Some Telling Solutions For Tattlers

Even before she got to the teacher's lounge, Maria heard it from the hallway. Her friend, Evelyn was on a roll. "Go-tell-it-to-the-tea-cher." She sounded like Aretha singing in a Baptist Church, you know like "Go Tell it on a Mountain".

Once inside the lounge, Maria joined a group of colleagues who were complaining about playground duty. Evelyn had the group's attention. She was whining about the culture of tattling in the third grade and her voice had that squeaky childlike quality. "'Jose is chasing me.' 'Melinda is mimicking me.' 'Lisa won't play with me.' 'Teacher, teacher, Trent made a face at me.'" Evelyn took a cookie from the platter on the table and went on, "I'd like to scream at them, 'tattle tale, tattle tale'". She sighed deeply and lowered her voice. "Am I being reduced to the mentality of a third grader?"

Maria reached for the coffee carafe. "Evelyn, what do you expect? They've been told to get help from teachers. They're not allowed to hit back." She poured some coffee into her cup, looked around to see if she had their attention and asked a serious question. "What do you think would happen if we taught them how to take action on their own behalf?"

Evelyn put her hand over her mouth in mock outrage. "We'd lose our jobs if we told them to hit back. Are you out of your mind?"

"Like the rest of you, I'm burned out on the tattling." Maria noticed a few puzzled expressions among her colleagues. "I know, I know, we're responsible for making sure every child is safe. That's fine, but face it. We're supporting the tattle tale culture we hate, and we're promoting a system that polarizes bullies and victims into distinct categories too boot."

"What are you suggesting, Maria?"

Maria whispered, "We should teach them to retaliate."

"To retaliate! Do you mean to get revenge?"

"No. It's not about revenge! That would only escalate into more violence. We should teach them to retaliate, appropriately, in like kind and degree. The better word would be reciprocate."

"But teaching kids to hit each other…?"

"It's not just about hitting, hitting back. There are other ways to retaliate. Yesterday, on the playground, Grace, one of your third graders complained that Rufus was chasing her. I suggested that she stop running."

That got Ed's attention. Ed teaches fourth grade and he was eager to hear more. He put his cup down and asked, "So what happened? Did Grace stop running like you suggested, and what did Rufus do?"

"I think both of the kids were a little startled by my suggestion. Grace expected me to lecture Rufus, maybe even make him forfeit the rest of his recess. Rufus probably expected the same."

"So, come on, out with it. What did they do?"

Maria shrugged. "Rufus went off to shoot hoops with his male classmates and Grace had a puzzled look on her face before she skipped off in the direction of some girls who were playing hopscotch."

Evelyn sat straight in her chair, a startled look on her face. "What would you do if Grace's complaint had been that Rufus was mimicking her?"

"Oh, I don't know. Perhaps I would suggest that Grace pick her nose."

"Pick her nose? Oh how vulgar."

"Well, I guess that's the point. She'd be doing something that Rufus wouldn't want to imitate." Maria had to stifle a laugh. "Then I'd tell Grace to put her finger in her mouth."

"No. You wouldn't?" Evelyn laughed. "Would you?"

"Yeah, I guess I would. How do you think Rufus would respond to that?"

"He'd probably gag." Evelyn hesitated for a moment, "But I guess he'd stop copying her."

"Sure, and Grace would begin to get the message that she can take action on her own behalf." Maria paused for a moment. "Evelyn, you remember Dylan and Rosa? You had them in your class two years ago."

"You mean Rosa, the overindulged rich girl and Dylan the African American boy who acts like he's so tough?"

"Yes, They're the ones. Dylan stole a dollar of Rosa's lunch money. Normally Rosa would have come to me to tattle on him. Instead she took one of Dylan's prized baseball cards in retaliation. At first Dylan was miffed, but during a class discussion of the issue, he had to admit that Rosa had treated him fairly. The card was probably worth about a dollar. Later, Dylan bought the card back from Rosa for a dollar."

Ed spoke for the group. "Okay, Maria, you've got us hooked. How do you suggest we start?"

"You have to be careful. They understand the concept of being fair. But before you teach them to reciprocate nasty behaviors it's essential that they understand being fair in the context of reciprocating nice behaviors in like kind and degree."

    —M. LaCourt