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School CP - June 2001
The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN, 3 June 2001
Spare the rod? Not here, most agree
By Aimee Edmondson
Second-graders Constance and Adrian hunker down in Cherokee Elementary's cafeteria to polish off their sloppy joes and milk.
The place is loud, so it's easy to lose yourself and bellow across a few tables to your pals.
You get caught, there's hell to pay.
A teaching assistant will send you and your tray to the front, where the other students will watch you finish your food standing up. Then they will watch you get a paddling.
It's hard to swallow when you know the paddle's coming, says Adrian. "It stings."
Of her own whippings at home, another student says "But it doesn't feel like an extension cord."
Most any day, a few students get caught yelling or throwing food and find themselves in a line with their trays in front of the cafeteria's stage waiting for one lick from administrative assistant Gary Bolton.
"It's embarrassing," Constance says.
But it's necessary, insist Bolton and many Cherokee teachers.
Corporal punishment is a hotly debated issue here and across the country, but many Cherokee parents and teachers line up on the same side: paddle. Memphis City Schools allows it under specific guidelines.
While some Cherokee teachers don't need to paddle and haven't for years, it's how many others maintain control.
Bolton, whom everybody calls "Coach," carries his foot-long wooden paddle wrapped in duct tape in his back pocket and his spankings are uniform, resulting in one resounding pop. Children look like they're grimacing from dread and shame more than pain.
Many Cherokee parents adamantly tell teachers to spank their children if they misbehave.
"They need it," says parent Bobby Taylor, whose A-student daughter Brittney is a fifth-grader.
"They took (religion) out of the schools and then look what happened," says Taylor, a soft-spoken deputy jailer.
Some teachers say they just can't reach a child by talking. They say if they don't spank, the child feels like he got away with something and the behavior worsens.
And children expect to be paddled because that's what happens at home, they say.
Between bites of canned pears, Constance talks about getting slapped at home for writing on the wall.
"I can't help it. I don't have no paper. And I be wanting to write so bad."
Tom Emens's room
Fifth-grade teacher Tom Emens stepped into the hall after class on a particularly trying day, a look of hopelessness briefly replacing his usually eager expression.
"I didn't come here to fight with kids," said the first-year teacher and former juvenile court probation officer.
Sick of seeing the same youths in and out of court, he became a teacher.
"I wanted to get to them young enough to make a difference," said Emens, 35, a burly man with a boyish face.
Some days he wonders if he's doing any good.
"There are a lot of things I haven't been able to do because the kids haven't been able to control themselves," said Emens, a U.S. Army artillery officer until 1992.
After he stalks up and down the hall for a minute, he gets enthusiastic again.
He's learned so much this first year, he can't wait to come back in the fall and correct some of the mistakes he knows he made, especially when it comes to discipline.
The tone a teacher sets at the beginning makes all the difference, he knows.
The first week of school, Emens had jury duty. Then, nervous and feeling behind, he came in smiling and too lenient. He told the class that he'd respect them if they respected him. Not good enough.
He has studied what other teachers do, and he'll do it next year.
Students get one verbal warning free of charge. The second time they get a mark by their names on the board. After the third, Emens calls the parents. If there's a fourth warning, he calls Coach.
Emens wants paddling to be rare, if ever. Right now, it's not working, he said. The fear of it is gone.
"Even a paddling just gets you the afternoon or the next day. You paddle, hoping for a lull," he said.
After seeing many of the same kids being sent to Coach, the discipline committee, a group of Cherokee teachers who meet on discipline-related issues, plan to talk about strategies to cut down on the frequency of paddling for next year.
Bolton said he paddles as many as seven or eight kids a day. It's impossible to know how that compares with other schools since records on such aren't kept school or districtwide.
Gloria Berman's room
Second-grade teacher Gloria Berman will tell you that she is not a disciplinarian.
Her classroom is chaos.
Her high-pitched voice resonates down the hall as she tries in vain to control her 18 second-graders.
As she yells at her children, they shut her out more and more.
"You're going to sit there and get a big fat zero."
"How many times do I have to tell you not to talk out?"
"If you don't stop tapping that pencil, I'll tap you."
The worried school nurse once took Berman's blood pressure after class and it was soaring.
Students get up from their seats to borrow pens from each other when they feel like it, often oblivious to Berman's screeching. Half of them are turned around visiting with the person in the desk behind them while she is trying to teach a lesson. One girl is cleaning out her purse.
