Spare the Rod and Fire the Teacher

I recently heard from a public school official that one of their teachers was being dismissed for having grabbed a student by the arm in an effort to get him off a desk on which he was standing and disrupting the classroom. The child was not hurt although not surprisingly, he claimed otherwise. The scene was witnessed by a number of students who stated that the teacher’s action was indeed as described, but not violent in that the student did not fall nor was his arm or body twisted in any stressful way. He was simply pulled down from on top of the desk.

That the teacher touched the child as she did is apparently a violation of school policy. That the child has a chronic problem with self-control and has often caused other major disturbances is a matter of record. That the parents, who have ignored the school’s numerous attempts to involve them in disciplining their child, have threatened a lawsuit should come as a shock to no one. That the school district administration, which is responsible for dealing with this issue (rather than the school itself) has shown little interest in investigating any mitigating facts, and is determined to fire the teacher, is an outrage.

First, her firing is not mandated by law or policy. There are clearly lesser disciplinary actions that can be taken to satisfy the teacher’s breech of policy. Second, instead placating the parents as their priority, the district administration should publically hold them accountable for their failure to deal with their child’s well-documented control problems. In retrospect, the kid should have been suspended if not expelled, forcing the parents to face the fact that their kid has a significant behavioral issue. But the school officials stopped short of that, believing in their mandate to educate every child and considering suspension a drastic last resort. As a result, the teacher involved is being victimized by craven school district officials and irresponsible parents who are in fact where the problem lies.

There are at least somewhat understandable reasons why some parents can’t or don’t instill basic social behavior in their children, but in this case, none of them apply. The parents are not uneducated. They do not live in or near poverty. They are not both at work, scratching out a living and too exhausted to deal with the problem. They are not constantly coping with existential issues. Apparently, they just don’t give a damn. If they did, they’d be calling their kid’s doctor instead of their lawyer.

Finally, the district administration’s actions in failing to offer any support for the school or the teacher involved can only demoralize the school’s leadership and teachers. This situation goes a long way to explaining why in America, over half of all new public school teachers quit the profession within five years — one more statistic among the many that quantify the disastrous decline of education in America, a system that is failing our children, condemning tens of millions of them to little hope of the decent life that was once the achievable American dream and the envy of most of the world.

This has nothing to do with the degradation of public education caused by the increasingly contentious political wars over school taxes, teachers’ salaries and their unions, separation of school and church, school boards dictating curricula, and all the other divisive issues that have usurped so many communities’ basic respect for schools and teachers. It has everything to do with the overarching breakdown of our nation’s moral compass that more and more often spins wildly away from the poles of basic right and wrong. In light of the national and global chaos that engulfs us daily, firing a teacher for attempting to control a kid in desperate need of discipline is admittedly a relatively minor occurrence. Unless he grows into a kid besotted by rage who one day comes to school with an AK47.

There was a time when the parents would have thanked this teacher and dedicated themselves to solving their child’s problem. I vividly remember my thirdgrade teacher punishing me for bratty behavior by forcing me to sit under her desk. When I complained to my mother, she looked me right in the eye and said, “Good for her!”