The Day Discipline Died in Philadelphia Public Schools

by Christopher Paslay

The Philadelphia School District’s revised code of conduct is evidence that officials have thrown in the towel when it comes to student discipline. 

Mark the date: 8/16/12.  That was the day discipline officially died in Philadelphia public schools.  Not that discipline was alive and well to begin with.  In many schools throughout the city it was hanging on by a thread, a brain dead body with a faint pulse connected to a life-support machine with a bunch of tubes running out of its arms.

Consider these facts: From 2005-06 through 2009-10, the district reported 30,333 serious incidents.  There were 19,752 assaults, 4,327 weapons infractions, 2,037 drug and alcohol related violations, and 1,186 robberies.  Students were beaten by their peers in libraries and had their hair pulled out by gangs in the hall.  Teachers were assaulted over 4,000 times.

In the 2007-08 school year alone, there were nearly 15,000 criminal incidents reported in Philadelphia public schools.  According to data published in the Inquirer, 1,728 students assaulted teachers, 479 weapons were discovered inside elementary and middle school hallways and classrooms, and 357 weapons were found in high schools.

Tragically, almost half of the most serious cases were not reported to police.  Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham wrote that “the most serious offenders—including those who assaulted teachers—were neither expelled nor transferred to alternative education.”  She also added: “Just 24 percent of the 1,728 students who assaulted teachers were removed from regular education classrooms, and only 30 percent of them were charged by police . . .”

In fact, from 2006 to 2008, not a single student was expelled from the Philadelphia School District.

Over the last five years, discipline has been hanging on by a thread.  Not anymore.  Yesterday the School Reform Commission voted to officially pull the plug on the dying animal.  School leaders are being instructed to cut down on out-of-school suspensions, and loosen punishments as a response to discipline violations as a whole.  In particular, principals can no longer suspend a student for profanity, cellphone or uniform infractions.  So when an algebra teacher is in the middle of a lesson on the order of operations and a student is interrupting the class by talking loudly on his cellphone, and the teacher says, excuse me, put that away, and the student says, fuck you, I’m in the middle of a call here, and the teacher says, give me that cellphone now, and the student says, bitch, go fuck yourself, a suspension is not in order.  Not even when a student continues this behavior on a regular basis, and ruins everyone’s education in the process.

According to a story in today’s Inquirer:

The focus now is on in-school intervention.

“Though there can be no excuse for behavior that harms or disrupts, there may be reasons that caring adults in school need to understand. We educate the whole child,” the code declares. It lists a range of in-school intervention that should be employed, from “get a student’s attention by calling his/her name in a calm voice” and “address the student in private” to drawing up behavioral contracts.

How might this work in real life?  Here’s a scenario:

Teacher (trying to teach the class):  Put away that cellphone. 

Student: Man, I’m in the middle of a call, yo.  It’s my mom.  It’s an emergency.

Teacher (whispering calmly to the student): Darryl, you can’t use the phone in class.  Remember our behavior contract?  Can you see me in the hallway, please?

Student:  Bitch, get the fuck outta my face!

Greg Shannon, who is in charge of the school district’s disciplinary hearings and expulsions, said schools need to find ways to work with children and patiently figure out why they continue to break the rules: “We have to say, ‘Why are you coming to school out of uniform, and what can we do to support you? What can we do to get you in uniform, or get you a uniform?’”

How might this work in real life?  Here’s a scenario:

Teacher (being patient): Stacy, your skirt is too high and your shirt is too low cut.  We talked about this, remember?  Where is the uniform I gave you?  You haven’t worn it in three weeks?

Student: That golf shirt is corny.  I ain’t tryin’ to wear that uniform.

Teacher: But you are dressed inappropriately.  Is there a problem at home?  Do you need to talk about something?

Student:  Bitch, mind your business.  You ain’t my mom.

Lorene Cary, the head of the SRC’s safety committee, said, “The idea is that the best way to be safer is to change our culture to a safe culture.  We really have looked at prevention.”

Prevention?  Really?  What a novel idea (as if principals and teachers haven’t been trying prevention for decades).  What school district leaders have yet to answer is what should be done with students who continue to rob their hardworking classmates of an education even after preventative interventions such as restorative justice, positive behavioral supports, and peer mediation are used?  What do teachers and principals do then?

The answer: nothing.  Nothing is done.  Because of pressure from civil rights groups, because of pressure from toxic progressive organizations such as the Education Law Center, Youth United for Change, the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools, and the Philadelphia Student Union, the rights of violent and unruly children supersede the rights of the majority of Philadelphia’s hardworking students trying to get an education.  Instead of suspending such children and placing them in alternative learning environments where they can get the remediation they need (and their classmates can finally have a chance to learn), these incorrigible youth are forced to coexist in classrooms with their peers where they ruin everyone’s education.

