July 19, 2024


Education, What Else?

Help! Our Discipline Policy Punishes Teachers

4 min read

Dear WeAreTeachers,
Up until now at our middle school, when we had a student whose behavior didn’t change despite parent contact (or attempting parent contact), we could contact administration for support. This week, at our faculty meeting, our principal announced a new discipline policy. Next year, we will have to fill out three pages of paperwork and have an in-person meeting with the family on our own before we can even email a principal about a behavior issue. In other words, if a student misbehaves, teachers are given hours of extra work to do before a consequence can be given. Should I talk to my principal about the weakness of this plan, bank on him realizing this himself and changing course, or just jump ship now?  —Too Old for This

Dear T.O.F.T.,

I can tell you where this plan came from: your principal and administrators are overloaded with discipline issues to address. The NEA reported that 84% of public schools agreed that students’ behavior had been negatively impacted by the pandemic, and that classroom incidents of physical violence have nearly doubled since 2020.

But recognizing a problem and not addressing its source is lazy (don’t tell your principal that). Hoping to squash behavior challenges by making it more difficult for teachers to get support is like hoping that a hurricane’s devastation goes away by disconnecting all the FEMA phone lines (you can tell your principal that; it’s a great metaphor).

Behavior management starts with principals, not teachers. When principals see their own system struggling, the work needs to be on them to support teachers, not the other way around.

Since you mention talking to your principal as an option, wait a few days and come with clarifying questions. Start by asking what kind of professional guidance regarding student behavior was used in developing the policy.

If he doubles down, scoffs at professional guidance, or refuses to dialogue, I’d get out. That’s not a person (or a policy) I’d want to work with.

Dear WeAreTeachers,
First grade teacher. Best tips for staying sane at the end of the school year? —Too Tired to Elaborate

Dear T.T.T.E.,

I will assume you are also too tired to read, so I’ll keep this short.

  • Recalibrate your expectations. Think of yourself as a cute little boat, rolling right over the waves of recess drama, the child who gave herself a marker tattoo sleeve, and a fire drill in the middle of your end-of-year class play. The water can’t sink your ship if you roll over the waves. Whee!
  • Prioritize connection over perfection. Let these last few weeks end on a high note. If they’re getting squirrely during a lesson, lean in and ask them to talk about their favorite dessert. If they’re having trouble behaving in the hallway, tell them you’re now silently shimmying—in a line—to all future classes.
  • Be kind to yourself. Now is not the time to demand perfection from your out-of-school self, either. Don’t start any new demanding personal initiatives or programs. Say no to what doesn’t serve you. Quit all your committees (you can rejoin in the fall). You got this!

Dear WeAreTeachers,
I’m the editor for our yearbook. In going over the final version (we haven’t printed it yet), we found eleven students holding up the same hand sign—three fingers raised, palm side out. I looked it up and it doesn’t appear to be a gang sign, but I’m worried it means something else I don’t know about. I’m afraid to tell my principal because I know I should have been reviewing these earlier and I’m afraid it’ll reflect poorly on me… what should I do? —Editor-in-Crisis

Dear E.I.C.,

My first teacher instinct is that they’re making a pro-democracy statement or a reference to District 11 in the Hunger Games, but I wouldn’t bet on that horse. I know it can feel scary to admit to a mistake to your boss, but way scarier will be if this becomes a big issue and you didn’t bring it to her earlier.

Explain the situation to her and solutions you’ve considered. Ask how you can help. Offer to talk to the kids in question, call parents, whatever she recommends.

This situation also probably signals the need for a few things in the fall:

  • Better communication with students and parents about expectations and guidelines for school pictures
  • Communication with photographers about when to refuse to take a picture altogether
  • A teacher or administrator present for school pictures who can intervene if a student is refusing to comply

Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

Do you have a burning question? Email us at [email protected].

Dear WeAreTeachers,
When a teacher is absent at my school, the principal sends an all-staff email with this wording: “The following teachers have decided to call in today …” He says it’s so everyone knows to give extra support given the sub shortage, but the language makes it sound like we’re lazy. I was sick Sunday night and put in an absence request at 2 a.m. When I got to work on Tuesday, I not only had the email from my principal but a follow-up from our school’s G/T teacher saying, “Because Ms. Taylor is absent, the following students will not receive their G/T services today …” because she was assigned to provide coverage for me. This feels out of control—how do I turn around my school’s shame-y culture toward absences? —Ew, David

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