Year: 1996-1997
Month: October
Leader: Group I

Situation/Case Study:

A student wanders into the teacher's classroom during class and doesn’t belong there. When questioned by the teacher, the student says he has been talking with his dean and is on his way back to class. The student does not have a hall pass. The teacher asks him to leave. Ten minutes later, the teacher sees the student again and says, “I’ll walk you back to class.” At this point the student bolts from the classroom. The teacher follows and asks the student to stop but he continues. The teacher says, “Stop now and it won’t be a big deal.” The student continues walking a while longer with the teacher in pursuit. The teacher finally stops and returns to his classroom where he asks his students who the truant student is. His students don’t want to tell but eventually he finds out the student’s name. Later, he goes to the dean’s office to report the student and finds him with the dean. Later that day, the dean reports to the teacher that the truant student is in the habit of wandering around the building a lot. She says that he may not know that what he is doing is wrong. She asks the teacher to write up the situation. The teacher resents the amount of work it takes to write up a student and doesn’t trust that this student will face any consequences for his behavior. The teacher feels consequences for this kind of behavior are important, not only for the truant student but also as an example for other students to reinforce that such behavior is not tolerated.

A teacher in such a situation feels powerless because he can’t make the student behave and his authority is challenged. A teacher in such a situation feels resentful because time is being spent on things that don’t matter. Teacher feels angry because the student is manipulating the situation and seems to be controlling it. Teacher feels confused by not knowing how to respond. Never had such a situation before. Teacher feels responsible for opportunities lost with others due to the attention he must focus on what seems much less important interactions with the truant student. Teacher feels powerless because he is the adult and yet the student was in control. Teacher feels frustrated because the student apparently will face no repercussions. Teacher feels betrayed by his own students because they were reluctant to share information with him and identify the truant student. Teacher is angry because the truant student’s behavior was so disrespectful and blatant. Teacher feels like he shouldn’t even bother with teaching, that he might as well be a babysitter. Teacher is overwhelmed because this student is just one of many who respond like this -- with disrespect. Teacher feels helpless because all teachers have is their authority and when that is challenged, there is little that can be done to force a student to do something he/she doesn’t want to do. Teacher feels angry because the student is rude and doesn’t seem at all appreciative. Teacher feels disillusioned about how he is spending his time. Teacher feels anxious about the amount of time he left his classroom unsupervised. Teacher may eventually feel OK if he is supported and something happens to help the student. Teacher feels uncertain because he questions whether he acted appropriately in this situation. Teacher feels embarrassed because he allowed a student to draw him into a losing situation. Of all these hypotheses, this teacher connected most strongly to ones based on these feelings: betrayal, anger, helplessness, confused, resentment, incredulity.

Theories behind practice:
Teachers should be respected. The environment in schools needs to be managed and controlled by the adults in charge. Adults should know what to do and be able to do it. Actions speak louder than words. When you treat someone respectfully, as the teacher did, the other person should respond in kind.

Impact on others:
The student may have thought initially that he could get out of the situation by ignoring the teacher. When the teacher persists, the student gets scared, doesn’t know what to do and just keeps going because he feels like he is in so deep. The student may have been doing what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it, and didn’t care what he was supposed to be doing. The student may have been repeating a pattern of behavior he had gotten away with before without facing consequences. He may have assumed that he could get away with his behavior again and was surprised at being challenged.

Rather than follow the student himself, the teacher could have asked another adult to do so. The teacher could have ignored the situation and either let the student stay or sent him on his way.

Discussion of alternatives revealed that communication amongst adults in this setting needs some improvement. It is not clear to teachers what kind of behavior is expected of them in the face of recalcitrant and disrespectful students. It is also not clear what happens once a student is reported to a dean. Not only are the consequences unclear, but also teachers do not receive follow-up information on the student; other students, however, know what happened because of the student grapevine. Teachers are out of the information loop. It also was suggested that the school might want to purchase walkie-talkies for principals and deans to make them more accessible to the immediate needs of teachers and students, especially in emergency situations.