Adam Fisher: The classroom value of firm, fair rules



Last modified: Thursday, December 12, 2013

NORTHAMPTON — Amherst Superintendent Maria Geryk was indirectly quoted in a Dec. 11 Gazette story as suggesting that “ideally, the proportion of students of color who are suspended would be the same as white students.”

Faye Brady, director of student services and special education, added to the discussion of school suspensions by reportedly saying, “As long as we’re sending children out of class and out of school, we’re not doing our job to educate them.” Brady suggested providing the “skills” to cope rather than to eject.

Laced though the topic may be with implications of racism and an inability to cope with certain “challenges,” still the news story seemed to lack a couple of facets.

• At what point do policymakers consider that teachers are probably overloaded with a disproportionate mandate of social niceties? By requiring teachers to become ever more adept social workers, what is the impact on a school’s first function — education? If my child is raising hell and the teacher has to deal with him or her, what is the impact on your child’s education? The situation may only take two or three minutes to adjudicate, but when the same scenario is playing out in a hundred classrooms, that’s a lot of time — possibly for education.

• At what point do those policymakers ask or even demand that students who come to school be prepared enough and responsible enough to abide by whatever rules there are, and suffer the consequences if the can’t or won’t? Creating a world without consequences — including suspensions if necessary — sounds strangely uneducated to me.

• Would it be more sensible and cost-effective to have a full-time psychologist or social worker attend to the aberrant behavior teachers might be shouldered with?

Anyone who has been a kid knows there are times when things don’t go your way — when things are hard. Ditto adults. But circumstances enjoin rules if anything is to be accomplished. So, make the rules, make them clear, make them firm, make them as fair as possible within the parameters of the mission, as, for example, education.

And then enforce them. I’m not suggesting that students be shackled to their desks or that rulers be applied to inattentive knuckles. But I am suggesting that it may be more crippling than nourishing to pass along to teachers yet another sounds-good set of guidelines that they — as distinct from the policymakers who issue them — are required to enforce.

A kind teacher is a wonderful thing; a teacher, frequently without backup, who is asked to fulfill duties she or he never trained for is a loss to all students.

At what point does anyone step back and observe that being nicer is sometimes a slippery slope to stoooopid?

Adam Fisher of Northampton is a regular contributor.


 

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