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.)

In which I get what I want (and it sucks)

555265_527287527291946_1870688268_nAll told, this was actually a pretty good week, in a year that has been lighter on good weeks than I had hoped it would be back in August.  As I’ve said before (skip down a bit if you’re a regular reader; this ain’t nothin’ new) my day generally gets easier as it goes on; my largest and most poorly behaved class is first, followed by a better-behaved, smaller class (one that is still challenging, mind you, as it’s packed full of special education students) and then finally followed by my honors Algebra class, who are my darling wonderful angels even when they’re not.

First and second hour, in a lot of ways, determines how most of my day goes.  If first hour pisses me off enough, the three minutes in between them leaving and the class dominated by special ed students generally does not result in enough time to shed my mood, and my special ed kids’… well, foibles, we’ll call them, start wearing on me.  Exactly how many times must you be told, child, how decimals work before you actually hear it?  You spent so much time at your locker, which is directly outside my classroom, that you were late to class; you’re telling me you brought colored pencils, markers, crayons, glue and three different colors of paper… but don’t have your math book or your workbook or a goddamn regular pencil?

Is there any chance, any chance at all, that your 60-IQ ass is going to make even the remotest attempt to do any math of any kind today?  One problem, perhaps?  Just add something.  Here, seven plus two; we spent five solid minutes arguing a few weeks ago about whether it was reasonable for you to be expected to know that, and you insisted repeatedly that it was too hard and that you didn’t understand and that you’d never done addition before in class (note: I am not exaggerating), right before switching to insisting that you’d been telling me the answer was nine for the whole time.

If first and second hour are reasonable, I’m able to react to these sorts of things with equanimity, to remember that most of these kids really are doing the best they can, and that all I can hope for is progress, not mastery– and that progress is going to be slow and is going to involve setbacks.  If first an second hour are not reasonable… well, sadly, frequently neither am I.  Throw in a heavy dose of seventh grade literally being the worst year of anyone’s entire life in terms of your interest in and ability to pay attention to academics and frequently I am not the kind and caring individual I wish to be by the time these kids get into my room.

If I also have issues with third and fourth hour, I can even be savage with my Algebra kids; however, they are empathetic enough and smart enough that they recognize when I am not to be trifled with and they are capable of working in silence until I can get my shit back in order and deal with them like they are people.  I rarely end fifth and sixth hour in a bad mood.  It happens, but not often.


One of the determining factors of whether my forebrain or my id are in control of my actions at the end of first and second hour is whether the Two Kids Who Are Always Suspended are in my room or not.  Now, the first of the two Kids was in my room last year.  We’ll call him Darryl.  Darryl, by himself, is generally manageable.  He also likes math more than most of the rest of his classes; last year he also had math first thing in the morning, and I generally didn’t have much in the way of behavior issues with him until later on in the day.  In addition, he’s smart: he could be an honors student if he wanted to, but he doesn’t want to be.  He could be getting an A or he could be failing depending on his inclinations at any particular moment.

I can work with the kid, is what I’m saying, and he’s generally not a huge problem, especially if the other Kid Who Is Always Suspended is not in the room.  They have a synergistic effect on each other, you see; both together are substantially worse than either of them individually ever is.

Last year, Darryl was suspended more than any other student in his grade.  This is probably only because the second Student Who Is Always Suspended came in mid-year.

We’ll call the other kid Jihad.  Jihad is, basically, unredeemable, as far as I have ever been able to tell.  There are a number of virtues that can cause one to like a person:  they might be smart, clever, funny, attractive, kind, gentle, generous, brave, athletic, or charming, for example.  Darryl could be many of those things depending on his mood and the day of the week.

Jihad is none of those things, ever.  If he has virtues, of any kind, I am unaware of them.  I don’t say this often; I can think right now of four students out of my entire career that I might use this word about:  I hate this kid.

His mother thinks he is a perfect angel who gets picked on by his teachers.  His mother is a lunatic.

(Actually, I should point something else out about him: a lot of the time I can find a way to work with even my worst kids if I know they’re coming from shit home situations.  I’ve tried individual tutoring with two of the four kids I’m referring to up above on the rare occasions that they’ve shown an inclination to actually learn something– if you’re embedded for your entire life in a context where criminality and ignorance is normal, I have trouble getting too angry with you for growing up criminal and ignorant.  Jihad lives with both parents, who are happily married and gainfully employed.  He has literally no excuse.)

The 64th day of school happened to be this week.  I happened to have a conversation with my assistant principal about Jihad on that day.  She remarked to me that, of the 64 days of school we’d had, he had been suspended or otherwise absent on 34 of the 64 days.

I’m doing the thing again where I give tons of background information for what ends up being a not-very-long story; sorry about that.  Needless to say, having one of them in my class substantially erodes my ability to teach– and it’s a class of 31, and it’s not like the other 29 kids are all angels.  I have another three or four kids on top of the two of them who can trash a room all by themselves when the inclination strikes them; we’re not going to talk about the drama issues that the girls are occasionally prone to.