Now the SRC, as well as Superintendent William Hite, are on board with this mission: robbing our city’s hardworking children of their educations.  They are now bowing to the notion that the school district’s code of discipline is racist, is disenfranchising innocent children, and is not working; they are buying into Youth United for Change’s canard that the school district’s discipline policies are creating a “pipeline to prison.”

It is pathetic.  The code of conduct doesn’t work because the district doesn’t have the guts to enforce it.  Overall, policies have no teeth and teachers and principals get inadequate backing and support.  Parents and community leaders are absolved of all responsibility and the students themselves are no longer held accountable for their own behavior.  Why?  Because it’s too difficult a battle for the district to fight.  Like a parent who gives into his child because he doesn’t have the energy to enforce his own rules, the school district is taking the easy way out.

Yesterday’s decision to fundamentally revise the student code of conduct was the death blow to school discipline as we know it.  It appears that the SRC, as well as Superintendent Hite, have officially washed their hands of the whole mess.

God help the School District of Philadelphia, and the tens of thousands of hardworking children who will have their right to an education violated now more than ever.

63 thoughts on “The Day Discipline Died in Philadelphia Public Schools

    • the problem is the parents are just as bad as their kids. I worked at a middle school last year installing computers. While in the main office a student’s mother came in and yelled at the principal. SayingtThat he can not tell her child what to do, only she can because it is her child and she came out of her cunt.. Very classy lady (lol)..too many philadelphian’s just don’t care about their kids education. they just want every thing free from the government..

  1. christopher paslay, you are my hero. i am saddened by this move and the implications it will have on our teachers and school learning environments.

  2. Chris:

    I knew as soon as I read that article in the Inquirer about the new discipline rules there would a reply coming from you. But there is another side to this issue.

    I think the new CEO is saying to schools, figure out how to manage the children without just throwing them out of the building. That is the easy way. The hard way- figure out how to get control of your schools. Because now we don’t.

    I have only worked in K-5, K-6, and K-8 schools. I know HS’s are a different kind of problem. El ed schools are smaller and easier to control. However I only worked in one school in my entire teaching career, a small K-8 school, that figured out how to control the kids. And how did they do this? They had a strong principal who put discipline at the top of her list. She arranged a summer training for teachers to learn how to control a school. The entire school then got on the same page for discipline. They had a school wide plan. All teachers were required to participate in the plan. They all had to enforce the same rules. They had a school wide incentive program. They had two staff members whose main job was discipline. The school was quiet and kids behaved. It took a lot of effort. It was not easy to maintain.

    This is what all schools must do. If cell phones and the dress code, two problems you named, are creating such hostility figure out a way to control the cell phones. The entire school must have a plan. Get kids involved in the plan, maybe even the parents. Cell phones must be a huge headache in HS’s. You also listed the dress code as causing problems. Again figure out a way to make this problem go away. If need be toss the dress code. HS’s and kids have been fighting about style of clothing since I was in school.

    Why ask for more problems? You have enough just trying to teach the kids. Get control of the two problems you listed- cell phones and the dress code. Surely there must be a better way then fighting in class with kids using phones and wasting valuable class time trying to get kids to turn off phones. Heck we can’t even get adults to turn of those stupid cell phones in cars. I myself would not allow phones. How to do this? I have no idea. But it is a problem and is causing a lot of fighting between teachers and students..

    The new CEO is doing what Obama is trying to do with health care-force people to make changes to make things better not worse.

    The article listed below from today’s Inquirer to me demonstrates exactly what the new CEO of PSD would like see happen in our schools with discipline.

    Hospitals have responded by making changes and that is what the schools must do. Make changes, drastic changes because we all know schools are not working.


    • Kathy,

      For the record, I teach at Swenson A&T in Northeast Philly and have relatively few discipline problems (I am lucky to be at a good school). Of course, over the past 15 years, I’ve had some issues. However, as a whole, there are teachers in schools across the city who experience the problems I’ve mentioned on a regular basis.

      I agree with much of what you say about building a positive school culture and getting all teachers on board with enforcing rules; uniformity of rules is a big issue. Schools do need drastic changes. But what can be done in school is limited. As I keep mentioning, positive behavior supports and interventions can only go so far. There comes a time when a line must be drawn and the limited resources must go to the majority of the hardworking kids who want to learn. The one-size-fits-all school is now obsolete. We need alternative schools and curriculums for different students going in different directions.


      • You are so right. I teach at a neighborhood high school and it is far worse than the special admission schools since they can send them back to us if they continue to break rules. I want to teach and each day I look out at my students and see faces that want to learn but for four or five students who belong in alternative education. Who is fighting for these students who want to go to college but won’t have the background or skills to compete with the students whose schools provide an educational environment that is conducive to learning? Those kids are worth fighting for because they did not get into a better school. Does that mean they won’t make it because we’re not addressing their needs? Not all, but there could be so many more of them if we did.


