Keeping kids in check

The L.A. Times published a story today about how some teachers can’t control their classrooms and how it makes for a horrible learning environment. The story focuses on how teacher school doesn’t teach teachers how to  handle discipline problems because it’s all circumstantial and what may work for one class won’t work for another. The story didn’t shed any light on anything we already didn’t know really. So, since I am a product of the LAUSD system and have seen a lot of shit, even in my day, I’m going to chime in with my own two cents and offer my suggestions to would be LAUSD teachers on how to deal with the discipline issue of teens.  Also, if teachers, former and current, can chime in with their war stories and what worked for them, anonymously of course, it will be greatly appreciated.

First the bad. In elementary school kids didn’t get out of hand because we listened to our teachers, specially at that age. It wasn’t until I got into junior high that I started to notice the dynamics of the class room and how things work. In one class you couldn’t mess around because the teacher would set their foot down the first day of class. He respected us and in turn we returned that respect because he didn’t treat us like snot nosed junior high kids. In other class we knew we could get away with murder because the teacher was just asking for it, if that’s even possible and the majority of the time, because they acted like dicks, up on some high chair. Looking back on things now, it was obvious that in the real world they got shit, so they used the classroom to compensate for that and boss around junior high kids. Then there are those younger teachers that tried the, “I’m going to use curse words and be cool by relating to the kids and doing fun things so they like me better” approach. They got walked on all over half way through the semester. It takes all kinds and it really does make a difference how much experience teachers have when they go into the lions pit.

Some of the most memorable events that stick out in my head are the times when the class would unite and reduce the teacher to tears because everything just got out of control. The teacher would get so frustrated that they would break and throw objects. That’s when they would start sending you to another class because that way you wouldn’t case any trouble hahahah. Ahhh memories. I remember my senior year at Roosevelt was a joke. Serious. In one class all we did was watch WWII movies and taped newscast from CNN that the teacher would bring in. In another class the teacher was so oblivious of what was going on that random students ditched in the class with their friends and smoked weed in the back, all the while the teacher would be asking where that smoke is coming from. “Uhh, I think it’s coming from the science class on the top floor miss.” We WERE the top floor you idiot !!!

It’s insane to think back on how fucked up things were and still are, but if a Chicano teacher was at the helm, everyone calmed down. That also happened when an attractive female teacher would be at the front too. It’s funny how that worked. Things I’ve seen work in the classroom  are treating the kids with respect and not acting like you are doing them a favor by teaching them. Talking always helps and of course finding common ground. When you know the person up there was in the same seat you were, give or take a few decades, it makes the students more responsive. It really is just a matter of walking into that classroom and letting the kids know that they can’t fuck with you, but because you are there to help them. Don’t treat a classroom like some prison, yet you can’t give them too much leeway, less they take it for granted and give you a nice surprise. But what do I know right ? I’m only a student. Although my end goal is to become a teacher. Why you ask ? because I love to suffer 🙂

14 thoughts on “Keeping kids in check

  1. As i’ve said and good behavior begins at home and is the obligation and responsibility of the breeders that had them. A childs behavior is a clear reflection of the upbringing by the parents or lack of.
    Ive counseled and mentored a couple employees when i was a middle manager.
    The hard work of school and obtaining an education is well worth the sacrifice.
    But in the end its all up to the individual to want to do better.
    You have to put in the hard work to achieve and enjoy the results.
    No one ever said life was easy or fair.

    – no victims just survivors! 🙂

  2. I work as a TA at an LAUSD High School & I know what first hand what the environment of the classroom can do to effect learning. And over the past 3 years I have come to learn what works and does not work. It’s a nuanced technique which is in many ways something that each person must foster on their own. No amount of “training” can put into practice what really needs to be done. Some are just not meant to teach.

