The setting in which I observed was a toddler classroom. The room was approximately 15 x 20 feet, not including a bathroom with a half door attached to the room. The entrance to the classroom was down a small hallway that was not visible from the viewing window. There were widows to the outside on two of the classroom walls, and a door on one of these same walls led outside into a designated play area. The classroom was set up with three child sized tables and chairs on the left side of the room, close to an area with a sink, a microwave, and food storage.
Behind this area, against the far wall, was what appeared to be a small wooden stage. On the right side of the room, there appeared to be a small art area, a reading area, a dramatic play area, and a small area containing a rug and a couch, which could be used as a morning meeting space.
Materials were displayed at levels that were easily accessible by the children in the classroom.
At the beginning of my observation, there were nine students (five boys, four girls) and two teachers in the classroom. Eight of the students were seated at the table eating cereal and listening to one of the teachers read a story. One of the students, an African American male, was by himself in the area containing the rug and the couch. The boy began yelling out about the book, facing in the direction of the teachers.
The teacher reading the book had her back turned to the boy, and the other teacher was sitting with the rest of the class, helping to facilitate breakfast. Neither teacher gave any attention to the child. One child sitting down at the table called for the boy. Teacher responds “No thanks, please listen to the story.” The boy then moved to the couch and lay upside down, hanging off the edge of the couch. The teacher finished the book and told the students sitting down: “I’ll read one more, sit down.” While the teacher is picking a book, the boy is throwing books in various places in the classroom. No one communicates with the boy, appears to be paying attention, or is even physically near him.
The teacher then returns to where she was sitting, facing the rest of the class who are also sitting down. The boy comes over to the teacher and stands in front of the book, touching the book’s pages. The teacher says “You need to sit down”. The boy walks behind the teacher and knocks a basket of shells and flowers onto the ground. The teacher reading stops and says “Pick it up, now. You are going into the nap room and you are not swimming today.” She continues reading the story, and the boy does not pick up the materials on the ground. Instead, he goes back to the couch and lays on it for about five seconds. He briefly walks to the bookshelf where the materials spilled, and then walks back to the couch, taking the pillow off the couch and laying with it on the floor. About twenty seconds later, he moves over to a small magnetic board near the couch and sits in front of it. The board has magnetic letters and magnetic pictures of animals on it.
The boy takes each letter off the board, one at a time, and throws them on the ground. He then rearranges the pictures of the animals on the magnetic board and works quietly for about two minutes. Interpretation At the very beginning of my observation, I was immediately drawn to the boy who was completely isolated from the rest of the class. Why was he over in another area by himself, with absolutely no adults paying any attention to him? Why was the teacher’s back to the boy? It seemed obvious that the boy was isolated for much more than that he just didn’t want to eat breakfast; he was completely excluded from all classroom activities by the teacher. It seemed to me that the boy was exhibiting inappropriate behaviors because he was being excluded by the very person that should be working to include him in classroom activities – the teacher.
In addition, when the boy would try to be involved with the group by showing interest in the story being read, the teacher would essentially reprimand him for not sitting down, which would in turn spark another bout of inappropriate behaviors, such as throwing objects across the room. I don’t think that the teachers were taking an appropriate course of action by ignoring his behaviors; he seemed to need a little more guidance and feedback about what was acceptable in the classroom, as well as some positive attention. However, maybe the teachers did know that the boy was only acting inappropriately in order to gain teacher attention, and they were using planned ignoring to show the child that they would not respond to his behaviors. The teacher also threatened the boy with taking away swim time and telling him that he needed to go into the nap room, but she never followed through with her words. The teacher was obviously very frustrated to get to the point of threatening in the first place, as this technique tends to be ineffective and could be harmful to the teacher-student relationship. However, by not following through on what she said, the teacher was sending a very mixed message to the child – one that essentially told him he didn’t really have to listen to her words.
All of these interactions together could lead to a very negative cycle for the child – he acts out, receives negative attention, he acts out more, etc. Reflection I was surprised to see the events of my observation transpiring, especially in the CDC. However, I understand that the teachers with the children when we observed were TA’s, with varying levels of experience, skills, and even interest in inclusive education. Having also worked in a toddler classroom in the past, I understand that adults can get easily frustrated with children this age, and I agree that they are easily misunderstood by adults! However, I think that because there were two teachers in the classroom and only nine children, one of the teachers should have taken some time to sit with the boy that was by himself to see what was wrong, what was going on, or how he was feeling. In addition, the teacher reading the book to the class could have easily worked to include him in the story, even by simply changing the position in which she was sitting or asking him to join the class when he approached her. Teachers should never be completely ignoring one of the children in the classroom! (Even during ‘planned ignoring’, teachers should still be aware of the space the child is in!)
Additionally, my observation brought up many more questions. If this exclusion happened in the classroom for this child during our very short observation, does it happen often? Does it happen many times throughout the day? Does it happen to other children? Are the impacts the same (i.e. are other children excluded and showing acting out behaviors)? Is the child ever given guidance about what he could do appropriately (rather than only telling the child when he is doing something wrong)? It seems to me that, as a teacher, I would want to figure out the ‘why’ behind the inappropriate behaviors, and the ways that we could prevent these behaviors, while still making sure the child is an included, valued part of the class. I know that this can sometimes be difficult, but that is one of the very important jobs of a teacher! If the teachers set an exclusionary tone for the classroom, the children will innately learn to do the same.