Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Classroooms Shouldn't Be Battlefields

As published in The Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, September 23, 2015, by Sara Jewell

When I lost my part-time job last spring, I decided to return to substitute teaching and had to update my file, dormant for more than three years. After glancing through all the forms I had to complete, I finished reading the accompanying cover letter.
            The last paragraph read, “All CCRSB employees who work with students are required to have watched the Severely Disruptive Behaviour videos prepared and provided by the Nova Scotia Department of Education.”
            I actually pushed my chair away from my desk when I read that, instinctively put space between me and the words “severely disruptive behaviour”. Those words made my entire body clench with anxiety.
            When I earned a Bachelor of Education degree in my early twenties, I didn’t feel ready to be in a classroom. I was qualified to teach high school English but didn’t yet feel mature or experienced enough so I went on to other work in radio and journalism.
            Moving to Nova Scotia in my late thirties, I felt ready to try substitute teaching. While I never felt unappreciated by the teachers or vice-principals (who hire subs), I was never sure of how to discipline the students. There were no instructions from administration; some VPs were fine with the troublemakers being sent to the office; others seem to expect me to deal with them.
            Some students once said to me, “What’s the point? You’re just going to send me to the office anyway,” while in another situation, others pointed out, “Miss, why don’t you just send them to the office?”
            Classroom management was challenging for me. My natural inclination is to not remove students from the learning environment but I never figured out how to control the disruptive kids.
Now I would have to deal with severely disruptive behaviour? No thank you.
            My best friend worked an Education Assistant in Ontario and spent a year assigned to an 11-year-old male student with severely disruptive behaviour.
            “I never, ever knew what I was coming in to,” she told me. “Every day was like going to war.”
            She called the classroom a disaster, saying the teacher couldn’t teach with that student in the room.
            “Here’s the other issue,” she added. “He was just one kid in that class of 21. There were seven other kids who had problems at home, learning issues, emotional distress who didn’t get any resources.”
            I doubt it’s any different here in Nova Scotia.
Asking any teacher to deal with severely disruptive behaviour is wrong. Allowing that particular student in a classroom is putting the rights of one individual above the rights of the group.
            A classroom is a work environment for teachers, students and educational assistants; all of them are entitled to be safe in that environment, to be able to work without distraction or anxiety. Severely disruptive behaviour goes beyond what teachers should be expected to deal with, and students cannot learn in the midst of that chaos.
            School is a place of learning for everyone but one student and his or her parents/legal guardians shouldn’t be allowed to turn a classroom into a battlefield. 

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