Monthly Archives: October 2015

Storm clouds on the classroom horizon

stormcloudsExhausted after a crazy deadline, I walked into my house to find my husband watching the news. Instead of the normal, “Hey Babe,” he said, “I guess you heard the news today.”

The dread that hit was hard and fast. I hadn’t seen the news. I turned off my news notifications a year ago after yet another school shooting. I was sure he was going to tell me there’d been anther Sandy Hook.

I was wrong. Instead he told me a story about a girl with a phone in a classroom that ended up with her being tossed across a classroom floor for non-compliance.

By now everyone knows about that incident. If you don’t, feel free to click the link.

When I first heard the story, I’m going to be honest, my immediate response was what the heck? What child thinks it’s okay to ignore and defy the teacher, ignore and defy the principal and then ignore and defy a police officer? And I put the face of some of my defiant students over the years on that kid’s face and thought, man, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I could see a kid get put in their place for that kind of behavior.

But then I saw the video.

And then I had a few hours to let that video sink in.

And then I felt real shame for my initial response.

The next morning I heard a great interview on NPR. The sheriff of the town explained that he didn’t believe his officer should have been placed in the situation, but once he was, he should have known better than to lay hands on a non-violent offender. End of story.

I’ve watched the ensuing media coverage of the incident with interest.

I don’t know what was going on in that classroom. I don’t know that school’s disciplinary process.

More than anything I know when you walk into a classroom as a student, you are entering a social contract with the teacher. School is a social contract. Students are choosing to follow the rules, to obey, to take part in their classes.

If they choose not to enter the contract, frustration follows and that frustration can lead to confrontation. And if a confrontation gets ugly enough, we lose the kid. It’s over. They’re done.

I try to act before I lose the kid.

Some kids are lost before they walk in our classrooms. We have to try to change that. Sometimes we’re successful, sometimes we fail.

I don’t have a clue where that kid on the video falls on the spectrum of discipline issues. Does she have some disorder where the mere suggestion of reprimand sets her off? Was she used to doing whatever she wanted no matter what? Is there a known set of consequences to the students for non-compliant behavior?

Her peers were videoing the incident, obviously with phones. Were other children allowed to have phones while she wasn’t? The list goes on and on and on.

Phones are a problem at school. Even with a lenient phone policy at school, phones are a problem.

Kids want to be on them when they’re done working. Many don’t know how to fill time without their phones. But shoot, how often do you see adults on their phones in church, on dates, at the movies? I’ve seen adults take phone calls in the middle of meetings and TALK while a speaker was presenting. Phones are a problem period.

But phones aren’t the biggest problem in this incident.

I asked my beginning students how many of them have been in a class where a kid decided they weren’t going to comply with the unspoken agreement between the teacher and her class. 100% of them raised their hands.

This is nothing new. Kids have been bucking the system since schools began. But the numbers showing blatant disrespect and defiance are definitely on the rise.

I don’t know what the answer is, really. If I did, I would be a millionaire.

I know the problem is larger than the talking heads are reporting. Defiant and disrespectful students are part of our everyday lives now. We can’t be calling police on them and seeing them tossed across a classroom. We need policies in place that put consequences into play immediately, but those consequences need to be disciplinary SCHOOL consequences.

We can’t be okay with disrespect or defiance from our students, but we can’t be okay with violent responses to non-violent behavior. We just can’t.

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