Friday, March 22, 2013

It's about the rod, not free speech

Yesterday, a student teacher in Lafayette was suddenly relieved of his duties and escorted out of his school. The termination was related to some comments he’d made at a school board meeting the previous evening.

When I first heard about this, I was outraged. I’m not a fan of free speech costing you your job, especially in the education profession, nor have I ever been a particular fan of the school board. But after listening to his speech, I understand why the board took action. It wasn’t about speech; he said he wanted “the tools” to do his job. Considering his remarks that discipline alone (not poverty or neglect) is the problem, and that he’d have handled a recent confrontation “in another manner,” I suspect he wants the latitude to beat unruly kids.

I’m not an educator or a parent, nor am I in this guy’s shoes. I’m not here to argue his points (some of which are, in his defense, on the nose). But I know people, and some have itchy trigger fingers (metaphorically speaking). They’re the ones who fight hard for corporal punishment, because they can think of so many times when they’d use it. That’s a red flag in my book.

When I undertook substitute teacher training two years ago, most of the session involved how to handle bad behavior. And the main lesson was, DO NOT LOSE YOUR COOL. My teacher friends tell me that much of the certification process runs along the same lines. Conduct is a vital aspect of teaching that matters every bit as much as the lesson plan, possibly even more so. I don’t have kids, but if I did, I’d rather have them taught by a calm, qualified professional than someone who thinks all problems arise from lack of beatings.

Punishment should always be a last resort, a regrettable use of authority that, when employed, should be measured and not counterproductive. Just like with spanking, use of weapons, going to war or any other decision that can lead to pain, it shouldn’t be something shouted off the mountaintops as a first resort. Those who push hardest for those measures are usually the ones who should have the least discretion to use them.

For that reason, I support at least a disciplinary period against the teacher. Anyone who thinks this is about free speech is missing the point (though I’m sure that is a valid issue in other circumstances). If the teacher in question really cares as he says he does, he’ll use this as a teachable moment. I hope he does and can bounce back as a result. If not, let it be a lesson to others.

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