Implications of a zero out of school suspension policy.
Vandalism. Extortion. Burglary. Theft. Possession of Stolen Items. Discrimination/Harassment. Lewd Behavior. Inciting aggression. Gang Activity. Forgery. Fraud. Fighting (not assault). Disruptive/Unsafe Activity. Negligent Driving.
Take a guess as to how this (incomplete) list was composed and where you might find it. You ready?
In the fine print listed on a district behavior incident form, this list represents just some of actions that do NOT warrant out of school suspension at Highline High School, and a glaring reminder of my decision to leave. I’ve seen the implications of this list, but just recently discovered that the district put it into writing, on a district form.
I often write in a way that lends the reader a chance to find optimism within a disparaging situation; to explain a new perspective, or to encourage the understanding of two different sides within the same issue. This is not that time.
My school district has been getting a lot of positive publicity in the past few months, which they deserve! The successes of diverse students and staff who work tirelessly at school and often, at-home, in less-than-ideal living situations, is absolutely inspiring.
But that doesn’t mean that we can just ignore the bad. Inequities exist within our school district; ranging from unsafe facilities to transportation to hiring practices and more. By not discussing the negative, we are in compliance. And I have been part of the problem by not being more vocal in my opposition to the many inequities to which I’ve been exposed.
The. System. Is. Broken. The first year I started teaching was the first year my district implemented a progressive, strategic plan. Among many things, raising the graduation rate to 19/20 seniors and ELIMINATING out of school suspensions topped the cake.
Sounds good, right? Expect that more students graduate from high school. Keep kids in school, instead of sending them away. It sounds good, in theory, and I am the first to applaud the superintendent for her unwavering advocacy to support our diverse cultural and socioeconomic students.
But it is absolute chaos. I don’t think that the district office fully understands the implications of the policies put in place, because things are being swept under the rug and teachers are afraid to speak up (my mom pleaded with me not to publish this under my own name, in fear that I wouldn’t be hired anywhere else, but as I sit in a hostel editing this draft, on the other side of the world, in a country in political unrest, that is the least of my concerns).
Trickling from the top-down, administrators, security officers, counselors, and teachers-alike are being asked to work more, assess more, “discipline” less, and compromise teaching practices in order to appease the district’s strategic plan.
The most concerning issue for me, in addition to lack of educational resources and unsafe facilities, is the administrative position towards behavior, and the bureaucratic position towards the well-being of both students and staff.
I understand keeping kids in school! I really, really do, but the manner in which we are approaching strategic goals is alarming, at best, when dealing with behavior. Schools (and school districts) make up a mock society. Violence is rampant and behavior management is non-existent within our school community.
I hate the word discipline. As a teacher, I am very proactive in my management strategies. I let students create their classroom expectations, so if they break a rule, they’re breaking their own. If chaos ensues, it is the result of their own behavior, and with reflection, they learn to both take responsibility for their role in a situation, and to self-monitor their behavior. In most cases this has worked very well.
There are obvious exceptions to this management strategy, which include any illegal activity and any derogatory /discriminatory language and/or actions.
IT SEEMS OBVIOUS (to me).
|Keep kids in school.||Let them break the law|
|Give them second chances.||Let them harass/bully/discriminate their classmates or teachers.|
|Listen to their perspective. Ask them why they’re behaving the way they are.||Let them vandalize, steal, or be in possession of stolen items|
|Set societally-appropriate expectations.||Make up your own rules, in order to meet strategic goals|
When a student breaks the law, gets into a fight, uses derogatory language, is suspected of being under the influence, or any of the many behaviors I witnessed daily while working at HHS, there needs to be a consequence that is similar to societal expectations. I witnessed time, and time again, a complete failure at meeting these very-minimal expectations, at the expense of both our students and staff.
Students feel unsafe at school. I felt unsafe at school. Fighting, harassment, and incited aggression are present during passing periods, after school, and at-lunch.
Teachers’ behavior reports are often modified so as to “protect the student” and will often times not be reported at all.
I wrote less than 10 referrals in my three years, but I remember every one. On multiple occasions, the wording that I used was changed, the students were sent back to my class within the same hour, and there was no follow-through. I was always told that this was to protect the students.
I once had a student call me a “fucking cunt”, then proceed to knock over a table and throw a chair towards my Yoga students. (Because I asked her to release tension in her neck while stretching). She was in my class the next day. When confronting administration about why she was in class, I was told that she met with the principal and they worked it out. (Apparently their version of “working it out” was having a meeting in which that student stood up, said “fuck this”, left the room, and slammed the door.)
