by Rick Ryder
As a retired Philly teacher and teacher leader, I have 40 years experience in the evolution of school discipline. Although I was fortunate in that I personally had minimal class control problems, I have coached, trained and supported literally hundreds of teachers, those with years of experience and those just beginning. It is clear to me as I see talented, caring, dedicated, and creative teachers driven from the profession because their students say and do whatever they wish with no actual consequences, that the discipline code must be revised.
Paslay’s final three paragraphs summarize the problem as well as I have ever seen (“Less than ‘zero tolerance,’” Inquirer opinion, 1/27/11). We can either turn schools into social service agencies where diplomas are awarded regardless of attendance or academic achievement, or we can refocus on learning and academics, which requires that the two or three students in most classes who impede instruction be removed until their behavior and/or motivation no longer hinders those who actually wish to learn. Unfortunately, this cannot often be achieved by a three day suspension followed by a reinstatement and return to class disruption.
I believe that the needs of the vast majority of students who wish to learn outweighs the rights of the few who act with impunity. The consequences of the current policies are tragic and ironic. When students who do no work pass a class because a CSAP form isn’t filled out properly, when an emotionally disturbed special education student is mainstreamed to fulfill an IEP, curses out a teacher and is back in class 20 minutes later, students who would do classwork and behave properly, decide that, in the absence of consequences, they, too, will not do classwork or respect the teacher. Ironically, those educators who think that they are helping students get a second chance are actually taking away any chance of success from the majority.
Mr. Paslay is exactly right when he says we must decide the purpose of our schools. If it is indeed to educate, teachers must be given the tools to deal with disciplinary issues, rather than burdened by useless paperwork which goes nowhere and does nothing other discouraging teachers from taking any disciplinary actions at all. If it is to socialize or teach conflict resolution, we should acknowledge that, and set up a parallel system where true learning can occur and consequences are enforced.
I am not addressing criminal behavior such as selling drugs, bringing drugs to school or assaulting a teacher. These are being handled properly, or at least, enforced more stringently than in the past. I am writing about the make or break issues of the teacher controlling a classroom and a student who does not do the required classwork passing a class. I loved my career as a teacher, formed strong bonds with many, many students, and hope to see that experience possible for the current generation of teachers.