafeteria where their bad behavior is looked at by their “home boys” as a badge of honor. Sometimes (if they are not athletes) They MIGHT get AEP. More often they will get the former. AEP and lunch detention are not punishments–not in this district. I think they should go back to the good old “expel them for serious misconduct” policy and if they fail the grade and get held back, so be it.

    The problem is with these so called experts they hire and (pay six figure salaries to) is that they create and conduct workshops on subjects that they don’t have a clue as to the reality thereof. They sit in a classroom for years and get a higher degree and use it to sell a lie. They want to save the world at the price of the taxpayers’ money and the minds and hearts of our children who cannot learn because if they are bullies, the discipline does not work–and if they are the bullied, they give up and drop out, turn to drugs and alcohol and/or commit suicide. It’s ridiculous. IT does not say a lot for our educational system when Russian exchange students tell reporters that they are not impressed with our schools because they come here to learn and not socialize. Teachers have been robbed of an ability to teach in this country as a result of this hogwash being shoved down our throats by the academic elite. It is time to get back to educating instead of trying to “shape the minds of these children”. By educating them properly they can be shaped on their own. Putting REAL discipline in would help. It is time to quit perpetuating this self-esteem fraud.

    I know it sounds harsh, but something has got to change and I had a very rough day dealing with a jackwagon–for lack of a better word.

  4. kadja2 Says:

    Sorry, I was so steemed I didn’t see that part of a sentence got cut off. Teachers in TX have to be certified AND have a Bachelor’s Degree from an ACREDITED university.

  5. thinkpinkdenver Says:

    As a child victim on the playground, I can assure you that the “traditional means” of dealing with the issue never worked…and worst of all, young children are far more effected by the criticizers words than many adults realize.
    I congratulate you for having the insight to voice your opinion and speak up for the children that suffer in silence at their perpetrators hands.

  6. mamadandelion Says:

    It’s nice to hear a teacher say that what’s being done now isn’t working. I also agree the foundation of an anti-bullying campaign should not be teaching resilience – ‘teaching’ (I use the word loosely) resilience should happen at home, when children are small, it should continue as they grow older.

    I firmly believe that having a program that focuses on changing the child’s response is way off base. That sends the message that the victim is the one at ‘fault’ if only they responded differently things wouldn’t happen to them. It takes the focus off the aggressor and places all the focus on the victim – and it’s not positive focus.

    A more appropriate response would be to have someone actually talk to the victim, hear their hurt, give them time to digest the attack, and give the victim a chance to find a solution on their own.

    Instead the bully, at best, gets a figurative slap on the wrist and the victim is told to change his ways. The likelihood of the incident happening again actually increases.

  7. Rubber Balls Come Bouncing Back… | Dandelion Roars Says:

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  8. hakea Says:

    Yay! I am so tired of seeing the problem of bullying not treated properly in school.

    There is no point telling students during child protection lessons “keep telling” when there is no underlying support structure to effectively deal with the problem, and the adults at school tell kids to stop being sooks.

    One strategy that I am impressed with is the Method of Shared Concern. The Olweus Bullying Prevention programme is also regarded as best practice because it is school-wide and has everyone in the school system, even bus drivers and cleaners, speaking the same language.

  9. janekatch Says:

    I think that resilience can be much more than stoicism. When my mother, who’s now ninety-two, lost most of her vision, she decided to leave the home she loved that was on a dirt road in the country and move into her grandchild’s garage apartment across the street from a grocery store. She didn’t mourn the loss–she loved her new life. I don’t think “resilience training” is the answer, either. It’s far too superficial. I think we need to show kids that we can trust them to learn from their own mistakes, come up with solutions to their own problems, and make their own decisions.

  10. kloppenmum Says:

    I think the problem is not in the concept of teaching resilience, but that how to do so is misunderstood. Building so called self-esteem does not build resilience: resilience comes from being self-assured, which is a whole other way of being. I do agree that bullying is dealt with poorly in many schools.

  11. psychology4society Says:

    It’s interestin how our fields overlap on this one! The definition in psych is Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.-psych central

  12. Resilience – Hands, Hearts, and Minds Says:

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