When she continued to come to my class that week, without addressing her outburst, my coworker stepped in and told her to go to the office. The student told my lesbian coworker, “protecting your girlfriend, dyke?”
But since discrimination/harassment is not a suspendible action, she continued to show up to class. And the precedent was set that calling a teacher a cunt, using hate speech, and throwing a chair was “shmeh.”
My goal as a teacher is not to punish students. It is not to get them in trouble or to show power. My goal is to prepare students, to the best of my ability, to exist and excel in society. By not addressing behavior issues, we are failing our students! When the power is taken away from the teacher, students are going to push boundaries, people are going to get hurt and good teachers are going to leave.
When administration asks “what I did to contribute to a situation” it is unbelievably insulting.
What did I do that warranted a student to walk into my classroom, make a gun out of his hand, and pull the finger trigger towards my head? In that case, I asked that student to step outside if he was going to talk during classroom presentations.
How did I contribute to a student flipping me off and yell fuck during a lecture? I refused to show his 20 second video that had zero educational value and multiple cuss words. Definitely my fault.
How did I know two students were smoking weed behind the girls’ locker room? BECAUSE I WALKED IN THE ROOM AS THEY WERE SMOKING A JOINT…INDOORS! They were hot-boxing in the school. I wasn’t even mad. I looked at both at them, and said “c’monnn guys, really?! Walk to security and I’ll meet you there.”
So I locked up the locker room, asked a coworker to cover for me, and made it to security within ten minutes, only to find the students were sent back to class because there was “no proof” they had been smoking.
I offered to take security to the garbage can where the students threw away the joint. They said that wasn’t necessary. I told them if they called the students back, and I asked them if they had been smoking, they would say yes. Security told me not to worry about it.
I was then asked if I had a vendetta against these kids. The answer is a resounding NO! I care about those kids and their future. I didn’t ask to walk in on them smoking weed, but I did, and by not reporting it, I made it okay. I didn’t want to ruin their future, but I wanted to set societally-appropriate boundaries.
During my first year teaching, during the first month of school, a 19 year old student chased a freshman around the gym with a chair over her head, screaming “I’m going to fucking kill you!” This lasted for upwards of five minutes. Students were scared. My department asked, repeatedly that she not be allowed in gym classes. In a classroom, it is easier to monitor aggressive behavior, but in PE, she was a risk to other students. Our request was denied.
Fast-forward five months. This same student is upset with a girl who spoke little English. In the locker room, the same student that we asked to be removed from PE, took it upon herself to grab the back of this girl’s hair, smash her head into lockers; knocking out her front teeth, breaking her nose and causing her to crawl towards a bathroom stall. The same student that we asked to be removed from PE, then went up to every girl in the locker room and said, “if you snitch, I’ll fucking kill you.”
A trail of blood led to the bathroom stall, in which the beaten-student was residing. The girl who was attacked spent the night in the hospital, and was sent on a redeye flight back to her home country the next day. Because my school couldn’t protect her.
When a mother trespassed and threatened a student during school hours, when security didn’t show up for the third time in a month, when students came back into my classroom after sending them to the office, when I sat through my third-full lockdown at school because there were persons with weapons on campus and administration still refused to have a proactive strategy to make an effective change…when day in and out, I saw injustices on campus, and felt powerless to make a change, I became overwhelmingly disheartened.
I felt so-very unheard as a teacher in regards to behavior and the safety of the school. My safety was a concern to administration when there was an exceptionally traumatic episode, or when I was physically present to address my concerns, but on multiple occasions, both my emails offering assistance and asking for help were ignored. So long as we weren’t making headlines, they weren’t going to address the underlying issues and the traumatic culture we, as a district, are enabling to exist.
During ONE week in March, I broke up three fights. I was hit in the face during one, and stood in the middle of two young men who were being physically restrained by their classmates during the other two.
I would stand, face-to-face with these students, I’d look in their eyes, and tell them, “You’re better than this. It’s not worth it. You’re mad? Okay. Let’s talk about it. He disrespected your family? I’d be mad too. She posted an inappropriate picture on social media of you? Let’s do something.”
Having a funky haircut and a relaxed work attire, I think I saw more violence than most teachers. I’d be able to make it to the start of a fight, before it began, because often times, students wouldn’t recognize me as an authority figure.
During one particular fight, I stood in between two young men. Each of them had three peers holding them back; pleading with them to stop. Their peers screamed, “stop it! It’s not worth it.”
I had the same message. “What’s going on. Let’s talk about it. You’re better than this.” They were red-faced, and looked right past me. They were being PHYSICALLY held back, and I stood in the middle.
