Let’s Talk about School & Education Issues . . .

This is a blog for principals and teachers. If you’re solution-oriented when it comes to school issues, log on to this blog. Count the many education issues out there right now. The renewal of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, switching to a national curriculum — my goodness! Every day, one more issue concerning our profession gets media attention. The public becomes polarized, and educators become stressed. How can we deal with so much change occurring all at once? And it feels as if much of this change is beyond our control. I say: let’s start talking.

I was trained in my high school debate club to understand both sides of every issue. If you see the value in that, this is the blog for you. In my way of thinking, every issue has legitimate points on both sides of the aisle. It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican or Democrat, conservative, liberal, independent or libertarian. In order to come up with sound, realistic solutions that will actually work, this blog intends to address both sides of each issue. As long as you can show respect for the other side, your comments and posts will be welcome on this blog.

Sometimes I may sound as if I think I have the answers — but I don’t. My job is to raise the questions. My goal is two-fold: this site is a forum for principals to talk to other principals, as well as to teachers, regarding the issues of the day. The site for that forum will be http://www.principalstoprincipals.com (once I learn WordPress.com and set up a separate site). The other site I plan to host is http://www.parentsaskaprincipal.com so that parents can query principals and teachers and ask our advice. Sometimes parents are on the offensive and mad as the dickens — but I have faith that you and I — meaning principals and teachers — will be able to explain every seemingly absurd decision that we make.

Scroll down to the very bottom to find the first issue that I’d like for us to discuss. Paddling in School: Yes or No was inspired by reading about U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy’s bill, H.R.5628 to abolish corporal punishment in school.

I would also like to know the book that influenced you the most when you became a brand-new principal or teacher. It would be a great help to new educators if they could get a jump-start on some great advice. All you have to do is reply in the comment section to one of my posts. You can leave your real name or your user name. Say whether you’re a principal or a teacher and give a little information about yourself if you’d like. Also, tell us a a little about the book. I will keep a list of books and post them to the right of my blog. If you don’t want me to use your real name (if you provide it), just say so, and I won’t.

Paddling: An Opposing View

Not everyone agrees with me, of course. Take a look at this recent discussion on Fox News.

Paddling: An Opposing View

Who Should Do the Paddling in School?

My first post, which was Paddling in School: Yes or No, was written as a result of U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy’s bill in Congress (H.R.5628) to do away with corporal punishment in schools. I left out some important points from my post yesterday regarding this issue.

  • The person doing the paddling should be someone who was not involved in the original incident. The principal is usually that person. When a teacher is angry at a student, emotions can run high. Some teachers or staff members take things more personally than others do. Teachers are exactly like parents in these situations. They are human too. The  scene running through the brain is the same for parents and teachers: How dare you? You did this to me — your teacher/mother? I care about you. I go out of  my way for you. The child will be resentful and learn little from his misbehavior if he or she is spanked while emotions are still running high.
  • Having the principal speak to the child one-on-one about the child’s poor choice, having him explain why students are not allowed to act that way in school, having him help the child think of other choices that he could have made are all part of the discipline process. We need to remember that discipline is not about punishment. Instead, it’s about helping the child develop  self-discipline. It’s helping the child understand that there are consequences to our choices/actions so that the next time the student starts to make a poor choice, he/she will apply the brakes while the thought is still in his brain and has not yet traveled to his hand or mouth.
  • It is extremely important that the child is able to quickly get back into the teacher’s good graces. Principals need to emphasize this point with their teachers during staff meetings: “Teachers, do not take these incidents personally. Learn to be objective and to be detached.” The child also needs to know that the principal still likes him and will not hold a grudge toward him.
  • The principal should expect the child to make an apology to the teacher, although normally the apology should take place the next day, when the child (and sometimes the teacher) is less emotional. For some children, a direct apology is very difficult. These children can write a written apology. For the rare child who cannot apologize, the principal can take the child to the teacher and say, “Samantha told me that she is sorry (if Samantha actually expressed this to the principal), but she is having a difficult time apologizing directly to you. So I am here to let you know that Samantha told me that she’s very sorry for what she did.” It is a good idea if the principal has forewarned the teacher so that the teacher can immediately say something warm and fuzzy to Samantha to let her know  that she’s pleased that Samantha is sorry and that Samantha is now back in the teacher’s good graces.
  • Spanking or paddling must always be done when the principal is calm. Some students try to get the principal’s goat while he/she is talking to them. The principal must stay calm and detached. He/she should never  humiliate the child; otherwise, the child will learn nothing positive from the experience.
  • Finally, paddling should be done only for serious infractions. I am talking about such issues as respect and safety, fighting, for example. This does not mean that the first time a child is in a fight that he should be paddled. The principal can say: “You are telling me that you understand why we can’t allow hitting and fighting at school. I am so glad that you understand that because it means that I don’t have to give you a swat this time. But  if  you do this again, you will get swatted.” Children are grateful and relieved, and they will remember what the principal said the next time they are tempted to fight and be less likely to fight. Swats should also be given for extreme disrespect to other students and for insolence and disrespect to adult members of the staff — but only if the behavior has become a pattern. Again, swats should not be given the first time a student commits a serious offense.