      • Magnet-schools are no longer able to send students back to their neighborhood schools. They can do it, but it is not easy. The last CEO did away with that.

    • The article has a very true perspective. Sad that things are so out of control, and it will only get worse before it gets better. I must add that the comment posted at 7:13 am above was as eye-opening and helpful as telling me the sky is blue!

      • So… about as eye-opening and helpful as this comment of yours denigrating that person’s effort to ask for cautious consideration of the issue, rather than over-simplification? Even the author of the article was able to appreciate – maybe not agree with – the comment you dismissed. Thanks for your input.

      • @ [lowercase] j: I support the article, she does not. I’m not claiming to “know the answers.” …And you’re welcome for my input when you actually read my other posts below, which actually discuss the issue. I suggest you post something that adds to the discussion, too.

    • You can NOT run a district and say do “this” – the top needs to have solutions before saying do “this” then it must become something the school – meaning admin and teachers must get on board to enforce the policies.
      That being said the policy needs to be achievable! I have a problem with the district having a CEO education is NOT a business and should not be treated or run like one! Policies need to apply for a real life school setting not an office setting.

  3. This mandate once again places the burden of the program on the schools, principles and teachers, with no back up or support. If these rules were to work, our schools would need additional counselors, which already have been fired or laid off, social workers to support family and school relationships and also to help with aggressive and violent behavior. Social workers and counselors could work with teachers, parents and principles to create a behavior model for students who are repeatedly violent or aggressive. But we can’t afford social workers, because we barely can afford teachers. With this mandate, Should have come a behavioral plan which included more support for schools. Sadly it seems like one more thing teachers will be held responsible for without giving us the tools to accomplish the goal.

  4. AND, It’s great to know that “your” principal, who must figure out this issue, may not ever have been a TEACHER! ( Admin. requirements have changed) I am going to find out about this NEW legislation and we must turn it back… Teachers need to write the rules…NOT BUSINESSPEOPLE!!!!! Then, and only then…will schools run successfully and effectively for the benefit of children and society!!!

  5. Hmmm, as a teacher I know this article is completely accurate. I’m tired of dealing with kids who don’t want to be in my class and don’t want to be respectful of the kids who are losing their educations because of the crap they pull every single day. If the rules are not going to be enforced and I am not going to get any support from administration or the district this year then I am going to have to take things into my own hands I guess. When a kid gets out of line, I suppose we can push his/her buttons until they throw the first punch. Then I’m going to take that kid to the ground with all of my 205 pounds in self defense. Thanks to my union contract I’m allowed to defend myself finally! I guarantee that kid will be more messed up than I will be. They WILL be leaving my class, even if it has to be on a stretcher. I bet once that happens there won’t BE anymore issues in my class with problem kids!

    • I totally agree with you. I come to work uninjured and I plan on coming home the same way. So if one approaches me and puts his/her hands on me….as Malcolm X said “by any means necessary”. So sad we have come to this. Even sadder that the problem kids will be allowed to continue interrupting the education of all the others

      • “Malcolm X is one of the reasons why this shit happens….Some people who don’t deserve rights have to many..

  6. The Philadelphia School District is in a state of disrepair, a violent madhouse. Taught there for two and a half years and refused to allow the primitive behavior to exist in my classroom. The administration is unwilling and/or unable to back the teachers in the buildings I was in. After being head butted, bitten, threatened to be shot, clawed, having a car window shot out, almost stabbed with pencil, and hearing of other teachers’ horror stories, I realized teachers in Philly were not respected nor protected. Teaching elsewhere, happy and safe.

    • I too left SDP. Very happy with my current position. I did not know I could be this happy in this profession. I will be starting my 3 year there.

    • How sad your story is Dr. I feel your pain and know of many who have had experiences that are shockingly similar. What pains me the most about this entire scenario is that the ones who really suffer from all of this intentional neglect / avoidance of the “safety and security” issue, are the children. Yes, the teachers, support staff… need support and safety, but we/ they have their education / livelihood/ future in hand, while the children still need guidance, health care, problem solving skills, quality education and to learn how to be human. And what do the “powers that be” say??? Just give up and let someone else do the job…without asking the most important people in this entire equation…THE EDUCATORS.

    • Glad you were able to make it out. I have half my career in psd and wonder daily how I will ever make it another 16 years!

  7. Spot on article Chris…as usual.
    The comment about the new CEO ‘foisting/forcing’ his idea/concept of discipline on the School District being similar to Obamacare, shows how stupid ideas are not always the right ideas. Just because he thinks it’s a good idea, doesn’t make it a good idea. Those who have to deal with it on a daily basis KNOW it’s not.a good idea/policy.
    Without discipline, there is anarchy. The inmates will indeed be running the asylum.

