Earlier this year, I had the honor of speaking to a group of University of Georgia students about education reform. Quite a few students told me they had relatives or close friends in the teaching profession, and every single one of them told me that the teacher in their life either quit recently or is considering quitting because student behavior is so bad.
Recent data bear this out. A 2022 survey of teachers by Chalkboard Review found that most of them listed student behavioral issues as their number-one reason for leaving the profession.
Who could blame these teachers and now-former teachers for their frustration? They did not sign up to work in chaos.
Chaos is exactly the climate in many of our nation’s schools. In a survey by consulting firm EAB, 77% of school employees cited student behavior as a top concern. 84% of respondents said COVID lockdowns had made behavioral issues worse.
Just this week, in Antioch, Tennessee, a student pepper sprayed a teacher after he confiscated her phone. In March 2022, a Florida five year old attacked a teacher so severely that she was found “dazed” and then hospitalized. An attack by a high schooler left a Rockdale County, Georgia teacher with a broken leg. The examples are endless, but this epidemic does not have to be.
Two factors have fueled the rise in student misconduct: COVID lockdowns and “restorative justice.” When teacher unions kept schools closed for far longer than they should have been, students were kept isolated from their peers and lacked the structure that a school day provides. It is no wonder that many of these students have a hard time reacclimating to a place where they are supposed to be respectful: They’re simply out of practice.
The second cause is the rise of “restorative justice,” a type of school discipline that’s hardly disciplinary at all. Under restorative justice, teachers must do things like shy away from suspensions, even when merited, and instead use “positive behavior interventions and supports,” like talking through the problem in “RJ Circles,” a practice adopted by Fairfax County Public Schools.
A perpetually disruptive student makes it impossible for students to learn and teachers to teach. When one student can cause havoc without repercussions, everyone else in the room misses out on learning. Schools should have no concern about depriving a violent child of a chance to do more harm and instead think about how a violent student can deprive his or her teachers and peers of a peaceful and productive day at school.
This is not to say that a violent student is an inherently bad person or that a student with severe behavioral problems cannot change. It is the parents’ job to raise a child who is prepared to behave appropriately at school. When that doesn’t happen, the school must step in and educate the child through age-appropriate and fair consequences.
This Teacher Appreciation Week, there is a meaningful way to honor the work teachers do: Empower them to create safe classrooms through fair and consistent disciplinary procedures so they are no longer sitting ducks for violent student behavior.