My friend, Thomas Aswell, has his own blog http://www.louisianavoice.com, where he talks about Louisiana politics. He read yesterday’s post, and in the comment section of my first post –Welcome to the First Post of My New Blog–you’ll find a cute story about the time his daughter was in first grade. It’s the third comment from the top. After reading today’s blog, what do you think my response would be? Should that little 1st grader have been paddled or not?



Paddling in School: Yes or No

The first issue I’m asking you to address concerns a bill that is now in the U.S. Congress. It’s the “paddling in school” bill, sponsored by Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), who introduced the “Ending Corporal Punishment in School Act,” H.R. 5628.

I hated getting spanked as a child. But I never got a spanking at school. The fear put into me by my parents at home meant that never, ever would I get into trouble while at school. But not all students are raised by their parents to follow the rules, to understand that school is not just about them but is a place for ALL students to learn and that no student has the right to keep other students from doing so. I am opposed to H.R. 5628. Here’s why:

My first reaction to this bill is — are you kidding me? The federal government has the time and resources to tell the states and local districts whether or not they can paddle? Let’s don’t even bring up whether or not Congress has the right, under the U.S.Constitution, to do so. Don’t the feds have enough to do in dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan, Israel and Iran, North Korea, Somalia, immigration, the recession — and the Gulf Coast/BP disaster?

Okay. I get it. Some of you think that it’s okay if the federal government takes on every issue under the sun. So here’s what I — the schoolprincipal — say: Arizona, where I taught and where I was a principal for many years, is all about local control. I can’t disagree with this approach. After all, many problems are best solved at the lowest possible level. So, in Arizona, each local school board normally gets the right to decide these kinds of issues. When my son went through elementary school here, paddling was approved as part of school board policy. Parents did have the right to opt out. The child of a parent who opted out did not get swats. At my school, as I recall, only 1 or 2 parents a year opted out.

About 15 years ago when I became a principal, the AZ Legislature put the kebosh on paddling. This issue was no longer left up to the local districts. I did not agree with this decision. At the time I had 2 brothers, a kindergartner and a 6th grader, who I believed would benefit from paddling. These two boys belonged to the family from you know where. The mother told me that her boys had been raised by the father to become criminals. He himself had served time in prison for drugs, assault, and robbery. These boys had no respect for anyone. The older boy had assaulted the previous principal and knocked down the librarian, both of whom were very nice and caring people. When I insisted upon meeting the father, I offered my hand for him to shake. He made sure to crush it as hard as he could — with a smile on his face. Without a blink, I continued the handshake and after our conversation — where he said all of the right things — I stuck my hand out again and waited for him to crush it to smithereens. He surprised me — because I think he was shocked that I had offered him my hand again — and he left it intact. But nothing changed after the meeting.

There was no way to reason with these boys. Other students and staff members lived in fear of them.There was no need to appeal to their better angels. That had been tried before. If they had any, these angels never showed up at school. After laying down the law several times to no avail, I had no other ammunition. I couldn’t paddle, but I was not going to let these boys run the school. I bought a paddle and had some holes drilled in it. When the next incident occurred with the 5th grader, he came into my office, walking toward me with his usual insolent attitude. I pulled out the paddle and slammed it down flat on my desk. It made quite a sound. He jumped, and his eyes grew larger. I said,”I have tried to work with you. I have tried everything that I know. This paddle is the only thing I have left. Is this what it’s going to take for you to respect the adults here at school and follow the rules?” He indicated immediately that he would comply. And comply he did, albeit sullenly. Of course, he didn’t realize that we were no longer able to paddle. I certainly had not announced it, and I had told my teachers not to share that information with the student body. If he had known the law, my ploy would not have worked. But it did work. Because he didn’t know, I came up with a solution that was a bit out of the box. But it worked. The older boy ran herd with a group of unruly 6th graders who, before I arrived, had run the school. When word spread that I had a paddle, it was amazing how all of these boys began to tow the line. If H.R. 5628 passes, I can predict what will happen once students learn that paddling in schools is no longer legal.

The federal government is too far removed from local issues and local decision-making. If the feds take over this issue, principals will lose the latitude they need to run their schools. Let’s continue allowing the states, along with local school districts and parents, to decide this issue locally, not nationally. The federal government needs to stay out of it.

So, folks, in my first post you know where I stand. Leave whether or not to paddle in school up to the states and local school districts and parents. This is an issue better handled at the local level. Now . . . what do you think? Let us know by leaving your comments. Let the dialogue begin.