    Mike from Rox

  8. Hey that is my stupid idea Mike from Rox. And change is coming no matter how much you do not like the change or how stupid you think it is. Schools are not producing results that the pubic expects. Folks are no longer willing to pay for the status quo. Same with health care. It is too expensive. If you don’t like Obama’s idea vote for the Republicans. Not sure what their ideas are as they keep changing. I happen to think the Democrats ideas are good.

    My main suggestion- each school figure out how to gain control of the students. If you don’t someone else will come up with ideas that you don’t like. That is how it works.

    I have seen teachers who have complete control of some of the most difficult students. How do they do it? The have a strict discipline plan, they enforce it and the kids listen. The kids walk up and down the hallways without making a sound. They never talk in class. They never sass. I have seen it and this is with middle school kids so the students I see are not that far off age-wise from the HS’s you guys teach.

    I have seen other teachers fight all day long with their students. And these two teachers are in the same school. If one teacher can gain control then all the teachers can gain control.

    Teachers and the principals of the HS’s have to figure out a way to get control. Otherwise you cannot teach and kids cannot learn.

    IF I was the CEO i would give bonuses and pay raises to the teachers in the schools who figure out how to control the kids. They should be rewarded for good ideas. Pay them extra, a lot extra.

    If it is impossible then let’s just close the buildings and go get other jobs.

    Poverty and guns and drugs and bad parents are not going to disappear. Wishing and hoping that they will go away, now that is the stupid idea.


    • Kathy, ou keep saying “figure out a way…”. Well that’s not really a solution, it’s just stating the obvious. Maybe people need to take a look back in history. I saw a great comic that summarizes a huge problem with education these days – a box from the 60s of the parents scolding the child for having bad grades, and then a box from present day of the parents scolding the teachers – instead of the child – for the bad grades. The problem is teachers are constantly under attack, being sued, being told what they can and cannot do to properly educate. Instead of trying to “figure out a way”, why don’t we take a lesson from history and go back to our older methods where teachers actually had respect and authority.

      • I agree with you, Ann. And I’ve seen that box cartoon…very revealing. My question is….when will Act 49 be passed–that is, the legislation that makes parents take 180 hours of parenting courses to become effective parents? That, of course, is a pipedream.

      • Parents DO need classes these days! They need to understand the value of what their child will be offered and that their child / children will need assistance. Children should NOT have to raise themselves.
        Perhaps classes should be a requirement of welfare as well!

  9. If any of you took the time to look at research, then you would know that a school’s climate has a direct correlation to student achievement. Everyone wants PSSA scores to improve but they do not want to do what it takes to improve schools’ climate. It takes balls, to make the parents and students accountable for their actions instead of blaming the lack of achievement all on teachers. Parents are the first teachers and if they let their children get away with these behaviors at school, what can a teacher do? Nothing. Let’s think realistically, if it was your child or grandchild would you have them attend a regular neighborhood school that has serious climate issues? No you would not hear of such a thing or put your child in that environment. So of course people would compare reform that help other people to OBAMACARE because it does not effect them. If this issues effected your child or grandchild, you would want something done about it, but it does not, that is why you want schools to fix a problem that takes a community. The schools in the district just gave up on their children by doing away with the old code of conduct…GOD HELP US…and SAVE OUR CHILDREN.

  10. I feel like I need to interject here. First of all I am not a teacher and have never been a teacher. I can’t even begin to imagine what you have to deal with every SINGLE day.

    Kathy, saying that a 13 year old is basically the same as a 17 or 18 year old is preposterous. At some point we have to accept that these kids have gone from being a disruptive child to being an unmanageable adult. If you haven’t figured out by 11th grade how to act like a civilized human being I’d say the odds are pretty good that you aren’t going to figure it out by graduation day. I know this because I was a terrible student and it took three months of boot camp and four years in the military to figure out what an asshole I was in high school. No, poverty, guns, drugs and bad parents aren’t going to disappear but you CAN make the students who have no desire to learn or act like an adult disappear.

    “Teachers and principals of the high schools have to figure out a way to get control.” Really? That is your analysis of the discipline problem in the Philadelphia School District? As a teacher IN the Philadelphia School District? You can’t really be suggesting that these teachers who have CHOSEN to stick around in a school district that is in shambles, haven’t tried to “figure out a way to get control”. They are taking away what little means they have of getting control. WE have gone from zero tolerance to zero discipline.

    Again, I am not a teacher, so I am speaking from a position of ignorance. I am however the parent of a beautiful little girl who is about to embark on a terrifying journey through the Philly School District. We can’t afford to send her to private schools, refuse to send her to parochial schools(that’s a subject for another day)and I have a job with a residency requirement. So I find myself at an impasse. Fortunately we got her into a pretty good Charter School so I don’t really have to start agonizing about high school for about 8 years.