After class, Berman says she appreciates the advice other teachers and administrators have given her. But nothing will work.
"This isn't the situation I wanted to be in. Discipline is not my strong suit. I know it's not."
Berman, who is finishing her second year at Cherokee, said she has five repeaters and estimates that only two or three in her class are working at grade level.
She also figures she will promote them all.
Berman, who is kind and helpful to visitors at the school, says she's supposed to be teaching gifted students. She wants to pass along her love of English and drama. Instead, she doubts if she's teaching them much, if anything.
"I don't think their reading has progressed at all," she says in frustration.
Berman was worried during the third week in April, as Cherokee's five-year accreditation neared and inspectors would be touring the building.
"I am just a wreck. I hope they don't walk by my room."
Angela Adkins's room
From students to parents to teachers, you just can't generalize when you're talking about Cherokee.
Take Angela Adkins's room.
It's a model of orderliness, and her third-graders are attentive and quiet.
When Adkins, a Cherokee teacher for 17 years, turns her back to the class to help a student with a math problem, students keep working as if they're still under her watchful eye.
If she steps out of the room, they whisper quietly.
If somebody forgets and gets up without permission, Adkins says sternly but quietly: "Thank you for sitting down."
She focuses on positive reinforcement, like handing out a "Ticket to Success," a tiny sheet of paper with an apple that has a smiley face and big feet, when a child is behaving appropriately. At the end of the day, the students with tickets get Tootsie Rolls.
In most classrooms, students are recognized for misbehaving when the teacher corrects them. Adkins does the opposite.
It sounds incredibly simple. Maybe that's why it works, muses Adkins, 42, dressed in a tailored pantsuit and flat shoes with tens of braids pulled back into a pony tail.
"Being positive brings out the good in them," she says. "I just bathe them in it."
Adkins hasn't paddled a child in more than a decade.
Kelly Wise's room
Second-grade teacher Kelly Wise is mean.
Her glare is staggering and her scold pierces the soul.
The seven-year Cherokee veteran throws great parties at Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
On Valentine's Day, she joined up with another second-grade teacher, Lou Ellen Valentine, and while they loaded down plates with hotdogs and chips for the kids, the students focused on word games with flash cards, competing for speed.
But not everybody was allowed to play.
About 10 students from the two classes had misbehaved and, consequently, were left out of the fun. They lined up in the back of the room, facing the lockers, in trouble for misbehaving or not doing their homework.
"You have to pay the price for something you have done. You have to suffer," Wise said ruthlessly to the excluded group. "You could be up here with us, but you made a choice."
Though not all teachers do, Wise and Valentine are quick to correct students' grammar.
"Don't got no juice?" Valentine asked sternly after a student had spoken the words.
When the child said, "Don't have any juice," Valentine gave her a cup of bubbly purple soda.
Passing out Valentine's Day cards, the two teachers were already talking about the next party, reminding them how much fun they'll have and how tragic it would be to miss out for misbehaving between now and then.
Wise and Valentine rarely have to call Coach.
"It doesn't do any good," says Valentine, 38, a Cherokee teacher for three years.
When faced with being left out on party days, Eric Nelson decided he'd follow Wise's rules sometime between Halloween and Christmas. Eric, who transferred to Cherokee in early October, used to have to sit out for misbehaving, for being disrespectful. That stopped in Wise's class.
"I'll miss out on all the fun and not have any friends," said Eric, who's D's and F's turned into A's and B's by the fourth six weeks.
Eric had settled in nicely, learned the rules and made some friends.
Then in late April, Eric had to change schools again. He has been to eight schools since kindergarten, and now he has to start over somewhere else.
Eric cried when he told Wise.
"I miss his insights," said Wise, 31, who's never met Eric's mom. "I miss a lot about him."
Bolton, 54, Cherokee's chief disciplinarian, is also its hero.
Most kids don't know about the shocking accident in 1991 when a speeding van killed two students.
They'd just been dismissed for Christmas break and carried gifts and goodies from class Christmas parties when they got the OK from the crossing guard to cross the street.
Bolton pushed several kids out of the way before the van ran a red light and plowed into him.
Hailed as a hero for an act he remembers little about, he was out for months with internal injuries and broken bones. Now he stalks the halls and is the go-to guy if a teacher needs help with a discipline case.