    Now onto what teachers SHOULD DO:
    (1) COMMUNICATE. NEVER ASSUME that the students know what you are saying or mean to say. These are students, they are there to learn, and to assume they have the same pool knowledge as yourself does not make you egalitarian it makes you an ivory tower.
    (2) DO OCCASIONALLY JOKE AROUND. Teachers that can NEVER take a joke will go down in flames. These are young adults and they will crack jokes and clown around a bit. They’re young: deal with it!
    (3) DO LAY DOWN GUIDELINES AND CONSEQUENCES. If they know where they stand with you, they know what TO DO and NOT DO. I’ve seen many teachers be wishy-washy with rules and consequences: the students will craftily use this against you. Kids like structure and will do well in it. They’re still young and do not have all the capabilities for judgment and so they will do dumb stuff because frankly they just might know any better.

    What they should NOT DO:
    (1). DO NOT BE THEIR FRIENDS. They got plenty of friends; being their absolute friend and letting them slide with murder will show them that they can do whatever they want in your classroom, whatever they want to you and to each other. A classroom is meant for learning.
    (2) DO NOT RESCIND ON YOUR PROMISES: they will learn that they cannot trust you so why would they want to learn from you?
    (3) DO NOT TALK DOWN TO THEM: although they might not have been around as you have and have never read Das Kapital, they do have insights you may have never even thought of.

    This is an incomplete list, of course…but are somethings I have learned over time.

  3. I attended Hollenbeck Jr High in the late 80s. The faculty and staff would bet on the winners of school fights.

    But since we are talking about what might work for some students. I have a story.

    My science class was on the second floor. This was a cool class. The teacher was a Hippie that made science fun and interesting. Well there was this cholito that would not take off his baseball hat in class. The teacher told him to take it off. The cholo responded “No, you are going to have to take off me.” The teacher walked on over and took the hat from his head and told him to pick it up after school at the deans office.

    This was 8th grage!

    The boy mumbled, “I’m going to kill you.” The teacher walked on over picked this kid up and hung him half way out the window. The teacher was ripping a new one on this little punk. “I was in Vietnam and I’m not going to take shit like this from you.” Brougth him back in and hauled him away from the class room.


    The teacher was gone for half the period and returned with LAPD detectives. The teacher left the room and the detectives began to ask questions to the class and not to each individual.

    Well the teacher was back to school the next day. He appolized for what happend the previous day and continued with the lesson plan.
    On this day I learned the greatest lesson of all.
    Life and Death is no joke.

    Julio and LoveandhateLA

    I agree with both of you. But what should be done with a**hole students like the punk I mentioned.

  4. that was too funny Caxcan

    that kid needed his ass kicked by a bigger and badder kid.

    As i tell one of my nieces who is quite bitchy,moody and thin…”one of the fat girls in your school is gonna kick your ass”
    But seriously you have to be clear,firm and direct with kids nowadays- cause its crazy out there.
    tell them how every action has a reaction…. everything has consequences.

    Its true there is a fine line- you want them to respect you not hate or fear you…i say you get more bees with honey than you do vinegar 🙂

    – choose happy!

  5. While I think it does begin at homes. There is something fundamentally wrong with behavior management in public schools. Mistake number one is hardcore enforcement in the younger grades. Little kids learn to fear teachers as little kids. They learn to fear them, because they have rules, can send them to the principal’s office and because the teachers are bigger than them. You have this culture of fear and it’s not crazy fear, but you have kids behaving when they are young, because they don’t want to get in trouble.

    If you have seven year olds behaving just so they don’t get in trouble you’re district’s junior highs are doomed.

    Then fast forward to junior high and high school and the students are bigger than the teachers. The students don’t care if they get sent to the principal’s office and the consequences are laughable for someone who is the kind of kid who you’re going to have issues with.

    Some of these kids have seen some insane things, detention is not going to do it. Let’s accept that in education there is no way we can out-consequence the horrible reality of some of these kids lives, so we need to go the opposite way. And I’m not talking about doing nothing, but just being very calculated in what is done and who it is done to. While many students have seen horrible things, many students haven’t seen people just being nice. It’s an insane concept, but we need to work with what we’ve got. We can’t beat a kid too death, but we can give alot of high fives. You want me to be nice to you, you want extra stuff, you want stickers, you want attention, you want all the things mom and dad are too busy working to give you, then you need to sit in your chair, attempt to do your homework and only use words to communicate with your friends.