    I deeply respect the passionate, dedicated teachers who have chosen to stick around despite having the proverbial rug pulled out from under them at every turn. If it was me I would have jumped ship long ago.

    • Michael thanks for the praise- not something teachers hear often! I happen to be a teacher who maintains control of my students in my classroom in order for all of my students to get the best education I can provide them. There are those occasional students who do not wish to comply with my classroom rules and do not want to embrace becoming part of my classroom family. Going from zero tolerance- which was a joke anyway- to zero discipline is going to tie the hands of teachers even more. It is most unfortunate for the students who come to school each day with a thirst for knowledge and their parents who nurture and value the education of their child.

  11. Maybe instead of asking for more money and less hours as they do in Neshaminy, the teacher’s union should be asking their union for control of the classroom!

    • The Philly School District and the Neshaminy school district are absolutely NOTHING alike. Stop demonizing teachers for trying to achieve fair working conditions. Place the blame where it belongs, on the politicians who have decided education and public safety are a good place to start balancing their budgets and school administrators who don’t have the cajones to discipline these kids.

  12. Kathy and all the rest of you telling us to “figure something out” have never been faced with the real fear of being physically harmed in a classroom as I was 2 years ago.

    Under a lax principal, we teachers “figured out” that we had to lock our classroom doors to keep students who roamed the halls from randomly coming into our rooms to disrupt class. You have NO IDEA how bad these schools can be without a firm discipline policy in place.

    I dread September and the coming school year.

  13. Michael- before you start spouting off, take a good look at the Neshaminy contract- you would have died and think you’d gone to heaven!! Familiarize yourself with a few of the following: can retire 53% are at max step and with salary and bennies average $125,000 per year, can retire after 10 years (only 11 steps) with a payout of $27,500 handed to them, just to say goodbye. Or how about free healthcare (Cadillac) for they AND their dependents til age 65, lifetime (87% of last 3 years teaching) pension, and the list goes on and on and on. And what does the NFT want?–More and More and More, and….. Their former contract which they’ve been teaching under since 2008 is still more lucrative than 12 surrounding districts and it is almost 2013!! I feel sorry for Philly teachers who sweat it out with animal like behavior on a daily basis for much much less. Yes, we can certainly blame former school boards all the way up to Harrisburg. And yes, problems in the classroom can certainly be addressed in a contract since generally speaking, Admin sports
    small “cajones”. Michael, come back after you’ve familiarized yourself which is the mess we call Neshaminy!!

    • I’m sorry I missed the part where this has anything at all to do with the Neshaminy School District. I don’t know a damned thing about what’s going on in Neshaminy and, to be honest with you, I don’t really care. Why don’t YOU come back when you have something constructive to say about the PHILADELPHIA school district.

    • I lived in the Neshaminy School District for 42 years. My husband, children and I all graduated from Neshaminy High School. My mother-in-law taught there for 33 years.

      First of all, the state retirement system for public school employees bases teacher retirement payments on the last three years of a teacher’s career in Pennsylvania. So, of course the teachers are going to go back to college to move up the pay scale. They don’t just move up for seniority. They work their butts off completing a Masters degree, while teaching full time during the school year. It’s called incentive. The more educated the teacher, the better the teacher is in the classroom.

      Secondly, the school district gives incentives for early retirement because it’s cheaper to hire two brand new teachers fresh out of college than to keep an experienced veteran who gets paid more for the continued education and experience. Who would you want teaching your kids?

      Third, the state’s guidelines for retiring teachers requires that the teacher be 55 AND have 25 years of teaching in Pennsylvania public schools before receiving early retirement, and that is not full retirement benefits.

      So, you are blaming the wrong people for your whining and sniveling about the Neshaminy teachers’ retirement plan, and you show a ton of ignorance about the Public School Employees Retirement System run by the state. Teachers take a huge penalty in their retirement package from the state if they don’t at least meet the 25/55 requirement.

      • P.A.R.- You know not of what you speak. #1: Neshaminy teachers don’t need Masters courses to increase pay. They only need MEQ’s such as Basket Weaving or Hair Braiding for a rise in salary for each course. So you see, they really are not “working their butts off”. #2 The early retirement incentive was to have lasted for one year only, which would have made it economical but since it’s inception in 2002, the very milatant NFT (teachers union) has claimed it “past practice” allows all teachers since that time be handed a $27,500 parting gift. Did you know if you teach in Neshaminy, you can retire after only 10 years with this parting gift and a full pension AND FREE healthcare for you AND ALL YOUR DEPENDANTS til you are 65 when Medicare kicks in? So #3 you are 100% wrong about needing to be 55 and have 25 years teaching experience. Like Michael and Dawn, you get in F on your homework assignments. It’s back to the drawing board for you!