You'd think children would despise him. Instead, they hug him in the hallways.
Children know when they are loved, teachers say.
Ask any child.
"He's our father," says Adrian with a big grin.
"He's funny. He's our daddy."
That last remark came from a second-grade girl named Justice.
© 2001 - The Commercial Appeal
Associated Press, 5 June 2001
Judge dismisses lawsuit against teacher
The Associated Press
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- A high school teacher and principal are protected from a lawsuit claiming they violated the rights of a student who refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance, a judge has ruled. U.S. District Judge William M. Acker Jr. on Monday dismissed the lawsuit against Parrish High School teacher Fawn Allred and Principal George Harland. Acker allowed the suit to continue against the Walker County school board. Acker ruled that Allred and Harland are entitled to qualified immunity, a shield against lawsuits for public employees.
The two and the board were named as defendants in a July 2000 lawsuit by former student Michael Holloman. Holloman claims the school board violated his rights to free speech, expression and religion by punishing him for refusing to pledge the U.S. flag. Allred and Harland confronted Holloman after he chose in May 2000 not to say the pledge or salute the flag, the suit said. Holloman instead raised his fist while maintaining his silence. Holloman received corporal punishment and a written reprimand for inciting student disorder, the suit said.
U.S. News & World Report, Washington, 18 June 2001
Science & Ideas: Society
The unsparing rod
Schools are still fighting over the right to paddle
By Ulrich Boser
Ben Line didn't think the assistant principal had the strength or the gumption. But he was wrong. The 13-year-old alleges that the educator hit him twice with a paddle in January, so hard it left scarlet lines across his buttocks. Ben's crime? He says he talked back to a teacher in class, calling a math problem "dumb." A spokesman for Ben's Texas school district refused to comment on the case, citing privacy issues.
Ben is one of 80,000 kids in the state who are hit each year, according to 1998 Department of Education data, and one of close to 400,000 students across the country. The number of students paddled -- the most common form of physical discipline -- has dropped by more than half since 1988. But 23 mainly Southern states still allow it, and it's still controversial, with vehement opponents and staunch defenders.
Last month, the practice made headlines when Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, lobbied for an amendment to an education bill to keep educators from being sued for doling out corporal punishment. Echoing many states that allow the practice, he argued that local school boards should decide whether to permit paddling. The corporal punishment provision was stripped from the bill, but the debate isn't over.
Southern educators tend to be the strongest proponents of corporal punishment in schools, and the reasons are no surprise. A 9-year-old girl kicked and tried to bite Dallas teacher Charlotte Boyd in May 2000. Boyd's inner-city school has banned the paddle, but she would like it back to settle her rowdy third graders. "I don't want to injure the kids, but I do want their little butts to sting," says Boyd, 57, who has been teaching since 1968. "I want them to know, after everything else has failed, I can inflict some physical pain."
Three-hour delay. A dose of pain can indeed stop misbehavior, says Murray Straus, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire and author of Beating the Devil Out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Families and Its Effect on Children. In a fellow researcher's study on parental spanking, 40 mothers kept logs of their toddlers' misbehavior and their punishments. Spanking delayed the next misbehavior by about three hours, he notes-although not more successfully than other forms of discipline, like a "timeout."
The problem with corporal punishment, Straus stresses, is that it has lasting effects that include increased aggression and social difficulties. Specifically, Straus studied more than 800 mothers over a period from 1988 to 1992 and found that children who were spanked were more rebellious after four years, even after controlling for their initial behaviors. Groups that advocate for children, like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Education Association, oppose the practice in schools for those reasons.
Why does paddling persist? Susan Villani, a school psychiatrist in Baltimore, says teachers often don't know how to discipline children effectively, so they opt for the easiest method -- a smack with a paddle. That certainly gives them an extra edge in the struggle over who runs the classroom, teacher or student. With states pushing high-stakes tests, some teachers say they have to stress drills at the expense of more engaging lessons, and bored kids are more likely to act out. Not to mention, the biblical axiom "spare the rod, spoil the child" still resonates in the South.
