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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Follow me on Tattle

Since I don't Twitter, after all, I'm thinking there needs to be a network for teachers called Tattle.

I was speaking yesterday with some fellow teachers about the excess of tattling we experience every day, and one of them said that she uses a sort of "tattle box" with great success. The kids write out their complaints on a piece of paper and put it into a box which is then thrown out perused at the end of the week.

My own personal philosophy is to quote WC Fields and say, "Go away kid, you're bothering me!"

Last year, I wrote a Mr. Teacher column about this topic, where I asked several teachers what strategies they used to combat this epidemic that is tattling. This column, entitled, "I'm Telling!" originally ran on on July 28, 2009.


I used to have only two pet peeves in life -- people who drive in the dark with only their parking lights on, and people who quote entire scenes of Monty Python at a time. Since becoming a teacher, however, a new contender has risen to make those a distant second and third. Oh heinous pet peeve, thy name is tattling.

Anyone who has dealt with children (or professional basketball players) has had to deal with tattling. Some kids tattle to get other kids in trouble, some kids tattle just to get some attention, and some kids tattle because they truly feel a misappropriation of justice is happening.

Regardless of the reason though, most teachers find tattling incredibly annoying.

There is a significant difference between telling the teacher something and telling on someone. For instance, if Susie is hanging upside down from the monkey bars by her shoestrings and can't get down, then yes, that's something I need to know. However, I think I can do without hearing that Billy allegedly called Peter the "S -word" ["stupid"] at the apartments last night.

Many children seem unable or unwilling to make this differentiation. I had unofficially given one boy in my class last year the cabinet post of Tattle Tale General, as he would assault my ears as soon as he saw me each morning, laying out the general school population’s misdeeds with almost military precision.

"Sir, status report, Sir! Tommy kicked Lisa's book bag, Kelly was making faces at a second grader, and Donnell is jangling pennies in his pocket. In world news, Lindsay Lohan was busted on DUI charges again."

I once joked that if teachers didn't receive any base salary at all, but they were given $25 every time one of their students tattled on someone, we could all retire to the Bahamas by the end of the second year.

Since tattling is so prevalent, I asked several teaching colleagues how they handle it in their classrooms, and what, if any, strategies they employ to curb it.

Some of the no-nonsense teachers immediately replied that they tell their kids up front that they don't want to hear any complaining unless it involves one of the 3 B's - Barfing, Bleeding, or Broken - or the "Double D" - Dangerous or Destructive.

One teacher said that when a child approaches her, she tells him, "Save it for tattle-time." Of course, there is no tattle-time, but the younger kids never catch on to this.

Another interesting technique was the suggestion of a "tattle sandwich." Sounds like it would be quite tasty with a bit of mutton and some ripe tomato, but this teacher allows students to tell on classmates as long as they say something nice about the person before and after that tattle.

Many of the responses I received suggested having the kids write down the tattles instead of speaking them. When pressed to use perfect grammar, punctuation, and spelling to report an injustice, it seems many kids just aren't willing to put forth the effort. Some teachers require their students to write down their grievances during recess, which is a deterrent, and some require that the kids fill out complicated incident reports involving exact times, minute details, and a list of witnesses.

My favorite strategy of all the responses involves the use of a tattle patsy. A few teachers told me that they have a stuffed animal or a picture on the wall that they send the kids to when they absolutely have to tattle. This makes perfect sense because some kids just want to speak the words into the air, regardless of who is listening.

A couple of years ago, I witnessed one of my little girls, desperately in need to tattle, turn to some random woman who happen to be walking down the hall, and claim, "Miss, he hit me!"

To this woman's credit, she continued walking without making eye contact.

My thanks go out to all of the teachers who replied to my request for information. I know I learned some new tips that I will be employing this year, and if you are a parent or teacher reading this, hopefully you have as well.

I can already picture "Tattle Toby," the stuffed elephant in the corner. Yes, he's already rolling his eyes.


Anonymous said...

Maybe you should allow tattling but insist that students preface their tattle with these words:

"teacher, I, a tattler, feel the need to tattle. May I tattle now?"

Melissa B. said...

They even tattle at the high school level. Nothing worse than a tattle-tale; especially one who has a deep voice and shaves more than once a week! Don't forget Sx3 today...we have a big Fish Tale for ya. And I haven't forgotten review is up tomorrow!

Anonymous said...

I always say, is there blood, broken bones or barf...usually not and then I say "what do you want me to do to (whoever it is getting ratted on? Because what ever I do to him, I have to do it to you,too." That usually stops them dead in their tracks.

Christy said...

HILARIOUS. I give my high schoolers Look # 3 (the one that indicates they are unbelievably immature and they are trying my last nerve) and then tell them I DO NOT TEACH ELEMENTARY SCHOOL FOR A REASON. I DO NOT CARE. STOP TALKING TO ME. And then I pointedly check my email.

Mrs. T said...

3 Bs- Blood, Bathroom, Barf. Even at the HS level.q

Melissa B. said...

Mr. T: You're a star! At least on this morning's Scholastic Scribe, that is!

bev said...

Oh. Em. Gee.

I subbed t'other day in a 2nd grade classroom. The tattling in that room had escalated to the point of destructive behavior in and of itself!

One little girl would get this sly grin on her face while she tattled, as if she knew exactly what she was doing. We had Drop Everything And Read during which everyone - EVERYONE - was quietly reading, and she'd come up to me and tattle about what had happened that morning before school.

There were a couple of kids who had real anger issues that on any other day would be MORE disruptive than tattling, but it was the tattling that got top bad behavior billing for me. It was upside down, I tell ya.

Anonymous said...

But what is a kid to do when tattling has become something that teachers ignore or disuade, Schools have become abusive and bullying is everywhere? Those tattles may nto be important to you but this group of kids has grown up in a No tolerance atmosphere, they are not allowed nor have they been allowed to solve the problems themselves, so Telling which is taught in early grade now is ignored in the older grades.

Victoria Westcott said...

It's official. I love this blog.

When you start Tattle, I'm in.

And I love the tattle box idea. Brilliant. Thanks for making me laugh today.

Mister Teacher said...

Victoria, thank you! Glad to have you on board!

Anonymous, tattling is something that teachers most definitely dissuade! However, if someone tells a teacher about bullying, that is not tattling.