Class Meetings and Their Power to
Change a Life
by Nivin Papa
Many of us can remember having a bad day in school where we were teased or treated like an outcast. Unfortunately for Christian, my seventh-grade student, that was his situation all day everyday. Christian struggled with academics and was barely able to read and write. The other students were well aware of his situation and gave him a very hard time to the point where he walked around looking miserable.
After taking notice of how the students made fun of him and refused to allow him in their groups, I realized I needed to do a little more than just telling the students to behave nicely. After discussing the matter with someone, I decided to go ahead and hold a class meeting. I have to admit I was a bit nervous and skeptical at first. I did a lot of reading on class meetings and their positive results, but when it came down to putting it into practice, I was a little reluctant. I was afraid students would miss the message or get too chaotic and not take it seriously, but I was mistaken.
I did not want to cause Christian any feelings of awkwardness, so I came up with an excuse to send him out of the room during the class meeting. I began by saying that we were now holding a meeting to discuss a very important matter. The topic was treating people with the same respect that we would like. I mentioned how I had noticed that one particular student was being mistreated. The students immediately knew whom I was referring to and began commenting. They started out on the defensive and by stating how cruel Christian treats them, and whenever they try to help him, he refused their help.
At that point, I decided to take the back seat approach and instead of leading the conversation, I merely facilitated it. I asked the students why they think he reacts toward them the way he does, and one student responded by saying, “Because he’s tired of the way everyone has been treating him.” Another student jumped in and added that maybe Christian would be nicer to them if they were a little nicer to him. I explained to the students how we all have our strengths and weaknesses, and Christian’s weakness happens to be his academics. I then asked the students to stop and think of a time when they failed at something and people made fun of them for it. I then told them this is what Christian goes through every single day.
At this point, the students were more empathetic and decided they needed to be kinder to Christian. One girl volunteered to help Christian with his academics whenever he had difficulty. Another boy volunteered to include him at the games at lunchtime since no one played with him outside. I was taken aback by how the students took over the conversation and came up with great suggestions and solutions. I ended the meeting by telling the students I was going to be paying close attention to see who followed through with their word.
As I began to observe the students’ interaction with Christian, I was amazed to see the results. The students began treating him with more respect, and whenever Christian did something to annoy them, they just ignored him as opposed to making fun of him. When it was time for individual class work, I saw the students sitting near Christian lean over and explain the assignment or give him extra help. When it was time for group work, I heard the boys who mainly gave Christian a hard time ask him to join their group. Usually when students made an effort to help Christian, they glanced over to me to see if I was taking notice; I would then give them a wink or a smile to let them know I was pleased.
It was great for about two weeks until I saw some of the students going back to their old ways. I realized it was time to have a follow-up meeting to check in on what was happening. It so happened that Christian was out that day. Three boys complained that Christian was constantly annoying them by saying dumb things. I realized these three boys were going to be tougher to convince. I told them if they ignore him when he did something they did not like, he would eventually get the message and stop. The rest of the class told me Christian had been nicer to them, and they believed it was because they have been nicer to him. I ended the meeting by playing a song titled “I Want to Walk a Mile in Your Shoes.”1
Even though I had not received full cooperation from every student, I was grateful for the cooperation of the remaining 90%. Not only was it a delight to see a positive change in the students, but I also saw a tremendous change in Christian. He was no longer dejected and even began to participate in class.
Not only was this a learning experience for the class, but it was one for me as well. At first, I experienced feelings of helplessness with the situation. I figured there was not much for me to do other than tell the students to be nice, but more importantly, I was afraid of taking a risk. I have come to learn that teaching is all about taking risks, and some risks can change a student’s life.
1 Walk a Mile CD, https://vitaminl.org/ “Character Education Through Music”