Violence, Apathy and ATEs
Tackling the Problems in Schools by Addressing Adverse Teacher Experiences
As a mother and an educator, I told my children and my students to avoid absolutes; always, never, everyone, no one… Absolutes and broad sweeping brushes will get you into trouble and make you sound hyperbolic and oftentimes incompetent. They are bad habits that need to be used sparingly in our society.
One of the most contentious and non-productive conversations we are having right now is the school debate with many absolutes and broad brushes being used by people from both sides of all the issues. I know education tends to create heated and emotion-provoking conversations and debates, so before your blood pressure starts to rise, hear me out. This is important.
Yes, some very egregious things are happening in some classrooms right now. Yes, we are having a difficult time getting some school board members to listen to parents. Yes, we are battling curriculum, sex education programs, and library books that are exposing our children to some of the vilest content you can imagine, but I refuse to paint with a broad brush or use absolutes when having this conversation.
Our educators in the classrooms of the majority of Oklahoma schools are doing the right thing and we must continue to seek these teachers out, honor them and support them. The first week in May is Teacher Appreciation Week, so I hope you did something nice for your children’s teacher(s), honored a former favorite teacher, or honored a teacher you know. Honestly, we need to be encouraging the great ones to forge on and encouraging the not-so-good to do better all year long!
A few weeks ago as I was presenting a bill to House members I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from my colleagues across the aisle. Currently, in statute, a law requires the district attorney to notify a school when a school employee or student has been charged with a violent crime. The new language directs school leaders on how to handle law enforcement information shared with them about violent arrests of students. So the language would now require a school to get notified when a student is ARRESTED for a violent crime instead of charged. In the current climate of violence in schools, this seems like a reasonable requirement especially since this type of information would be hidden from public view due to the minor status of the student.
Keep in mind that in Oklahoma, we currently have a program called Handle with Care in many towns. Handle with Care is facilitated by local law enforcement agencies. It was created to alert school leaders when a student has been a witness to violence or involved in family trauma where police interactions or law enforcement encounters have occurred. This is a great program because often children are absent after a potentially traumatic event and return to school without anyone knowing something possibly life-altering has taken place. Incidents where law enforcement is involved in the family can and usually do impact student behavior and emotional stability, at the very least, for a short period. Oftentimes teachers have no idea and are left in the dark unless the parents notify the school.
A few weeks ago a colleague introduced a bill that suggests to communities to put the Handle with Care program in place if it is not currently being utilized. As I stated before, it’s a great program, I support this suggestion.
So here’s where things get interesting.
In the explanation of my legislation, I referred to HWC and how it had passed off the House floor unanimously 94-0. I mentioned that in the HWC program, the law enforcement agency in any given community would notify the school of any contact with the law and that my legislation would serve as directions to the school on how to handle the information in different scenarios.
To my surprise, my colleagues across the aisle turned the narrative and not in the way I expected. I expected to be defending my legislation, but what ultimately happened is that I was put into the position of defending the schools! The narrative turned to the legislation being used to punish and/or suspend students and stop them from getting an education. I was shocked when they were suddenly accusing schools and school leaders of using the information to punish kids, suspend them, impede their education, and abuse the overall use of the notification against the student.
This stance took me by surprise because of the argument we’ve been getting into on other topics like sex education, sexually explicit content, and the most egregious, hiding pronouns and trans-identity from parents. The narrative is that teachers know what is best for kids and once parents leave kids at the door, the school is then in loco parentis and parents should therefore have no say as to what happens inside the four walls of the school.
Obviously, they can’t have it both ways and from that argument, they can’t decide whether teachers and administrators have the best intentions for students or not, whether they want local control (as evidenced by pushing pay raises off on the legislature), or whether they are the experts or not. Many schools are failing to educate the youth, period.
I ask you this, If educators are the experts, then why are the majority of our schools failing at teaching our kids to read and do math on grade level?
Here are my thoughts.
Before I get into what’s on my mind, I don’t want anyone to think I’m not acknowledging the other problems. For this conversation, we are talking from a teacher’s perspective.