By the time security arrived, five minutes later, I still stood in the middle of these two students. Six people were still holding them back. People were still screaming. The security officer said to me, “You all right? You got this?”
It took me a second to take a breath. To process the absurdity of that question. The 6’2, trained security officer was asking me if I had this handled…when I stood in the middle of these two students. When six students held them back. If I’d backed away, I have no doubt they would have continued fighting. So I said, “No. Does it look like I’m all right?”
The other students pleaded with me not to leave. And of course I wouldn’t. The security officer rolled his eyes, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “okay.” That was the third fight of the week that I’d been in the middle of. That was the third fight of the week in which I had no follow-through.
I repeated to students in my classroom as often as I could, that this is NOT NORMAL. If changes are to be made in this institution, it has to derive from the students, because they have more power collectively, than teachers.
I can’t say there is one situation to which affected me the most at HHS, but the first time I was ever physically ill due to bureaucratic failure, was during my first year teaching. I taught this young woman in both Health and Yoga. She was brilliant and vibrant and witty. When she missed class one day, and I saw her crying later in the hallway, I became worried. Her friends came to me later that afternoon, and said they were worried that her dad was going to hurt her, I immediately went to her counselor. She wasn’t one to play the victim, and when I asked her about it, she looked down and away.
It was towards the end of the day when I reported it. I said I had reason to believe this girl was in danger. We made a CPS call. We told security and our on-campus PO. Their response? “This girl is always drama.” I felt disrespected. I felt scared. I felt sick. I asked for a police officer to visit her house. I was told there wasn’t enough information.
When she came to school two days later, with bruises on her cheekbones, a black eye, and with handprint-bruises on her arms, I excused myself to the restroom and I cried. I bawled. I threw up. I. Hurt. I could barely even look at her when we met again. We both started crying and I said, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. You don’t deserve this. No one deserves this.” And she just buried her head in my neck (but teachers shouldn’t hug students, ever, right?).
I lost sleep. I felt sick, even as I wrote this, two years later. I carry her trauma with me. The system failed her. And I couldn’t stop it. Her dad beat her that night. What she feared and what her friends feared and what I feared, happened. It could have been prevented. And I felt helpless.
Over the course of this past school year alone, 23 staff members left Highline High School. One school. One year. 23 educators, student advocates, and public servants left within one year, and no one bats an eye. I am one of those 23, and it’s breaking my heart. On campus police officers quit because they are expected to compromise their integrity and bend the rules within the school system, which don’t coincide with the legal system. It’s inexcusable. I’ve felt unsafe at school on several occasions. The response from admin has been bureaucratic and final.
23 staff members are leaving. But the district is showing videos and statistics of a small increase in graduation rates (which is quite simply a result of the system enabling students into passing).
I have always been encouraged to tell my story. I’ve been told that people need to hear about it. So here it is. Something needs to change. Teachers need to feel free to express their issues without fear of losing their jobs or being undermined.
I believe in being liberal in the CLASSROOM, so as to support a diverse range of learners, from all walks of life, with different potentials with different definitions of success. I think public education is one of the most important systems our country has in place to support its citizens in being progressive and successful.
Being liberal in the classroom means variations in teaching practices, assessment tools, and subjects-covered. Being liberal in the INSTITUTION is a different situation, entirely, and it’s a scary reality.
I am writing this because I think people care, but aren’t aware of the serious implications that come along with a one-size, fits-all strategic plan, without the necessary resources and funding or utilizing valuable insight from veteran teachers.
I am writing this because there was an article published that blamed the increase in teachers leaving on the new teacher evaluation system (a system that in which I passed with flying colors).
I am writing this because even though I completed three exit-surveys, and asked for an exit-interview in each survey, I was not granted the opportunity. My three years at Highline High School and my experiences and my reason for leaving were not considered.
Sometimes it takes exposing the ugly, to appreciate the beautiful. There is so much to celebrate in education, but there is an ugly side to education. There is corruption, ignorance, and inequality. And I think we should talk about it.
With that said, I had a lot of positive experiences at HHS. Here are links to just a few of the ways I supported my students during my three years.
*This is not an attack on a specific administrator, or implying that this happened with intention. Often times, the administrators in-building are left with their hands-tied, because if they don’t make changes within their school, their job is at-risk. This is not an attack on the district, either. If the district were more-aware of the happenings of an average day at HHS, I don’t doubt there would be more done about it. I wrote this to spread awareness, and to start a conversation towards a positive change. It should have been said earlier.
*This is NOT an excuse to vote NO on school bonds. The condition of the school largely contributes to the students’ perception of unworthiness and the accepted delinquent behavior. The physical condition of the school needs to be changed, along with the social condition.