Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hands off the kids - then what?

OK, I get it. 

As teachers we're not allowed to put our hands on the students, or have a personal relationship with them. 

With 20 students a class, 5 classes a day and 4 minutes between classes, I had no time for personal relationships. I had to simply process them through the plan of the day. I was sternly warned never to visit their homes. I was not allowed to bring parents into the classroom because so many would have to be told they couldn't be there because of their arrest records. 

I was of course not allowed to strike a student, but even a reassuring pat on the back - Lord forbid I should comfort a child with a hug - would have put my job and career on the line - and touching is so important for forming deep emotional connections. Being alone with students after hours was strictly forbidden - even sometimes as I discovered when we carefully remained in full public view. 

As for fights, no matter how many times I was warned, I would always put myself between two students who were fighting. In the moment I couldn't let go of my inner conviction that that is what an adult, a man, had a duty to do. Each time I did that I risked my job. 

The students all of course knew that they had us over a barrel. One unsubstantiated accusation of abuse could wreck a career - and I had children of my own depending on my paycheck. 

Furthermore, in Springfield I couldn't pull students out of my class, couldn't send more than one or two a day to the Principal's office because they too were overwhelmed. 

The threat of calling meetings with gave me some power, because parents could lose a day's pay or even their jobs to come in, and they would take out their anger on their kids. But there was only so much of that I could do. 

So what do we do about that? Letting kids run wild doesn't work, and restoring the paddle won't work either. 

If I found myself in the schools again I would approach it as an organizing problem, not as a control issue. 
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