Teachers Get Conflict-Resolution Training

The Associated Press
Friday, July 21, 2006; 4:46 AM

NEW YORK -- Mercedes Muller wasn't quite sure how to deal with the lovestruck teen who obsessed about his girlfriend's fidelity. But she knew enough to listen.

"He would cry every day for three to four weeks _ he'd say 'She's messing around on me,'" said Muller, who taught 8th grade at the time. "I said, 'Love isn't supposed to hurt.'"

Learning how to deal with such situations was one reason Muller recently joined other New York City teachers in conflict-resolution training. The sessions teach them how to deal with classroom conflicts ranging from name-calling to complaints about other students' odors.

New York's public school system, the largest in the country, has had some form of conflict-resolution training for at least 15 years. Several thousand altercations break out every year in city schools, and the fights sometimes escalate to the point that they involve weapons.

The classes, which the city Department of Education offers year-round, are particularly popular during the summer. About 400 teachers and other school employees complete the 30-hour courses each year.

Earlier this week, Muller was one of about 30 educators who learned how to stay neutral when mediating a conflict, ways to reframe tense situations and the need to differentiate between facts and assumptions. Turns out the best approach often requires taking a deep breath and cutting out crude language.

For many participants, the sessions, while infused with common sense, were eye-opening. Some said they'd likely use the techniques in their personal lives as well as at work.

"One of the reasons why I'm enjoying this is that they're like little mini-psychotherapy sessions," said Rasaan Ogilvie, 26, who teaches 7th grade in the Bronx. "I found that I was competitive when it comes to conflict. I actually view conflict as win-lose."

The school system spends about $500,000 a year on the conflict-resolution sessions, and has one of the largest professional-development programs in the country.

The teachers who go through the program are expected to later train students in the same methods so that they can act as peer mediators in the schools.

School staffers said many of the conflicts they deal with involve boyfriend-girlfriend issues, such as two girls fighting over one guy or one student upset that the other forgot their one-week anniversary.

Sometimes the classroom conflicts can erupt from a stare in the hallway or an inadvertent shove. In some cases, the source of anger lies much deeper _ a troubled home life, for instance.

But many times, the problem just passes.

That young man who wept over his girlfriend? Muller said the girl moved away not too long afterward, the crying stopped and soon he was talking about a new love.


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