Violent and destructive student behavior continues to get worse in schools across the nation, and current consequences do not seem to be stopping the behavior. Can schools and districts properly handle outrageous behavior before things become out of control?
Restorative Justice in Schools
In 2018, I wrote about the alarming lack of consequences for violent and destructive behavior in my book More Teacher Misery. Schools across the U.S. were adopting a new way of handling student behavioral issues called “restorative justice” due to student behavior getting worse. Rather than punish a student through suspension, restorative justice in schools asks the misbehaving student to reflect on his or her behavior, take responsibility, and resolve to do better in the future.
This process often involves students and teachers sitting in a “restorative circle,” in which the guilty student listens to the views of their peers and then gets to speak his or her mind. Other restorative practices include:
- Writing a letter of apology
- Verbally apologizing
- Participating in a fundraiser
- Writing a speech or reflection paper.
Although many students do see writing anything as a form of punishment, most of these consequences are not really severe enough considering the offenses the students are guilty of. Plus, there are not enough resources to properly oversee these programs, and students usually just don’t do them.
Zero Tolerance Policy in Schools
The Restorative Justice movement in schools became popular a few years ago as a backlash against zero-tolerance discipline policies in schools. Zero-tolerance policies in schools have led to larger numbers of youths being out of school due to suspension. It seems counterintuitive to force a student to miss school in response to troublesome behavior.
There is also a racial/ethnic disparity in which students receive punishments and the severity of the punishment. Suspension is also strongly linked to failure to graduate and a higher likelihood of ending up in jail. This sounds great in theory, but of course, as with everything suggested to us in education, in practice it is a whole different ball game.
Does Restorative Justice Work in Schools?
Before COVID and remote learning struggles, implementing restorative justice measures could take days, even weeks, as schools coordinated talking circles around the schedules of teachers, principals, counselors, parents, and even campus police — all of whom must take time out and meet to deal ever-so-delicately with a single problem student.
For the most part, the restorative justice measures were never implemented or followed up on at all. Students received the message that they could pretty much do and say whatever they felt like with zero consequences.
In NYC schools, teachers’ lives were being threatened regularly, violence increased by 50%, gang activity increased by 39%. Teachers everywhere were struggling to control their students and started quitting in droves before COVID ever happened.
They reported extremely dangerous and troubling behaviors that were going completely unchecked such as trying to suffocate others, violently attacking their teachers, written and verbal threats to the teacher’s life, stealing and destroying teachers’ property, throwing furniture and even punching through a glass window.
Lack of Consequences for Violent and Destructive Behavior
After students started to return to the classroom after remote learning, the consequences for poor behavior were completely non-existent. Teachers were told to give “grace, leniency, and understanding” for the traumatic experience that children had just endured. This translated to “do what you want, say what you want, choose not to do work if you like, and still pass.”
Young people’s psychology as far as rules, consequences, boundaries, and routines isn’t very complicated. Most educators, psychologists, and observant parents agree that the rules and boundaries must be crystal clear and consequences must be followed through. And kids will inevitably test those boundaries to see where the limits are. They do this to comfort themselves in a way. “That’s as far as I can go, now I know.”
The more they get away with, the more they will push. And now we are having a serious problem in our country with younger and younger kids doing more destructive and violent things for no apparent reason. And as those incidents continue to lack serious consequences, these situations will only increase.
Student Behavior Getting Worse
We all know there have been many mass shootings committed recently, but I am only going to focus on crimes committed by those under 18. Here is an overview of a few very alarming examples of violence and destruction in the span of 7 months in 2021-2022:
Of course these are only a handful of the outrageously violent and destructive behavior our minors have shown recently. It is also important to note that according to the New York Times, “Six of the nine deadliest mass shootings in the United States since 2018 were by people who were 21 or younger, representing a shift for mass casualty shootings, which before 2000 were most often initiated by men in their mid-20s, 30s and 40s.”
Where Do We Go From Here?
Student behavior was getting worse before the pandemic, and our complete lack of consequences for violent behavior and mental health resources only means that things will get continue to escalate. But how much worse can they get and when will we finally make changes to make school a safer place?
There’s no denying this violent behavior causes lasting damage. You can read a personal report of violent student behavior in my post – County Says Student Attack that Caused Brain Damage was Teacher’s Fault here on the blog. Have you experienced student behavior getting worse in your school or district? Please share your experiences below, or Submit a Secret to Teacher Misery.
Jane Morris is the pen name of a teacher who would really like to tell you more about herself, but she is afraid she’ll lose her job. Jane has taught English for over 15 years in a major American city. She received her B.A. in English and Secondary Education from a well-known university and her M.A. in writing from an even fancier (more expensive) university. She has a loving family and cares about making people laugh more than anything else.