91. TWP’S Rx FOR BULLYING, TWP’S PERSPECTIVE ON “JESSICA SERAFIN” & STUDENT TEACHING CHRONICLES OF RENEE pt. V

MEMO TO “RONNIE S”: The TAKE ALONG paddle was purchased online by Wendy but only used twice by her before she left teaching to start maternity leave. It measures 11″ x 4″ x 1/2″ and Wendy got it thinking a scarier looking paddle might not ever have to be used. (Wendy REALLY does believe 5th graders are TOO old to be paddled in school.) As we all know, the “scary paddle” idea did NOT work!

TWP’S Rx FOR BULLYING

Dear readers: This segment is written due to the interest and questions some have asked us about bullying in school and what can be done about it. First, lets be clear about what bullying is and is not. In the school setting, bullying is the use of physical violence and/or intimidation and/or verbal harassment by one student towards another. It is NOT social snobbery/exclusion, gossiping or teachers using school c.p. in accordance with school policy (Got that, “talking chair”?). While social rudeness is certainly undesirable and should be penalized, it is NOT bullying.

The next point we wish to make is that this segment is NOT a psychological analysis of bullying and it’s “root causes”. There are plenty of thesis research papers covering that angle. Finally, what we have to say is c.p. neutral because this problem exists in ALL states -Both c.p. and non c.p. Anyone who says otherwise is just lying and needs to be called out.

To underline that point, lets start by asking, “In the last few months, what does Georgia and Massachusetts have in common with regards to bullying?”

The answer: In both states, a student who was bullied or harassed continuously finally committed suicide. In Massachusetts, the teen girl’s suicide made national news for a few weeks while in Georgia, the young man’s suicide in Murry County has torn a small community. In both cases, lawsuits have been filed against the school systems but regardless, what has happened is irrevocable.

As par for the course, the political class is quick to propose anti-bullying state laws. Picture this, dear readers: The same folks who haggle over highway construction grants, tinker with budget/tax policies and ARE RUNNING FOR RE-ELECTION are going to “solve” the age old bullies-in-the-schools-problem.

Yeah…Right!

We at TWP believe this is a school problem and MUST be dealt with at the school level. Since we also believe every school and district is different, the following strategies are more general than specific. However, they can be at least a starting point for more specific ideas at the school level.

I. ZERO TOLERANCE MUST MEAN “NO TOLERANCE”

We at TWP cannot help but to be cynical about school systems who boast “ZERO TOLERANCE” policies. Why? Because EVERY school district in the U.S. has such a policy. By reading student handbooks, one would be lead to believe that ALL of our public schools are run like military academies. But the reality is that a “boys will be boys” or “girls will be girls” attitude exists among too many educators. Why? Because, in too many cases, young teachers who actually attempt a “zero tolerance” policy in their classrooms end up selling real estate and working on commission. The lesson is quite clear: Don’t “rock the boat” unless students are being physically battered because the principal does not want to be “bothered” by “minor problems”.

THE ANSWER: Bullying is not a “minor problem” and any principal that thinks otherwise should be removed from his position. School policy should be to come down hard on minor bullying whenever and wherever it occurs. And a “zero tolerance” for any educator who knowingly allows or permits bullying to go unpunished.

II. CONSTANT SUPERVISION OF STUDENTS

It goes without saying that teachers and other staff members should monitor ALL students from the time they step on the school bus or step out of their parents car until they step off the bus or get into their parents car. But from what I (Renee) have observed as an assistant principal, that is not always the case. In my middle school, bullying is most likely to occur between classes in the halls if teachers are not monitoring. The teachers COMPLAIN to me that they have OTHER things to do besides hallway monitoring. Tough! As far as that is concerned, monitoring is a part of the job of teaching. Same with restrooms where bullying is even more likely because teachers may not be inside. As the new assistant principal, I have scheduled on a rotating basis, various male and lady teachers  monitoring times for rest rooms. I myself do some checking on girl’s restrooms and have caught a few smokers.

