As Virginia lawmakers brainstorm ways to prevent school shootings, recommending more funding for mental health and school resource officers, they continue to ignore the breakdown in school discipline that is causing the decline last year in Standards of Learning in schools across the state. They are fixated on hypothetical calamities while remaining oblivious to the very real disaster unfolding before our eyes.
If I’m right about what’s happening in Virginia’s public schools — school discipline is worsening under “restorative justice” disciplinary regimes, and the quality of classroom instruction is deteriorating as a direct result — SOL scores will continue to erode. And the decline will be concentrated in lower-income schools populated disproportionately by African-Americans where discipline problems are worst. White supremacists could not devise a more clever, insidious way of keeping African-Americans ignorant and poor than the social-justice regime imposed by the ACLU and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Maintaining school discipline has always been a challenge, especially as the family structure has broken down among Virginia’s lower-income groups, creating generations of neglected, defiant, and poorly supervised youths. Relying heavily upon suspensions and even arrests, the Zero Tolerance disciplinary regime that prevailed until recently may well have been harsh and arbitrary. But it did have one positive benefit — it removed the disrupters from the classroom. Teachers could get on with the job of teaching.
The new therapeutic approach may or may not be helping the bad students — there’s not enough good evidence to know — but it is definitely distracting teachers from doing their jobs. As evidence, I proffer the thoughts of a former Henrico County school teacher who blogs under her pen name, Christine S., on the Unbarbaric Yawp blog.
Christine S. loves teaching and loves her students. After quitting her job at an unidentified school to have a baby, she has no plans to return to teaching any time soon. She doesn’t think society sufficiently appreciates what teachers do, and she believes administrators and parents fail to give teachers the trust and confidence they deserve — sentiments that are commonly expressed and are no secret to the rest of the world. But her most compelling post addresses the new realities of school discipline, which have gotten very little attention. She makes several key points:
Discipline takes time. Under restorative justice protocols, more of the disciplinary burden now falls upon teachers. Instead of booting trouble-makers out of class — or school — teachers now are called upon to deal with student’s misbehavior on the spot through coaching and reasoning. She writes:
It takes time to address it in the moment. It takes time away from learning. It takes time (that frankly I don’t always have) during my planning period or before/after school.
I appreciate that experts, Central Office, administration, and parents want teachers to be the first point of contact for discipline issues. Teachers SHOULD be the first point of contact, for sure! Instead of immediately writing a student a referral to the administrator, teachers should have conversations with kids, come up with a behavior contract, assign a detention of their own, or do whatever other steps they deem appropriate.
But in order to do that, teachers need TIME. When I taught, I had one 90-minute planning period every other day. I often had meetings before school, during lunch, or after school (or I was a coach and had practice after school).
I really didn’t mind calling parents or writing up behavior contracts or having a kid in my room for detention. But I needed time to do this. A planning period every day would’ve been so helpful for discipline (and other things, of course). Or teacher workdays that are ACTUALLY teacher workdays (teachers nowadays have so much professional development and few actual workdays, which many who are not in education don’t realize).
And one reason that sometimes my discipline wasn’t followed through, on MY part as the teacher, is because I simply did.not.have.time. I guess I could’ve made time — at the expense of grading assessments, making copies, tutoring, sponsoring clubs, coaching…
Teachers spend 80% of their time on 20% of the students. Writes Christine S.: “This is the most frustrating part of discipline issues for me: I literally spent the majority of my time addressing the same handful of students all year long.”
They have a right to an education, but at the expense of all of my other kids? I don’t think so. But as a teacher, sometimes my hands are tied. The system is flawed. The disruptive student who is making poor choices gets to stay in class, and no matter what I try or who talks to him or how many behavior plans we go over or how many times I call home, the student’s behavior doesn’t change, and class is ruined for 25 kids who actually want to learn.