By Jane Meredith Adams
When Erika Jones, a kindergarten teacher in Los Angeles, needed to know what to do for a tantrum-throwing, book-hurling kindergartner in lieu of sending him to the principal’s office, she discovered she’d have to teach herself a new approach to school discipline. “For me personally, I didn’t receive any training from the district,” she said.
As California presses school districts to stop suspending hundreds of thousands of students a year, many teachers, like Jones, say they have been under-prepared for the change, according to a new survey by the California Teachers Association released late last month. Nearly 9 out of 10 teachers surveyed said they need more training and the support of school psychologists and counselors if they are to successfully retreat from “zero tolerance” discipline practices, in which even minor infractions may result in a student being sent home for a day or more.
Yielding to research findings on the failure of zero tolerance policies and a 2015 state law, California schools have significantly cut their suspension rates in recent years. As an alternative, educators have espoused a philosophy resembling good parenting — know the child so you can understand the ‘why’ behind a meltdown, praise good behavior and seek professional help if the behavior is too complicated to manage.
“We think the restorative and positive practices are the right direction to go,” said Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association, referring to “restorative practices” that allow students to make amends and to programs that teach positive social and emotional skills and provide counseling and other interventions. “Where it’s being done well, it’s great.”
But the survey reflected what the teachers association suspected, he said. While a lot of districts are talking about restorative practices and positive behavior supports, “not many are providing teachers with the resources to present it properly,” he said.