Suspensions Should Not Be for Everyone

I’ve worked in some challenging schools over the years. I have had my fair share of at-risk students. My classroom was even “stacked” because I was willing and able to handle the tough cases (whatever that means). I have to admit that I love the “tough cases”. These students that others roll their eyes over or prays for just once the student would be absent. These are the students that I gravitate towards and I have no idea why. I don’t share life experiences with them. As most of you know I come from a very loving and stable family. My parents support me and have always been there through easy and tough times, so I have no idea why these kids hit that special place in my heart, but they do.

When I worked in the public schools, I worked in the inner city. The system I worked in had a pretty strict policy for students breaking the rules. The principals did not have the luxury of deciding the punishment for the students on a case-by-case basis. The policies on discipline were clear cut and no tolerance was understood. I watched a lot of kids get suspended and many of mine were on the list. I had a problem with this even back then because the kids weren’t really misbehaving in my classes. They generally had very difficult times during transitions and in other classrooms. When one of my students got suspended, their work for me suffered. I didn’t think much about suspensions, even in-school suspensions weren’t on the top of my list. I was always volunteering for the students to hold their suspensions in my classroom so I could monitor them and make sure they were learning. Plus, if the kid’s home life was tough, well then, where’s the point in an out-of-school suspension? Where was the lesson to be taught in making a child spend a day at learning at home, with very little to no parental supervision, probably vegged out in front of the television? This didn’t and still doesn’t make sense to me and now research is supporting my thoughts about suspensions. I just recently read an article or to be more precise, a study card for my principal license. The card went on to quote respected researchers stating how important it is to keep kids in school and that suspended students have a much larger chance to enter the “pipeline” to prison. Not a good thing.

Amy and I have spent a lot of time researching how best to deal with the most difficult students. We both realized early on through personal experience that building authentic relationships with these kiddos work best. But how can you do this if frankly, you just don’t like them? This is an important question and one that has to be looked at with honest eyes and an open mind. As educators we know we are all supposed to love working with kids….all kids. But sometimes it is very hard to remember that especially when you have an oppositional defiant youngster staring at you with hate and anger in her eyes. And, what about the ADHD kid how refuses to sit still and listen raptly as you go through the life cycle of a butterfly? Why don’t the see that you planned really hard to make sure your lesson was riveting and engaging? You even have a great idea for a hands on activity, but the child who’s parents are going through a horrible divorce just threw your premade example across the room. Well, you have to take a breath and realize that yes, these students are complete disruptions, and yes, they are destroying the flow of your classroom, and no you are not getting paid to wrangle tough customers or to train children to act the way they are supposed to. You certainly aren’t being reimbursed for the breakfast bars you keep in your closet for those children who come into your classroom in the morning tired and hungry. I get it, but you are getting paid to TEACH every students and frankly, you can’t do your job if you don’t believe every child can learn. Did you catch that??? You have to believe that EVERY child can learn and you have to realize that YOU are the person who has been chosen to do it.

In order to change your world around, you have to look at each child with fresh eyes. You have to see them as you see your own children, or the children you one day may have. You have to come to the realization that every single child is your responsibility for a lot of time during the day and unfortunately it’s not enough to just “try” to teach them. You have to teach them. This is why building strong relationships is so important. In order to get to most from each child, you have to instill trust. They have to believe that you believe in them and that you are willing to go to the mat for them. Then you have to get to know them. We are all unique. You, as a teacher, have to develop a strong understanding of the particular learning styles of each of your students, so you can tailor your lessons to meet their needs and interests. This is exhausting work and frankly hard, but at the end of the day you will feel successful, and you will feel accomplished.

As educators it’s our job to keep kids in school. This takes a lot of extra effort, but it’s worth it. Teaching is not easy, but you were meant to do this. So do it right.

1 Comment

  1. This is why I miss you guys so much!

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