Bio Blog Books Classroom Appearances Contact R.C. Lewis


Empty Chairs at Empty Tables … or Desks

empty chair

There are a lot of things we can say about suicide. We can say that an attempt is a cry for help. We can discuss warning signs. For those who are struggling and contemplating, we can tell them not to give up. We can point them to hotlines and support resources.

As a teacher, I’ve had training on these things and dealt with them on various levels.

Today I’m thinking about realities I haven’t thought about before. How do you handle losing a student this way?

How do you help teachers and students who have to face an empty desk that signifies so much more than an absent classmate?

How do you comfort colleagues who think they should have seen something, done something differently, been more observant?

And perhaps the toughest one of all—how do you help students who realize they should’ve treated their classmate better?

If a student bullied another, we don’t want to say, “No, you didn’t do anything wrong.” Perhaps they need to feel that responsibility, let it serve as a drive to change. On the other hand, we don’t want to break another student when we’ve already lost one.

So what do you say to a student who’s upset because he remembers making fun of the kid who’s gone?

I really don’t know.

Some of the most eye-opening conversations have been with the in-betweeners. Kids who say, “I didn’t really know him. I saw him around. Some people were mean to him. That wasn’t cool, so I never made fun of him … but y’know … I never really tried to make anyone else stop. I should’ve.”

That goes to show there is no in-between. With bullying, if we’re not part of the solution, we’re part of the problem.

We need more solutions moving forward.

Speak up:

1 comment



When Words Are Worse Than Sticks & Stones

Words will never hurt me, huh?

Sometimes that can be true. If someone calls me a geek, I’ll just agree with them. If someone tells me something I know is untrue, big deal. It’s all well and good to say we should know who we are and be confident enough that name-calling doesn’t hurt us. But words hold a particular danger. They have a tendency to become more than just words.

I’ve talked about it before, how words have power and saying you’re teasing doesn’t make it okay. It’s continued to be an issue in varying ways in my classroom.

On a regular basis, a student will tell me something like, “Guess what—Girl X (sitting right there) made out with Boy Y last weekend.” First, I don’t care. Second, I’m pretty sure it isn’t true. And what does the girl do? Smack his arm playfully, act shocked, and say, “I did not! Stop it!” … with a smile.

In other words, encourage him to keep saying such things.

After years of getting the attention he wants from “joking” about girls being “easy,” what else is he going to think he can get away with?

I say when a guy (or anyone) is a jerk, call him out on it. Shut him down. Don’t give him what he wants.

On a related note, a student has spent most of this year calling himself and his friends a particular made-up word. “Miss Lewis, I can’t do this—I’m a _____. _____’s don’t do math.”

(Mostly this has had “Stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen” running in my head all year.)

But then some of the friends let it slip that this name for themselves was a portmanteau of two words, one of which is ‘pimp.’

I am not okay with this. I know the word has come to have certain pop-culture meanings (i.e., pimp my ride), but as a noun, in the context of a group of boys calling themselves this, I’m not okay with it.

So I’m calling them out on it. I’m asking them if they know what a pimp actually is. (We’re in a sheltered enough community that some kids actually don’t know.) Then I’m asking if they know how a real pimp views women. Once that’s clear, I ask if they understand now why I don’t want to hear anything more about that made-up word in my classroom.

So far, they’ve understood, but I haven’t really seen the main instigators yet. (Just started having these little talks on Friday.) We’ll see if I actually have any success keeping the word out of my classroom. And better yet, convincing these kids that it’s not such a great thing, whether in my classroom or not.

I suspect the originator will argue with me and say my least favorite sentence: “It’s okay, Miss Lewis.”

I truly worry about someone who so constantly tries to insist something’s okay when I tell him to his face that it’s not.

I’ll keep trying.

Speak up:


"Teasing Your Friend" Doesn’t Make It Funny or Okay

Warning: A rant is about to ensue.

It’s nothing new. I imagine people have been tossing “joking” insults at their friends since the dawn of time, and especially boys. You’ve probably heard the type:

“Joe, you’re such a girl.” (Having two X chromosomes is an insult?)

“Hey, Larry likes guys.” (Besides it being untrue, what’s your point?)

“You’re so gay, Jeff.” (“Gay” as a vague catch-all synonym for stupid, clumsy, goofy, or whatever would actually fit the situation? … Must not kill the children with my laser-eyes.)

