Monday, January 28, 2008

Seeking Some Honest Opinions

When I picked up #1 from school on Friday she was in tears. Apparently some girls on her team vandalized the bathrooms (they think they know who did it) and as a result for the next two weeks no one is allowed to use the restrooms except during 3 designated times when a teacher can monitor it (the times are all at lunch or before, no times in the afternoon). #1 is afraid she will miss her bus or have an "accident". The entire team is being punished because of some "good girls gone bad". This is the third team meeting that they have all been yelled at and disciplined. It has been really stressful for #1, especially since she has not been involved in any of the incidents they continue to be punished for. She wants to help, but isn't sure how.

After I calmed down I decided this needed to be addressed. I emailed all the team teachers (there are about 105 kids on the team), along with the principle and the assistant principle, who was the one who decided on this punishment. So, without including the entire correspondence here are some excerpts from my email:

I’m concerned with the restroom punishment because if the students are only allowed to use it during designated times, they will have no time to eat lunch and catch the bus because everyone will be going at the same time. If they have to go to the restroom I understand the students were told they are just going to have to learn to “hold it”. I have an 8-year old who gets frequent urinary tract infections as a result of “holding it”. What about girls during their menstrual cycle? Why not penalize the offenders, or if you feel this is a team problem, take their recess away? Going to the nurse only when they are “throwing up” or “bleeding” concerns me, also (our family was very sick for about 2 weeks and none of us were throwing up or bleeding). So much about this meeting concerns me! I’m not sure that humiliating a student into being obedient is the best course of action, particularly if the student hasn’t been causing any problems. And, what do you see this punishment accomplishing at the end of 2 weeks? Do you think the students who are to blame are going to have a change of heart? I can tell you that my daughter has enough on her mind trying to remember her new math concepts without having to be concerned with frantically needing to use the restroom. I also know part of the punishment is to not sign out for anything including yearbook activities and library. Again, isn’t this something that should be evaluated on an individual basis? I can’t help but think that it is so much better to deal with the students one-on-one, and if needed with a parent or counselor, than to punish the whole team.

I hold each teacher in very high regard and I understand there are times that the frustration seems overwhelming. In a desperate attempt to right a wrong sometimes irrational ideas prevail. Please don’t be so desperate to “teach the offenders a lesson” that you lose the trust and respect of the other students that you worked so hard to earn the first half of the school year. They should be seen as individuals and acknowledged for the good behavior, and not just the bad. I am no expert, but I would sincerely like to help you find a solution and not just write a letter to complain. I hope this letter is not misconstrued as an attack on your authority and classroom policies. It is not my intention to undermine you in any way.

This was part of the response from one of the teachers:

The “mean girl” bullying is NOT tolerable, the graffiti on the bathroom walls is unacceptable (much less the language), the exclusion of students for their lack of “MTV” wear and the negative attitude (“good girls gone bad”) is what we are addressing. The administration and teachers have not lost common sense approach to teaching the “whole child.” We are limiting temptation.

We are attempting to use positive peer pressure. I once attended an in-service with a renown school psychologist that stated 85% of the students will do what is expected, 5% with rebel and 10% is a swing crowd. How true this is with middle level education. If we the teachers error on the side of “looking the other way and giving the girls the go ahead” with their current behaviors and choices we will be setting them up for future failure. Where 15% of the negative bullies are limiting the 85% that want to learn, we will have failed our students.

#1's individual needs along with her peers will continue to be met. Please reinforce with her that “straight and narrow” is the path that leads to success and that we as a team have had to nip some of the wide boulevards up to our path to ensure that we all cross over confidently into the next phase of our development – young ladies and gentlemen of noble (successful) character. I know that she would want all of her classmates to make positive choices and not to continue to hurt each other with words and negative notes.

So, I'm just a mom, what do you think about this? It sounds good in theory to "limit the temptations" and have the 85% influencing the 15%, but does it really work? And, does the outcome justify the means?


Stephanie said...

My feeling is that they are willing to sacrifice your daughters needs for the 15%. Sometimes that is acceptable because there are times in the Bible where God punished all for the sins of a few.
So go to God and see what He wants and talk to #1 about why God has her there. Perhaps in this situation it is to help that 15%, if it isn't however and it is distracting her from God's intent for her to learn than if they will not allow her to use the restroom when she needs to, get a doctors excuse.
Your job is to help her do her job for the Glory of God. Just get a clear idea of what that is (as you always do) and do what it takes.

Stephanie said...

Oops I don't think I answered you question...sorry. I'm not so sure it works personally. I think you are right in that you do end up putting a bad taste in the mouth of the 85%. This may work better for younger students but by middle school I think many of that 15% are using those roles to identify themselves and need more than group punishment to change their ways. In a sick way I think that the 15% likes the power it gives them. Imagine by rebelling they made the whole school bow to them. That is a reward for them in itself.

Livin' Life said...

You are dealing with this better than I would. I hate the way we punish the majority for the actions of a few. The psychologist does not have a daughter in the school so stats mean nothing. You can get a written consent form from the doctor allowing #1 to use the bathroom more frequently. We had to do this with Shaggy and water. He wasn't allowed to drink water in class or use the water fountain very much but he had terrible headaches at school. After so investigation the doctor found that he dehydrates quickly because of a digestive issue and he recommended drinkning lots of water. He sent in a note and they allowed Shaggy a water bottle and trips to the fountain as long as he didn't abuse this privilage. I will be praying for you for wisdom and strategy.

The Gang's All Here! said...

I have no idea what I would do in this situation. I know that I work very hard to instill in the kids that our positive choices bring rewards of right living and favor with those around us, as I know you do. I empathize with your feeling that the methods they are using undermine this particular teaching that you and J have chosen in your home. I'm sorry for that! And I'm so sorry for #1 working hard to live the life that Jesus calls her to, only to have to suffer at the hands of that 15%. ugh.

I have no good advice on this one, as I think I would be tempted to go off the deep end with this kind of group punishment. I'll be praying for wisdom for you. And I must say: KUDOS to you for opening up the dialogue and offering to be part of the solution with the administration!

Classic MaMa said...

Ok. When I taught 7th grade, there were quite a few times when we were asked to "shut down" the ladies room due to the same kind of stuff. It is true that some kids will tell on the others and the annoyance of not having the restroom will stop this action for a while, but I never agreed with it. (Partly because I was the classroom closest to the bathroom an when I was pregnant did not appreciate having to walk around the building to pee.)

There is another solution to the problem, though it requires extra work for adminstration and teachers. Have the kids sign out, date and time and between every period have a designated teacher or principal check the bathrooms. If antthing happened, question those who signed out.

I guess it's tough for me to answer this one as a mom and not as a teacher. :)

Natalie said...

I don't know why we just can't punish those who are guilty instead of always making everyone suffer.