Strike Four! You’re In!

humour: Tux freeing himself from ball and chain.
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Every year the NYC Department of Education issues a booklet delineating the school disciplinary code. Every student and teacher gets one.

In it, there are separate sections for K-5 and 6-8, each with four categories of offense and consequence ranging from mild disruption to bringing a gun to school. The former might earn a phone call home, the latter risks expulsion.

The idea of distributing the code is to show students that their actions have consequences. This works for kids who really don’t need to read the disciplinary code to understand that they need to behave responsibly.

It doesn’t apply to the rest of the school population, especially those students who are the most disruptive.

Take today.

In our 8th grade special education class there are two students who are increasingly problematic.

R is hyperactive and, on good days, just runs around the room refusing to do any work.

L is a very bright boy with a VERY large chip on his shoulder. He is angry, contemptuous, and also refuses to do any work.

These two boys are like this in every class. They’ve always been difficult to motivate, but this year is worse than ever.

R has started making loud, animal like vocalizations while L has become a major bully, threatening violence at the tiniest perceived slight.

The disciplinary code says that when a student is disruptive to the point of interfering with the safe and productive conduct of the class, the student can be removed for the remainder of that period at the teacher’s discretion.

Sounds reasonable, right? So far, so good.

But a student can only be removed four times in a school year.

For the vast majority of students that is more than sufficient. 98% or more of our students are never removed from class for disciplinary reasons.

Then there are kids like L and R.

We make a point of not removing L unless he actually hits someone. R also has to behave in an extreme manner to be removed.  Even so, both maxed-out their removals by the end of the first quarter.

Now, in order for them to be removed they have to be given a principal’s or superintendent’s suspension.  That means at least a week in our detention room or relocation to a ‘suspension school.’

So when L got up in the middle of his first period class today, opened a bag of cookies and started throwing them around the room, there was nothing the teacher could do about it.

And two periods later, when L and R were on the opposite sides of the room throwing wads of paper, pencils and, finally, textbooks at each other, there was nothing I could do.

Danger Placard
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In fact, R made a point of telling me he knew he couldn’t be removed unless he did something extremely dangerous (like a three-pound textbook flying across the room isn’t extremely dangerous).

“I can do anything I want and you can’t do anything about it,” R told me. “I’ve already been removed four times and you can’t get me out of here.”

Now somebody has to get pretty seriously hurt for any of L or R’s actions to have consequences.

They’ve learned they’ve gotten a license to disrupt the learning of every other student in their class as much as they want.

And that may be the only thing they learn at school this year.

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7 Responses to Strike Four! You’re In!

  1. Pam says:

    Does your district have behavior intervention specialists? These challenging students need serious intervention in order for any learning to take place when they are present. Hopefully, your system is not so inflexible that they not recognize that this strategy of 4 time outs per year is not effective for students like these.

    • Deven Black says:

      The behavior intervention specialists work in the special schools for students with severe behavioral issues. R is awaiting an open seat in one of those schools.

  2. Lucia Meyerson says:

    Happy to be retired! Hope someone is listening to your rational comments. You, Deven Black, should be running the school system, NOT Cathleen P. Black. They’ve got the wrong Black!! Bloomberg,…Black off!

  3. Deven Black says:

    Thank you, but I could never work for our esteemed Mayor. I worked for enough megalomaniacs in my two years with our former boss.

  4. Elyn Tibbs says:

    Same kids I went to school with a couple generations later.

  5. Chris Vacek says:

    Deven,

    Tough day, no doubt. We have kids with similar behavior issues, although yours are more likely higher functioning, with more executive skills to reason. On the behavior side the critical components are sufficient staffing, appropriate reinforcement, consistency of “delivery” between classroom and home environments, and continued and uninterrupted tasking coupled with visual supports and environmental constraints. On the cognitive side, the issues usually get more complicated, often involving medications and responses to those medications, along with “reasoning skills” programs that are designed with every day practical applications in mind.

    It sounds like you’ve reached a point of diminishing returns, encouraged by the policy set in your school. That is especially frustrating. Perhaps there is a behavior support plan that can be added or modified to exclude the student from the particular “four strikes and you’re in” policy; perhaps there is a consequence (loss of reinforcer) that the student will respond to.

    One thing that has worked for my son is what I call the “get out of jail” program. When he exhibits non-compliance or inappropriate behavior while on task, he is redirected to an alternative learning environment where he is presented with three other tasks to do before he can return to the original task set (where he can earn a token for a reinforcer). Requiring the student to do three other (less preferred) tasks before returning to the previously selected reinforcer structures the routine and encourages compliance (after all, the sooner reinforcers are attained the sooner the opportunity to celebrate the outcome and reinforce compliance…and that feels good). At first the routine takes time, as providers have to “wait out” the student’s ability to accomplish the three less preferred tasks before returning to the original task set. But they catch on, and the structure works for teacher and student, not against them. Because compliance increases, more learning takes place.

    I hope you have a better day. These indeed are the challenges that consume us. I applaud you for hanging tough, sticking with it, and not giving up on your students. That is real strength. That having been said, I know giving up on your policy set is a different story.

    “Never doubt that a small group of determined and committed citizens can change the world – indeed, it is the only thing that ever has” (Margaret Mead)

    Be the change.

  6. Sarah says:

    Hi Deven,
    Great post and I feel your pain! I have been in very similar situation myself. I had one kid who would disrupt the class beyond belief making teaching and learning nearly impossible and had any other child done this they would have been removed immediately but I was told that as this was what the child clearly wanted (to be removed) that is exactly what they weren’t going to get. I guess we just forget about the fact that the other 29 kids can’t learn while they’re in there.
    @Chris: interesting that you should talk about reinforcers etc. just reading a book by Alfie Kohn (Punished by Rewards) that talks about that exact subject and how it is actually damaging rather than beneficial. Lots of research to support this notion.

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