Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Thoughts on Spring Valley High

By now, you have either heard about or actually watched the video of a teen being pulled out of her chair and literally thrown to the front of the room and arrested for refusing to give up her cell phone and leave the classroom. 

As a former teacher, I would assign the bulk of the blame for this incident to the "adults" involved in the situation. For starters, this girl was not causing a disruption. I'm not basing that on what I saw in the video, but rather from the accounts of the students in the room. The students on the opposite side of the room didn't even know what the girl had done until they were later informed by their peers. I've had disruptive students. In order for me to deem a student as disruptive, that student needs to actually disrupt class. Having a disagreement with the teacher that is so quiet that only the students near you are aware, does not rise to the level of disrupting the class. I'll tell you who did disrupt the class though: the teacher, the vice-principal and the resource officer. The adults completely disrupted that class for no good reason. 

Before you argue that the girl was being disobedient and needed consequences, let me explain to you what a teacher with even a minimal amount of classroom management skills should have done. Once the teacher asked for the phone and the girl refused, the teacher should have told her that he was writing her up. He should have taken a referral out of his desk and filled it out while he continued to teach the class. If other students inquired who the referral was for, he should have told them that the person knows who they are. As long as the student remained quiet and did not cause a scene, the teacher should have continued with class and dealt with the student later. The teacher could have even told the girl to remain after class so that he could discuss her behavior with her. Classroom management 101 is that you do not argue with students and you do not engage in a public power struggle. According to a woman from the school board, the teachers have been given training on how to resolve similar situations with a student who is being disobedient but is not truly causing a disruption. The woman said, what I as a former teacher already know, the teacher was wrong to escalate the situation. The girl should have had consequences, but there was no need to stop class to deal with her.

I have seen accounts from students that the girl refused to give up her phone, but she did put the phone away and she apologized to the teacher and eventually the vice-principal.  The teacher should have accepted the apology and informed her that he still had to write her up then continued with class. This was not a battle that the adults should have pursued. The phone was away. Hell, I would have been okay if the vice-principal pulled up a seat next to the girl and sat next to her for the rest of the period to make sure that her phone never made a second appearance. After class, the vice-principal could have escorted the girl to the office to be suspended or directly to in-school suspension or given her a detention or anything short of expelling her. 

Now here is where I posit a truly radical idea. Maybe, just maybe, the quiet girl who rarely spoke to her classmates refused to leave class because she...actually wanted to be in class and learn something (gasp). As shocking as it may sound, some kids don't want to be kicked out of class. I've seen people online accuse the girl of clearly not wanting to learn because she didn't have anything on her desk. Obviously these people have not seen the longer version of the video where the resource office shuts the laptop on the girl's desk and moves it away from her, because heaven forbid the laptop get damaged while he is forcibly removing her from the desk. The officer showed far more regard for the laptop than he did for the girl. I've also seen the hint from law enforcement that there is a third video that shows the girl hitting the officer. I'm assuming they are referring to that moment, after the officer has grabbed the girl and lifted her off her feet, where the girl punches at his arm to get free. How dare she give in to her instinct to protect herself. How dare she not sit still and wait to hit the ground.

Every person directly involved in this situation was wrong, from the girl to the teacher to the vice-principal to the resource officer. However, adults are supposed to model behavior for young adults. If I was a young adult in that classroom, what lesson have I been taught? Well, I have been taught that the appropriate reaction to a non-violent girl who is quietly being defiant is to rip her out of her seat and toss her across the room. There are those who have and will argue that the dynamics are different because the girl disobeyed authority figures, but again, I remind those people that her great act of disobedience was not wanting to be kicked out of class. She had already put up the phone and apologized. She was sitting quietly in her seat, as a student should do. Why was it necessary to escalate the situation? Write her up, make sure that everyone in the room understands that she will be punished for her actions and move on with the lesson.