Friday, August 12, 2016
I teach bigger kids, often as not bigger than I am, and I don't suppose their parents need worry about child care as much. I've advocated for suspension exactly twice in over thirty years of teaching. The first time was when a kid walked into my classroom for no reason I could discern. I asked him to leave, and when I became insistent he offered to blow my head of with a 45.
I didn't much appreciate that offer, so I did a little homework and identified him. He was a special education student. When I wrote him up his parents had to come to school. I protested, and said that kids who walk around threatening people's lives ought to face something more tangible, i.e. suspension. A special ed. dean told me the kid was brain damaged and couldn't help himself. I said if that were the case, he ought not to be in the same building with my students, but I lost that argument.
The second time was in my classroom. A student, with whom I'd had no problem ever, while exiting my class, thought if would be a good idea to find out what would happen if he pulled out a chair from me as I was about to sit on it. As you can imagine, I went down a little farther than I had intended. I was not hurt, but I was pretty angry. I asked that he be suspended. A dean suggested three days, but the principal found it even less amusing than the dean and suspended him for five days.
I've read a few pieces that oppose suspension. The one I recall most clearly was in the Daily News. It suggested that students who were suspended graduated at a lower rate than those who were not. This didn't surprise me at all. What surprised me was the conclusion that the lower graduation rate was the result of the suspensions. I thought the suspensions were likely the result of behavior which concurrently led to a lower graduation rate.
Of course now kids can tell their teachers to perform vile and unnatural acts and the only recourse is to call the parents. Calling parents is great, and I do it all the time. I often do it to preclude behavior that would result in failure or other negative consequences. I'm not sure, though, if it would be effective to call and say, "Your kid just told the teacher to go screw himself, and if this happens again, we will call you again to notify you that he once again told the teacher to go screw himself."
I've seen suspension done in building, which to me at least, seems a lot less attractive than, "You just told the teacher to go screw himself, so we're giving you a week off." I'm not an expert on suspension, but I think it's a very bad idea to take one of our few options away. Quite often the threat of suspension precludes the need to take such a drastic measure. Taking away the threat is not so smart.
I don't really know very well what the alternatives are. If Carmen Fariña wants to double and triple down on guidance counselors and social workers to deal with this stuff, I applaud her. But it's a mistake to burden our already overburdened support staff with additional tasks and leave it at that.
I'm open to alternatives, but hoping for the best is not one I'm ready to embrace.