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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A local teacher's perspective on discipline.

By Greg Sampson

In my first post about discipline, I wrote of the steps Nikolai Vitti has taken to improve discipline in the schools. In my second post, I offered my perspective on how poverty affects our students and their behavior presenting a unique challenge that many do not understand. In this third post, I would like to look at the issue from the teacher’s side.

1.       Teachers get frustrated when they have given many warnings, adjusted seat assignments many times, have sent the student to time-out, and made several phone calls to the parent, yet the referral comes back to them with suggestions that they haven’t done enough and the administrator will not accept the referral.
2.       Teachers get frustrated when they have tried many of these interventions and have sent the student to the office with a referral, and the student comes back 15 minutes later because the consequence was a conference and a promise to be better.
3.       Teachers get frustrated when these students arrive back at the room laughing about it and pass the written referral around to their friends to brag about how they got away with their misbehavior.
4.       Teachers get frustrated when students insult them loudly and directly or cuss them out, and the consequence is not so much as after-school detention.
5.       Teachers get frustrated when consequences are inconsistent or different for the same infraction depending upon who the student is.
6.       Teachers get frustrated when administrators try to be school psychologists and counsel students rather than enforcing consequences.
7.       Teachers get frustrated when Class 1 referrals are not entered into the system to keep the numbers down. Another “keep the numbers down” technique is to call the parent and have them keep their child home for several days to avoid having an infraction placed upon their record.
8.       Teachers get frustrated when administrators threaten them with unsatisfactory ratings rather than working with them so solve the problems.
9.       Teachers get frustrated when they enforce the rules but see several of their colleagues negligent in performing their duties and directing students properly, and yet the administration does not call these negligent people to account.
10.   Teachers get frustrated when administrators change expectations and procedures, but do not tell them. For example, when students are supposed to use the restroom during class change, but the administrators decide there are too many problems and lock the bathrooms. Yet teachers deny hall passes from class because they are still operating under the old understanding that students should go during class change and be kept in class.
11.   Teachers get frustrated when asked to enforce unenforceable rules, or rules that the administrators let slide by.
12.   Teachers get frustrated when they ask questions to clarify what the policies are and get told that the policies have already been explained to them. Reread the email (that many times was not sent).
13.   Teachers get frustrated when they are told that there is not time to attend to minor infractions because too many serious things are going on. Didn’t a New York City mayor show twenty years ago that if authorities pay attention to minor things, like jumping the turnstile and not paying, serious crime like robbery goes down?

Discipline in our schools is a serious and ongoing issue. I hope this series of contributions has helped to illuminate the issue from different perspectives. In closing, my advice is to let go of the past. Whatever was or was not taking place under previous superintendents is done. We cannot hold the new superintendent and his team responsible for that. Let’s give them the chance to bring the improvements that our schools need and to end the counterproductive measures that went on in response to the pressure to lower the number of referrals. But I would also caution that teacher input is a vital and necessary part of these efforts.

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