Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tattle, Tattle, Tattle-Tellers

Frequently each day, I have students come up to me and tell me that someone cussed at them, some hit them, someone stole their mechanical pencil, or something to those effects. Some appear to be serious while others seem to be simply trying to get attention. Either way, in most situations, I did not see what happened.

This type of “tattling” is becoming more and more prevalent. It usually happens like this: “Lisa” gets in trouble by me for throwing a pencil eraser across the room. As I am reprimanding her, she tells me that “Mike” threw something at her too. Sometimes, it isn’t even spurred by a specific event. For example, “Tony” may come up to me as we are in the process of lining up for Specials and say, “Mark” hit me. These situations seem minor and more like he said, she said, but they have been causing a little frustration for me because I do not know what I should be taking seriously. How do I decide what is worth reacting to and what is better left ignored? What I fear is that I may choose to ignore something that is actually a valid concern and a student suffers because of it. Furthermore, if I choose not to ignore something, how should I respond/what should I say to that student? Do I even have the right to call them out if I didn’t even see them do anything? Overall, I have been casting most complaints to the side as “tattles” and honestly, I believe they are. I just wish I could refine my discretion as to what is serious and what is not.

I am certain that I will encounter more pressing issues in my career as a teacher. However, this is a situation that if left unresolved can really disrupt the classroom dynamic. I want my students to know that if there is a problem they can come to me and I will demand that they are treated with respect. On the other hand, my students need to understand that we do not have time to tattle. I also want to help them see that the more they come to me about insignificant things, I naturally grow less likely to believe them when there is truly something serious going on. I believe that part of my responsibility as a teacher is to help students learn to self-assess the situations in which they find themselves and determine if it is really worth bringing to my attention. Most times, students are capable of handling the situation without the intervention of a teacher. For example, if someone is bothering “Tony”, he can kindly ask that person to stop tapping their shoulder/stop humming, etc. I am aware that if I am having trouble knowing how and when to respond to these situations, my students almost certainly are too. I am committing myself to making sure that both I and my class have the tools needed to make the best decisions in these situations.


  1. Try turning it back on them as say something like, oh wow I bet that made you upset, what are you going to do about it? Or how are you going to solve that problem? Often they can come up with something. That way you keep the responsibility on them and you are not this "magic problem solver" because they will continue looking to you to fix things all the time. Even with first graders, I can ask them to solve their problem and they can usually do it. If they are just tattling to tattle, then most likely they will just forget about whatever the "problem" was if you ask them to take care of it.


  2. When I taught first grade and had a 'tattle' problem, I did 2 things. First, I would tell the students that I couldn't help them at the moment - since I was busy teaching - and to come talk to me during recess. It's amazing how kids forget 'problems' when given the choice to play. If they never came to talk to me, I fugred, it wasn't that serious. If they did, I had 15 minutes to chat with them and the others involved and to help them solve their problems. Second, we had a class talk. I gave examples and made students realize that honestly, other than having someone apologize, there wasn't much I could do, since giving out consequences is not something I do often - even with the worst groups of kids. During our talks, I gave an example. Suppose "David" throws an eraser across the room. It didn't hit anyone. So what? Sure, David did a "bad" thing, and yes, I'm upset with "David" and probably wont pick him to be the line leader or helper for a few days, but what can I do about it? Is it really that important? Or, maybe "David" pushed you in line. Are you hurt? Bleeding? Need me to call 911? (I have a sense of humor and used it with my kids)No. So rather than waste my valuable time I would say, "David", "Erin" thinks you puched her. Could you please apologize so she will feel better? And if "David" said he didn't do it, I would say, well I didn't see it, but saying I'm sorry to someone never hurts, so could you just apologize anyways; and if you did do it, please dont do it again. It's not kind to push others.

    This way, problme solved, not a big time waster. Usually with kids, if it's serious, they'll be sure you know!

  3. I have to second everything Katie said. It works SO much better than you would ever imagine.
    Also, sometimes you can "help" them solve it just by providing some ideas of what they could do (because if they solve it, it could be not in an appropriate way). So in a way you are teaching them appropriate conflict resolution.

  4. This website I really like has a bunch of suggestions on how to deal with tattling. I particularly like the idea of creating a complaint box and telling children that if they have a problem they should write it down and put it in the box and you will address when you are done teaching.
    There are several other helpful suggestions though:

  5. I would love to see a "Tattle Box" in action, because I've heard good things with young students.

    I have a few students who constantly complain about something else happening. We're really working on learning to apologize if you hurt someone, even if it was an accident (which it usually is or at least "is"). I also work with one girl on talking to the people who she's working with. If they do something she doesn't like, her first response is to come to me. I'm really working on getting her to ask her teammates nicely to stop, or to explain her point of view to them, so that she can solve the problems instead of coming to me. It's pretty painstaking with this one, though.