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Sunday, January 26, 2014

I am the only one who cares about your child (rough draft).

These are the words I spoke to a parent a few years back at a hastily arranged parent teacher conference. She called outraged and demanded she, my administrator and me have a conference to explain why I called her son a clown and had written him up nine times in nine weeks.   

At the conference I listened to her rant for what seemed like an eternity during which she said some I thought pretty disparaging things about me including all but calling me a racist, her son being African American and I being white.  

Several times I looked at my admin for assistance but he would just advert his eyes. I had come to him several times about the student in question and his mom was right I had written him up nine times in nine weeks but the most relief I had received was the student being sent to ISSP to finish the period though at least a couple times the student was back before the period had ended. As for the clown comment, I will plead the fifth.

Most of the referrals were for defiance and disrespect. The days he came to class and mercifully went to sleep I let him. To be honest I stopped caring about him doing his work and all my battles were with him trying to stop other kids from doing theirs. You see I couldn’t tolerate or allow him to stop the other students from learning and if I brooked his disrespect I would open the door for others to be disrespectful too. Kids are kind of like firecrackers and if one kid gets away with it soon more and more will be trying too as well. The referrals may have said different things or had different offences written down but basically he was a hijacker. He was hijacking my classroom and preventing other kids from learning.

At first I would give him multiple warnings and pleas to calm down before sending him out but I admit towards the end, I would give him just three warnings before sending him to the dean. 

After what seemed like an eternity she finished and it was my turn to talk. I had tried to address her concerns as they came up but was talked over during the administration sanctioned complaint fest and so after a point I quietly listened even to her personal criticisms of me not mentioning once that she had never returned a call or answered the letter addressing my concerns about her sons behavior that I had sent home. 

She finally finished and leaned back. I took a deep breath and said, I hear your concerns but I want you to know I am the only one who cares about your child.

It was like a bomb went off, as she and my admin both jumped in with, how can you say that, how dare you go there. Mind you she had just talked for what seemed like an eternity and I had not gotten a word in. 

I reminded calm as I always tried to do when her son was cursing me out or yelling at me and when the mother and admin had finished, I added, and I can prove it too.
You see when I was told about the conference earlier in the day I e-mailed all of his teachers and asked how this particular student was doing in their classes. I already knew because most of his teachers and I had discussed his behavior and performance before but I wanted to have something to show the mother.

Terrible, horrible, disrespectful and doesn’t do anything but disrupt class were common themes throughout the e-mails. One teacher even wrote, I have written him up twice but nothing happened so I have quit trying.

After the student’s mother looked through the e-mails, I said again, I am the only one that cares about your son because nobody else is wiling to saying no to him.

The meeting broke up a few minutes later, my admin gave me a disapproving look and the mother went on her way. A few days later the kid stopped showing up and I have never seen of heard from him since, though I do wonder what would have happened if somebody else had cared enough to say no. 

Let me ask you a couple questions. If you get at a fight at the Landing and the police see it, what would happen? Say you are at work and you don’t feel like doing it or you have been late forty times in a fifty-day period, what would happen? Say you’re having a bad day so you decide to curse out your boss and encourage your other co-workers to do so too, what would happen?

You would face serious consequences is what would happen. You would go to jail or you would lose your job, you would quickly learn those behaviors are unacceptable. However if you are a student at P.S. this or P.S. that most likely the only lesson you learn is you can get away with it.  

I am not saying we need to take kids out back and beat them with a switch or cane them in the public square but for a lot of bad behaviors there should be serious consequences. Right now with the city and district debating about who should pay for the out of school suspension centers or judge Henry Davis receiving negative feedback for bringing up violence in our schools I don’t think either the district or the city really cares about our children enough to say no to them.

Instead they say bullying and suspensions and crime rates are going down. I have to shake my head because as somebody who spent a lot of years in a comprehensive school and still knows lots of teachers who are, I have to say what has really improved is our ability to ignore and endure bad behavior.

