Yesterday, in a South Carolina high school, an SRO was called to a classroom to deal with a non-compliant child after both a teacher and an administrator asked her to leave. When she also told the SRO no, he proceeded to forcibly remove her from the classroom. The 15 second video clip is violent. The treatment of the student was nothing short of an assault. Compounding the issue is the criminalization of the victim in the story: the student.
So, here’s what I’ve been processing for the last 24 hours.
1. You set the tone in your classroom. Don’t concede power to anyone else.
If you are a teacher for any length of time, you know that students can become non-compliant. It’s not a crime. It’s called dealing with kids. Period. Students respect those who have earned their respect. When teachers get disgusted with students and send them to someone else…anyone else…implicit in that is…I can’t really deal with you…this person is much more equipped. The more times you avoid meeting that student head on YOURSELF, by sending them to someone else, the less likely it will be that you’ll have the kind of relationship you need with them to get them to course-correct under YOUR leadership.
2. We can no longer be silent.
Racial disparity in schools is a living breathing thing. We are NOT post racial. Black students are being disciplined with suspensions, expulsions and referrals to law enforcement far more often than their white counterparts. You can read about that HERE. Teachers of ALL COLORS are struggling with their personal biases as it relates to the children they are teaching. In this setting, a BLACK teacher stood by while their BLACK student was being assaulted. Bias is NOT just something that relates to culture. It relates to socio-economic status as well. Just because someone is poor, doesn’t mean that they are inherently lazy. Just because a student is non-compliant, does not mean they deserve to be assaulted. The same kind of reasoning is applied to women of ‘loose moral character’ who are sexually assaulted by men. Well…they dressed like a whore, and acted like one too…how is a guy to know she doesn’t want sex?
Uh…because she said no. Teachers of ALL races need to be identifying bias at their schools and having REAL dialog about it. Bias is insidious, but it can be found in the data. Look at it and learn from it. I recently wrote a tandem post on Discussing Race in the Workplace. If you don’t know how to start, read that post.
3. Your school culture invites or discourages community.
Teachers and Administrators set the tone of a school and invite others into that framework. Parents and students flow with what they see is the norm. In just 15 seconds of video, we could assume that the teacher was complicit in thinking that this was the appropriate course of discipline for this student. He just stood by while his female student was assaulted. We might wonder if the students knew that this was ‘the drill’ because in that 15 seconds, their body language seemed to indicate either fear, shock, or disengagement. Yet…none of that was enough to scream out about beating a classmate. At least one brave soul video taped the incident. And lastly, let’s talk about that officer. Throwing the weight of your blame on him is the same thing as punishing one child for talking when you KNOW more than one was part of the discussion. He too is a part of the culture. That is not to excuse his actions, but it’s to say that he is part of the larger issue. He was the part of the iceberg we could SEE. But…the iceberg is a lot deeper than just that 15 second video clip. Remember, he was CALLED to that classroom. He was asked to participate in discipline. When there are real issues in schools like gun violence, bullying and suicide prevention, we’ve got cops going to classes because a student won’t put away a cell phone? When a police officer in a school is set up to feel that he is the ‘enforcer’, he ACTS like the enforcer, and teachers stand by and watch as their students take a beat down, because they are no longer seen as children. They are seen as the problem.
That school has bigger problems than a 15 second video.
It starts with the leadership and goes right through to the teachers.
That culture is broken.
When we as teachers are part of something that broken, it’s time to advocate for our students.
It’s time to move towards something that looks like healing.
It’s time to self-reflect on how we become our best solution.
My heart grieves for the students in that school, and the teachers who have been rendered mute by their own struggles…but as someone on the outside looking in, it gives the rest of us the opportunity to reflect so that we don’t find our own schools on the news for the exact same thing.