I have read with great interest your coverage of the disrespect and violence that middle and high school students inflict upon each other and those who try to educate them. Far too many teachers, especially the newly licensed ones, must deal with children and parents who seem to have no real respect for education. Those parents merely enjoy free baby-sitting, while their children gather to socialize, exchange drugs and fight.
We teachers are given a chance to do what we love with the added promise of low pay, daily insult and risk of serious injury. When I began teaching, I knew I would battle thugs and endure classroom clowns. So I decided to plunge head-first into the murky world of teaching behaviorally and emotionally disadvantaged middle and high school students. My school is their last chance at a public education because they are unable to function in what used to be called “a normal classroom environment.”
I teach English and language arts and as part of a class exercise, I polled my students about fighting, then assigned them to write a news story about the results. Fighting is something almost all of them had in common. I worded my questionnaire based on what I have often been told by my students.
Disturbingly, 83 percent circled “true” to this statement: “Someday, a lot of people are going to be sorry for the way they have treated me.” More than half felt that they had “a reputation to protect at any cost” and didn’t mind admitting that they had been bullies. At least half believed that they were “big” and “bad” and didn’t “mind proving it once in a while.”
Most telling perhaps is that 66 percent have parents or guardians pressuring them “not to let anyone push (them) around ... that if someone ‘messes’ with them,” those who do the messing should “get what’s coming to them.”
Fifty percent admitted that they kept a “hit list” and that they were “going to get a serious weapon to use ... as soon as they (were) able.” A slightly smaller percentage (42 percent) said they already had access to such armament.
Half of the students responded that “adults needed to face facts,” that students are going to fight.
Despite the best efforts to “leave no child behind,” we must concede that no child can be held back by the fear of others and any interference with the learning process. Serious students with parents who value education should be kept apart from the antagonists to learning. Any student who disrupts or poses even the slightest threat to another student must be removed to a school where there is zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior until they are ready to be returned to a “normal classroom environment.” I know first-hand that it can work.
The writer teaches at Alternative Learning Center, Thomasville.