“You Can’t Yell At Me Like” That

The following article was written by a New Haven public school teacher; officials asked him to keep his name and the names of students and the school anonymous.

During my prep period after lunch today, I noticed three students talking in the hallway, not showing any urgency to get to class, for which they were now definitely late. I approached them and asked them to go to class. I was completely ignored, and they continued their conversation.

The issue for me here is not a personal one: I’m not offended or even angry at the students, but I need to make sure they get to class. The fact that they are choosing to ignore me is a frustration in the sense of being a hindrance keeping me from my goal of getting them to class, but I am not feeling frustrated. Nevertheless, I found myself raising my voice to get the students’ attention.

Maybe I was a little annoyed. It would be a lie to say that I don’t have some kind of feeling about any given part of my day, but I’ve become pretty good (I think) at controlling my own emotions and approaching each situation rationally. Sometimes showing anger or disapproval is important for a student to understand that what they’ve done is wrong, but unless this is the case, I keep expression of negative emotions in check as best I can.

The tactic of raising my voice to get the students’ attention worked, but not entirely, of course, as one might wish simply yelling would work. (Wouldn’t life be so much easier if yelling loud enough was all we needed to do to get people to listen?) One student immediately broke off the conversation and went to her class, which was close by. One of the others, Jeffrey (not his real name), took issue with me raising my voice.

“You can’t yell at me like you’re my father,” he told me.

My internal response was to wonder why the student so quickly equates being yelled at to assertion of a paternal role. I thought I might know the reason. I also recognized immediately that raising my voice at a student is never something that I want to do, and tried to think how I could have better gotten their attention; maybe a gentle tap on the shoulder, in hindsight, would have been more effective.

My external response was, with my voice already back at a normal speaking tone, to explain to him that I had tried speaking to them without yelling, but that they had ignored me, so I had to raise my voice. Again, I recognize this is not really the case, but it was the solution I came up with at the time.

“I was talking to somebody,” he said. “You need to wait.”

I was actually impressed with how calmly he said this. Although in my view he was transgressing by being late to class and then disregarding a teacher who was telling him to go to said class, in his own view my interruption was simply rude. I don’t think he was just trying to put me on the defensive; I think he was genuinely upset that I had interrupted their conversation, and felt wronged.

I tried explaining my perspective, that he was late and that the conversation needed to be interrupted if it was preventing him from getting to class. “You’re late for class now, Jeffrey.”

“So the fuck what?” was his response.

Teachers I know, when trying to explain their jobs, often ask other people how they would feel if part of their job involved being sworn at and told to go fuck themselves, possibly on a daily basis, depending on the student population. Probably as a result of the exceptional work that my colleagues do to build relationships with our students, I actually don’t get sworn at often, though students might swear when talking to me. So being told “So the fuck what?” caught me a little off-guard.

“So,” I said, “don’t swear at me, and you need to go to that class.”

“So the fuck what?” he repeated. “There, I said it again.”

I thought it would be a good idea to have a more in-depth conversation than we could have standing in the hallway with one of his friends still standing next to him. I told him we needed to go to the office so we could talk more.

“I don’t give a fuck,” he swore at me again, but when I started walking toward the office, he started following me.

At least, it appeared that he was following me. The student (his girlfriend) who had, a minute ago, gone into her nearby class, had come back out with the rest of the class to go to the library with their teacher. The walk down toward the office was also a time to talk to her more. When we got to the office door and I asked him to come inside with me, he shook his head and continued walking down the hall. I found out later that he did, at least, go to the class he was late for.

I told one of our building leaders about the exchange and wrote up a referral. In the process, I learned that things were a little crazy that day in the office, so I stuck around to help manage things, leaving the matter with Jeffrey unresolved for the time being, but still in the back of my mind. At one point, I saw Jeffrey walking around the office, clearly looking for someone.

It turns out that he had come to the office of his own accord to talk to someone about what had happened in the hallway between the two of us. He found one of my colleagues, and told him in private that he felt bad about swearing at me in the hall, but still felt I shouldn’t have yelled at him. When my colleague told me about this conversation, I was impressed, but I was also worried that Jeffrey might still have hard feelings about it. I asked my colleague if we could call him back down to bury the hatchet, and he agreed.

When Jeffrey showed up, I commended him for taking the initiative and coming to talk to my colleague. I explained again to him why it was that I yelled at him, that it wasn’t because I was mad at him, and that I wasn’t trying to take on the role of his father, nor to assert any undue authority. He listened, nodded quietly, and waited for me to finish.

