Wednesday, November 4, 2015

IWSG - Something we should all worry about

I have an unusual topic for IWSG this month.  My topic is something I'm concerned about as a teacher, and something that everyone else in the country should think about as well.  

I’m sure by now that all of you have seen the video from South Carolina of the white resource officer pulling a black female teen out of the chair after she refused to leave the class.  Honestly, this has been on my mind all week, but not for the reasons that you may think.

Everyone has their opinion on what happened – the officer was racist, the girl was a self-entitled punk, the officer used too much force, the girl got what she deserved, etc.  I’m not about to argue with anyone’s opinion on why the whole thing happened or how it played out because I’m pretty sure at the end of the argument, we’d both be wrong.

But there’s a question that’s floated through my head whenever I encountered the story in the news, on social media or the like.  Despite all the articles I’ve read (trust me, there were many), absolutely no one answered this question.

How SHOULD this situation have been handled? 

Yes, I’ve heard people say, “This girl was out of line, but the officer had no right to put his hands on her.”  Okay, that seems fair, but it’s still not answering the question.  What should the teacher, principal, and officer have done to take care of the situation?  A student is disrupting the class and refusing to follow the rules.  The teacher can’t teach, and the students in the room are deprived of the right to learn. 

What should have happened and who’s qualified to answer that question?

I think it’s fair to weed out those who have never worked with teenagers in a professional capacity before.  Having teenage children doesn’t qualify you because your sweet little Maggie probably has never acted like this, nor ever will.  Plus, you’d have to have worked with uncooperative, belligerent teens or adults before.  I’d say that eliminates everyone except teachers, teacher’s aides, principals, psych ward workers, therapists, juvenile officers, cops and possibly SWAT team negotiators.

I can tell you two ways I’ve seen situations similar to the one in South Carolina handled. And they worked. 

1. Hire security and resource officers of color.

When I worked at CISD, the majority of the students were black and Hispanic.  So the campus security and resource officers were black and Hispanic, too.  Two of them were female.  Problems identical to those captured on the video—students refusing to leave the class—were common, and the resource and security officers had to pull belligerent kids out of class regularly.  I’ve seen security officers slam kids up against the wall to handcuff him or her, but guess what? The issue of racism or sexism never arose. Why would it? Black students were pulled kicking and screaming from class by black security guards and ditto for Hispanics. Were white kids pulled out of class? Yes, they were pulled out by whatever officer was available.  No one seemed to care what color he or she was. The sad truth is that white security guard in South Carolina was doomed the minute he was called in. If he’d refused for fear of being accused of racism if things got ugly (they usually get ugly), he’d have been labeled a bigot. If he went in…Well, he did go in, and we all know how that turned out.

2. Take the class out of the room.

This is a solution I’ve seen used successfully by your better teachers when they have a student who refuses to leave the classroom.  They take the class out of the room.  They taught their class outside, in the hallway, in the cafeteria or an empty classroom and let the student have the room to him or herself. At this point, the student is trespassing, and the administration can figure out how to handle it.  That way, the class isn’t hijacked by a single student and if things do get ugly (I spent years in the trenches, and I can tell you things always get ugly) innocent students aren’t put in harm’s way. The thing is, teachers need to be able to run their classes.  Students need to be able to learn in relatively calm environments.  A student who will not comply with the rules is a potential danger to everyone else in the room.  This isn’t a situation that a teacher can ignore, or handle later because it sends a message to the other students about how they can also behave.  If you think I’m overstating this, then you’ve never taught in a public school before. 

And unless you HAVE taught in public schools, or worked in law enforcement, sit down and shut up.  You’re not offering a solution, you’re just adding to the noise that’s making it impossible for me to teach.