  14. I am so sick and tired of hearing the teachers this and the principals that. Wake up people, I come from a family of teachers and I myself am a civil servant. WHEN will the parents be held responsible. When will we hold the parents accountable for the way their children act. I see it everyday at work. It is time we stop condoning the way people act. It’s time we stop saying its ok, “the parents are not educated, or have no money, or there is no father around”. I am so sick of excuses and the BS political correctness that the hard working people have to abide by to not offend others. This city and country is turning to crap because of political correctness. Just like our court system, now in our schools, we are making true discipline obsolete. All you far left liberals, it is time to wake up and see we are no longer educating kids, we are helping to raise future criminals……here it is…..”come to school and learn or GET OUT”. My child goes to public schools and deserves a good education, not a hostile scary environment because of disruptive, abusive criminal activities by the few.

  15. “Figuring it out”. That means designing a school discipline plan. Writing rules, posting rules. Enforcing rules. Meeting as a school team and agreeing on a school wide plan. Making sure everyone is on the same page. Make sure the students know the plan and the parents know the plan. Figuring out a way means designing a plan that meets your school needs, your student needs, teacher needs, and parent needs.

    Provide for school discipline if the plan is not followed. Provide for a reward system for all the kids following rules such as doing homework, wearing the school uniform, coming to school on time, getting on the honor roll, not using a cell phone and so on.

    I have only worked in elementary schools but this “figuring out” is a big part of our day and year. Maybe this is not how high schools function. Classroom teachers in el ed schools spend a ton of time during September and October teaching the discipline plan and the reward plan. It is big job.

    My current school has rewards such as special trips for kids who get good behavior awards from the teachers. We have special Fridays for kids who collect enough tickets for following the school plan. They get tons of rewards for following the rules. We have plans for kids who do not follow the rules. They lose outdoor lunch. They go to special work rooms and do extra work while others go on trips and play.

    Maybe these are not appropriate for HS. You guys are the HS experts, not me. That is why I said, “figure out a plan” that works for your buildings. My school did and still does every single day of the school year.

    I would pay teachers and schools a huge bonus if they could run a school that functioned like you all want. Give them raises for all the time they put in to develop a plan. Quiet schools with students who behave should be rewarded and rewarded financially. If you work in the business world and come up with good ideas you get raises and promotions.

    What is the choice if you do not figure out a plan- let the SDP tell you how to operate YOUR buildings. Let kids run wild. Give up. Suspend every child who ruins the education for the rest of the kids. Quit you job. Spend all day complaining that nothing can be done unless the SDP provides you with a plan.

    This is not some pie in the sky liberal idea. This is called teaching.

    You have to face those kids this September, not in 10 or 20 years when poverty has been eliminated by the Republican trickle down economics theory. What is your plan for the first day of school this September 2012?


    • Figuring out a plan…easier said than done! Some of the ideas you’ve mentioned just aren’t allowed. For example, students cannot be given “extra work” because it is seen as a punishment. Keeping kids from going on field trips is “discriminating” and “ostracizing” to the child, therefore hurting his/her self-esteem. Also, some rewards that kids love are criticized for taking away from “academic time” and wasting time. Nutrition guidelines prevent teachers from using food as a reward–which is so contrary since many of the kids come to school hungry. I know…it’s not how we as teachers see things, but some of these schools get boxed in and hand-tied for so many little things, which makes it nearly impossible to “figure it out” effectively. As for paying teachers/schools for doing a better job, I say that teaching is NOT a business. Those kids in front of us are not “items for sale” that we can send back to the supplier because they don’t function properly. Some teachers are dealt “rotten apples” while others get the “cream of the crop.” That does not level the playing field for paying teachers based on student/school performance. It’s like “No Dentist Left Behind…” a scenario that pays Dentists better money if their patients have no cavities! Will it be fair for Dentists to be penalized because their patients don’t floss or brush their teeth? Should teachers be penalized because students don’t do their homework and parents don’t discipline their kids? Not fair! No disrespect to you, and you sound like a very caring and effective teacher…but your experience and situation is rare, sad to say. Most circumstances are not success stories as you can see by almost all the comments being in favor of this article. The problem, as I see it, is that kids are given too much control and freedom by parents, schools, and society in general, thus creating a “Lord of the Flies” situation. If only those kids had “figured something out” maybe Piggy wouldn’t have met his demise…much like the SDP.

      • Amen sister! I have been an sdp teacher for years and have seen and heard it all! Some of the strongest teachers I know have faced major disruptions during instruction by students who would not or could not settle down. I have seen screaming, spitting, and violent attacks with desks and chairs being thrown, I have witnessed assaults on staff and students in classrooms and hallways. I have seen teachers reprimanded for calling 911 to report an attack. I have seen students who have assaulted a student or teacher returned to their classrooms ( by an administrator) within minutes of the attack. I worked in a school of over 800 students with only one school police officer who could not respond to more than one incident at a time. Frequently, two or more major disruptions were occurring at once. I worked for a principal that hid in his office to avoid parents. I could go on and on. The bottom line is a stronger discipline policy is needed to run effective schools. A teacher can not teach if he or she is prevented from maintaining control. I have never taught a stupid child. They all see the “problem” kids get away with every type of disruption you can imagine and sooner or later think it is okay for them to behave in any manner they choose. I have had many wonderful parents who support their kids but I have also had many who have not. The majority of the students lose out on a valuable education every single day because of the lack of support from administration and 440. It’s not fair to our kids who deserve the best education we can offer them.

