Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Lack of Discipline in Public Schools in America

Long before the economic downturn, American teachers had begun to see a decrease in the resources that were allotted to them. Limits were placed on copies and ink toner cartridges; once given out as needed, they now were distributed once a year. Broken classroom fixtures were occasionally patched up but no longer replaced.

As a teacher, I find all of those situations tiresome, but none of those do I consider as detrimental to my effectiveness as a teacher than the lack of discipline. Rules and consequences are needed everywhere. What is quite ironic about the need for discipline in schools is that the students are aware of the need as well. In fact, they are the first ones to admit when there is a lack of discipline. Last year, I asked my students to come up with a theme for our classroom conflict meetings. The idea which won unanimously was “A school without rules is a zoo; a zoo with rules is a school.” The students’ choosing of this motto acknowledged their differences, yet at the same time, showed they understood the need for rules and consequences in order to avoid chaos.

The chaos in my middle school has nothing to do with the school’s diverse population. It has everything to do with the fact that when the students misbehave, the appropriate consequences are not given. As a result, the students are not afraid to misbehave. Last week, I told one of my students that if he did not stop throwing paper across the room, I would send him to the principal’s office. His response: “Go ahead cause I don’t want to be in here. Mrs. Thompson (our assistant principal) is cool anyway.” I sent him to Mrs. Thompson’s office. The student returned to class ten minutes later with a cookie in his hand.

Later that afternoon, I spoke to Mrs. Thompson about the student’s consequences. Mrs. Thompson first suggested that it was my fault because I wasn’t keeping my students engaged. Then she reminded me my student was doing much better than he had last year. He had only been in her office five times this year as compared to ten visits, during the same elapsed time, the previous year. I tried to interject how the student was not only throwing paper across the room, but also that he was throwing it at other students who were actively engaged in learning. My voice went unheard.

After that, I sat silently in Mrs. Thompson’s office because all I’ve ever wanted to be was a teacher, but still – it was all BS. None of this was my fault. It was her fault. It was also her fault the three-student fight had occurred in the cafeteria last week after she had decided it wasn’t necessary to suspend the student who kept threatening the other students. It was the fault of all the administrators that the students had pulled the fire alarm “just for laughs” four times in one week. One day’s suspension was like an extra sleep day for most of the students. After a day of forced rest, the students would come back and tell their friends how much fun they had on their off day.

That lack of discipline is not only my problem; it also hinders the efforts of many public school teachers in the United States. A lack of discipline encourages poor behavior. This behavior manifests a total disregard for authority because the students do not fear the consequences. Without fear, there is no white line that the students are not afraid to cross.

Not only does this lack of discipline make it hard for a teacher to manage his/her classroom, but it also poses safety issues. During a recent fire drill, I noticed a novice teacher attempting to get her class quiet so they could hear her instructions. In the event of a real fire, this could have been a very serious situation.

Additionally, let it be noted that one of the most stated reasons for teacher resignation is the lack of discipline. People may say it was all about the money, but it is never about the money. People leave teaching because they’re tired of the lack of discipline and the shortage of respect.

At the end of the day, when all excuses have been made, the decision boils down to the idea of not leaving children behind and making sure that the school’s discipline record is as clean as possible. Obviously, it’s okay for children to cause other children to fall behind in their learning, and if there is a zero written on the line next to disciplinary referrals, then that school must be the safest school in America. The first part of that statement is clearly wrong, and the second part is equally wrong. Just because you can’t see it or read about it, doesn’t mean it does not exist. Some of the greatest United States disasters were not seen until the very last minute.

Unless the United States educational policy is overhauled to include more teacher input, a tiered balance of responsibility where students and parents share the greatest level, and a stronger, more effective system of discipline, then there will be no hope for public education in the United States, and in the long run, no hope for the United States.

About No Teacher Left Behind

Explored through a series of poems, emails, and brief conversations, No Teachers Left Behind is a fictional yet realistic look at the frustrations of middle school staff.

About the Author

HBF Teacher has been a public school Middle grades teacher for three years. Before that, HBF substitute taught for two years. HBF has also worked as a live-in nanny and an accounts payable representative.

Today when not nurturing young minds, HBF enjoys travel, photography, culinary arts, and the cinema. The Cohen Brothers and Tyler Perry are among her favorite artistic contributors.


Cheryl said...

Thanks for hosting HBF Teacher today. This is a good book and very eye opening.

I had to laugh, last weekend my daughter's class made working windmills in science class. When she brought it home it was missing the tack to hold the windmill to the straw because the teacher had to use them for other students. Good grief, what have we come to?


Kurt said...

Lack of discipline. If a student can't behave himself, how is that the teachers' fault? HBF, I can't wait to receive my copy of your book from Amazon.

HBF Teacher said...

Thanks for allowing me to share my voice with your readers. Continued success on this awesome blog.