I read with relief that the national trend on “getting tough” in schools seems to be reversing. In an article published earlier this week in the NYTimes, Lizette Alverez reported that Broward County FLA has decided it is better to work with students who commit minor offenses than to throw them out of school or have them arrested. As a HS disciplinarian for six years from 1975 through 1981 it struck me that suspensions were counter-productive… especially suspending students for cutting classes which seemed to be standard operating procedure for the two districts I worked in. Changing this procedure by introducing in-school-suspension met with resistance among some faculty members who wanted the kids who cut class or missed school to be “punished”. Most of them couldn’t see at first blush that telling a student who wanted to miss class or stay home was in effect rewarding them…. and penalizing them by not allowing them to make up the work because they were on suspension only made matters worse by making it more difficult for them to succeed in class.
In general “getting tough” with students is based on the assumption that what is happening in school is important and relevant to the student and the student’s parent… and my experience was that the teachers who worked hard to make their classes engaging and relevant were the ones who supported in-school suspension and those who “taught the kids what they needed to know and expected them to learn it” were the ones who wanted to “get tough” when a student missed their class.
There is a management aphorism that suggests bosses should treat their employees like they are volunteers… because they ARE. That same aphorism could apply to teachers and students: learning is a voluntary activity and cannot happen without engagement. Teachers (and administrators) need to do everything possible to engage students and if the students are disengaged the adults need to probe to find out why and work to connect with the child.