  16. Kathy,

    Well said. I agree with you 100 percent. I am sure you are a very caring and dedicated educator. And it sounds like you are really making a difference. I too want to make a difference this year, not just write about it.


  17. Dear iteachinphilly,

    you state:

    “Kathy and all the rest of you telling us to “figure something out” have never been faced with the real fear of being physically harmed in a classroom as I was 2 years ago.”

    Wrong. A homeless man wondered into my school at 7:00am and tried to attack me. Two male teachers saved me. Police were called. Crime scene tape was strung in front of my classroom. I was taken to the sex crimes unit and had to go to court. The worst part- when my students saw me sitting in the police car they thought I was being arrested for a crime.

    At another school my car was broken into, windows smashed, radio stolen.

    Back in the 70’s when I worked in daycare and was in the building after hours , a student who was mad at his teacher came back to school and threw a fire bomb into an open window. Fire was blowing out of the school windows. Fire trucks came. I had to get my students out of the building. All very scary.

    And on and on.


    • Maybe I should have been clear that I was physically threatened by a *student* in my class. The principal at that time was incredibly lax and the kids knew it.

      I was all alone. I called security; but typical of that time, of course no one answered. Seeing no help was coming, the student, laughed and said, “See, b**ch, nobody’s coming.”

      When I reported the incident, the principal wanted me to forget the whole thing. Really??

      I’m not interested in swapping stories about who was scared and why. I am discussing what will happen under the new “discipline” policy. Maybe we should call it the “Slap on the wrist and a warning policy”

      I have zero faith in the “oh let’s help the poor 18 year old who brought drugs/ beat someone up / refuses to allow others to learn.”

      I see us going back to a lax, chaotic atmosphere of kids roaming the halls, coming to school whatever time they please and cursing out anyone who tries to correct them.

      The SRC has tied our hands and – like you – expects teachers to “figure something out.” Tuesday’s Inquirer editorial ( said it perfectly:” . . it will be challenging to implement without additional resources to maintain order in classrooms.” Just as soon as that money for resources shows up, let me know.

  18. If the school dumped these kids back on their parents, the parents would start being parents. It’s not the state’s job to educate kids. Let the weak fall by the wayside if they must. The slow cattle are dragging back the rest of the herd.

    Education is a privilege not a right.

  19. Kind of a shame that the article above, and most of the comments that follow it are predominantly gripes and examples of misery seeking company, but pretty lean when it comes to proposing possible solutions. Being a teacher in the Philadelphia School District is definitely a difficult job and sometimes seems more dangerous than being a marine in Iraq, but all jobs have difficult components. Try being a cop in Philadelphia … you’ll miss the classroom quick. Try being a construction worker on I-95 during a 98 degree heat wave … the classroom will seem perfectly lovely. Try picking up garbage in rat invested parts of the city …. your classroom will seem absolutely wonderful. My suggestion … stop wasting your time crying about a situation that is common in any urban teaching environment, and focus on proposing a well crafted solution to the school district. They could use your help and expertise. As the cliche says…If you can’t be part of the solution, then you’re just part of the problem. You’d be surprised how many teachers have come into the system, face these problems head on, and spend their time researching and implementing solutions, and dedicate themselves to making a difference no matter what the circumstances. They live by this code … “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal.” Time for you guys to get your eyes back on the goal, suggest solutions, or find a different career, possibly making flower arrangements.

    • S. Bonner,

      You are right and agree 100% – be a part of the solution, not the problem. However, what does one do when a proactive,postive solution is presented to admistration and they knock it down? I cannot stop any more fights, catch students using illegal substances, and provide positive behavioral interventions without the support of administration. I work in a school where our administrators pubically voices concern about their losing their pensions if they faii toe the line. Consequently, support does not exist for teachers who work hard to find solutions. Really? My focus has never been on a pension. Rather, it has been teaching and caring for students for almost 20 years.

  20. The src doesn’t teach….because they can’t obviously nor do they know that a strong teacher is a safe classroom ….these guys will get a teacher or principal killed based on the scenerios read in this article….who’s willing to have that happen?

  21. Kathy,
    Can you please stop force-feeding us your pro-Obama rhetoric? This issue is not a bully pulpit for your liberal beliefs. It is, however, a critical moment in the future of public education in this city.

