Who was watching?

September 23, 2012 

“Guns!” “Weapons!” “Violence!” A concerned school board asks why they had to learn about discipline problems in the newspaper. What? I wonder if anyone, not in a coma, doesn’t know about behavior problems in Bibb County schools? Does anyone wonder why there are so many private schools around? Racist attitudes?

Maybe once upon a time, but not much today. I taught here in a private and a public school; my experience found little racism ... but lots of disruption in our county schools. A disruptive child of any color adds another brick to the private school building.

We’ve had years and years of these issues and the school board didn’t notice. I guess that means no one noticed child after child whose education was severely hampered by behavior challenged children in the class. Three to five children can wreck the teacher’s lesson plan.

Lots of reasons are behind a child’s disruption: parents who don’t really care, the child seeking attention and status from other students. You know the usual stuff, but it goes beyond that.

I had a girl in a seventh grade class who was quiet most days, except when there was a test. On test day she brought the entire class to its knees until she was finally thrown out. She wouldn’t admit it for a long time, but she couldn’t read. I tried working with her after class; that lasted for two days.

How did she get to the seventh grade without reading? Quite a feat, actually. She was helped by schools whose priority was not education and administrators’ needing to ensure next year’s class doesn’t get too large.

There’s the evil eye of principals who bully teachers to watch class size. Some principals do have a unique way of communicating that would make any politician proud. No one ever told me not to report discipline problems.

They may not have liked it when I had a child up on charges before an official disciplinary hearing for violent behavior, but nothing was said. They did not say anything when I sent children to the principal’s office, but looks said it all. At any given time, if all the problem kids were sent to the office there wouldn’t be enough room.

So what do you do with them? It’s why I didn’t last a year. Bad behavior abounds.

Here is the way a colleague down the hall solved the problem. This teacher had an unspoken understanding with the students. If they behaved for about 10 minutes of lessons, they could have the rest of the period. Often I saw children climbing all over the classroom, even sitting atop the teacher’s desk. This educator has made this work for years. Another teacher won success by becoming a drill sergeant. Even I watched my behavior around him.

Administrators make the rules and turn the blind eye, while school boards cast their eyes elsewhere. We don’t allow smokers to send their stench up our noses and ruin our health, so why do we allow disruptive children impact the learning of obedient children? There needs to be an attitude adjustment among our administrators and ourselves.

First adjustment: You cannot fix all problems by fixing the teacher. It’s like losing your wallet on Broadway but looking for it on Poplar because the light is better. Teachers want to teach so ensure they have the opportunity.

Second adjustment: students who want to learn are the priority not the disruptive children. Most of the public discussion deals with delinquents. Board member Ella Carter is correct in asking about our alternative school operations. We need to buy, rent or build as large a building as we need. Problem children need to go there and earn their way back into the regular classroom. Until they behave, these children must be prevented from sabotaging the education of our other children.

When will the lawsuit come: my boy cannot learn because you allow these children to destroy the class? My daughter was blinded in one eye by the claws of another girl. Weapons in school are the result of a lot of other discipline matters. We let it happen.

Tom Scholl is a resident of Macon. He writes every other week for The Telegraph.

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