All of this means extra work for teachers but so what? Schools ARE responsible for the well-being of their students when they are on campus. Parents expect this and the school systems have a certain legal liability. “Boys will be boys” is not a legal defense and will NOT hold up in court. Our schools cannot be ruled by the “law of the jungle” in which the strongest kid “makes the rules”. Our society does not work that way and neither should our schools.

THE ANSWER: The expectation of teacher to just teach a class and then “hid out” in the teacher’s lounge when not teaching has to end. If constant supervision were to become the norm, the kids would definitely notice. The students would NEVER be “left alone” and hence -Bullying incidents would plunge. Simple: Teachers as “authority figures” would enforce the so-called “zero tolerance” rules and the penalties, if severe enough, should deter most bullies.

III. GYM CLASS SUPERVISION.

The biggest “dirty secret” of secondary school is the bullying/hazing that goes on in the locker rooms at the beginning and end of P.E. class. The Reason: Traditionally, P.E. teachers almost never supervise the locker rooms but rather, meet their classes in the gym or outdoor field. As one student who was sodomized in a locker room incident in Tampa, Florida said when asked why he didn’t tell someone, “Snitches get stitches.” As horrible as that was, bullying of a lessor sort is way too prevalent in P.E. classes. And the “Boys will be boys” or “Law of the jungle” has NO place in P.E. classes -Regardless of what the coaches think.

THE ANSWER: When I noticed that a lot of incidents early in the school year originated from P.E. classes, I saw a pattern. Only later did I notice the P.E. teachers/coaches almost NEVER were in the locker rooms taking roll. Then I figured it out: The rough play which some students were getting I.S.S. for was occurring BECAUSE those P.E. teacher/coaches were NOT there. My solution: P.E. classes are to start and end in the lockers with their teachers PRESENT AT ALL TIMES. In other words, P.E. classes are to be no different than any other class. The coaches hated this but so what?

CONCLUSIONS: We at TWP do not intend for this to be the last word on bullying and what should be done about it. Rather, we only wish to re-direct the discussion away from “finger pointing” and the “lets file a lawsuit” reflex that pervades this educational problem. We believe that bullying is primarily a school problem and schools need to step up and take a lead role. Our solutions did not touch on cyber-bullying because much of that takes place off-campus. If such can be traced to a school computer and individual student, then cyber-bullying should be treated like any other bullying and dealt with sternly. But regardless, the schools themselves are at the center of this issue and MUST take the lead.

 

TWP’S PERSPECTIVE ON “JESSICA SERAFIN”

The following is an account of a paddling incident in Texas which led to a Federal lawsuit concerning a school’s right to use c.p. on a 18 year old adult student.

A former student at the School of Excellence in Education is suing the charter school, alleging that an administrator used excessive force by disciplining her with a 4-foot-long wooden paddle known as “Ole Thunder.”

Attorneys for Jessica Serafin, 18, filed the personal injury lawsuit Monday in state district court against the school and Brett Wilkinson, who her attorney said served as a summer school principal.

According to the suit, Wilkinson summoned Serafin to the principal’s office on June 18, restrained her with the help of two employees, and struck her repeatedly on her bottom, hip and leg.

At one point, Serafin tried to shield herself from the blows using her hand, and Wilkinson “smashed her hand with the paddle,” the suit alleges.

The lawsuit contends the beating was so severe that Serafin began bleeding and was taken to a hospital emergency room for treatment.

Serafin’s attorney, Dan Hargrove, said his client was called to the principal’s office because she left the campus before school started to get a breakfast taco. He maintained she was not tardy to class. Serafin is no longer a student at the charter school.

A key element of the case, according to Hargrove and law partner Cyrus Rea, is the fact that Serafin was an adult at the time of the incident. Under state law, a parent is not authorized to use corporal punishment against an adult child, and therefore the school is not authorized to use corporal punishment against an adult student, Hargrove said.

