We need to pay attention to our schools. Staff and teachers are left with no strategies for dealing with disruptive (and physically out-of-control) kids. If you think that schools have been exaggerating misbehavior, I think you can easily find out, probably on the internet, that schools have actually been soft-pedaling the numbers and types of disruptive, or otherwise anti-social encounters. I’m sure most of you saw the child who was hand-cuffed above his elbows by a policeman and was complaining about how much that hurt. It probably did hurt and it definitely should be a last resort in subduing a disruptive child.
Throwing chairs at teachers and staff, however, is quite common these days and I will bet that chairs are not all students throw; chairs are just the one thing I have heard mentioned most often. Defying simple rules like arriving in the classroom on time, giving your attention to the lesson at hand, staying in your seat, using appropriate language and tone are no longer goals for some students; they are targets. Students arrive when they wish and leave when they wish. If teachers intervene these students have incredibly polished intimidation skills. They also know and say that teachers cannot touch them at all or use swear words to escalate hostilities. These students become like the people who enjoy baiting the guards at Buckingham Palace to see if they can get a reaction, but these kids are not being creative and there is no humor. This is not a prank, just a conditioned response they have taught themselves so that they have a sort of personal power, however anti-social that power may be. How schools educate anyone and deal (even very marginally) with these angry children is a mystery to me and I was a teacher for most of my life (although this kind of acting out was not so common then.)
Perhaps some teachers see this as a challenge. They believe they have better ways to defuse behavior than students have ways to turn a lesson into a heart-pounding drama. Some of these teachers are right. They do have a knack for keeping a classroom in order without being too dictatorial. Some prove unsuccessful in the arena and everyone suffers. Some teachers are so warm and supportive that they win students over in that way. Not all students are receptive to warm and supportive though. Most teachers are just bewildered and scared however. This battleground is not what they signed up for. They find it difficult to accomplish educational goals while dealing with students who are consistently trying to stop progress.
If we want schools that take care of the needs of all children we need to hold working conferences and devise structures and strategies. Some of the children are just bringing behavior required to survive in their family or their neighborhood, or both, into school with them. Calling their parents does no good. It is possible that their behavior at school is encouraged. How do we offer these children a different, kinder and more productive/cooperative view of human interaction? I’m assuming that in most cases we do not intend to break up families. We will have to make an impression that cancels out or transcends their past and current experiences. Perhaps these children need an anger management component in their day that offers a controlled but engaging, team approach while pursuing an activity they like or feel good at.
Art and music used to serve the purpose of being both practical and pleasant for some, or shop class, automotive repair, typing classes (computer classes), home economics. Perhaps we have been too hasty in abandoning these classes where students get to mingle and compete against themselves. We still have sports but not everyone is coordinated enough or is inclined to like participating in a team sport. Some might burn off excess energy in classes like yoga or spinning. Channeling negative energy into positive places might help defuse angry frustration.
Other disruptive students may have disabilities or mental illnesses. These may be minor or really serious, but can be very frustrating to children if they are not accommodated appropriately or are not being taught accommodations they can use on their own.
We barely have money for teachers so where will we find funds for these children who are having severe adjustment reactions and who are constantly showing everyone how unhappy they are. We need psychologists and strategies. They need to be communicated to teachers on teacher’s conference days and in summer sessions. The techniques need to be practical and to be proven successful for handling out-of-control students. Out-of-control students have no place in a classroom. They need to be removed, not to a rubber room, to a therapy session, to a calming activity, or whatever the experts decide on as a plan. A classroom should never feel like a physical battlefield, only a place where minds are engaged and controversy is about ideas.
We must put some money into this or it will not go away and we will hear ever more frequently about how our schools are not working and it will get harder and harder to find teachers and staff willing to spend each day wondering if the day will be calm or explosive. We must make a plan, spend money to implement the plan and we must keep tweaking it until it works. If there is no money it is very clear that things will most likely get much worse. Perhaps it is instructive that many of the adults we hear about on our news these days are so contentious. Perhaps we need to figure out how to tone down our grown-up aggressions for the sake of our children.
Just a thought – perhaps if we took the billions being spent by billionaires and special interests and put it into education instead of buying elections we wouldn’t have to repeat that America is still exceptional to try to get people to believe it; America really would be exceptional.
By Nancy Brisson