The Elephant in the Classroom


When it comes to dealing with chronically disruptive students, everyone  – administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, and social service providers – must operate from the “same page.” Keeping chronically disruptive students in the classroom, as opposed to removing them from classroom, isn’t an effective instructional practice. Although suspensions aren’t effective, no student has the right to take a room hostage or prevent a teacher from delivering a quality lesson. We have to discuss this phenomenon.

Every teacher in this country will attest to having a small percentage of students who aren’t prepared to learn. Moreover, these small percentages of students often prevent the larger majority from learning on a higher level. Is it fair to the large majority of students to lose instructional time because the teacher has to spend valuable time redirecting a severely disruptive student?

The go-to strategy of “calling home, “ or after school detention, isn’t always effective. For example, there ARE situations when a parent or guardian’s contact number is no longer in service. In fact, there are times when the contact number changes often. How does a teacher acquire “buy-in” from SOME parents who literally say, “they’re done dealing” with his or her child?

From my understanding, charter schools have a little more wiggle room in addressing severely disruptive students because they can rely on “counseling out” such students. However, once this student arrives at a public school, such an option becomes severely restricted. Moreover, administrators must keep their suspension numbers low for professional and pedagogical reasons. So, we – teachers – are the bearers of this policy gap. We – teachers – are held accountable for finding a way to turn this student’s behavior around.

As professional educators, it’s our responsibility to prepare students to excel in higher education. If severe disruptions aren’t allowed in college or in the professional world, then why are they condoned within the K-12 levels? What better way to prepare students for the real world then to require students to use professional language and develop a sound work ethic? Excusing behaviors due to teenage years and hormones is akin to lowering expectations. Yes, middle school years is challenging, but a school’s overarching vision statement needs fleshing out and constant implementation.

When a child receives a referral, because of severe disruptive, what he or she must hear is the same message: College and the professional world will not allow certain behaviors. What this student should never hear is someone validating their outburst or sympathizing with their version of the event. Students will always find excuses not to work, especially when the work is rigorous. I’ve never heard a student say a teacher removed them from the classroom because the teacher “likes” that student. That would be the same as believing the dog actually ate the homework. Whenever we coddle or make excuses for a student’s disruptive behavior, we are failing to prepare them for the future.

Chronically disruptive students DO NOT have a right to prevent responsible students from preparing for college. Students should not lose instructional days because of severely disruptive students. Although this phenomenon occurs within almost every classroom, it’s an issue that is never discussed with serious intent. If we want to maximize instructional time with our struggling students, then we MUST tackle this issue head on.


One thought on “The Elephant in the Classroom

  1. Angel:


    I used to teach ninth grade for one year, and seventh grade for two years. I also substitute-taught off-and-on for nine years while achieving my teaching certificate part-time. When I was substitute-teaching, we teachers were encouraged to send disruptive students to the office, but sometimes nothing was done to the students. They just spent the rest of the period in the office and went to their next class when the bell rang. However, most of the time, the parents were called, and at times, the students were made to apologize.

    That’s why when I first started teaching (after NCLB was implemented) I was shocked when our administrators told us that we had to be so-called principals in the classroom, and we were expected to discipline disruptive students without help. Teachers were blamed for the disruptive behavior instead of the students. The elephant in the classroom is the fact that students are not held accountable for their education and their behavior anymore. The teachers are held accountable for everything that is wrong in the school, while the kids, their parents/guardians, and administrators are let off the hook.

    When I was a child (1970s-1980s), we were held accountable and put on a guilt trip by our teachers when we did something wrong. Nowadays, teachers cannot even admonish students anymore, because it hurts their self-esteem. In my opinion, students have to earn their self-esteem; it should not be given to them. We also were not allowed to make excuses for ourselves, whereas kids and their parents make excuses all the time.

    We need to counsel students, yes, but I agree that we should not let students and their parents/guardians and others make excuses for the disruptive behavior of kids and start holding them accountable. Chronically disruptive students need to be put out of the classroom — period. Maybe if we went back to the old school ways of handling discipline, the classroom environment will improve — and teachers can teach and students can learn.

    Again, thank you for your wonderful and truthful essay!

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