Nattering on about school discipline

First things first, I suppose; it looks like I’m going to get what I want regarding the student from last Friday being moved out of my class, and without a fight about it, even, although I may owe the school counselor a doughnut and coffee or something. Naturally, now that I’ve gotten what I want, I’m going soft internally on the whole thing, all oh, don’t give up on the kid and give him another chance.

My inner bleeding-heart is going to sit down and shut the fuck up on this one. But he’s rattling on anyway.

We had a meeting this week where we talked about discipline data in our building– specifically the number of ODRs (basically, office write-ups) that we as a staff had been writing, and we’re having another meeting tomorrow morning where we’re going to talk about things we can do that might bring down the number of ODRs being written in our grade level, hopefully without simply saying “write fewer ODRs.” I’m going to temporarily lay aside the question of whether this is the right way to talk about this and note that the data dashboard the administration has access to now is awesome, and I’m going to beg for access to it even though I’m probably not technically supposed to have it, because I am a Data Nerd and this is my jam.

To wit: I discovered this week that, while I can’t see office referrals written by other teachers (which is fine,) I can see how many times each of my students has been written up, along with the dates of the referrals. And I got curious about a few things and did some digging.

My 3rd and 4th hour class, surprising no one, has the largest number of total referrals at 139. To be clear, this number comes from adding each student’s total referrals together, so it’s across all of the teachers and classes for each of the students. My 1st and 2nd hour is my second-highest, with just under 100, and my 5th and 6th has the least. I haven’t done anything yet like divide it up on a per-student basis to control for class size, but that’s coming, believe me. Because, again, I’m that guy.

There have been 58 days of school so far.

I also looked at how many referrals I, personally, have written for each class. 3rd and 4th hour has 35– which is interesting, because that’s nearly exactly 25% of the class total, which is exactly what you would expect given that they each are in my room for 25% of their day. I have written 5 referrals for 1st and 2nd hour and 5 for 5th and 6th, which are much smaller percentages of their total– I think I’ve written about 10% of the total referrals for 5/6 and closer to 5% for 1/2. Interestingly, the two most-written-up kids in 1st and 2nd hour have never been a problem in my room, possibly because they either aren’t awake enough or their ADHD medication hasn’t had time to wear off. I was surprised to see how many referrals they had, to be honest.

I am resisting the urge to draw any conclusions about this, because there’s no good way to distinguish between “this teacher manages his classroom well and does not need to do referrals” and “this teacher gets run over and isn’t tough enough to hold the kids to account for it.” I think if I discovered I was doing more write-ups for any of my three groups than other teachers I might be concerned about that– and I think the office might do well to see if any of their teachers are being seriously overrepresented in writing ODRs– but that’s not the case.


To circle back around, this isn’t the best metric to get at what we actually want to talk about. The problem with using ODRs, suspensions, or anything like that as a metric for building discipline is that, as I said above, it’s impossible to distinguish between a well-run school or a well-run classroom with one where the inmates are running the asylum and the staff or administration have either 1) checked out completely or 2) simply been told you cannot write anyone else up. Sure, that’ll bring your numbers down, but the problem isn’t actually that we want to write fewer referrals or have fewer suspensions. The problem is we want the kids to stop misbehaving. The two things overlap, of course, but one shouldn’t be mistaken for the other, and creating a building culture where the kids are invested in class and in learning and want to be there and aren’t simply at school because their parents need babysitters is a hell of a lot more difficult than simply reducing the number of times a certain form gets filled out.

(I’m going to suggest increased use of buddy rooms tomorrow, for example. This doesn’t do a single thing to help any particular student behave in class, it just gives them somewhere where they can either 1) cool down or 2) irritate some other teacher who then actually does the referral, and it at least increases the chance that a kid can avoid the office. Buddy rooms can be helpful, because there are kids who can benefit from 15-20 minutes to get their heads straight, and Lord knows a fifteen-minute break from some specific kid’s bullshit can help me get my head on straight– but it doesn’t really much help kids learn how to improve their behavior or keep them more invested in school.)

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Luther M. Siler

The author of SKYLIGHTS, THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES and several other books.