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Students' attitudes toward school are shaped by what happens at home [Letter]

As a former Baltimore City schoolteacher I read with interest your story regarding workers' compensation for teachers injured by students ("Painful lessons: Run-ins with students take toll on teachers, city finances," Feb. 16).

While I was never injured myself, I broke up many a fight in my 6th- and 7th-grade classrooms, and there were occasions where I certainly felt concerned for my own safety confronting a particularly threatening student.

What I find especially appalling is the idea that a teacher, due to "ineffectiveness," is in any way responsible for the behavior of children who assault one another or staff members at school.

During my brief tenure as a BCPS teacher, the pressure was most certainly on teachers to "engage" their students and implement effective classroom management strategies. Administrators got very frustrated by teachers' repeated calls or referrals to the office.

Limiting suspensions of students was a very real pressure on school staff. While I recognize the importance of having a well-run, engaging classroom, I ask how a teacher is supposed to engage a child who comes to school with the attitude that education is not important and teachers or authority figures are to be ignored?

I often felt like I had to not just teach but also put on some sort of dog and pony show to simply get certain kids to even pay attention in class — never mind actually do any sort of work.

While there are certainly poorly trained, ineffective teachers in all levels of education, in no way is that an excuse for a child to act out in a violent manner. I had plenty of really lousy, boring teachers growing up and I don't remember ever witnessing a single fight in my classrooms.

I'm not talking about students with behavioral or emotional issues. I'm talking about kids who think the instructions of a teacher and the rules of the classroom are optional for them. These attitudes come straight from the home.

It is time for families and the community to step up and support the teachers who are on the front lines of dealing with kids for whom saving face, looking tough, and "payback" are the operating principles.

Not every kid is like this. Most kids want to learn. But they lose out as well when teachers have to constantly break up fights and deal with kids whose sole purpose appears to be disruption.

Teachers shouldn't have to worry about safety in their classrooms. I don't know how many times I would call a parent about student behavior to be greeted with silence or "that's not my problem," or "well, I can't deal with them either."

Yes, teachers need to be held accountable for a great many things. But how about holding students and parents accountable for attitudes and behaviors that end up causing repercussions far beyond the classroom? We must make a way to create safe, dynamic learning environments for students and school staff alike.

Jennifer Hamilton, Sykesville

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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