Because of my experience in some schools with major behavior challenges, when I started in the legislature I focused on trauma-informed teaching practices for educators. I spent many hours understanding adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and how they impact students’ behavior and learning. I researched how teachers can work to mitigate ACEs and the impact they have on the classroom and took a video around to my schools to discuss ACEs and hopefully start the school on a path to being trauma-informed and trauma-responsive. I also did a few interim studies trying to put the pieces together.
Two years into my ‘crusade’ Covid hit and the impact on everything that happened with the pandemic caused ACEs in children who, before the event, had little to no signs of adverse experiences. Confusion, anxiety, and depression are on the rise. Social media has a huge part in this epidemic, but there are other influences as well.
During my discussions with teachers, they have shared many challenges in the school setting that have now been amplified across the board. I have termed them ATEs, adverse teacher experiences. I believe these are the real reasons teachers are leaving the classroom like never before and why outcomes continue to be at the bottom of the list. It was bad before, but the pandemic has now made these issues the real pandemic taking place in our schools.
Adverse Teacher Experiences
In no particular order here they are. There is a circular effect going on here and the need to address several of these at once is required to make any headway in correcting what is preventing our students from thriving and simultaneously running our teachers out of the classroom.
violence toward teachers
violence/bullying toward peers
lack of respect from students
apathy of students (ex. videoing fights rather than reporting them)
mental health of students (including the challenges of gender ideology)
overuse of technology (removes interpersonal relationships with peers and educators)
lack of cell phone usage policy enforcement
no consequences for violence/disrespect
lack of engagement/support from administrators
parental apathy, no engagement/accountability
parental attacks on social media
fear of outside violence/lack of attention to security in schools
hyper-focus on teaching to the test instead of educating
substandard or no curriculum
excessive class sizes
new ACEs that have arisen in students (not caused at home, but at school because they are witnesses to and oftentimes victims of the above issues)
Remember how I began this conversation talking about broad brushes and absolutes? That means all these things are not happening in all schools, but I can tell you it’s happening in places you would not expect and even where many of these issues are present, many educators are working their tails off despite the chaos surrounding them. These are the issues plaguing our schools and unless and until we fix them, our outcomes will continue to be at the bottom of the nation. I will add a caveat, these same issues are happening all over America.
By the way, these are also the reasons many parents have begun seeking alternative options to educating their children.
So how do we fix all this?
Many people are suggesting ideas that deal with the symptoms of the problems, but not a cure to stop them. We need concrete solutions to the underlying problems. You can’t legislate morality or common sense, but we can find solutions to the problems.
I would propose a task force of experts trained in the disciplines above to create policies to address the issues separately but at the same time together. I’ve done some research into the problems and we need a solid framework, policies, procedures, and expectations for not just students, but parents, teachers, and administrators as well. Then those solutions must be put into place. Ideas are only solutions when they are turned into action.
We also must ensure those put in charge of this task are not in it to line their and their friends’ pockets….as usual, you can be sure corruption is not far behind when you follow the money.
The greatest challenge of them all? Getting people to get and stay engaged. People want quick fixes, but unfortunately, the solutions to this will be hard fought to implement. A ship the size of public education is slow to turn unless you can get broad sweeping change implemented and that takes long-term commitments.
Parents should also be considering how the lack of attention to the problems raised above could be impacting the educational outcomes of their children. Conversations about the conditions in which they are being educated may be warranted. They may think what is happening in school is normal and therefore not think about talking to you about them. Parents, talk to your kids!
I want to give a shout-out to all the educators, administrators, instructional coaches, and support staff members who are in the trenches every day doing the right thing and working hard to overcome the obstacles that make teaching exhausting. I see you and I want to help. I won’t stop praying for you and the kids in your rooms, and I won’t stop trying to make education better than it was when I first stepped into the classroom 30 years ago!
Pray over your students, pray for their families, and pray on your way to school every morning. This is how I survived my first year as an intern principal at one of the toughest schools I’ve ever stepped foot into!
I too will continue to pray for you all and I will continue talking about this until I find people who will commit to slaying this giant with me.
David stood and fought while others watched. Act bravely. Be a giant slayer.