My cousin was an RA in college. For a number of reasons, it was a great job. The only downside was dealing with college freshmen and their first taste of freedom from parental influences. For many, this meant drinking, mischief, and general rule breaking. My cousin had to police this environment.
Now, my cousin was and still is a fun loving guy. He was by no means an angel during his years in the dorm and didn’t want to completely ruin his residents’ fun. At the same time, he didn’t want to have to deal with stupid antics and damage throughout the year. He had to decide if he was going to be the cool, easy going RA or the hard ass RA. So, of course, he decided to be the hard ass.
At the beginning of the year, he gathered his residents and did his best to scare them $#!tless. He told them how he would be all over them, how he would bust them for the smallest infractions. He threatened them with assortment of punishments and threats. He made it clear that he was not messing around and that he would make their lives hell if they crossed him.
He also guaranteed himself a great year.
Why? Isn’t being a hard ass not what he wanted to do? Isn’t he going to ruin everyone’s fun? How is this good?
The thing to remember is that he merely “said” that he was going to be a hard ass. A few days of jumping all over people that week set the tone. Then he sat back and cruised through the semester. His residents lived in fear of getting busted. So they hid their violations well. My cousin dealt only with the obvious, stupid antics. By the end of the year, his residents started to realize he really didn’t care. By that point though, the year was practically over.
So what does this have to do with education?
Well, like in many situations, setting the expectation is the key to success. My cousin set the expectation that the indiscretions would be punished severely. The result was a relatively easy year for the RA. Similarly, setting the expectation in schools is key to a successful year.
In my wife’s old school, one of the ways that she set expectations was on the first day of school. For kids who got in trouble the first day, she would call their parents. She was strict, no nonsense, and set very high expectations those first few weeks. The kids caught on pretty quickly. I mean when your parents get a call home the first day of school, it kind of tells you that this is serious. While far from curtailing all of the misdeeds, it sent the tone that it wouldn’t be tolerated.
Occasionally, if the class went through a tough stretch of less than focused behavior, she returned to her strict ways. But for the most part, the tone she set at the beginning of the year held throughout the year. The kids knew their limits and boundaries and usually stayed within them.
So naturally, this is far from what occurs in her new school. The new school started the year with a focus on reducing the suspension rate. Now in my mind, there are several ways to reduce suspensions. The first and foremost is to set the expectation early and actually suspend kids (In school or out of school) for infractions. Like my wife calling home and my cousin busting residents, suspending kids early and often sets the tone for the entire school year. It also sends a message to parents. Of course, this is not the strategy employed.
No, instead, the administration decided that to get the suspension rate down, they just would ignore discipline request. Children would be sent to the office and then sent back, many times after no discipline whatsoever. They were sent after 12 separate infractions to begin with, yet no suspension or greater punishment was forth coming.
As you can imagine, this led to chaos in the classroom. The trouble makers in the class fear no further punishment, so continue to “act a fool” throughout. This means a child can scream at her teacher, threaten classmates, and be completely disruptive; no suspension. A child can crawl around the classroom, refuse to listen to instructions, and be an absolute pain; no chance of further discipline.
When the teacher calls down to the office, often the calls go unanswered. Why not? They aren’t going to do anything anyway, why bother answering the phone.
Realizing that discipline could be a problem. The administration decided to call an assembly to be proactive and encourage kids to behave. However, they decided to be proactive in March. Three fourths of the school year is over, now you want to be proactive about discipline? Stupid.
The saddest thing about this discipline fiasco is the effect it has on the classroom. The district is so focused on teachers being on schedule, and teaching a specific way, but ignore the disruptive effect of misbehaving students. When my wife has to spend 40 minutes coaxing a child off the floor, or 20 minutes waiting out a temper tantrum, doesn’t that have a bigger effect than whether she is reading the blue text out loud from a book?
I guess the district has set some expectations too. They only care about how they look (test scores, suspension rates, etc), rather than fixing the core problems. Curing the suffering of students and teachers alike? Not expected.