Purposefully Disruptive Students in the ClassroomBy Stewart Brekke
I have seen a number of teachers having disruptive students penalized by the school administration by dismissal or lowered teacher ratings.
Primarily, there has to be good support by the administration for teachers in disciplinary situations. I have been in schools where formal
discipline referrals were discouraged. The teachers were supposed to handle the discipline problems themselves. This often resulted in poor
learning environments and in those schools I would often walk by classrooms in which little learning took place because the students did not have to face the consequences of their bad behavior.
I was in one school as a math teacher and the students tried to run the classroom. I would not let them run the class since I was the teacher. I filed a number of discipline referrals repeatedly and was sent to the principal where the discipline assistant principal told the principal that I was a “bad teacher” because I was filing “too many discipline referrals.” Once I filed a union grievance about this, the principal had to back down and I was then told by the union I could file as many discipline referrals as necessary. Also, in another school I was in I taught chemistry.
In the class there was an LD student who every day purposefully disrupted the class so that I could not teach. Because I called the office to get security to remove the student almost every day, the principal tuned off my intercom to the office at that time instead of properly dealing with this disruptive student. I solved the problem by calling the school office on my cellphone. In each school “good teaching” not only depends upon the teacher, but also on the support of the administration and the mix of students in the room.
In the book Escalante: The Best Teacher in America by Jay Mathews, Mr Escalante, the famous math teacher who did wonders in an inner city school, he states he also had purposefully disruptive students. His prescription in dealing with these disruptors was to exclude them from the classroom as soon as possible. There was chemistry teacher in our school and one of her students told me that they were purposefully disruptive in order to get the principal to fire her. Why the present Secretary of Education and the Attorney General of the United States are trying to reduce strong disiplinary measures towards classroom disruptors is because they have never taught a class in a school in which there are these purposeful disruptors interfering with their teaching.
In the inner city, where I did most of my teaching for 26 years, mostly in Black populated schools, the decent majority of students are
constantly subjected to the disruptions of a few so that learning cannot always take place. In one high school I was at we took a survey of our
500 students about disruptions in their classes and 40% of the students indicated that their classes were routinely purposefully disrupted. While in recent days the Secretary of Education stated that minority students are more often suspended for school disruptions, he does not address the real problem that there are more problem minority students in minority populated schools. Often, from my experience it is the Black principals that are toughest on the minority students because they know that the purposeful disruptive behavior is often purposeful
and the Black principals want the well behaved Black students to get a good education.
Moreover, problem children continually and purposefully disrupt the learning environment all through the good students’ elementary and secondary school experience. As a result a number of Black children get to high school unable to read at grade level and are very weak in basic mathematics skills. Subjects such as English, writing and reading, and algebra and chemistry and physics, build on these reading and mathematics skills and are thereforemuch more difficult for these decent Black children since their education in high school and elementary classrooms are repeatedly interfered with. The hope that schooling offers to these children in poverty in the inner cities is slowly dashed because of these problem children in their classes. Because of this disruptive learning environment, these children, when they get to college, are behind the other students when it comes to university physics, chemistry and advanced mathematics. As a result of this deficit they are locked into jobs that pay far less than jobs in engineering and science requiring a college degree.
About the author
Stewart E Brekke is a retired physics, chemistry and math teacher from the Chicago Public Schools. He has taught 26 years. Stewart has a PhD from the International University for Graduate Studies, and an Ms in Ed from Purdue University-Calumet. He spends his retired years presenting scientific physics and math papers at professional meetings and writes about educational subjects.