Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Discipline in our Schools

The Problem:

Students are unruly, noisy, and rude in class. Here’s an example of the problem -- I heard this story about a decade ago. A teacher disciplined a girl who wasn’t paying attention, and was talking to a friend in class. Upon being reprimanded, the girl turned on the teacher and said, “Get off my back, you f---ing b----!” I said the teacher must have sent the girl to the principal, and the teacher replied that it would do no good: the student would deny she had misbehaved, and the principal would not be able to back up the teacher.

But discipline is a National problem. A report titled “Teaching Interrupted” (search for it at http://www.publicagenda.org) is based on a national random survey of 725 teachers and 600 parents. The vast majority of teachers said their teaching would be a lot more effective if they didn’t have to spend so much time dealing with disruptive students. More than a third of the teachers say they’ve seriously considered leaving the profession because student discipline is such a problem. Most teachers and parents said there should be a “zero tolerance” policy so students will know they will be kicked out of school for serious violations.

In a comprehensive report (see http://www.nwrel.org/scpd/sirs/5/cu9.html) these were the factors found to be important in improving discipline:

1.) Get commitment, on the part of all staff, on establishing and maintaining appropriate student behavior as an essential precondition of learning. Well-disciplined schools tend to be those in which there is a school-wide emphasis on the importance of learning and intolerance of conditions which inhibit learning.

2.) Insist on high behavioral expectations. In contrast to poorly disciplined schools, staff in well-disciplined schools share and communicate high expectations for appropriate student behavior.

3.) Devise and publish clear and broad-based rules. Rules, sanctions, and procedures should be developed with input from students, be clearly specified, and be made known to everyone in the school. Researchers have found that student participation in developing and reviewing school discipline programs creates a sense of ownership and belongingness. Widespread dissemination of clearly stated rules and procedures, moreover, assures that all students and staff understand what is and is not acceptable.

The above three steps could solve the discipline problem in any school. Notice that, when parents finally understand that the school is serious about discipline, they (the parents) will be motivated to encourage their children to behave, and perhaps to punish them if bad behavior continues.

If a school district doesn’t have the necessary rules, it will take determination on the part of principals and teachers to establish and then enforce them. It may take additional funding if a new school must be established to handle the worst offenders.

Action hoped-for from the reader.

We’d be delighted to hear from anyone interested in improving our schools. To comment, just click the underlined word ‘comments’ at the bottom of this page (or any of the other pages), and tell us what you think. We’d be glad to hear from anyone. You might like to tell us:

Why we’re wrong about the problem discussed above, or what additional problems exist that we‘ve ignored or overlooked.

What you think should be done to improve schools.

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School Board Member said...

I think the bottom line is that teachers are not taught classroom management skills in college, so they arrive in the classroom clueless. These are skills that could be taught, but can't be taught in an ivory tower college classroom without real kids to try them out on. Even just observing a master teacher doing classroom management would be enlightening, but it isn't part of the curriculum.

Given that reality, it takes a while for new teachers to catch on, during which time the students suffer, and often there is nobody to help those new teachers learn the ropes. Yes, the Code of Conduct is in place, but new
teachers are probably not all that familiar with it (nor are old teachers) and the truth is that steps must be taken way before the problems reach the level where the Code of Conduct kicks in.

I have been in classes locally where misbehavior would be completely out of place and unacceptable, and I have also been in classrooms that feel chaotic and where students treat each other- and the teacher- in unacceptable ways. I happen to believe the difference is often the Principal of the school, who either sets high standards and mentors the new teachers, or who is oblivious to the struggle going on in some classrooms. Sometimes I think an overwhelmed Principal gives the message to the teachers that she doesn't want to be involved with classroom management or discipline problems. When that happens, the poor teachers are left to deal with their problems (or NOT deal with their problems) on their own behind closed doors.

Blogger said...

This is a very helpful reply. It points out a problem teachers have, and I'll be modifying the Teachers part of this blog as a result.

However, it’s not clear why you say, "the truth is that steps must be taken way before the problems reach the level where the Code of Conduct kicks in." Surely the Code must say something like this: "Behaving in a manner that disrupts the educational process, interferes with teaching and learning, or disrupts the school environment" is subject to Action by the teacher. So what are the problems which occur before the Code kicks in?

School Superintendent said...

In the vast majority of cases, discipline is well-handled in local Schools. Schools and classrooms are well-managed by teachers and administrators so that students can learn and teachers can teach.

If you walk on any of our school campuses, you will see that that is the case. At our middle and high schools, we have added closed circuit camera systems and security guards as preventative measures. When problems arise, there are a number of support mechanisms to assist school employees in dealing appropriately with the situation. In most cases, parents support the behavioral expectations of the school and cooperate fully in recommended interventions.