    I think what needs to be taught from kindergarten is that you behave for the benefit of you. I know most teachers just can’t let that happen, because they are totally old school, but the research behind “do what I say” is really dicey. Don’t give the misbehaving kids so much attention (you have to address issues, but at some point the monologue to Johnny has a lot less to do with Johnny and a lot more about you being annoyed) and give the kids that are in first grade and are behaving more attention, make it beneficial to the kids to behave and not just this I’m the teacher you must behave nonsense.

    (Also if a student has issues, possibly they have a learning disability or a different learning style. Are you being clear to someone with less background knowledge? Is this is real lesson plan that you put thought in, do you have visuals, are you talking to much and seriously again is this a real lesson plan or just something you got offline to meet the lesson plan requirement?)

    If you have 30 kids in your class and 28 of those kids do their homework and listen, reward those 28 kids, don’t punish the two kids. A reward can just be a sticker, a high five, a phone call to the student’s guardian telling the guardian how rad the kid is.

    The first time a teacher talks to a kid’s parent shouldn’t be just to say something unpleasant.

    It all starts in the primary school and the then junior high teachers and the high school teachers have to deal with this fall out from the poor behavior management techniques that on the surface seems really excellent, but in the long-term are very damaging to not just the student, but the school environment.

    Our schools are out of control owing to zero tolerance and fear based enforcement.


  6. I find that some kids nowadays have generally less respect for authority/adult figures, frankly because some adults they see these days don’t display the behavior to merit much respect. Having said that,..
    I have experience working for LAUSD, and one thing I’ve always wished for was for public schools to allow video cameras to monitor classrooms. Too many parents/guardians of some of these little monsters are either way in denial, overly defensive, or just as ass-holy as their kids. The conventional means of discipline available simply don’t give teachers and schools enough leverage to deal with these types of students on an effective basis. Video evidence of outrageous classroom behavior would be both an awesome tool to use administer proper punishment, as well as a deterrent to future miscreants who will fear getting caught on tape. Not to mention, the protection it would provide for teachers, and vice-versa.

  7. I think good teachers lead by example. Good teachers teach. I really think a teacher is like an entertainer. If a comedian is being heckled, it’s because he’s not funny. You can either have a sense of humor and make the situation more entertaining, and, in this case, more educational, for everyone, or you can flip out and call your entire class “niggers”. The focus on discipline I think is more about ego and pride. I think a lot of people feel emasculated by children, and just fantasize about a teacher who looks like Tom Berringer kicking kids’ cell phones out of their hands with a round house, mainly because they’re too afraid to do it themselves. Violence is almost always a result of pent up anger, and violence almost always begets more violence. Caxcan, I can just picture that kid who was hung out of the window going and beating up another kid and taking his hat to replace the one confiscated by his teacher. And, why did that teacher even care that the kid was wearing a hat? He doesn’t sound much like a hippie to me. Even if it were against the rules, I wouldn’t care if I was that teacher. How would I reach my students? First day of school: “I’ll look the other way at the school’s no hat policy if you guys give me your undivided attention and show up to class on time. Deal?”. You have to be creative, and sometimes you have to color outside of the lines. And since no real hippie believes in dress codes, I think being lenient there would have been a good place for that teacher to start. From what you described, it sounds like that teacher had a lot of personal issues and snapped. It rattles a lot of nerves when people say this, I know, but the truth is I really don’t think physical discipline works. If so, explain to me the so many parents who do physically punish their kids, only for the kids to go right back out and act up? Also, I’ve seen situations where teachers would physically deal with kids, mainly by grabbing and pulling them toward the door, etc. In every case, the kid was still talking shit, even as the hall monitors were dragging him to the office. It makes me think of the scene in the movie “The Breakfast Club”, when the principal challenges the stoner kid (Judd Nelson) to a fight, and the stoner kid is obviously scared and freezes up. The principal says “that’s what I thought”, and has this look of satisfaction. Just moments later, the kid is back with the rest of the kids, firing up a joint. The big bad principal really set that punk straight, didn’t he? I think that scene really portrayed just how ineffective that old school style of discipline is anymore. And, that story takes place in 1985. It’s 2010.

  8. AlDesmadre: Read 1984 (or rent the video if you must, but the movies don’t do the book justice.) Then let’s talk about videos in the classroom. Either way, the teachers union would put up just as much opposition to cameras as the parents for obvious reasons.

