Tuesday, October 14, 2008

An Open Letter to my Teachers

I sent this as an email to my 6th grade team today.

I'm still pretty new at my school, and we're in the "getting to know you" stage of our professional relationship. During one of the goal-setting conferences I conducted this year, one teacher mentioned some concerns/confusion she had regarding the discipline I'd handed out to a student she'd referred to me, and said it would be a good idea if I spoke to the grade level to bring them into the loop, as it were, with regards to how I planned to handle things. I couldn't make it to their meeting today, but still wanted to address this teacher's concerns, realizing that they were likely shared by others in the grade level.

Here's what I came up with, my disciplinary philosophy in a nutshell. I'm still going to meet with them, but I wanted to get this out there sooner rather than later.

What do all y'all think?

______

I don’t have a behavior/consequence checklist to follow, where “If student exhibits behavior A, he/she is issued consequence B.” In each student contact, I take into account several things, in no particular order:

  • What is the student’s past disciplinary history?
  • How much information has the referring teacher provided me?
  • How has the referring teacher dealt with this student’s behavior in the past?
  • Has this particular behavior been an issue in the past?
  • Was the behavior provoked by another student?
  • What was the motivation for the behavior?
  • Is the student one with a disability?
  • Does that disability have an impact on their behavior?
  • Does the student seem honest?
  • Are they remorseful for their behavior?
  • What impact has the behavior had on the others in the classroom, including the teacher?

Balanced with these, among other factors, are my overall goals in any student disciplinary situation: to assist students in stopping an undesired behavior and to support teachers as they perform their jobs. While attempting to reach these interrelated goals, I have to decide:

  • Does the behavior require a consequence?
  • How much of a consequence is appropriate?
  • What does the teacher who referred this student want to see happen?
  • Will this consequence have the desired impact on the student’s behavior?

Obviously, many of these require a judgment call on my part, and while I feel confident in my abilities and my experience with middle school kids, I will, on occasion, make an error. I may misjudge the impact of a particular behavior on your classroom, or I may be unaware of a student’s behavioral history in your class. These errors or misjudgments on my part may leave you feeling that I’m “too soft on the bad kids,” or “taking their side against us.”

I believe you will agree that allowing this sort of feeling to go unresolved is poisonous for the working relationship we need, but I have a cure to suggest: Come talk to me. Ask me why I responded to the situation the way I did, and I will be happy to tell you. Let me know when you think I dropped the ball, and I will either tell you why I don’t think I dropped it, or I will correct the situation. Either way, I want you to bring your concerns to me before you start trashing me in the lounge (There will be plenty of time for trashing me in the lounge after!) I don’t guarantee that you’ll like my response, any more than I promise I’ll like what you have to say, but open communication is vital.

Thanks very much for what you do for kids, and for allowing me the opportunity to support you while you do it.

6 comments:

ehoffman said...

I'd be curious to know how the teachers responded - did they seem pleased with the flexibility, or afraid of it? Could be an indicator of the culture of the school. I think your philosophy sounds a lot like mine - fair doesn't always mean equal. It's a cliche, but true. There are so many variables in kids' behavior that one-size-fits-all does not work as punishment.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

Do you not have a behavior guide from which to work? Because, I can tell you, if teachers are expected to adhere to it but administrators can do whatever their littl'ol' hearts desire, that is not collegial nor constructive.

Mr. C said...

Ms. Cornelius,
No, we don't have a behavior guide. I agree, it would suck big-time if there was one for teachers but not administrators. The situation that led me to write the letter was one of those "the last AP always used to do X when behavior Y happened" kind of things, but I was unaware of the teachers' expectations in that circumstance. I'm aware now, though, and willing, at least for now, to continue what my predecessors did.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

How the heck can you not have a behavior guide?

Here's a suggested standard for you: treat the teachers as you would want to be treated. If a kid would get hammered for treating you that way, then don't give them a slap on the ol' wrist.

This has, obviously, been on my mind lately.
http://shrewdnessofapes.blogspot.com/2008/11/voting-with-my-feet.html

Mr. C said...

Ms. Cornelius,
I like to believe that I treat kids the same way if their behavior had happened in my own classroom as opposed to another teacher's. I've heard enough of stories of administrators who would give a detention to a student who called their teacher a "bitch" but would suspend a kid for calling them the same thing to know better.
My main issue with teacher complaints of how I handle disciplinary issues is that they don't come to me with those complaints- they whine about my "lack of support for teachers" and "letting kids get away" with stuff but don't come to me to ask why I responded the way I did.
Like it says in the letter- give me a chance to explain myself before you bash me in the lounge. I don't promise you'll like my explanation, but I'm always willing to give you one.

Ed Shepherd said...

As a school administrator myself, I started without any real guidelines from which to pull from and went on a case by case basis. What I found very quickly was I ended up running myself to death reacting to each teachers' idea of what needed to be done. The problem was I had to interpret a different process for each of my teachers. After a year of that I realized I needed a starting point that helped all of my teachers get on the same page so we (the whole school- admin, teachers, and students) were all familiar with a common language in how we handled discipline before a student was ever sent to me to "deal" with. I would love to share some of my experiences with you. Talk to you on Twitter if you are interested.