It’s About Relationships.

“This kid stood up and told my wife F*#@& you right to her face in front of me and that kid didn’t even get suspended.”

“Classrooms are wild these days. Kids are so out of control, it didn’t use to be like this. And the Principal never suspends anybody, that’s why it is so out of control. All these out of town kids moving in.”

“This administrator is always undermining teachers. I don’t know what it takes to get suspended at this school.”

I have heard these kinds of comments my whole career. They seem to be more frequent lately. Perhaps it is because of public pressure, including legislation,  to school districts to reduce suspension rates. How can you teach a kid if the kid is not in school? I think this pressure is a good thing.

In my career working in inner-city schools, I have worked with a lot of kids with disruptive behaviors. I have seen many kids kicked out of class for being disruptive, aggressive, or disrespectful. I will admit to kicking a few kids out for these things myself, especially in my early career when I didn’t know any better. Removing the student from the classroom never solved the problem. Sure, the immediate issue was gone; the outbursts were gone for the day, or for a few minutes, but the problem was not corrected. Usually, the problem was not even addressed.

I have found that when kids lash out in class it is a result of some combination of two reasons:

  1. Something bad (often horrible) is happening in that student’s life or environment and the student does not have the ability to deal with it in a healthy way.
  2. The teacher has not been as skillful in their craft as they could be.

In either case suspending the student will not solve the problem. Sending the student home means the student misses instruction and falls even further behind. When the student returns, nothing has changed. Rinse, lather, repeat.

As teachers, we can not solve all of the world’s problems. We are not psychologists. We are not social workers. We are not law enforcement officers. We are educators. Our job is to educate all of the kids that are enrolled in our classes. In order to do our job, we need to have a healthy supportive relationship with every student in the room. Kids need to feel safe in the classroom. A person can’t learn at an optimum level if they do not feel safe and supported. I have found that when a positive supportive climate exists those disruptive students magically go away. They are replaced with students that want to be in class. If they are in class they can be taught. If the student feels supported then those other issues of terrible, awful, very bad things happening in their life can be addressed.   It all begins with a positive healthy relationship between the teacher and the students. All of the students.

A colleague of mine recently gave a talk about this that can be found here. (Warning: tissues may be needed.) If you are one of those teachers struggling with disrespectful kids, ask yourself about those relationships. Have you done the work to develop those relationships? It is never too late to work on it.


Is Our School Safe?

We had an incident at school this week that made the news. It first glance it wasn’t a good thing. A kid brought a gun to school. A loaded, semiautomatic 9mm Ruger. I am not a gun guy, but I hear that is a serious piece. I was not on campus when it happened so I missed the whole lock down series of events, but due to the marvels of modern technology I was able to follow the events from another campus.

I do not know why the student felt the need to bring a gun to school, but it is becoming a less than unusual event. This was the third time in less than a month this has happened in our district. Our city has been experiencing a tremendous growth in violence, with a record number of homicides this year. Budget cuts have brought a reduction in police officers, and that I am sure has at least some impact on the violence levels. The police have actually warned people to not wear jewelry in public because of the threat of robbery. Its a dangerous place, and these kids live there.

The day after the incident there were a lot of kids who wanted to talk about it. They wanted to know that they are safe at school. I have to admit it was hard to tell someone they are safe at school when we go on lockdown as often as we do because of gun shots in the neighborhood.  Or when a student had a gun on campus. But the reality is students saw the gun, and told the right people. The police were on scene very quickly, and the student who brought the gun was in jail before lunch was over. We may not have armed guards or legions of police guarding the campus, but yes, I think our school is a safe place, because it is full of good people. Thats what I learned this week.