That’s when it’s tame, and I’ll let your imagination fill in when it’s not. I’m sure there’s some psychological/sociological explanation about male posturing, establishing dominance, or some other testosterone-fuelled phenomenon.

It drives me nuts.

What can I do about it? Probably not much. I try to take the extra moment for a stern “None of that in my classroom,” but it’s always met by the same thing:

“I’m just playing. Joe and I are buds. He knows I’m kidding.”

The kidding aspect of it doesn’t make it okay. I try to get that across (and get the class back on track with math, please-oh-please). It’s very trying-to-empty-the-ocean-with-an-eyedropper. When I briefly mentioned it on Twitter the other day, I added the hashtag #CallMeSisyphus.

Super frustrating. I’m not stopping anytime soon, though.

Here’s one reason why, aside from the fact that such “insults” are offensive, annoying, and unintelligent.

I know a guy, former student, now an adult, who’s come out. I imagine him sitting in my classroom years ago. I imagine those stupid comments getting tossed around every single day. Back then, I was a new teacher who barely knew how to keep thirty teenagers from killing each other for forty-five minutes, much less having her ears tuned in to the random banter. So, I really don’t know if it’s gotten worse, or if I was just too stressed about not knowing what the heck I was doing to notice.

But even assuming such comments weren’t lobbed at him directly (best-case scenario), I imagine how hearing it over and over made him feel.

Possibly he would have felt a little like I do when I hear that first type of insult: “You’re such a girl,” etc. Kind of like I feel when someone tells a guy they throw like a girl, and I want to respond with, “Yeah? Let me show you how to kick like a girl.”

The feeling is that even if it’s in so-called teasing, it holds an inherent assumption that being female or being gay or whatever is automatically inferior. Not worthy of respect.

Never mind that we’re human beings. All of us.

And I know I’ve said it before, but I don’t like this “looking-down” attitude on any front. Not Republicans talking trash about Democrats. Not atheists saying the religiously inclined are idiots.

You don’t have to agree with someone to show them respect. And it’s really not that hard.

Now, if only I could convince a few fourteen-to-fifteen-year-olds of that.

Any ideas?

Speak up:


Mockery—The Permissible Form of Bullying?

Working against bullying is a big deal in schools, as well it should be. I’ve seen workshops, policies, text hotlines, and more. Some efforts seem more effective than others, and for some, I really have no idea whether they work or not. When teens already know they shouldn’t do something, does telling them it’s wrong again really stop them if they’re so inclined?

Not sure. The main things I feel I can do are make it clear that I won’t tolerate bullying in my classroom, and more importantly, set a good example.

Sometimes I wonder what kind of example we set amongst ourselves, though. Especially in this age of social media.

As I browse through my Twitter lists, it’s mostly fun, games, and good information. There are also opinions, which are great. What’s not so great is when opinions are of a type akin to “Anyone who thinks this way/votes this way/belongs to this party or organization is an idiot AND a lesser human being.”

I’m nowhere near perfect, but whenever I disagree with someone, I do try to come at it from an angle that isn’t judging them as a person. It takes a lot of effort—sometimes a crap-ton of effort, sometimes more effort than I can manage—but often I can get myself to the following head-space:

Their view on this is the total opposite of mine. We couldn’t disagree more on this. But I see where they’re coming from, and coming from there, what they think is reasonable for them. I still believe what I think is reasonable for me. We see it differently, and that’s okay.

I have friends all along various spectrums—political, religious, whatever—so this mindset is very important to me. They’re fabulous people—even the ones who hate math!

If a student vocally, stridently denigrated (for instance) people who buy into creationism, or gay people, or people who own guns, or people who have a live-in boyfriend … if they did that in the middle of class, knowing there’s every likelihood that someone in the room falls into that category, would we let it go?

Why, then, is it okay to watch a political party convention (either one) and go to town with mocking tweets, declaring the utter stupidity of everyone associated with that party?

Because we’re adults and should be able to take it? Isn’t that the old response to bullying? “You need to toughen up and just take it.” Because we’re free to fight back? That always goes well.

My opinion (and yes, just my opinion, so you can disagree): The way forward is in understanding. Not necessarily agreement. Definitely not homogeneity. But understanding where other views come from, and trying to find common ground.

Mockery closes doors and raises walls. My hope is that we all (myself included) will remember to think before we tweet (or post, or whatever). Who will be on the receiving end? Might I be actively insulting them by saying this?

Are my words hiding hate behind a veil of snark?

And what kind of example am I setting for future generations?

Speak up: