Student Discipline Is Out of Control

It is easy to argue that student discipline in public education is out of control.  And in many districts across the state, it clearly is a huge problem.  A recent headline in The Tennessee Star stated:  Metro Nashville Students So Out of Control Teachers Fear for Their Lives, SROs Fleeing from Alternative Schools, Educators, Officials Say.  The article was written after a shocking Teacher Town Hall, hosted by NewsChannel 5 in Nashville.

Lack of student discipline, inadequate administrative support, and lack of respect are frequently cited why teachers leave the teaching profession, almost as much as salary and working conditions.  The situation is clearly getting worse, despite all the feel-good policies enacted by some school boards.  Old fashioned discipline is gone, replaced with fads and trends.  In Tennessee, some legislators are pushing for legislation that is likely to make matters even worse.

The exodus of many veteran Tennessee teachers may have eliminated part of the solution and acerbated the problem, along with an influx of new administrators.  However, that is a simple explanation and a somewhat faulty logic. Worse, it lays the blame for continued societal problems at the feet of public education yet again.

It is true, public education has its issues, from design to execution, but every problem faced by society gets manifested in our schools. Educators work incredible hours, doing thankless tasks that other professionals do not have to do.  Many people have jobs with specific skills and also have a lack of acknowledgment and a shortage of appreciation.  But educators may just win the prize for wearing a multitude of hats. We need more community support.

Teaching is not an eight-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week job. There are many duties that educators tackle that do not require pedagogical skills or experience in the classroom but are necessary for the profession. Teachers need a strong immune system to protect them from exposure to every possible illness in a classroom. Not only that, teachers must comfort and guide those students with little to no support at home.  Teachers spend their evenings and weekends making lesson plans, grading papers, and other extracurricular activities. Teachers often spend their own money on classroom supplies, decorations, and food for their students.

It would be awesome if every educator had a positive and supportive working environment where they could thrive personally and professionally, and where they were free to exercise their expertise and explore the full limits of their talents. Alas, that is not the world we live in.  Every day across Tennessee, our educators work with children who have experienced physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect.

Policymakers and stakeholders at all levels should make it a priority to work together in order to reduce excessive educator workload, at the same time providing salary increases that will actually go into the teachers’ paychecks and not just to the district coffers. However, getting student discipline under control may be a bigger challenge.

News Channel 5 revealed a confidential report where a Nashville law firm warns the Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) that it would become “difficult, if not impossible, for the district to retain qualified and exemplary employees.”  If Nashville is an example, other districts around the state should enact totally different policies.  If MNPS is a model district for any other system, then other districts may soon find themselves in a similar predicament. Administrators, teachers, parents, and students deserve better leadership there.

Student discipline needs the attention of policymakers across the state.  Failure to act quickly and responsibly will only continue to erode support for public education and see quality educators flee the profession.  It is time to address student discipline in a more comprehensive fashion.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.