Keeping retirement weird. Classroom observation.

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The images from the video tape of the violence at Spring Valley High School are still hard to erase from my mind.

Amy Davidson does a good job of writing about what Niya Kenny observed the other day when Ben Fields slammed that Black child to the floor.

Kenny was also a student in that class and was arrested for the crime of coming to the defense of her classmate.

Both are African American. And in this story, that matters.

“I just couldn’t believe this was happening,” Kenny told WLTX. “I was just crying and he was like, ‘Since you have so much to say, you coming too…. You want some of this?’ And just put my hands behind my back.” Both girls were arrested, on the charge of “disturbing the school.” Spring Valley’s policy is part of a larger move, across the country, toward criminalizing school discipline. (Yesterday, the Times reported on an internal e-mail exchange at the Success Academy, a charter school in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, which mentioned encouraging certain first-graders to withdraw from the school, in part by calling 911 if they caused trouble.) It is as if there is a general wariness toward children, particularly black or other minority children, or perhaps a blindness to the fact that they are children at all.

The crime committed here was disrupting a school? According to Davidson, that is a misdemeanor in South Carolina, punishable by 90 days in jail.

In what way was school disrupted?

The girl assaulted by Ben Fields disrupted school, as far as I can tell, by not participating. 

…there is no allegation, for example, that she was screaming or throwing things in the class, but, rather, as the Sheriff haltingly put it, “she wasn’t doing what the other students were doing…. He was trying to teach … she was preventing that from happening by not paying attention.”

If not paying attention was a crime in the school district where I once taught, they would have to line buses up in front of the school to take a whole bunch of white kids to prison.

Particularly the week before Halloween.

Yet that just doesn’t happen.

I recall my last year of teaching. I was being observed by my principal for purposes of evaluation.

If you are thinking this makes little sense, you are right. I had given notice of retirement two years earlier and I was being evaluated six months before I would leave.

For what purpose? None that I can think of.

Nonetheless, when I received my written observation from the principal, she had commented that one of my students was not paying attention. He was staring off into space, she wrote.

This was true.

When we had our post-observation conference I pointed out that the student she was referring to had autism (something she should have known as principal) and without knowing him she could have no idea whether the boy was paying attention or not.  Staring into space was typical behavior for him.

That’s what he does. It doesn’t mean he isn’t attending. Or maybe it does.

My student with autism would have been committing a misdemeanor in South Carolina, punishable by 90 days in prison.

My principal deleted her comment from my performance review.

Neither the boy with autism nor I was slammed to the floor.

But then neither of us were Black.

Then there was this report today:

A group of South Carolina high school students staged a brief walkout Friday in support of their school’s former resource officer, Ben Fields, who was fired Wednesday for flipping a student and her desk backward onto a floor, and tossing her several feet across a classroom, reports CBS affiliate WCSC.

Although the student protest seemed disruptive to some observers, there are no reports of violence, arrests or misdemeanor charges being filed. Nobody was slammed to the floor.

9 thoughts on “Keeping retirement weird. Classroom observation.

  1. My coworkers and I are conflicted. The visual of the incident is shocking and plays to the anti-police movement… But… The girl is guilty of non- compliance. Disruption can sound innocent but be so aggressive that all the other students are harmed. Asked to get up and leave by several adults indicates her behavior was excessive. Note her body language, defiant and gripping the chair with her legs and arms. Who should we protect? The girl or the other students? She could have a history of escalating violence. This is the world in which we teach.

    • Nothing justifies the physical attack on a child by an adult who is not threatened. As a teacher, if I had done what that man did, I would have been fired. If you and your coworkers are conflicted about whether a student should be treated as that student was treated and you are teachers, think about another career. Seriously.

    • The one person we haven’t heard from is the girl herself. But according to her classmates, she had her phone out just for a bit, the teacher caught her, she apologized and put it away. He escalated the situation by demanding that she turn it over. If you’re worried about disrupting class, why aren’t you worried about the teacher himself who disrupted class by getting into a power struggle? All he had to do is say, “speak to me after class” and then go on with the lesson. The fact that he had to call admin, who had to call the rent-a-cop is indication of gross incompetence on his and admin’s part. The girl apparently “defied” authority simply by saying that she didn’t do anything wrong.

      Would you be in any way conflicted if this had happened to your daughter?

    • The other thing that’s exasperating about this situation is how many teachers seem to be acting like they are the only ones who have to deal with stubborn, recalcitrant, acting out or otherwise difficult people. Guess what? Welcome to the world. And most of us don’t have “resource officers” we could call in. In fact, in my line of work, any “back-up” would be more likely to have me removed than the “non-compliant” person.

      But when I have to deal with such “defiant” people, I’ve found (since I’ve had to figure it out myself) that offering sympathy, working with them and trying to make everything right calms the situation much faster and easier than trying to argue and demand my own way (which would get me fired anyway). Maybe the teacher could have tried that.

  2. I think the teacher needs a lesson in classroom management. To allow using a cell phone to escalate to such a degree shows a total lack of ability in this area. sometimes we teachers have to decide whether our actions will cause more of a disruption than the student behavior. The situation in this video seems to be more of a power struggle between the teacher and the student.

  3. Fire “Officer Slam” and charge him with assaulting a minor. I’m not part of the anti–police movement. I’m part of the anti–psychopaths wearing badges movement. Two of my uncles and my father in law were police officers.

  4. Fred, I was referring to Lee Alexander’s comment “this plays to the anti–police movement”. I’m not sure what the anti–police movement is exactly but I assume it is the police brutality protests. Many of my coworkers were former police officers, part time police officers, and some had been police chiefs before going to work for the Illinois Department of Corrections. I am sure none of them would approve of a police officer slamming school children on their heads. Pin a badge on some people they turn into the worst bully ever.

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