Viewpoint: Student Discipline Needs Better Processes and Response

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Thursday, March 5, 2020

As a 19-year-old Marine, I received a meritorious commendation for designing a logistics system and process for embarkation, which allowed for our unit to be deployed faster.  Compiling and maintaining logistics support data, calculating combat logistics support requirements, and coordinating combat logistics functions to support Marine Corps operations and deployments were an emerging field made more difficult prior to the prevalence of computer systems.  I have had a lifelong fascination with systems and processes ever since. 

Systems and processes are what makes everything work, from the most complex to the seemingly insignificant.  A system consists of interconnected and interdependent components organized to accomplish a specific goal.  The processes are the things you do in order to make any given system work most efficiently.  In education, all schools, regardless of where they are located, are very dependent on systems and processes for success. 

So why are teachers frequently often left out of the process?  In the last six years, student discipline has been one of the major issues in Tennessee that educators cite as an issue that we must address. Common sense would indicate that more teacher participation in student discipline issues might improve job satisfaction, address teacher retention, and solve more student behavioral issues.   Student discipline is one of the major reasons why teachers say they are leaving the profession. All educators understand that students will misbehave.   However, classroom teachers hope that they have an administrator who reinforces and supports their authority to maintain discipline in the classroom. 

Unfortunately, not having a high-quality administrator at every school often means good discipline is even more difficult.  Teachers set the discipline for their classrooms, but administrators set the culture for their school.  Administrators that do not support classroom teachers and set lenient discipline policies end up creating learning environments where unruly students take away from students who wish to learn. 

In order to maintain control in the classroom, policies must be clearly defined.  Let’s be clear, today’s infractions are not chewing gum, being out of a seat, or throwing paper.  Reports include offenses of a sexual nature, cursing teachers, fights, and sometimes even worse.  Frequently students are allowed to do things in school that could land them in jail when, and if, they graduate.  Student discipline is now a time-consuming and exasperating issue, and teacher input has rarely been solicited. 

Superintendents of School and Boards of Education can establish policies that can improve the process.  One thing is certain – all it takes is one rebellious student who gets his or her way, day after day, to destroy a classroom.  When processes are flawed, systems inadvertently fail.   We should all want to create a system that serves our students and to do that we must get the discipline process right. Creating a more integrated system is what House Bill 2134/Senate Bill 2252 will do for our schools in Tennessee. The legislation already has nearly 60 sponsors in the Tennessee House of Representatives.   

The legislation, known as the Teacher’s Discipline Act, authorizes a teacher to manage the teacher’s classroom, discipline students, and refer a student to the principal or the principal’s designee to maintain discipline in the classroom. The legislation authorizes a teacher to remove a student from the classroom whose behavior interferes with the learning process, violates the student code of conduct, or poses a safety threat. Establishes the process for a student’s removal and return to the classroom.

Providing a safe and disciplined classroom will lead to more successful outcomes for our students. This will also provide a better work environment for our teachers. I look forward to presenting this legislation in a few weeks to help foster improvements in our classrooms. Thank you to the educators who have spent time with me discussing the issue of discipline in the classroom and the positive effects we can expect.” ~ Rep. Scott Cepicky (R)

Critics want to play on the fear that some teachers will simply remove all students from their classrooms.  It is clear this scare tactic is promulgated by those who have neither read the legislation or do not comprehend it.  Three safety features are built into this process:  1) The LEA itself establishes the process, which includes adherence to federal and state laws;  2) The principal still ultimately makes the decision on student removal; 3) Students themselves are afforded an opportunity to explain the situation. States like Georgia, Texas, and Florida already have much more robust and stricter laws to address student discipline.   It is worth noting that in Georgia, suspension and expulsion rates have now decreased in recent years.

Children cannot learn in a classroom where their teachers spend a significant amount of time dealing with student discipline issues. It can be unsafe, for the teacher and the other students, and significantly disrupts the learning environment. In Who Killed School Discipline? author Kay Hymowitz wrote: “When students believe that the adults around them are not only fair but genuinely concerned with protecting them, the school can become a community that, like a good family, inspires affection, trust.”  We need a better process for our discipline issues to create a better public-school system.  House Bill 2134/Senate Bill 2252 is a step in the right direction. 

 

JC Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville.

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As a credentialed federal agent, I authored an Appeals System for the Depart of Defense that eventually appeared, in part, as a Presidential Executive Order.

Having said that and having read the complete text of the proposed House Bill 2134/Senate Bill 2252, it is/they are nothing but an Appeals level for misbehaving students that will saddle our teachers with yet another extracurricular task.  As if they didn’t have enough to do…

If passed as written, the Bill will create an Administrator’s Dream…more expensive administrators and more work for teachers that has nothing to do with student in-class discipline. Worse yet, the Bill would force teachers to accept back into their classrooms those misbehaving students whom they have rejected at least twice.

With decades of personal experience with misconduct followed by appeals, two things quickly occur; (1) lawyers become involved, and, (2) the miscreant suddenly becomes well-groomed with hair cut, dressed in a suit and tie or modest feminine attire while being on their best behavior.  Triune Appeals Panels, under any name or guise, are too easily swayed by those actions and put the teacher in jeopardy — and afraid to go through the process again (or just plain give up in disgust).

This Bill is nothing but Feels-Good Legislation.

R. Roland Smith
Chattanooga