Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Kid, the Cop, and the Video

Spring Valley High (South Carolina): a student is forcibly removed from her desk, thrown to the floor, and arrested.

In case you haven’t seen it, and it is only one side of the story: or

Everyone jumps to judgment on this one. It is disturbing to view an officer of the law manhandle a teenager in that way. I have held off on comment because there is much we do not know, like the context or circumstances and the history of the teacher, class, and student.

I absolutely condemn the actions of the officer.

But I can’t help wondering as a teacher how it could have been different.

In my school system, if a student uses their cell phone during class, we are to confiscate it. If the student refuses to hand it over, we write a referral. Bam! Situation dealt with. Although that policy remains in place, our Superintendent expressed a preference to our principals that he would like us to stop confiscating phones because that puts the school district in the position of being responsible for the phone. What happens if it is lost? The district may be financially responsible.

As a teacher, I would not put a student out of my classroom for using a phone. I would not ask them to leave. That opens me to a power struggle in which I must win or I will lose—in front of the student’s peers. Smart teachers avoid power struggles with students. Tell the student that if they do not stop the misbehavior, they will receive a referral. If the student continues, tell them that they are getting a referral. Then stop. End it while the teacher remains the adult informing the child of the consequence. Go on with class.

There is no imminent danger to life or limb to anyone in the room. There is no need to engage in a power struggle.

Peer pressure is always a feature of a classroom. Given that admins and the SRO (school resource officer) were summoned, it is necessary to remove that feature. Before doing anything, when the student refused to do what she was told, the adults should have taken everyone else out. It is amazing what will happen when there are no peers in front of whom an adolescent feels a pressure to impress.

Class was over for the day. When an incident of this nature takes place, learning is done. Take all the other students and the teacher out. Then the officer could sit down next to the student and talk it out. The admin could have joined the conversation.

No arrests. No violence. Not necessary.

Who knows? They might have learned something about the young lady, something going on in her life, and provided support. There’s a reason she refused to comply. There is always a reason and until we know what it is, we are not in a position to judge.