Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Zero Tolerance For Real Consequences

District-wide rules and regulations can be found in the handbook that every student is given at the start of the year.  Each school then needs to figure out how to enforce these rules within their building.  Certain "hot-topic" rules like those regarding cell phones & electronics or bullying even get special memos sent from regional offices on single sheets of paper that schools then send home.  More accurately, they give these memos to the students in advisory period to take home, where most students leave it on the desk, or crumble it up and throw it on the floor.

In addition to these memos, the morning announcements at most high schools include reminders that students are to be in uniform, are not to be in the halls between classes, are not to have any electronic devices (and if they do, these may be taken by any adult in the building), there is to be no weapons or fighting of any kind in the building, and some other items relevant to the building on that day.

For those unfamiliar, when students enter the building in the morning they must all enter through one single door where multiple school police officers and security guards are located (all the other doors are always locked...not sure how that is okay with fire codes, but that's another story...). Students must swipe in with their ID's, take off their jackets/hoodies, place their items on through a scanner machine like at the airport, and they walk through metal detectors.

So...my first point of contention...if the Philadelphia School District claims to be "zero tolerance" for so many of these rules and regs, why at that crucial moment of entering the school that some of these blatant violations are not taken care of?  I will give a shout out to Germantown High here, because they actually look for cell phones and electronics on the scanner devices, and do not let the students into the building with them.  At the other schools, students are allowed to bring these items through the door, and then proceed to use them conspicuously and quite disrespectfully throughout the day.  This is why the issues need to be stopped at the door.  For our students, once they can break a rule one time, in front of one adult, the battle becomes that much more difficult.  They are quick to use the, "But officer so-and-so let me in the building"...or, "Well, Ms. _____ saw me and said it was fine.".

At some schools, if a student is not in uniform, the security officers take them to an In-School suspension room for the day, which is a start, but not quite "zero tolerance".  Now, I understand that with drop-out rates as high as they are, and daily attendance as low as it is, that it's hard to turn a student away who actually comes to school even if they are in jeans and they do have cell phone in their pocket.  However, these students are well aware when they put on their jeans, and use their phone in the classroom, that they are breaking rules.  They are extremely aware that it seems that the adults in the building aren't doing much about it.  When not enforced, the students quickly lose respect for any of the daily rules and those who do try to enforce them.  I often hear arguments from students about how they "aren't doing anything wrong"...or "I'm here aren't I, get outta my face."

The students seem to think that as long as they aren't being overly violent (I say overly, becase an awful lot of "play fighting" goes on that looks pretty rough) that they are within the boundaries of appropriate behavior. Cursing goes unpunished.  Trash covers the school walkways inside and out. Skipping classes is laughed at. Tardiness is excused. Failing grades get litte attention. I could get a contact high in stairway #2 at Simon Gratz at any given point in the day.  The list goes on....

Is it becoming clear that there are no consequences? All this for students who so desperately need structure and discipline in their lives.  I'm not saying I was an angel and didn't bring my (I'm dating myself here...) beeper to school, that I didn't skip classes, etc. The difference? The first time my beeper was seen in class not only was it taken, but my father had to come to school later that day in order for me to get it back.  When I was caught skipping, I found myself in in-school suspension.

Things have gotten so far out of control though, that teachers end up turning the other cheek.  I am guilty, I admit it.  My first year in Philly, I tried giving after school detentions for any child who cursed in my classroom.  I was there everyday after school, using my own time because our school had no organized detention system.  Many of the students wouldn't show up, leading me to give them more detentions, and to run around from room to room trying to gather them all at the end of the day.  It was exhausting.  I didn't want to give up on the fight for appropriate langauge, but it wasn't worth my sanity.  I do not ignore the cursing now, but simply say "language" in a stern tone everytime I hear it.  I at least want the students to know that I do hear it, and I don't like it.  It's not a consequence though, so not much changes. 

Until school administration gets behind teachers, the students will break the rules.  Until consequences are given for small infractions, students will progress to larger offenses.  I realize that it seems silly and futile to "sweat the small stuff" but it is desperately needed in our neighborhood high schools.  Sadly, it's not until something tragic happens that administration gets involved...and the news cameras show up...and people from district offices magically appear and find a way to park their cars on the side streets of North Philly...and then there is a school wide assembly reminding students of the rules in the handbook that must be followed.

The cycle then continues....consequence free, until the principal themself receives a reprimand.

One example in the news from last week if you hadn't seen it: "Another Phila student beaten by a mob"

I can't help but think that if there were consequences for the small stuff...there would be less of the big stuff.