This is a guest post from Amber Kane. She is a creativity educator and textile designer.
Summer is coming to an end. Teachers have prepared their rooms and are sitting in painful in-service meetings, while students scour local stores for way-too-many back to school supplies.
For the first time in 25 years, I will not be doing any of that.
After teaching in the public school system for 8 years, I resigned.
I didn’t walk away from teaching because I don’t believe in learning, or because I can’t stand students.
I quit because school systems make so many decisions that are not based on what is best for the student. Instead, they choose what is easier for the administration. Too many rules proclaim that they are designed to keep the students safe, but in fact are about creating ease for adults.
1. Limited Internet use.
Schools block all kinds of things like social media, blogs, YouTube—all in the name of keeping students safe. But shouldn’t students should be allowed, encouraged, supported, and shown how all those resources can be used safely? I’m sure it’s easier for schools to simply block everything rather than make an attempt to have honest conversations about what students encounter online.
2. Crazy discipline cycle.
After school detention, Saturday detention, in-school Suspension—all rarely address or correct any issue, however, they are an easy way to pretend to discipline.
Here’s an example of how the discipline cycle works: Student is caught with their cell phone, he receives a one hour after school detention. (The detention usually takes place two weeks after the infraction occurs, which is like randomly grounding your kid two weeks after they did something wrong.) The student has an after school job, so they skip the one hour detention, which earns an after school two hour detention. Since they couldn’t attend the one hour, they clearly can’t attend the two hour, but no one cares really, so the student skips the two hour, which lands them in In School Suspension(ISS).
To fulfill the ISS, the student is pulled out of all of their classes for a day and made to sit in a very small room, usually without windows, and pretty much do nothing. Sometimes teachers will send work for them to do; however, they usually fall behind.)
In this example, a student had their phone out in class, and in turn ended up missing at least a full day of class. Does this really seem like it has the student’s best interest in mind?
The discipline cycle is about power and ease, not about the student and what he or she needs.
3. No cell phones.
While some schools are starting to loosen up on their cell phone policies and allow students to text during lunch, the usual response to students with cell phones in schools is what you’d expect if someone walked into your home with a grenade in hand.
Schools are afraid that students might take videos or pictures of things that they don’t want them to share. Or that they might cheat on a test. Instead, schools should strive to remove teachers doing things that they would be ashamed to have on video. They should have open discussions about phone use, and students should be allowed to use them on a test. When in the world do people not just look things up on the internet?
4. No backpacks.
This rule was first implemented back when I was in high school (over 15 years ago) in response to the Columbine school shooting. I’ve never fully understood the rule, as students are permitted to walk into the building with as many backpacks and bags as they wish but they are simply not allowed to use said backpacks or bags during the school day. All backpacks must remain in their locker, and all books carried by hand. To make things more confusing girls can carry purses of any size, as long as they aren’t meant to be worn on the back.
I’m guessing that you’re just as confused about this rule as myself and the students.
The no backpack rule is a way for schools to pretend to address the potential violence, rather that having to unpack and really examine why students bring guns to schools. It’s an easy, pretend solution to a complex problem.
5. Rules for good writing.
For a long time I believed that I couldn’t write. But the truth was that I can’t write when I’m given a topic that I don’t care about and told that I have to write three pages, exactly three pages, not one word less, not one word over.
All writing assignments come with a length requirement. It must be exactly 5 pages, double spaced in 12 pt Times New Roman Font. None of these rules help students become better writers, but they all make it easier for the teachers to grade. It’s easy to say “minus 5 points because you’re two sentences shy of 3 pages”, and “there goes another 5 points because you used the wrong font.”
When students wrote in my class, my rule was, “Get your point across in as few words as possible, as long as I can read the font I don’t care what it is, and select spacing that makes sense with your writing.”