An underutilized ATOSS that kids don’t have to go to is not a consequence. A period of ISSP for being disrespectful to a teacher is not a consequence. Being allowed to be continuously late to class is not a consequence and I could go on and on and on.  The only thing that has real consequences going happening on a consistent basis in our schools is bullying teachers into ignoring bad behavior and the consequence for that is more and escalating bad behavior.

When we ignore bad behavior or when we don’t say no, the lesson we have taught is bad behavior is okay.
I don’t think that is a lesson you want your kids to learn.


  1. Amen! If you write referrals, it affects your evaluation. There is no support from administration. I rarely get any referrals back and, when I do, it says no action was taken. At my H.S., nothing is done about anything. The only action taken is denigrating the teacher for writing referrals. It sends a clear message that we are NOT supposed to enforce the Code of Conduct. I hope Judge Davis does visit some schools. DTU isn't supportive either. Meanwhile, Jacksonville has the highest crime rate in FL and the murder rate is 8X that of NYC. You made a good point about our former students rightfully believing there are no consequences for bad behavior...until they get into the real world.

    This is why so many teachers are on mood-altering drugs, at least half by my estimate.

  2. BRAVA!!!! I have a thought. . . what if parents had to pay whenever their child needs to retake a class. . . what if they had to pay for ISS or Saturday school? Perhaps asking for some parent accountability too. I don't have all the answers. . . but I'm tired of being bullied and harassed and seeing my kids who want to learn unable to do so in classrooms run by the kids who don't care!!

  3. Praise for having the guts to speak the truth. We are not allowed to suspend either. They powers that be say that children who get suspended are much less likely to graduate therefore retention causes dropping out. This is faulty logic. Perhaps the kids who are less likely to graduate are the ones who are disruptive and most likely to get suspended. Those who set school policy are unable or unwilling to consider that one can reverse the cause and effect. As a kindergarten teacher I can tell you that the same behavior happens in pre-school and kindergarten. One child can hold the class hostage and keep the others from learning. Perhaps if intervention started early childhood, you secondary teachers would not have as many disruptive kids. Once they reach you disruptive and angry students have had many years in the situation you describe.

  4. This situation happens every day, but no one ever wants to talk about it. It is a vicious cycle. If teachers write up students, then administrators have to deal with those referrals, but the school (administration) is blamed when there are too many referrals, so administrators discourage any real action, so teachers stop writing referrals, and the cycle of bad behavior continues. What many outsiders don't really understand is that the little comments sometimes cause as much disruption as the bigger issues (like walking around the classroom whenever, yelling or cursing at the teachers, constantly disrupting the entire class.) I only graduated high school in 2001, and I would never think to say what a student told me in a college level class the other day: "Oh, I am so excited to take your class; by the way, I am being sarcastic." The fact that he felt the freedom to do this is insane; I would never say that to my principal or administrator, like ever. So, I informed him that did not have the right to say something like that or speak to essentially, a professor, like that. He quickly changed his attitude, but someone before me let the little things like this slip. Mind you, this was only the second day of class, and I guarantee you that he will feel differently by the end of the semester as he had it easy all last semester; however, who gave students the right to even think they could say things like this and not be held accountable? I didn't. I just walked into this situation as a first time teacher about 8 years ago, and it took me years to develop my classroom management style. Back in the day, I would have classified my teaching style as fun, easygoing, but firm. Now, students think I am ridiculously strict, because they don't know any better. On top of that, we are sending in first year teachers into these types of situations and expect them to stay. I didn't even really enjoy teaching until my 2nd year as the behavior of the students was so bad. I really got my groove in the 4th year though. I challenge Vitti or any of the downtown folks to spend a week substituting for the intensive reading teachers, the elective teachers with 50 or more students in a classroom, or a standard class of 35 physical science 9th graders. Only then will change occur, or at the very least, empathy.