Teachers as the Target in Schools and Media
As soon as you mention public education a barrage of soundbites and adages come flying from every corner at dizzying speed. Teachers are underpaid and underappreciated, teachers are all jaded cynics that don’t care anymore, teachers are the cornerstone of the future, and the teacher’s unions have ruined the public schools. With so many politically charged opinions added to the fact that 99% of all people are involved in public education as workers, students, school tax payers at various points in their lives so all having a vested interest it is not surprising that opinions are so varied and heated.
Interesting points about the difficulty in addressing the variety of issues faced by teachers in public education by comparing the very different methods employed in the United States and in the United Kingdom, the faces of western culture and modern education. In UK public school students wear uniforms, a measure often cried for here as a way to combat the issues caused by poverty, privilege and envy, yet decried as archaic and constricting by many students there. In UK, it is common to stop public education at 16, and that is the point that they are choosing to continue education, go to work, or perhaps try to get an apprenticeship or trade school, yet in the US there are millions of dollars poured into trying to keep kids that age enrolled in school and deeming every “drop-out” declared a failure of society.
In recent years another opposing viewpoint has emerged. In the US after the tragedy of Columbine and other events that gained international notoriety in the press, the zero tolerance policies were born. While those are being attacked by many as ruthless evil that targets minorities, and have been targeted by the Obama administrations Supportive School Discipline Initiative for repeal, in the UK there is now outcry for starting similar zero tolerance policies after reports of a 30 percent increase in violence against teachers.
For every problem brought up in the schools systems there are answers given by all sides, and for every answer the other side is quick to point out the flaws in the logic. As quick as the opposers to zero-tolerance side points out that minorities are targeted for expulsion at 30% greater rate and these expulsions reflect in the “school to prison pipeline”, it is pointed out that the demographics of those areas are often heavy in gangs which are often staggered heavily in favor of minority membership due to a variety of other social problems and that gang members are not likely to be model students and are far more likely to end in prison anyway so the data is flawed by looking at the expulsions and zero tolerance as the issue.
In the US we look towards law enforcements involvement in schools as a necessity for protection of students and teachers alike. While many oppose this and point out that police training and tactics are designed to combat violent criminals and assumes a dangerous or violent response which is not in keeping with the needs of the typical student and the education system, stories of shootings, gang violence, rape, and drug dealing in schools have forced the hands of many veteran school administrators to respond with police being in the schools.
In the UK, police involvement in school is shunned both as a matter of practice and policy. In 2011/2012 school year out of 16,970 assaults against adults in schools, only 550 students were even suspended or expelled, leaving teachers claiming fear for health and well-being and fleeing the profession at an alarming rate.
With such a huge disparity in the way schools are being run in two modern western countries of considerable means and resource, while people on both sides claiming that changes need to prevent greater calamity in the future, what is the answer? While all will happily tell you “their” answer, the truth probably lies with an often scarce resource in any public endeavor - common sense.
Zero tolerance does not work in the US because for some reason a zero tolerance policy against weapons was taken to mean that 5 year old that played “cops and robbers” on the playground with “finger guns” must be expelled to prevent the demise of order and discipline in the school and to save the lives of the intended target of such pretend bullets, and that upon observation of such activity the police should be called, as well as in cases of a 6 year that hugs or kisses another and therefore deemed sexual predators. This is caused by attorneys and that use litigation to stretch the definition to the extremes, as well as some small few that do abuse the zero tolerance laws as a way to target select groups or individuals.
On the other side of the ocean the belief that the teacher should work virtually unaided by police or policy and stand as the sole enforcer of discipline on their own is equally flawed by a lack of common sense where instead of a policy that allows for no flexibility or common sense is replaced by a policy that lacks all support or aid in the face of violent or criminal behavior and leaves the teachers stranded on their own.
Common to both systems is the bright glare of the public spotlight looking toward public education and while seemingly sympathetic to their case, having policy that does not allow teachers the professional discretion or experience to be the ultimate decider of when action needs to be addressed at a different level or when intervention of police and the legal system is required.
If it is a question of training and education, then train and educate the teachers to use the appropriate actions with the oversight of school administration and Parent Teacher Associations, and keep the kids in school when they are acting like children but able to send them to an appropriate level when they cross the line of acting like children into the realm of criminal behavior. Target the situations with correct response, as opposed to the teachers in the classroom, that are saddled by policy that is not flexible enough to meet the needs of educating the young men and women that will be making policy in a few years.