    Donut & iteach,
    I love your candor.

  22. This article is spot on exactly what I experienced for 15 of my 18 years as a teacher in Philadelphia. I retired after teaching three years in the best school I could dream of. Discipline was not a problem, because the parents respected the teachers and had high expectations of their children. My previous 15 years were not so blessed.

    For nine years, I taught at a school that basically had no discipline plan. Kids roamed the halls, smashing the windows in classrooms’ doors, breaking into empty classrooms and completely trashing the room, while the teacher was on prep, running things off, or at lunch, eating in the staff lounge. I got two ulcers while teaching at two different schools.

    At one school, I was 204ed for my supposed lack of classroom management. Some kids called out in class, or talked, during one of my observations by a vindictive vice principal who didn’t like that I wrote pink slips on serious infractions, after trying to intervene and maintain order. She refused to enforce discipline. I wasn’t permitted to hold after school detentions, because 90% of the students were bused for desegregation from North Philly, and our school was in the Far Northeast. I had taught at three previous schools for 13 years without a 204 in my file, and was not given the opportunity to remediate, until the union rep came to the school and pled my case before the principal, vice principal and me. This woman was trying to fire me for supposedly not doing my job, while she abdicated any responsibility to discipline disruptive, unruly, acting out middle school students, and she was the school’s disciplinarian.

    As the author stated, the parents and students are not held responsible or accountable for the inappropriate, sometimes criminal behavior of the students. The principals are afraid of the parents, because a lot of them go downtown to complain about the mean principal and teacher picking on the precious child by expecting him/her to behave in a civilized manner. Then downtown calls the principal on the carpet, and the principal, or vice principal blames the students.

    I’ve had instances where the principal believed the student over me, while questioning me in front of the student. I never lied when it came to behavior.

    So, the state underfunds the school district, and the school district fires the counselors and social workers who can intervene and learn about the home environment and make recommendations concerning mental health issues. Teachers are forbidden to suggest to parents that Johnny may benefit from seeing a professional regarding his behavior. All of the blame and responsibility falls on the teacher, whose only goal was to follow the rigid curriculum written by downtown that never made room for reteaching missed concepts or lessons.

    Get real Kathy. Your school is an the exception to the rule, only because your principal gave a damn. Most of mine never did.

  23. Really???? Who is going to do the interventions. There is no one left but teachers. Teachers today in the PSD have zero support.

  24. A series of contradictions: set high standards for the students, but when standards are not met, accept it; prepare them for the real world, but there are zero “real world” consequences when rules are broken; teachers are to teach wonderful lessons as lateness, cutting, talking back occurs in the classroom. Increase test scores as students roam the halls. Protect them, but give no consequence when dangerous behavior occurs. Continue giving them breaks, and expect them to be better. Make it easier for them, and expect them to work harder. Free breakfast, free lunch, free after school snack, free trans passes, no consequences, no parental responsibility…when is anyone going to get it? Raise the standard and they will have to meet it! The students, all students, are begging us to set boundaries for them. They need help from their own natural adolescent tendencies to rebel. Even most adults will speed a bit when there are no visible police cars on 95!

    • I agree with you, SDPTeacherof10yrs… It’s’ too bad the the standards are only raised FOR teachers and not for the students. Our bar gets raised, theirs gets lowered 😦

  25. Our nation’s public education is in crisis and most of it is because of a lack of discipline. Teachers do not want to subject themselves to abuse any longer. Many are dropping out and I don’t blame them at all. Students are very quick to curse and threaten teachers who try to discipline them. There is nothing to understand here. Some students are just jerks and they are taking control of the school, preventing the rest of the children from learning, and wearing out their teachers. We need more discipline right now, not less. Schools are some of the most uncivil places in our society these days.

    • The ISSUE is the Administration!!! Most districts are desperate to get Principals, so they choose friends, neighbors or whomever the city chooses. And “after” choosing them..THEY GO TO SCHOOL. Some of the principals in Philadelphia were in classrooms 1 YEAR, some were NEVER in classrooms. How do I know. RTK laws!!! If the TOP PERSON HAS EXPERIENCE, VISION AND FEELS DEDICATION IN THEIR HEART??? The school will be fine..WHY??? Because everyone inside would work together. TODAY schools are little countries with MANY STATES working separately…Schools are falling apart because our GOVERNMENT DOESNT CARE…I DARE ANYONE TO OPPOSE ME…WITH PROOF!!!!!!!

    • The last year I worked in (Philly) we had a faculty meeting where we were directed by administrators to have students removed decorative masking tape from the lockers. Okay, reasonable enough. However, I asked about what could also be done about the pot that wafted from the bathrooms and stairwells. This stuff (in the stairwells) was caught on the hundred or more video cameras in the school. I was quickly cut off and the same old rant went on about masking tape. There is no order or learning when half of the students are loaded.

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