School discipline, alternative schools, race…

Yesterday afternoon I was driving in my truck (I love my cherry red pickup truck) with Jack yodelling from the passenger seat when I tuned in to Talk of the Nation on NPR. They were in the middle of discussing school discipline and inequality and the part I heard had a first year teacher call in to complain about this one student who kept showing up in her classroom despite numerous incidents of disruption. She said that she spoke with administration, to no avail at first. To his parents, who eventually cussed her out on the phone. Then back to administration, and I think finally he was removed from the school. At the end of her bit, she made a plea for more alternative schools for ‘kids like him’. I’m not sure what she meant by that. Disruptive? Black? Bored? Different?

What struck me was that no where did she mention that she spoke to the boy. Not an in front of the class kind of speaking to the boy but a one on one, caring kind of speaking.

When she wished there were more alternative schools to put ‘kids like him’ I immediately pressed record on my cell phone and said,

‘Here’s a big idea. Why don’t we get rid of alternative schools altogether and just all teach as if we were alternative school teachers.’

When I taught at an alternative school I felt that I was finally teaching the way I was meant to be teaching all along. From a core of relationship. From a starting point of care.

When I say alternative program or school I don’t mean a place where they dumb down the curriculum or focus on life skills because their clients have already failed at ‘real’ school. I mean a place where kids are held to high standards but are helped in their assent past those standards by caring adults. Where glitches are not met with criticism and punishment but conversation and direction. Where discipline and failure does not happen to some more than others because of the colour of their skin, the language of their tongue, or the experience of their parents.

Now that I no longer teach in an alternative program I strive to remain that kind of educator – the kind of teacher I am meant to be.

Looking back: Parents protest ‘time-out’ cage in classroom

As part of my ‘looking back’ series, this is an article that keeps showing up in my stats even though it was written over 4 years ago. The question of discipline in schools is timeless and my mind returns to this story often. I wonder about Félix. What was his story? How was it that his behaviour was so unruly he warranted time in a fenced-in area? Were there background issues, like developmental delays, perhaps he was younger than his peers, perhaps the classroom was a frustrating place (perhaps? I should say likely…)? Whatever it was, I wonder if his needs were ever met. And I wonder if his teacher ever received support for her needs.

Click here to see the original comments associated with Parents protest ‘time-out’ cage in classroom.

Parents protest ‘time-out’ cage in classroom
(Last Updated: Friday, February 9, 2007 | 3:09 PM ET CBC News)

A Shawinigan, Que., teacher who put a nine-year-old student in a lattice cage for misbehaving will not face any disciplinary measures, school board officials said Friday.

The boy’s parents discovered their son, Félix, had been kept in a makeshift cage at Shawinigan’s École St-Paul, after he complained to them he couldn’t see the blackboard.

When they visited the school, they discovered he’d been spending several hours a week in the lattice cage….The local school board director, Claude Leclerc, told Radio-Canada the teacher did nothing wrong by using what he called a time-out area for a difficult student.

I have a few thoughts about this…as I am sure many people do.

My mind goes to a cartoon I saw on the Internet a few months ago. It is a picture of a boy, standing next to his desk, students sitting around him at their desks, and his teacher at her desk. At the back of the class is a huge cage with a pacing tiger and the caption is, “Well, Timmy. It looks like you’ve just earned yourself 10 minutes in the cage with Mr. Whiskers.”

Extreme discipline cases like this reaffirm my belief that teachers are overwhelmed with all that they need to do in a day. An act like this seems desperate to me and I think that if we took the time to think about our values as people and educators, a decision such as to put a child in a caged in area – in front of his peers no less! – would not have been made.

They also reaffirm my belief that we need to build more time into our lives as educators for professional development to help us in dealing with classroom difficulties like this and others. Personally, I think that MELS needs to provide us with time solutions (and the $$ to accompany them) to do so – especially given the present school context of inclusion, integration, and differentiation.

And so, I don’t think that the teacher needs to receive disciplinary measures. Rather, I think that she needs to receive support that will assist her in making appropriate decisions regarding discipline in her classroom. Perhaps the rest of that particular school community could use some as well.

But really, despite all that, I have to ask how could a measure like this have been instated by the teacher and school without parent permission?

I don’t know the whole story, but that is a nagging question for me.

Any thoughts?