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Adult education class leads to childish behavior

By Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Amy: I teach an adult education class in a very culturally, racially and ethnically diverse community.

One of my (foreign-born) students has recently brought to my attention some very negative and hurtful comments she has received from another of my students.

She says this other student has said to her, "Why are you here?" "Aren't you lucky we are so accepting of you?" and other comments like this.

What can I do? Should I speak to the perpetrator privately? Should I address the whole class?

What can I say or do? What can she say?

-- Horrified

Dear Horrified: You should speak to the person your student alleges said these things to her. These are questions/statements that might seem benign -- or aggressive -- depending on the tone of voice and body language, as well as the native language and interpretation of both parties.

Ask this student why they felt the need to single out a fellow student. Listen to whatever explanation they have, and then emphasize how important it is that every student respects one another. Tell the perpetrator that the other student felt embarrassed and offended, and that she is owed an apology. Tell the student that in your class, you expect everyone to speak to one another respectfully.

It is best for you to handle this privately. If the greater lesson is about shaming, then you should not publicly call out the perpetrator. This is a teachable moment.

I'd also suggest that you introduce your class to immigrant narratives (if you haven't already); and have them write and share their own personal narrative stories. The more they know each other, and know about each other, the more connected they will feel. Empathy, respect and understanding should grow from there.

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