He added that Serafin did not consent to being paddled.

Touted for offering a “private school education at a public school price,” the School of Excellence in Education is San Antonio’s largest charter school.

This is not “an anti-charter school case. It’s not an anti-corporal punishment case,” Hargrove said. “This case comes down to an excessive use of corporal punishment against an adult.”

The suit also alleges civil rights violations.

Wilkinson, currently vice principal of the charter program’s Saenz Junior High, could not be reached for comment. Superintendent Ricky Hooker said, “The school’s comment is no comment.”

 


First thing for readers to understand is that TWP is not going to re-try the Federal case here. It is clear to us that the legal case was a poorly disguised attempt to ban school c.p. by way of the Federal courts. It did not succeed and no constitutional limits were placed on a school’s ability to discipline students. That is GOOD so far as keeping Federal judges out of the business of classroom management.

Having said that, the first reaction I had to the Serafin case was total disbelief. Then, I thought “That principal and his two cohorts must either be STUPID or on a secret mission to have school c.p. outlawed!” (I would have used a word beginning with “R” but have a tender spot in my heart for those with real mental impairments.) Just what were they thinking? Male educators have NO business administering c.p. on female students. If those bozos worked under me, there education careers would be over!

As you readers are aware, TWP opposes the use of school c.p. in the secondary level. The reason is because the students, we feel, are too old for that and because there are other options available such as I.S.S., Detention and Saturday school which do not exist in the lower grade levels. So Ms. Serafin would not have been a candidate for c.p. from me UNLESS Detention and I.S.S. had already been tried and then -Only to avoid an out-of-school suspension. Even then, we would call the parents to notify them of the potential use of c.p.

The most disturbing aspect of the Serafin case was the FORCE used in administering the paddling. There is ABSOLUTELY no rationale for administering c.p. in this way whatsoever. At any level. It is true that we do not believe in “choosing” punishments but in this case -If Ms. Serafin chose to not accept c.p., then out-of-school suspension must be the default option.

In conclusion, the “Jessica Serafin” case is a perfect example of what TWP considers abusive paddling. While the 4 foot long paddle account is in dispute, the rest of the story as to use of force and the fact Ms. Serafin was a legal adult are not disputed. As such, a few stupid moron educators pushed the legal envelope nearly over the edge. Had I been the principal and it was a choice between the paddle and out-of-school suspension, I would have said, “Jessica dear, three swats from me or hit the road and get your G.E.D.” (I DO have a 24″ x 4″ x 1/4″ paddle but only I will use it on girls.)

STUDENT TEACHING CHRONICLES OF RENEE pt. V

Dear readers: I have been asked by a number of readers what my student teaching experience with school c.p. was like and if the school district I student taught in had c.p. Starting with the latter question: The answer is YES -Clarke County, Georgia did have a c.p. policy at the time I student taught there. (Clarke County has dropped c.p. since then) As to the former question, the answer is NO and back then, I was like most perspective members of the education profession in feeling that c.p. was outdated and that the newest educational psychology theories would replace the need for punitive consequences. But my idealism would be taken to the “woodshed” of educational reality.

It started with a student named Alvin who was probably ADHD but had nothing indicating that in his file. Alvin was just a bundle of hyper-kinetic energy in constant motion. I had to constantly monitor his classwork to make sure he STARTED on it -much less completed it. Actually, the former was more difficult than the latter. But patience, persistence and extra strength Tylenol helped me to “manage” Alvin.

But still, there were just some days that Alvin was NOT going to cooperate. And it is those days that try a teacher’s soul. I went from taking computer time away (Made Alvin worse!) to assigning extra work (Good luck with that!) to having Alvin sit out recess (Fine, but I still had to deal with him AFTER recess!). It was during the first month of student teaching that I pondered the idea of applying for the U.G.A. Law school. I knew I had the academic record to get in but as I have said on previous posts -I have a “social conscience” that pushes me to save the world from ignorance.

