Reporter's Notebook

What's the Best Way to Discipline a Student?
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Below is our reader-led debate on the best ways to deal with students when they’re insubordinate and disruptive in the classroom. Email us to join the discussion, sparked by the story of the Spring Valley High student torn from her chair.

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A few readers get a good thread going:

The teacher who wrote to explain how her method of discipline “works” seems to think that having upwards of 25-30 people alter their routine, to accommodate the tender feelings of one noncooperative individual, constitutes effective policy. This is puzzling to me.

Make no mistake; that method is certainly preferable to the excessive violence that occurred in that video, but that isn’t saying much. I’m not interested in sending my children to a school where one non-cooperative individual has the power to control that many other individuals.

I don’t generally have much regard for zero-tolerance policies, but there is an exception I’ll make: A teacher should have absolute power to remove any student from the classroom, and any student who challenges that power should face automatic, immediate, and permanent expulsion. If a student refuses to leave and report to the administration office, when told to, it may well make sense to take the steps outlined by the teacher, with regard to removing the student’s peers, and summoning the assistance of other school personnel. But the first time that happens should be the last time that has a chance of happening, with that student.

Is this harsh? Absolutely. What is more harsh, however, is to allow one person’s pride to rule a couple dozen other people.

Here’s a very different recommendation from a reader in New York with lots of experience in the classroom:

I’ve taught for 15 years so far and have encountered many instances of disruptive student behavior, including much more severe than what happened in the South Carolina instance. I agree wholeheartedly with the recommendation made to clear the room of the audience so that the child can de-escalate. This is what I have done when a child is in crisis, actively disrupting (i.e. screaming, cursing, forcibly moving furniture) and refusing to leave the room.

Since the child in question got quiet and passively refused to move, my inclination would have been to leave her there.

A teacher from the inbox, Mary Cornwell-Wright, responds to the story of the female student who was flipped out of her chair by a high-school resource officer (subsequently fired):

Adolescent rebellion is a tale as old as time. The adults involved unnecessarily escalated the situation into a defiant standoff between a student and authority figures. The student didn’t want to back down because there was an audience of her peers.

Solution: Remove the peers.