Columnist: Unruly students continue to wreak havoc in our nation’s schools

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 2, 2016

By Glenn Dowell

Contributing columnist

The National Education Association, a major advocacy group for teachers, continues to announce that discipline is a major problem disrupting practically every school district in the country. It is also believed that discipline could be the reason why teachers are abandoning the career in droves.

To address what is fast becoming a crisis concerning the teacher shortage, school boards in some instances are offering major incentive packages for qualified teachers who are willing to sign a contract to teach in their school systems. The incentives have been so financially attractive that for the past 10 years we have seen former corporate employees and young people fresh out of college enticed to teach.

Although there is very little research available to ascertain how successful school systems have been in keeping these employees, recent news accounts indicate that many of those who were attracted to teaching because of the financial incentives are quitting their jobs to seek employment anywhere other than with a school system. One northern school district took its teacher shortage so seriously that it terminated the contracts of its department heads, coordinators and other certificated employees who were promoted to positions out of the classrooms.

The rationale: to force these employees to reapply for instructional positions in their discipline. The assumption is that these persons would stay in the feel because of the time invested in the jobs.

Walking into the place we call “school” on any given day, especially in an urban environment, you can pass through hallways where profanity and inappropriate behavior appear to be the norm for some students. I can remember a few years ago taking a news crew into one of Metro Atlanta’s local high schools to do a feature on teen issues.

Guess what? A bloody fight occurred right in front of us, which was caught on film by the media. The film footage from that incident was actually used by media around the country later to show just how volatile the place we send our children to learn can be.

Several years ago while an administrator with an Atlanta school system, I was assigned to assist in monitoring student traffic in a high school during lunch period. I left my post for less than five minutes to meet with a parent who was visiting the school.

Within this period, a 16-year-old student carrying a piece of metal plumbing pipe sneaked into the school. This student did not attend this school but had fought with a student who did the day before.

He was able to locate this student in the school cafeteria. He took the metal pipe and with all the force he could muster hit this student in the back of the head and rushed out of the building.

The assaulted student, with considerable blood rushing from his head, ran after his attacker. Without realizing it, he ran straight into what is called a panic door and was knocked unconscious.

I have thought about this incident on many occasions. Did this student’s attacker realize or care that he could’ve killed his victim? The answer is he probably did not care.

Part of my responsibilities also included teaching staff development courses to new and veteran teachers who were required to secure staff development units (SDU’s) in order to maintain their certifications.

Most of the teachers did not go into the profession blindly. They realized that it was becoming increasingly more difficult to be considered an effective educator because of unruly students whom they would come in contact with on a daily basis. Each could recite what some would consider horror stories that occurred in their respective schools.

Discipline in the schools is not a modern-day phenomenon. Honest educators will agree that it began with integration. Black parents did not want their child to be whipped by a white educator and whites felt the same concerning their children.

Draconian answer to discipline problem almost passes in state of California

There is general agreement among whites and blacks that discipline has been a major problem in our schools, but some solutions have just been draconian in nature. If the state of California had its way, students in need of discipline would have been administered the punishment by a bailiff of the court system (Los Angeles Times, 11 August 1994, Bill to Paddle Graffiti Vandals Dies in Tie Vote, By Eric Bailey, Times Staff Writer).

By the way, parents would have been given the initial opportunity to beat their child. It was my expert testimony, along with that of a few other child advocates, that contributed to the defeat of this legislation proposed by then-general assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange).

Although the California proposal by some would be considered extreme, it represents the frustration that educators around the country, even today, face in providing quality instruction to students. Discipline is a universal problem in schools.

Unless we come up with some realistic strategies, however, for addressing and ameliorating the problem, teacher shortage will continue to be a major problem for all school systems, possibly resulting in the miseducation of our future resources.

It is truly time to change the culture of our schools. Don’t you agree?

Glenn Dowell is an author and LaGrange native who currently lives in Jonesboro. He may be reached at