I look at the clock, note that it's 8:18, which means that I need to pack my already overloaded bag/ purse and head to ISS ( In school suspension...aka sit in a small room and accomplish very little all day), held in room 122.5. As I saunter up the stairs I remember two important facts, 1 , I drank 3 cups of coffee this morning and I really should go to the bathroom before I head to ISS, because once there, I will just have to hold it. 2, other than knowing that it's on the second floor ( clearly indicated by its room number, insert sarcasm), I'm not sure where this .5 room is located, but feel that if I wander around enough, it's likely that I'll find it.
I walk through the door, the other teacher looks relieved that their time is over. One boy slouched in his chair pretending to read, but barely able to keep his eyes open, the other, hood up, head down at the computer, apparently typing with his face.... a.k.a. sleeping, and typing a paper that reads aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.
I can tell that the next 45 minutes is going to be productive for all of us. I slide into my seat, tell the boys my name and casually ask what they're to be working on. Slouching boy tells me that he needs to a read a chapter in his book, hoodie boy says nothing. I continue to talk to slouching boy about what he's reading, surprisingly he isn't really sure, since he's nodded off every few sentences. As I watch him, I find myself amazed at his ability to fall asleep a matter of seconds after having a conversation.
I startle him awake, asking what brought him to ISS, Mr. Hoodie, remains silent and still. He recounts that he skipped class. Skipping class lands you in ISS no questions asked. This is a reoccurring theme for him. Skip class, get ISS, get out of ISS , skip class and around and around we go, until a month goes by and he hasn't set foot in any classes. I try to discuss why he's skipping school, yet a part of me can't blame him. Try to understand what might motivate him, what he really cares about, but realize that we've beaten him down to the point that he doesn't know. He no longer has dreams, or believes that he's as smart as he really is, and I wonder if there is anyway that he'll make it to graduation.
I get up, walk over to Mr. Hoodie, say his name again, ( using his actual name), he continues to be unresponsive. I know that he hears me, but is hoping that I'll just go away. Part of me wants to go away, but the other part of me wants him to know that I care, and I need him to take responsibility and clean up the mess that he's made. Reluctantly, I touch him on the shoulder, hoping that this doesn't make him hit me. He remains still. Next, I become more daring, and slowly remove his hood, this finally elicits a response. I explain that I need him to clean up his things, and that we need to return the laptop. He moves slowly. I ask why he's in ISS, with a smirk he tells me that he told one of his teacher's to "F" off ( he used all 4 letters). Explaining that he gets mad easily. He expresses that he's worried that his parole officer is going to be upset.
I take the bait and ask why he's on parole, he says for breaking into cars, quickly trying to justify his actions by explaining that he never really steals anything, he just takes small things, like random change. He breaks into the cars for the rush.
I ask if he's ever thought about how it makes the owner of the car feel. He looks at me, confused. I continue to explain that especially as a women, if that were my car, and someone broke into it and only took a few things, I would be scared. I would think that perhaps they were trying to send a message, or that it was an indication that someone was following me. By the look on his face, I can tell he'd never thought of this, and he didn't like the idea of making people feel that way.
It's time to return the laptop, so we begin to walk down the hallway together. Returning to the previous conversation, I ask what he thinks he could do when he feels angry, instead of telling people to "f off." He's quiet for a moment, and then says that he could write them an apology letter. I remind him, that if he stops himself before responding in anger, it's likely that an apology letter wouldn't be necessary. I also ask if he enjoys writing. He says no. So I ask what makes him think that writing a letter would be a good way to deal with his anger if he doesn't enjoy it.
He starts to say something and then stops. I ask him to keep going, reminding him that we're just having a conversation. He reminds me that I'm a teacher, and says he mentioned the apology letter, because that's what he thought I wanted to hear. I assure him that the only thing that I want to hear is the truth, he seems confused, but it looks like he just might believe me.
He tells me smoking calms him down, I know that this is the truth, and also think that he's testing me to see how I'll respond. We continue talking for a few more minutes, not reaching a conclusion, but at least having an honest conversation, and I feel like I might be convincing him that I care, and that I'm on his side.
The bell rings and we part ways.
These same two boys continued to spend a lot of time in ISS for a variety of reasons, and each time, I wondered how we were helping them, and the truth is, we weren't.
Discipline in the school system is much like it is in the world, it's about punishment, not rehabilitation.
Detention does not work. Education should not be used as a form of punishment. In School Suspension does not work. If one student punches another, the solution is not to lock them both in the same small room. Out of School Suspension does not work. The students who bring drugs to school and start fights, do not want to be in school, so telling them that they have 10 days off , is not a punishment, nor does it address the issue.
Deal with the issue, the real issue, the one deep down that's hard to reach. Talk to the student. Listen. Question. Council. And do it all right when the infraction happens. Not two Tuesday's later. ( most detentions are assigned to happen on a Tuesday, two weeks after the infraction)
What I want schools to do:
Admit that the current discipline system isn't working
Try something new. Anything. Just try
Pay attention to what works, and what doesn't , adjust accordingly
Decide what the purpose of punishment is. If the purpose is to get students to drop out, keep doing what you're doing. Otherwise, change.