I walked to town this morning to see The Family, a film with Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones.
But this post is not about The Family. It’s about a Contra Costa Times headline I saw halfway to the theater about Bay Area schools suspending suspensions and turning to alternatives in place of suspension.
This issue is not new to me. I taught for thirty years [1975-2005] and for sixteen of those years I taught English, journalism and then reading at Nogales High School in La Puente, California.
At Nogales, we had a place to send kids who refused to cooperate in class and/or who continued to disrupt the learning environment even after being warned several times to stop the unacceptable behavior.
Sharon Noguchi wrote the piece for the Contra Costa Times, and she reported, “Pressed by law enforcement, civil-rights advocates and the realization that the way they disciplined students was failing, schools are keeping on campus more kids who talk back, throw tantrums or even threaten teachers.”
In addition, she wrote: “But teachers at schools elsewhere say taking away the option to suspend creates a disciplinary void and sticks them with rowdy or even dangerous kids in class.”
As a teacher at Nogales, I usually dealt with rowdy or dangerous kids on a daily basis. But I could not suspend even one of my students from school. I could send them to an in-house suspension center that was called BIC—meaning Back in Control or Behavior Improvement Center. I have no idea what BIC meant. I may have asked once but forgot. I like both options, because they are both true.
A certified teacher who was working toward an administrative credential was in charge of BIC at Nogales—most of the time. Nogales had about 100 teachers on staff and there were between 2,300 and 3,000 students [depending on enrollment], and BIC is where we sent the rowdy and dangerous students who refused to cooperate in class.
For example, I send students to BIC almost every day and they were usually the same students. The teacher in charge of BIC once told me that 5% of the students earned 95% of the 20,000 annual referrals to BIC—that would be between 115 to 150 students earning 19,000 of those referrals or 126 – 165 each.
The primary job of a teacher is to teach the subject he or she is responsible for. This job can take 60 to 100 hours a week and that time includes creating lesson plans and correcting student work. When in class, teachers are involved with students and there is seldom any time to sit down and plan or correct. If a teacher teaches five classes for five hours a day for five days, that is twenty-five hours in class. The rest of the sixty to one-hundred hours is mostly spent planning or correcting work.
With an average class load of 34 students or 170 a day in five different classes, it is difficult to impossible to play the role of a therapist-parent replacement who is expected to undo the damage of dysfunctional parents and/or guardians who are responsible for the home environment that caused a rowdy or even dangerous student to become that way in the first place.
A teacher’s job is to teach the subject he or she was hired to teach and to make sure the annual standardized test scores teachers are held accountable for show improvement so the media and critics of public education will have less fuel to criticize the public schools and demonize teachers—something far too common in the United States.
If school suspension is not an option, schools must provide a place on campus where trained professionals deal with overcoming the damage caused at home and in the child’s environment. Most teachers do not have the time to do this.
For students who do not show improvement, he or she should be taken out of the home and sent to a juvenile boot-camp school where he or she lives in military style barracks with teachers and administrators trained to be tough disciplinarians—for example, modeled after a U.S. Marine Corps boot camp that doubles as a school.
Every punishment or stick should come with a reward or carrot. The rowdy and/or dangerous child who earned his or her way into a book camp school instead of a suspension/expulsion from a regular public school must earn his or her way out of the boot-camp school with improved behavior, literacy, math, and writing skills.
And those kids who fall off the proverbial-behavior wagon in the regular classroom get sent back to the book-camp school automatically.
Oh, and I enjoyed watching The Family and can’t understand why the average fan and critic gave this film a SO-SO review as reported on Fandango. I think they missed the point that children and even parents are a product of the environment they grow up in and life is relative to that fact—something that many in America elect to be deaf, dumb and blind to.
Discover It’s the Parents, Stupid
Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.
His latest novel is the award winning Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.
And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to kill Americans.
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