Well, one day I was at wits end and was throwing up my hands as Alvin, for the 4th time in 10 minutes, was getting out of his seat and disrupting the rest of the class. Brenda, my host teacher, was sitting in back of the room smiling and said, “Miss …., you are actually doing quite well with Alvin…Today is just an extra bad day…” I replied, “It seems like Alvin’s bad days are getting worse and more frequent…” Brenda took me aside and out of ear-shot and told me, “You are doing all you can do…If Alvin continues to disturb the class, you will need to refer him to the office…Believe me, the principal will understand.”

I understood that an office referral meant trouble for the student referred but not necessarily a paddling. I probably assumed Alvin would just be sent home if referred to the office. But I did speak to Alvin later that day after lunch time and told him, “Alvin, I know you are an excitable young man but I need you to simmer down and stop disrupting the class…Because if you continue like the past few weeks, I WILL have no other option but to send you to the principal’s office…And I do not wish to do that…Understand?

Alvin looked up at me wide eyed and replied, “Yes, ma’am, Miss …., I’ll be good…I promise!”

Well, I took him at his word but deep down, I wondered if Alvin could at least behave no worse than his classmates for the three months left in the school year. Unfortunately, my fears overtook my hopes only a few days later when Alvin had a dispute over who’s turn it was to use the computer. (We only had about 7 computers so students had to take turns using them -Alvin was bad about this!) When Alvin started to pull another student away from the computer, I had seen enough. I called Alvin up to the front and gave him a pass to the office. As he left for the office, I called ahead by intercom-phone and explained the reason as “classroom disruption-behavior” which was the catch-all phrase for students being sent to the principal’s office.

After that, I got back to leading the class in an internet search assignment. About 15 minutes later, Alvin returned to the classroom but looked sullen and downcast. I was surprised that he was sent back but Brenda gave me a look that seemed to say, “Problem solved!” When the class started working on a reading assignment, I asked Brenda why Alvin was not sent home. Brenda answered matter-of-factly that Alvin had been “paddled”.

That was the first time I had ever heard that word in connection with my teaching and I did NOT like it one bit. I felt like my teaching had been undermined by something that I considered “old school”. Mind you, readers; I grew up with school c.p. as a given where I attended. But I never saw or heard it happen. I did hear of some kids getting paddled but that was school lunch line gossip that never interested me. Having a school librarian mom and a high school coach dad meant “Trouble at school means worse at home” so with a couple of minor exceptions, I was very well behaved. And the reason: What momma and her strap did to my little rear made me perfectly willing to opt in for the paddle. My problem was momma’s idea that she could “out-do those paddleball paddles. I never got to sample the difference because mom was in such GOOD speaking terms with my teachers. (Think how much student behavior would improve if more parents did that!)

Later that afternoon after dismissal, I met with the principal and talked about my concerns. He reassured me that Alvin was o.k. and that this wasn’t his first time. The principal patiently heard me out as I explained my understanding of positive and negative reinforcement and how I wanted to create a positive learning environment for my students. Then, the principal answered calmly, “Miss …., you say that you want a ‘positive learning environment’…But what is ‘positive’ about a classroom where one child day in and day out interferes with other students’ learning?”

I did not have an answer. Tne principal whom I would need for a professional reference added, “I know you do not like the idea of paddling but the alternative for you is to eventually ‘lose’ control of your class entirely and then everyone loses…Alvin and the class as to their educational progress…And you whom I think will be a fine teacher if you can maintain control of your classroom here at …. Elementary School.”

I still did not like what had happened but decided to “lay down the law” as to my expectations on class behavior with a clear warning: There is my way -the easy way- or there is the hard way -Mr. ….’s way.

I had no more major problems from Alvin -Or anyone else for that matter.

 

COMING NEXT: JENNY AND A “LOST CHILD”,

A “DISHONEST” PROPOSAL

&

STUDENT TEACHING CHRONICLES OF RENEE pt. VI

 

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