I have wrestled with this post for a week, probably much longer if I am being really honest.
Every year students around the province are asked to complete a survey that intends to inform us about how students, parents, teachers and the community feel about the progress of the school. There are questions that address teaching, safety, class options but what always catches my eye when I see the report, and it is the similar in many schools, is the column on feeling like they are a part of the school community.
In my own attempts to figure this out I talk to my students. Some feel that our school only cares about the students that play sports, some feel that they are not seen because they are a different religion than the majority of the kids, others because they are IBPOC students is a very white school in a very white community in a very white corner of the province.
My first year teaching I was reading a short story about a boy who loves basketball. About half my class were basketball players, I thought it was a hit. Reading through reflections I stumbled in my confidence around story choice. A student wrote not about the story but about their hatred for our schools athletes. In their view they are the only ones who get any attention. The writer shared how they don’t care about athletics at all. Shared that they felt it didn’t matter what their group of friends accomplished in arts, drama, music because we only care about sports. True or not this was the impression that this student was left with. I talked to them after reading it, “I don’t think there is anything else to say, things won’t change.”
That was 2 years ago almost to the week I imagine. The impression of our students has not changed. It is not unique to my school. This I know for a certainty even if the kids that feel this way don’t feel safe or SEEN enough to share it. Yesterday we had day 2 of our big basketball tournament. A lot of planning has gone in to it and to the credit of the organizers a lot of care has gone in to avoid taking time away from the classroom. Yesterday our girls team, who has shared concerns themselves around the support they receive versus the boys team, was playing during the last 2 classes of the day. We were asked to “hype it up”, if we chose to we could bring our students, show them a cheer video that was fun and bring them to cheer on the girls.
Within a minute of finishing the preamble about the game and how it will be so fun to support them I had a handful of students roll their eyes and ask if they could just skip it. I went in to the history of or team spirit and fan support. How it had dwindled over the years and that I remembered the old days where the gym was full of students, cheering and having fun. One student asked why they have to support a team that doesn’t support them. It was like a flash back but this time there was multiple students. All sharing the same feelings, openly. The band students, the colour guard, the actors. So many asking why the school gives up time for basketball games and volleyball pep rallies but not for a band concert. Asking why we are missing class time again, why we can’t just move on without the athletes when they leave class early and they can catch up (some days they miss 3/4 of a class to travel.) In one of these conversations a Basketball player just shouted out, “Why would we go to their things it is BORING!” And in that moment the kids who felt unseen just stepped back into the shadows a bit more.
I don’t think we have, or other schools have a School Spirit problem. We have a School Culture problem and slowly but surely it is eating us alive. Students no longer want to support one another, teachers are feeling stretched and that they must support the sports teams and miss class or be viewed as the unfair teacher or even harder teaching a classroom with only a fraction of the students present because those who want to go just get excused from class.
Adding more questions to my list than I have answers for I look at school culture. How do we help all of our students see each other? Their unique gifts to be celebrated by the school as a community?
Wouldn’t that be remarkable? A school as an actual community where all our students feel seen?
This problem is much larger than any one school, there are unseen students everywhere. I don’t know the answers.
Just so many more questions.