Child abuse? In extreme cases, say psychiatrists, a teacher's physical punishment of a child is the equivalent of child abuse. Consider DeWayne Ebarb, 10, who was allegedly struck more than 50 times over the course of eight weeks this school year for infractions as insignificant as breaking a pencil point. His mother admits that her son, who has been diagnosed with a hyperactivity disorder, also made faces and teased other kids, but says he never hit another student. The family has filed a suit against the Sabine Parish, La., school district. Superintendent Dan Leslie denies any cases of abuse, saying that no educator in his schools intended to do any bodily harm.
But parents typically don't prevail in courts, according to psychologist Robert Fathman, president of the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools. Most rulings about corporal punishment rest on a 1977 Supreme Court decision that rejected the argument that paddling was cruel and unusual punishment. If the school district allows paddling, then it's hard to fight it in court. But try explaining that to Jonathan Curtis, 7. He claims that in April, a staffer in his Demopolis, Ala., school paddled him for picking his nose. His parents are reportedly considering a suit and the school district is investigating, but police say the case is closed.
© 2001 U.S.News & World Report Inc. All rights reserved.
The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 27 June 2001
Discipline in schools debated
Lafayette School Board members find agreement on cure hard
By Angela Simoneaux
LAFAYETTE - Many agree discipline is a problem; it isn't so easy to agree on a solution.
After more than two hours of discussion Tuesday, the Lafayette Parish School Board didn't reach a consensus on it.
Some board members want a return to corporal punishment.
"If you've got a big shot on campus, all these programs don't mean squat to them. Attending (a) clinic is like a badge of honor to them," board member Mike Hefner said.
"But a swift shot on the rear end by the coach - that usually brings them down a notch or two. We've got to make it uncomfortable for them to continue their behavior."
Others want disruptive students out of the classroom.
"If you misbehave in the classroom, you need to get out," board member John Earl Guidry said.
Board members agreed throwing more money at the problem is not acceptable.
"I don't want to spend any more money on these children," board member Beverly Wilson said. "We're talking about 1,200 kids in our system disrupting 28,000. I'm up to here with this."
The school system has several different discipline programs for children at each level of school, and those programs make a difference with the children who are on the fence, Hefner said.
The children who are serious discipline problems - the one or two children in each class who consistently disrupt school - should face "much, much more uncomfortable" discipline, Hefner said.
Several teachers urged the board to consider training teachers as opposed to punishing their students.
Teacher Charlene Doucet touted the Boy's Town discipline model.
"It's the most research-based, most effective program we've ever seen in this parish," Doucet said.
The program focuses on teachers' behavior, she said.
"It's about effective classroom management. It's about being the master of your domain," Doucet said. "Why can't our teachers be trained to handle these problems in the classroom?"
Doucet said she's not interested in the return of corporal punishment.
"I've taught 20 years in Lafayette Parish, and I've never seen it, and I'm very proud of that," she said. "If I wanted to hit a kid, I can go across the border."
Rhonda Turner said her classroom is quiet and her students are on-task.
"These problems are going to stop when they stop in the classroom. Until they're trained - I've seen a 30-year teacher who cannot discipline," she said. "I can be an effective teacher, and I know what it took for me to get there: training and knowledge. That allowed me to be a teacher instead of a police officer."
Teacher Joycelyn Olivier said the board sends its teachers to in-service training every year that usually isn't much help.
Maybe a three-day, Boys Town training course is a better idea, she said.
"This would be a good thing to invest in," she said. "This would touch all children. Train us so we can have effective classrooms."
You can't blame a teacher for failing to use a skill she hasn't been given, Olivier said.
"A lot of teachers are not aware of how to deal with certain kids," Olivier said.
Just because a child is a discipline problem does not mean he cannot learn, Olivier added. "We can't just throw them away," she said.
Superintendent James Easton promised that he and his staff would work on a solution for the board. The issue requires a systematic approach, and that is what Easton said he would bring to the board for endorsement.
"This is a very complex issue. There's always been a discipline problem in school," Easton said.
"We will always have a few challenges with a few children. The issue is, we can't let that population grow. We have to influence children to be more responsible and respectful."
He agreed some teachers need additional skills.
"There are teachers who are not very good at managing their classrooms, and there are principals who are not very good at managing their schoolhouse, and I suspect there are superintendents who are not very good at what they do," Easton said.
"We can't ignore that. We can correct that. I believe the teacher must be in charge of the classroom. It is not in the best interest of children to allow them to be disruptive.
"It is a mistake to be lenient."
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