Blogger said...

(The above comment was made by the Superintendent of the same schools the School Board Member commented on.)

I'm sure you're right, and that in the majority of cases discipline is well-handled your schools.

But what are we doing with the minority of schools? Is there some way to identify the minority of schools with problems, and to provide help and instruction to their principals, so they make proper use of the Code? Or is there perhaps a periodic meeting of all principals where the Code is discussed, its importance stressed, and ways of instructing teachers provided?

It seems to me that something like this would be very worthwhile.

In any event, what can be done about this minority you mention?

Anonymous said...

I recently learned of two discipline problems in the local schools.

1. Recently the Men’s dressing room at a nearby Recreational complex was trashed by students from one of our schools. Boys jumped up and down on, and broke, the weighing scale; soap dispensers were torn down and soap thrown everywhere, and other damage was done. If there was any supervision by someone from the school, it was ineffective.

2. A month or so ago a 6-year-old girl was hit by a substitute teacher in one school. The parent complained to the school principal, and the principal looked into it and replied that the teacher denied doing anything, though other students had said the teacher dragged them around by the hair. The parent then appealed to the local superintendent of schools. She met with the parent at the school. The result was the teacher was fired, and, I understand, the principal reprimanded.

There still seem to be discipline problems in our schools.

Blogger said...

The local Schools published an excellent Code of Conduct some time ago, which is in use throughout the schools and states in detail what acts are impermissible, and what disciplinary action is to be taken when kids misbehave.

Here are examples of the violations listed in the Code:

Failing to comply with a proper and authorized direction or instruction.

Displaying impertinence, arrogance, or other discourtesy, verbally or non-verbally

Behaving in a manner that disrupts the educational process, interferes with teaching or learning, or disrupts the school environment.

For each of these (and many other) violations there are specific disciplinary actions to be taken, which grow more serious if the offense is repeated.

However, we have heard of very recent discipline problems in the local schools, and it would appear that the Code of Conduct is not applied uniformly and effectively in all schools. A recent article in a local paper quoted teachers who said, “sometimes student behavior can reach a point at which teachers feel helpless and sometimes reach for drastic measures.” So apparently either these teachers are unaware of the Code of Conduct, or they are unable or unwilling to make use of it.

It would seem that the following steps should be taken in local schools:

Insure that all students and their parents understand and agree with the Code.

Insure that all principals and teachers are aware of the details of the Code of Conduct, and agree that they must apply them at every instance of misbehavior. They must “share and communicate high expectations for appropriate student behavior.”

Identify the schools where discipline is still a problem, and take special steps (perhaps by giving instruction to some of the teachers) to see that these schools are as trouble-free as all the others in the District.

Anonymous said...

A Santa Fe Math Teacher said (letter to the New Mexican, 5/25/08)

As an educator who has taught at DeVargas Middle School, let me offer some insight. I have been physically assaulted twice over the last few years. The first time was when a student would not follow direction in class. I had to call security and have three other teachers help me escort him to the office, at which time he lunged at me in the office. It was so disheartening that security had to restrain him and notify the police and his parents. The sad thing: His parents never showed up! Even sadder, he was involved in a stabbing and a shooting at a local park the next weekend.

The second incident occurred this year when I had a student shove me through the door of my class into the hallway, where security witnessed the assault. Again, law enforcement had to be notified.

As educators, we have to have control of our classrooms in order to teach. I have had to write up many a student this last year, and it’s very sad when a parent is called and they tell you, “no wonder my child talks to you that way, you yelled at them,” or, “they didn’t slam the door; maybe a gust of wind took it”, or “it’s your fault my child is failing.”

I would invite any parent, especially the parents of the suspended students, to spend a week in school. Their children will act differently away from them while in school. DeVargas middle School has the greatest teaching staff and administration. If it were not for people like Principal Winfred Krause, Assistant Principal Karen Schneider, Dean of Students Michael Lovato, the awesome teachers, office staff and security and those parents who support us, students would not get an education.

So, I wonder what parents who defend their children by saying, “kids will be kids” will be thinking down the road when they visit the same children in a penal institution for a bigger crime. Perhaps they’ll look back to those days at DeVargas and wish they’d taught their kids respect for their teachers, and responsibility for their actions.

Blogger said...

The students who assulted the teacher clearly were suspended. I assume those whom he 'wrote up' were, as well, despite the attitude of parents. It appears the school backs up the teachers, and doesn't knuckle under to the parents -- and that's just as it should be.