Having both of them in class at the same time makes teaching virtually impossible.  Understand that, despite all my rage and complaining here, I am actually pretty well-known in the building for being able to keep my kids in the classroom.  Office referrals from me generally get taken very seriously by administration precisely because they’re so rare.  Teachers are able to dismiss a student for fifteen minutes to in-school suspension on basically any pretense we want.  There are teachers in my building who rarely go a class period without dismissing at least a couple of kids.  I generally do no more than two or three a week– and of those, half will be for Jihad.  I’ve kicked Jihad out of class within fifteen to twenty minutes of the start of the period at least half a dozen times this year, and probably twenty times altogether.  That’s probably over half of my total for all the referrals I’ve written for everyone else combined.

There’s no point in providing the details; I wrote Jihad up on Friday and sent him to the office.  He was suspended on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, returned to class on Thursday, I think managed to make it through class without an ISS referral, and was sent to the office on Friday after literally every adult (three) in the room had multiple interactions with him either trying to get him to shut up and do some work or trying to calm down some issue he’d started with someone else.

I got a call about fifteen minutes later from my assistant principal.  Jihad’s being put up for expulsion.  She wanted a formal statement from me about what had happened.  Which I provided.

I ought to be doing fucking cartwheels here, people, and the other teachers he has throughout the day are doing cartwheels.  I seriously cannot make it clear enough just how awful this kid is, or how much he destroys our ability to educate the other 29 kids he shares a classroom with.  The education of those other 29 kids is vastly more important than his is.  He is in the most literal sense a detriment to the education of everyone he comes into contact with throughout the day.

(And, frankly, the expulsion is going to be denied because he’s not violent– he’s far too much of a coward to fight, another thing I don’t like about him.  I figure at best we’re quit of him until January and it might only be a couple of weeks depending on how long it takes to get an expulsion hearing scheduled; these things, luckily, can take a while.)

I spent all day Friday beating myself up, going over what had happened in my head over and over and over and trying to figure out where I had gone wrong and what I could have done– either on Friday in particular or over the third-of-a-school-year that I’ve had this kid– to keep this from happening.

Which is fucking bullshit.  I know exactly where each and every one of this kid’s buttons are– it’s not hard; they’re large, and red, and they blink– and I’m twenty times smarter than him on his best day on Earth and my worst.  I could have manipulated this kid into blowing up and getting kicked out of school in August if I’d wanted to.  While I’ve put him in ISS a lot (everyone has) only one of the office referrals leading to suspensions (prior to this one, at least) have come from me, and that’s because a fight that started in someone else’s room bled over into my class.  This is not. my. fucking. fault.  And, again: it is undeniably a plus for my other kids that, at the very least, we’re quit of this child for a few weeks.  Hell, it’s even a plus for my kids who aren’t in class with him, because he so frequently manages to ruin my mood in the morning and it spills over into my teaching with the other kids.  So this is literally one student’s shit behavior fucking up almost ninety other kids’ educations.

This is a good thing, goddammit; this kid manages to stress me out on weekends and he’s out of my room.  So why the fuck do I feel bad about it?


In which… well, not much, actually

My son is apparently reading a book called “The Alphabet for Hippies;” so far I’ve heard him mention that R is for radicchio and K is for kohlrabi; I feel like he should not know what these things are. I barely know what these things are, to tell you the truth. S is apparently for Swiss chard.

C is for cookie, dammit, not “currant.” I rebel against the tyranny of the good-food alphabet!


Featured events for today: One of the two Kids who are Always Suspended came back from suspension today; the other was himself suspended by the end of the day. At the moment I don’t know what for. Another kid has just been put on half-days due to behavior issues and has also been suspended for the last several days; he managed to last literally less than five minutes before getting sent out of the room and then home. That’s not a joke or an exaggeration. Here was his school day: 1) came to school; 2) ate lunch; 3) four minutes of class; 4) sent home.

Also, I intercepted a note from one student to another that turned out to be a rather detailed and surprisingly well-written and romantic description of her first kiss. The girl flipped out in a fashion that was probably supposed to be dramatic but just ended up hilarious; when I stopped laughing I assured her that I didn’t give a good goddamn who she was kissing and gave her the story back. There are certain situations when we find out about stuff that they’re doing where we become mandatory reporters; a two-second kiss is not one of them.

At some point I actually did do some teaching today, too. This has actually been a pretty good week (the absences of both of the Always Suspended twins for the first two days of the week helped) and I’m hoping tomorrow keeps the trend going. Especially since the other possibility is that the week has been saving all of its bullshit for Friday. I’d prefer that to not be the case.

(He’s still reading that book. What the hell is a Xigua?)

Tonight’s activities will mostly involve reading, vegetating on the couch, and trying not to die. Forgive me; I can’t be exciting every day.