Sunday, April 3, 2011

"Shush!" You're Not Suppose to Talk about the Naughty Students

I'm pretty lucky. I encounter very minor behavior problems in my school. I'm sure I'm a bit naive about what goes on in classrooms elsewhere. Still, the silencing of teachers who speak out about student behavior scares me.

Today's Huffpost addresses the New Jersey first grade teacher who was suspended for comparing her job to that of a warden and for characterizing her students as "future criminals in comments she made on Facebook. The teacher certainly exercised poor judgment in posting such a critique publicly.

However, with first grade the second year of formal education (after Kindergarten), the behavior of six-year-olds may say more about their experiences before entering school than those of their formal education. That just won't do in the era of "Blame the Teacher."

Still, I cringe whenever I see teachers disparage students or their work on Facebook or in other public forums.

Yet in a system that discourages teachers from voicing their concerns about student behavior and interruptions to the learning of other students, some push back in public. Should they?

School board president Theodore Best explains the reason for the first grade teacher's suspension:  "The reason why she was suspended was because the incident created serious problems at the school that impeded the functioning of the building." That's because parents complained. 

Does anyone else see the irony here? Who was concerned about student behavior that "impeded the functioning" of the classroom? Who listens to teachers' concerns about student behavior and bullying? 

A second grade teacher was suspended for reporting bullying. She had the temerity to step outside the school's reporting track when she perceived no action against the bully would occur, as Anderson Cooper reports. 

Dealing with classroom behavior and management often offers teachers a lose/lose proposition, particularly for those whose supervisors define quality teaching by the absence of discipline referrals and parental complaints.

Should we reach a time when teachers no longer comment on student behavior, remember silence communicates much. Parents, teachers, supervisors, and critics should listen to what's not said.

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