Monday, September 04, 2006

A note about discipline

I have had possibly the most restful weekend since I graduated college, moved down to Texas and altered my entire view on life and education. I've also had some semblance of normalcy, which is also very nice. One of the nicest things about being a teacher is that you get mad vacation time. No school today because of Labor Day. Woo-hoo! I really only had one normal non-teacher day and that was Saturday. Saturday I slept in, then went to the beach all day. It was fantastic friends. A moment without lesson plans and parent phone calls is good for the soul.

Yesterday (minus a little impromptu shopping with Anna) I was back at it, prepping for this week and trying to get ahead. I stopped by school today willing it to be open so I could get some work done in my classroom. The parking lot was open, but the school itself was not. The only other person who dreamed of showing up on Labor Day was Sargent Thomas. I am a huge fan of this man. Besides being big and scary, Sargent Thomas is driven, holds high expectations and cares an immense amount about these kids. This is something that cannot be applied to a lot of people involved with the Houston educational system (at least not all three at the same time). Sargent Thomas teaches in the trailers, so he was able to do work today. I stopped in to see him and he started asking me what I thought of how things are run. Personally, I think our discipline is a joke. It seems he agrees. We talked for an hour about what the school could be if we ran it with more order and expectations. Talking to someone who agrees with you about discipline at McReynolds is kind of like banging your head against a wall. You both know how good it could be and you both know why it is so absolutely vital and you're both getting so worn down by the utter lack of understanding from other adults at the school and yet neither one of you know what to do about it.

I'm not going all militant on everyone. I see faults in the military and I see faults in having military groups in our schools, but I see no fault in establishing strict order in school. In the three weeks I have taught at McReynolds I have firmly come to believe that without a set (and strict) expectation on behavior we will get no where with education. We may slide by with an acceptable rating this year and keep the school open, but we will always be sliding by until we gain significant control at the school. I think discipline starts with respect. We have some very simple rules at McReynolds. You have a dress code, you follow it. You have a schedule, you follow it. The only problem with these rules is that they are not consistently reinforced. Kids don't have any understanding that they have a dress code and not following it is disrespecting the teachers and disrespecting themselves. You don't dress like a slob if you respect yourself, you dress to a level that shows you respect yourself and how you look. You're not tardy if you respect your teacher and your class. You come to class on time and you do your work. If we were hitting these things in the hall and in every classroom. We would, sooner than later, establish a very specific climate of expectation and respect at McReynolds. If you teach kids to respect themselves through uniforms and behavior in the hallway then I believe you can teach them to respect themselves when it comes to their education. No one holds these kids to any kind of standard. If you're not starting a fight or vandalising school property than anything goes. That simply isn't good enough. Respect should start with your appearance and lead up to your education.

I think one of the major reasons this culture hasn't taken hold at McReynolds is because of us, the teachers. I'm trying to enforce it and I know others are too, but it's not going anywhere without all of together. I think that needs to be enforced by the administration and followed through by the staff. It's not. I know what will happen when this comes up at a staff meeting (if we ever have another one), people will say it's too hard and none of the kids will ever follow it. Honestly, I think those people are lazy and don't believe in their own ability, let alone the kids. They don't even see that if we make this change it will save them work in the long run. Order in the halls will prevent fights, it will get kids to class faster it will generally keep them calmer in the transition. On the "kids just won't do it front" I say bull. These kids have amazing potential. To expect less of them is simply to tell them they aren't good enough so why bother. Nothing makes me angrier than lowered expectations. I have gone as far as I've gone in my life not because people wanted me to do something, but because they expected me to. That level of expectation pushed me far beyond and continues to push me. I behaved in the manner I behaved because that was the expectation and to behave in any other way was unacceptable. These kids are different than I am, but what should we say? Oh, they're not white so they can't do it. Oh they're poor so they can't do it. I highly doubt the people I work with would want to be linked to those kinds of statements, but when you break down the mentality, that's what a lowered expectation is saying. Why teach you to respect yourself when you're not worth that level of respect?

We're meeting on Wednesday (another early dismissal day) and I'm thinking this is going to come up. I don't know how it will all go over, but I'm ready to talk about it. Right now we're headed towards the idea that these kids aren't capable and are a waste of time and I think we should call it what it is and stop dancing around it. We need to change our own concept and quick.

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