    Two things: first, I echo the parenting call to action, but beware the parent trap- good parents need good teachers. Second, teachers and students need a dress code. Yes TEACHERS and STUDENTS. If you want to be treated as a professional, dress like one. I remember sizing teachers up all the time and if you came in looking like a slob or a hippie, I knew the class was gonna run all over you, and I’d probably lead the charge!

  9. Honestly, I’m working two gigs to keep my son in private school. My 2 year experience with the LAUSD was not memorable – at a “good” school no less. I’ve witnessed a Kindergarten class denied lunch due to a “paperwork” mix-up, a substitute teacher who spent the day making personal phone calls while playing videos for the students, and a 5 year old expelled for horseplay. I had my son sit in the office for the day, not being allowed to return class after an illness – because the school nurse lost the 2 copies of his doctor’s note. That’s when I said screw it, these assholes are not about teaching. Like Browne said – it’s about rules, zero tolerance, and I’ll add – money.

    At one time I believed in supporting public schools and the important part they have in our society. Now I think that parents should do whatever they can to get their kid into the best school they can – charter, magnet, private, etc… and toss the ideologies aside…

    I won’t even start my rant on the decline of California’s public higher education system.

  10. Hell and back. Isn’t that what we called Hollenbeck. I went there for the 9th grade. My mom desperately didn’t want me to go to Hollenbeck or Roosevelt, so she had us use an old address so we could go to El Sereno Junior High and then Wilson High(that was a big improvement to her).

    I can honestly say that Hollenbeck was the worst I ever saw. It was Darwinian.

    I had this homeroom teacher. I never saw a teacher harassed so much. He literally would grit his teeth in a feral grin. He sweated a lot. I was actually a good kid–but I worried he would come in one day and blow us all away. You could tell he wasn’t the nicest guy in the world, this teacher, but the kids were just vicious. Like morale nibbling piranhas.

  11. I’ve taught in the South Bronx before I came to LAUSD where I now teach in the Harbor Gateway. I’ve always taught elementary, always special ed…everything ranging from learning disabilities to emotionally disturbed. First of all bless the people going to teach middle and high school. It’s a tough place and most every day can be a struggle. Students are dying to be challenged and want to succeed, no matter how far gone they are from school…if their body is in the room, that’s something. The whole military dictator thing can work as long as you have the true personality to back it up and you also show the kids clearly when you are proud of them or happy with their progress. Since that persona is pretty much antithetical to my being I am simply use the “pick your battles” method. and I always explain why avoiding certain behaviors is important. It could be as simple as “You lean back in the chair…you fall and crack your head open…you bleed out and die. I don’t want that to happen.” if a kid wants to leave their hat on I would try to engage them first in another way…then ask them when they’re answering if you could see them without the hat. Never create standoffs because you’re bound to lose…unless of course there is dangerous or outrageous behavior going on. if a student honestly believes you want them to learn…they’ll come around in some form. if you’re counting the minutes on your clock just waiting for the period to end…your students will do exactly the same. And remember charter schools are the corporatization of education. They can throw out special ed students and those who can’t speak English. They will seriously weaken the already debilitated public school structures we have and further divide the haves and the have nots. Sorry just had to throw that in. Love this blog! Even though I live in Echo Park and not the eastside proper. :p

  12. Its easier to say than to do. I’ve worked for the school district too, and I can tell you from personal experience that working with kids is extremely difficult. Not only you are trying to work with 30 different personalities, but 30 different cultures as well. Al Desmadre is right, the kids are a reflection of their parents, every time I would have trouble with one of those kids I would address the parent, this were the parents that would always give me shit and couldn’t believe that their kids were lil devils. I couldn’t do shit, I could hardly talk to the kid and I couldn’t do much cuz these kids are so smart that if you even piss them off then can accuse you of a million things. It’s a tough world, I feel for teachers, but like someone commented, it all starts at home, if you educate your kids the way you are suppose to, you wont have this problem. There is that thin line that everyone talks about, you and I have to respect it and so our kids, theres no way around that. At the end its only to their benefit and no one elses.

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