The modern challenges of public school teaching are diverse and deep. While it is clear that academic achievement is “job one” for schools, we now are faced with a dizzying array of risks and challenges from our students, parents, and society. Some might say it’s “depressing” and it’s not a joke.
Recent years have seen an explosion of, and discussion about, schools traditional use of “exclusionary discipline.” Typically, teachers have sent students to the office to see an administrator (or another person) to respond to most forms of disruption in the classroom. But a contemporary view of exclusion is that it’s harmful to students and doesn’t work in the long run. We hear about the “school to prison pipeline,” and “trauma informed care” at a time when budgets are declining, and perhaps the students we receive at school are more challenging than we remember. Most teachers and administrators I work with agree with this, and yet we are all left wondering, “What are alternatives that work?” Others (maybe you), wonder if we are in an era where there are no “consequences” and challenging students will ruin schooling for everyone. We know what we are doing is not the right thing, and yet it’s stressful to feel ineffective without understanding what else to do.
This first-year teacher sauntered into the school year with grand plans for community building, establishing norms, and a seamless implementation of a fool-proof classroom management strategy. Well, can you guess what happened? It didn’t stick. Okay, some of it worked, but the major foundation of a successful classroom began to crumble under my feet in early October. The good news is, I quickly recognized what was happening and, with the blessing of my very supportive administrators, I enacted a plan to regain control of my classroom.
Creating and sustaining school cultures that support the social and emotional needs of children is a topic of continual discussion in educational forums.
I have spent decades exploring how to best support students when we can only truly control the seven or eight hours a day they are in our care. How do we then find ways to make a positive impact that is self-sustaining, while keeping the learning rigorous and the programs relevant on campus?
The overwhelming feelings of fear and insecurity rise into my throat as I stare into my plan book, pencil tapping away at the empty space where my first week of instruction should be. When do I start with my content areas? When are the materials arriving? Will we have test scores by then to begin grouping? I’m getting ahead of myself.
After several long, deep breaths, I begin to remember what these first weeks are really about. I won’t be overwhelming my students with an explicit lesson on narrative writing during day one. I won’t be diving into comprehension quizzes on day two. I must go slow to go fast. Establish norms. Build my classroom community.
Recent conversations in my faculty lounge have drifted to the sentencing of educators in Georgia who were convicted of tampering with test materials. How did people who presumably care deeply about children end up breaking laws and serving prison time?
We as educators are trained to look beyond the results of a failure and analyze the cause. So what happened in Georgia, and is threatening to happen all over the country? Perhaps the problem is that an assessment is being used for purposes beyond its scope. I contend that if we as educators want to improve our discipline’s professionals, we need to use tools that are proven to do just that.
Cyberbullying, or electronic aggression, has emerged as another form of antisocial behavior as students have ever-increasing access to computers, mobile phones, and other electronic devices (David-Ferndon & Hertz, 2009). This form of bullying refers to aggression that is executed through personal computers or mobile phones to send e-mail, instant messaging, text messages, or messaging on social networks (Wang, Iannotti, & Nansel, 2009). Though research is limited about the extent of this new form of bullying, available studies report that 9–35 percent of students report being the target of cyberbullying, and 4–21 percent report being the aggressor (David-Ferndon & Hertz, 2009).
Effective Models for Responding to Problem Behaviors in Students With EBD
By Dan Habib
Over 2 million young people in the United States have an emotional/behavioral disability (EBD). Statistics released by the Southern Poverty Law Center and The Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders reflect the grim outcomes for these students:
Students with EBD have the worst graduation rate of all students with disabilities. Nationally, only 40 percent of students with EBD graduate from high school, compared with the national average of 76 percent.
Students with EBD are three times as likely as other students to be arrested before leaving school.
Students with EBD are twice as likely as other students with disabilities to live in a correctional facility, halfway house, drug treatment center, or on the street after leaving school.
Female students with EBD are twice as likely as students with other disabilities to become teenage mothers.
75 percent of young adults with EBD have been involved with the criminal justice system at some point in their lives.
A survey of school principals regarding school discipline found that there were two contrasting groups: some principals strongly advocated a firm, no-nonsense, zero-tolerance approach to discipline, while others favored a more supportive and understanding approach. Many adults could readily categorize their school principals into one group or the other. But which strategy is more effective? Are students and teachers safer in a school with strict discipline or one where there is a less punitive and more supportive approach
In the midst of the rigor of a twenty-first century curriculum, can we squeeze in a few lessons on empathy and compassion? “Touchy-Feely” activities seem like an unwise use of time as we plow through multiplication algorithms, written language activities, and scientific investigations. Yet, we want all of our students to score “well above average” on state standards AND be able to play well with others.
Taking into consideration the time constraints on all educators, there are some strategies that can be embedded into daily lesson plans and the overall school environment. Helping children to care is a foundational piece for success in school and in life.
Many teachers experience enormous stress while attempting to “discipline” disruptive students, and often do not feel adequately supported by their colleagues, parents, or society. Teachers often tell me, “I just want something that works,” and yet, when I ask them how they define “what works,” they are unclear about the goals of behavior change, how to measure change, and how long it will take to get there. This lack of perceived job control (“I don’t feel like I am in control of what I need to be effective”) and professional efficacy (“I feel like what I am doing is not making a difference”) results in high levels of stress and can directly lead to burnout or other unhealthy responses to the problem. Fully one half of all new teachers leave the field within their first four years of practice, citing students with behavioral challenges and their parents as one of the main reasons.