School Daze: What’s Going On?

New California law forbids suspensions for bad behavior through 8th grade.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Upon reading the news of this new California law forbidding suspensions, I was somewhat startled. Why would the State get involved with how many kids could get suspended? Or more importantly, why were elementary students being suspended in the first place? That is, had classroom disruption became so widespread that the governor had to become involved with how it is handled?

I knew that school discipline had been deteriorating over the course of my lifetime. I just found it difficult to grasp what was really happening.

So, I took a walk down memory lane.

When I reflect on my years in elementary school, I cannot recall a single instance of a class disruption that involved a suspension. We all pretty much knew that if you behaved you would be sent to the principle’s office. In fact, I believe it was possible that principles were permitted to physically spank a kid, though I cannot recall one single instance of it ever happening to anyone in my class.

There were times when there was misbehaving and a student would be sent downstairs to the janitor’s “office” to “clean erasers.” We had blackboard back then, and the erasers would get filled with chalk, so the punishment also served a useful function of sorts.

I can’t really remember very many detentions being given. In fact, other than my own week of detention, I can’t recall any other punishments to disruptive students. Did we even have disruptive students?

My own weeklong detention was brought on by this humiliating event. I was in second grade at the time. I really liked my teacher, Miss Enden, and I think she even liked me. I was an A student (except for the poor marks in handwriting) and an excellent speller.

From time to time we were given quizzes to test how well we were grasping the material. After answering the questions, we were instructed to put our pencils in our desks and then take out a red crayon to grade our papers.

Well, to my horror, I’d forgotten to write my name on my paper, so I snuck the pencil out to write my name atop the page. Zap! Miss Enden spied me writing something and told me to write an F on my paper and hand it in.

It gets worse.

This being second grade, we were all then told to put our heads down for ten minutes, purportedly as a break, but actually so she could write all the grade in her gradebook. I was so humiliated and hurt and angry that I lifted my head to peek at her and — yes, I know, this is awful — I stuck out my tongue. And she saw it.

“Eddie, will you come up here please?”

Oh no. There was nowhere to hide. Wishing I were the size of a thimble I walked over to Miss Enden’s desk and stood facing her. She sat there looking at me, no doubt a little bewildered and amused, but serious as she quietly said, “I will be writing you up for a week of detention. I’ll give you a note for your parents.”

As it turns out, detention consisted of staying after school for an hour every day instead of going home to play. Fortunately, Miss Enden actually made it fun. I helped organize the bookshelves, straightened things, emptied the wastebasket and even got to clean erasers.

For what it’s worth, it wasn’t the last time I got an F for not following the direction on a quiz It happened again my junior year in high school. On the other hand, I never stuck out my tongue at a teacher after that.

I have to wonder what’s happened since my 1950s childhood. How is it that there are so many suspensions that the governor felt obligated to intervene? Something’s going on that’s unhealthy. According to research, we learn best when our minds are focused. Therefore, classroom distractions need to be kept to a minimum.

And yet….

Are you a K-8 public school teacher? Have you ever had to suspend a student? I assume there are disciplinary measures that precede suspension. Have classrooms become more disorderly? Can you share your experience or observations on these issues? Thank you for your comments.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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