Our state has engaged in serious education reform based upon the premise that we are all committed to raising student achievement and improving public K-12 schools. The failure of HB2932 to be passed out of the House Education Committee sends a very negative message to the public school teachers across this state. The very same piece of legislation SB3122 passed the Tennessee Senate 30-0 and 9-0 in committee. Those who opposed this bill have now implied by their action that it is not acceptable to remove a student from the regular classroom for serious disruption in a Tennessee middle or high school.
We applaud those lawmakers who wisely understood that teachers needed more power to discipline students who constantly misbehaved, as well as disrupted the learning environment for all the other students. Currently, a teacher’s last resort against disruptive or violent students is to send them to the principal’s office. The principal has the power to suspend them, but only if they have committed a serious offense. More often than not, disruptive students are simply returned to the classroom beginning a dangerous cycle of unacceptable behavior that other students observe and may emulate.
Teachers are professionals, and need to be treated as such. If we are going to hold them accountable for the actions in their classroom, we need to give them some of the authority over those who continually and habitually disrupt their classes. We understand there should be safeguards for students and parents in the legislation, and in fact they were incorporated into the proposed version of the bill. Today, in classrooms across our state teachers are striving to educate far too many children who are from households and neighborhoods where education is not of high importance.
We do not need to point out that public school teachers also deal with a myriad of student issues such as teen pregnancy, gangs, drug and alcohol use, as well as mental health issues, etc…, all while living in a culture that seemingly embraces the lowest common denominator. The message sent by the general public to our youth is that it is acceptable to live their lives according to two principles: the path of least resistance and instant gratification. Failure to take legislative steps this year means teachers will continue to be on the frontlines of the battlefield without the necessary support to help instill order and discipline in their classes.
Our organization, Professional Educators of Tennessee, will continue to work with astute lawmakers on behalf of Tennessee teachers to pass legislation that empowers them to effectively deal with students who are so unruly, disruptive, or abusive that it seriously interferes with their ability to communicate effectively with the students in their class or with the ability of other students to learn. We encourage this to be a high priority for Tennessee legislators in 2013. Surely creating a culture where the learning environment can flourish by removing disruptive students can be given afforded importance in our state.
J. C. Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.