Every educator deserves to teach in a safe and orderly school.
When schools are safe, teachers can focus on developing students’ knowledge and skills, cultivating strong relationships with students, and building and maintaining classrooms where learning is the first priority. The influx of zero-tolerance discipline and other harsh discipline practices in schools across the country, however, has jeopardized educators’ ability to do just that.
The whole premise behind zero tolerance and harsh discipline practices is to be rigid, consistent, and tough; considering a broader context is simply out of the question. Teachers – the individuals in the school building who know the students best – are provided with little to no discretion. They are required to respond to most incidents in the same way. This tells teachers that schools do not trust them to use their own judgment. It also minimizes any relationships or bonds formed between teachers and students.
Most teachers will agree that students arrive at school with different levels of social and personal skills. Some may be better prepared to function in a school environment, while others are not. If we just suspend or exclude students without tackling the root of any problems, students will continue to act out and/or misbehave, resulting in an unproductive cycle for teachers, less safe schools, and ultimately impacting their day-to-day ability to teach effectively. At a time when teachers’ every move is being studied with a microscope, we need to do more to provide them with alternatives and strategies that actually teach students appropriate behavior.