Teachers are facing an onslaught of disruptive, disrespectful, and dangerous behavior in the classroom, often brushed aside by school leadership. This Teacher Appreciation Week, let’s do more than acknowledge that problem. Let’s fix it.

Behavioral issues in the classroom drive teachers to quit, and reasonably so. My first day of teaching, as a chipper 22-year-old Teach for America corps member, I had a child leave to roam the hallway, witnessed a hair-pulling fight between two of my girls, and was unable to talk over my 30 chatty sixth-graders (29 given the hallway wanderer). As no learning occurred, I thought about quitting. And many of my colleagues did quit—often after experiencing some level of violence.

What kept me coming back was school-wide support. My principal sent a paraprofessional to observe my classroom and tell me bluntly that I needed to be much tougher. Her disciplinary tactics, one of which was called “standing silent lunch,” worked. But not for everyone. An armed school resource officer was there when I had a child bring a gun to school. My principal expelled or suspended every student involved, depending on their level of participation. (She had earlier merely suspended the gun carrier, who tested my limits every single day and sexually harassed one of my students, so it wasn’t perfect.)

After this, learning ultimately occurred in my classroom.

Yes, I used positive affirmations and rewards. And yes, I developed relationships with my students, serving as cheerleading coach and playing kickball at recess. But the necessary ingredients for success were unquestionably strict discipline, constant communication with parents, and support from administrators who cared about the learning environment.

While disruptive classrooms are nothing new, teachers are reporting a problematic increase in disruptive behavior after the pandemic lockdowns. In a recent poll by the American Federation of Teachers, 88 percent of teachers cited “poor student discipline and a lack of support for dealing with disruptive students” as a very or fairly serious problem.

This would be bad enough, but schools have almost forgotten how to solve the problem. And that’s thanks to distant federal bureaucrats forcing bad ideas on teachers and kids they’ll never meet. In 2014, the Obama administration threatened to pull funding away from schools that discipline students, explaining that even non-discriminatory discipline might affect black and Latino students more than white students.

While the formal threat letter was rescinded by President Donald Trump, schools have taken the message that preserving order is somehow a bad thing, perhaps even racist. President Joe Biden, for his part, has also threatened to pull funding from schools that discipline students in a manner that ends up affecting more students with disabilities. But that’s a disaster waiting to happen, because students who violently threaten teachers and other students suffer a disability—emotional disturbance—by definition. By failing to discipline these students because they have mental health issues, Biden is inviting danger in the classroom.

School discipline is an art, not a science. Each teacher, classroom, and student has unique needs, and communities should experiment. For example, I would love to hold parents responsible if their children commit theft, assault, or other serious offenses.

The solution isn’t obvious. But when the federal government gets involved, the entire delicate balance—relationships, strictness, love, incentives, and consequences—is dismantled in favor of cold, calculating lawsuit avoidance. Soft, untailored policies endanger teachers and strip learning opportunities from the students doing the right thing.

Enough with the massive educational bureaucracy. Let’s return disciplinary decisions to the local level, to protect the teachers we appreciate every day, and especially this week!