Thursday, March 29, 2007

Segregate non-students

A New York City teacher writes about the horrendous discipline problems she faces every day:

Most recently, a student threatened a student and a teacher in the same day, yet is still sitting in class. Not even a suspension! Rumor has it that the principal feels we have too many suspensions and is using shady means to cover up that fact. Either our school totally lacks the infrastrucutre to handle unruly students, or there is major corruption going on at the administrative levels. Last semester, there was a fight in my classroom. As per protocol, I called security. The line was busy. One of the two security guards in the building (yes, we only have to for two whole schools) sits on the phone all day, making personal calls. Another time, a teacher called for a student making threats, and the guard told her she simply wasn't coming! In any case, we all know students must feel safe to be able to learn. Students should not feel safer outside the school than within. How can I protect my students when I have no recourse to discpline students effectively? How can I protect my students when I myself don't even feel safe?


The one thing I know for sure is that I am totally burned out. Battling disruptive and extremely disrespectful students every single day, being totally taken advantage of in terms of the contract, and walking on eggshells with administrators so as to remain on their "good side" has really been an exhausting experience. As a result, I have lost my belief that I am actually making a difference. The problems that plague NYC schools are so beyond the scope of one person to fix. It is really overwhelming.
There is something fundamentally wrong with a culture that produces so many disrespectful, unruly students. Nevertheless, no matter how bad the school, there are always well-behaved students willing to learn. We owe it to them to create a propitious learning environment. That means we have to get serious about segregating dysfunctional non-students. This is a first step toward achieving quality education. It runs counter to entrenched dogma, but it needs to be done.


din819go said...

Well said!

Diana said...

I find this a highly problematic assertion. I agree with it in part. Extremely disruptive students should not be allowed to interfere with the education of those who are trying to learn. The question is: where does one draw the line?

Especially in middle school, where many students are prone to disruptive behavior of one kind or another, and where the students are going through massive emotional changes, "segregation" of dysfunctional students could more or less amount to segregation of most of the student body. Are we to kick out the majority and establish an elite school for the serious few? I would wholeheartedly oppose such a move.

Rather, I believe there should be serious consequences for disruptions, as well as a clear behavior code for the entire school. At present, interventions only seem to quell problems temporarily. Perhaps students should have to take a course on behavior and manners.

In addition, I believe middle schools should have honors classes so that those who truly yearn for intellectual advancement may do so. They should also re-introduce electives (within the main disciplines as well as in modern and ancient languages, the arts, shop, etc.), so that students have an opportunity to pursue their interests. Every teacher should have the opportunity to teach at least one elective course as part of the regular courseload.

Larry Strauss said...

Clearly something has to be done.

Segregation as a blaket policy is an understandable but troubling response. Sometimes disruptive students become that way in response to poor teaching.

I'll never forget the indignity of being a new teacher and walking the hallways during my prep period, seeing my most disruptive students sitting quietly in the classrooms of my veteran colleagues.

Some students really have no interest in learning but others only appear that way. Sorting them out can be quite difficult in a room with 35 to 40 students. Having 20 to 25 makes it much easier. Putting all the "bad" kids together often ensures that they will never be anything else.

If you are going to remove disruptive children from their classes don't do it as "segregation." Even if this "segregation" isn't done along racial lines it suggests discrimination. And what if, at some schools, it does follow racial lines?

If you are going to remove disruptive students, do so for a positive reason, some form of behavioral intervention; call it a good manners academy and get a well-paid tattooed drill sergeant to conduct it.

NYC Math Teacher said...

Rather, I believe there should be serious consequences for disruptions, as well as a clear behavior code for the entire school.

Of what serious consequences do you speak? Out of school suspension? A rarity in NYC. In-school suspension? Not quite as rare, but on the decline -- window dressing, you know.

I teach middle school math in NYC. We have a discipline code that, for nonviolent, non weapons-related offenses, is too byzantine to bother with. (This is likely due to several decades of court cases that have given students many rights within the school system. A recent Wall Street Journal op ed piece discusses the granddaddy of them all, involving Vietnam protests.)

The "emotional changes" canard can only get you so far. Who cares if Johnny has hit puberty when two or three students derail a class of 27 for an entire year -- quite literally stealing education from their well-behaved counterparts? Something must change.

Constantly disruptive students must receive immediate, extremely serious, and increasingly harsh punishments, to include at-home suspensions (irrespective of working parents' situations) and, eventually, removal from the school. I bet that if just a few non-violent but disruptive students were expelled near the beginning of the year, the example set would yield good results. Otherwise, very little learning will take place. Call it the tyranny of the disruptive.

Diana said...

NYC Math Teacher,

I think we're in agreement, actually. I didn't say there was an effective discipline code in place; I said that we needed one. Discipline is different from segregation, I believe.

NYC Math Teacher said...

Partial agreement, I guess, as I do propose segregation from the rest of the student body as part of my increasingly harsh punishments (suspension, expulsion). I didn't mention this specifically, but I also advocate a detention hall for the chronically disruptive. It's a pipe dream, though.

Diana said...

It is possible to remove a seriously disruptive or violent student from a class, even permanently, or to send the student to another school. I've seen it done a few times. The messiest scenarios fall just short of that. There seems to be little consistency in dealing with the "disruptive but not dangerous" kids who, over the long run, wreak a great deal of havoc. A schoolwide "three strikes" policy in those cases could work wonders.

That said, I agree with Larry Strauss that some veteran teachers have ways of preventing the unruly behavior from occurring in the first place. They don't have magical powers; they just have practice and control.

All the more need for a consistent discipline policy, so that newer teachers may stay long enough to become veteran teachers, and more students may benefit from the classroom instruction!

NYC Math Teacher said...

All the more need for a consistent discipline policy, so that newer teachers may stay long enough to become veteran teachers, and more students may benefit from the classroom instruction!

Consistency is necessary, but not sufficient. There needs to be some serious consequences in place, even for the veteran teachers. The disciplinary policy in NYC is consistent, but toothless. Yes, veteran teachers can hold sway over some unruly students, but, ultimately, it is the students who rule the roost and can ruin classes whenever they want. They know that the worst that can happen is some phone calls home, no school trips, etc. They understand the message: What you are doing is wrong, but not so bad.

I think we agree on the need for more serious consequences, but as I noted before, decades of court decisions have given students (and their families) such great power that only violence and weapons will get you into serious trouble.

Jason Nabors said...

Great blog. I work for the Memphis City Schools and it is the same situation. I have said the same thing over and over. If we just dropped compulsory attendance laws, that would pretty much get it accomplished. Then only those that want to learn would come. I think the big problem is that we are expected to teach the learners and at the same time be surrogate prison guards to the non-students just to keep them off the street. I am having a hard time doing both.

Anonymous said...

Everyone blames the misbehavior on adolescence but if they are never are accountable for their behavior, they will never mature... In other countries, there are consequences and therefore a culture of education. I know people that have been in the profession for years in New Jersey yet still constantly are disrespected and cursed at... What the heck does that have to do with classroom management when a Media Specialist is cursed at because she may have to fine a student for not returning a book.