When I had said my peace, and I felt he had heard me, I asked him if there was anything he wanted me to hear. What he said caught me completely off guard, much more than when he swore at me earlier.

“My uncle died recently, and he was really close to me,” he said. “When we were in the hall earlier, I still had those feelings in my body. I wasn’t really upset at you.”

An hour earlier, I was yelling at this student, telling him to get to class, and now I was watching him explain with a self-awareness and an honesty that most adults do not possess how the death of his uncle made him angry at a teacher.

I felt humbled.

“I’m so sorry for you loss,” I told Jeffrey. “And I’m really proud of you for having the self-awareness to acknowledge how it’s affecting you.”

The conversation continued a bit further, and my colleague spoke to Jeffrey as well, praising him for being honest and true to himself. He told Jeffrey that he knew what he was going through. He alluded to Jeffrey suffering another loss recently, and that it was unfair that he had to endure both of these.

Tears silently rolled down Jeffrey’s cheeks. I knew that yelling at him hadn’t caused those tears, but that didn’t make me feel any better about it. I did feel better though that now Jeffrey had seen that it was safe to talk to me, or to my colleague, about something personal that has affected him, and that we’ll be there to listen.

Sometimes the job of a teacher is to teach. Other times, maybe most of the time, it’s more important just to listen.

The author of this article failed to obtain permission from school brass to write a regular classroom diary for the Independent. Following are some samples of a public school classroom diary that ran in the independent in the 2005-06 school year, with the teacher’s name and school published (and students’ identities protected). More than 50 installments of the diary were published, prompting extensive discussion among readers. Administrators OK’d that regular diary; that was before the district launched a “reform” initiative that promised increased “transparency” and “accountability” about what happens in New Haven schools:

Brinn’s Bracelets
A Hand Across Generations
“I Rep The Ville”
PTO Whoa
Good Vibrations
“Miss” Gets Mad


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posted by: cedarhillresident! on November 26, 2012  3:31pm

:) is all I have to say :) Thank you for this amazing story

posted by: robn on November 26, 2012  5:09pm

Great. So when the kid gets his first job and is summarily fired for flipping off his boss because of personal problems, he has this teacher’s 1968 touchy-feely mentality to thank.

posted by: NewNewHaven on November 26, 2012  7:00pm

So in the end, kid cuts class and curses at teacher and gets praise.  The soft racism of low expectations….listen yes, then teach.  Teach that consequences are a part of life - otherwise the kid is just being set up for failure.

posted by: meta on November 26, 2012  8:01pm

ouch robn. geez- this kid is going through some serious stuff and you’re saying that a prison warden can fire an inmate for flipping him off? no sensitivity.

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on November 26, 2012  8:48pm

I stopped reading this when the student was quoted for the second time swearing at the teacher. Why do I have to pay any tax dollars to educate, or should I reword that to say, give him a place to legitimize a claim to having received an education.

The problem is school administrators, who fail to backup their teachers in situations like this. The problem has expanded over the years as administrators, and those that had career goals realised that any series of these complaints, about the terrible behavior of some students would harm their desires for advancement. And that policy, to judge teachers negatively for trying to do the right thing, that is try and change the behavior of socially disruptive young adults from deteriorating the educations environment for all the other students. Thus the terrible reputation for the highly overpaid Administration of the New Haven Board of education.

This has been progressing since the early 80s, and this instructor’s own inner review of his or her performance is a waste of time and energy, which could have been used to educate a student that was ready to learn. Thus the student who played this “game” caused waste of resources the minute he engaged in behavior that was simply not necessary.And he will waste so much more of everyone’s time and efforts until this resolved. Why do I have to contribute any of my tax dollars for such miscreants? In the parlance of Americans from a time not so long ago, when people had manners, and especially children, and more so, children in an education environment, “THROUGH THE BUM OUT!”

posted by: Walt on November 26, 2012  8:50pm

Can I agree with both responses above?

I thought the teacher was great,  as apparently does Cedar Hill, yet I can’t help also being a skeptic with Robn.

Teaching must be really frustrating these days

My guess is I’d be either fired,  arrested,  or driven nuts in the first month if I tried it.

posted by: Brutus2011 on November 26, 2012  10:30pm

This kind of interchange between teachers and students happens with a frequency that almost all who do not work with our kids do not even begin to comprehend.

This is a symptom of mis-management by those who get paid to administer our schools—both at the individual building level and at the central office level.

In addition, the local teacher’s union management leaders are culpable because they do not secure district administration’s cooperation in supporting our teachers.

This is the status quo that no one who makes a management salary wants to upset and/or be held accountable for.

This is why the school reformers, both public and private, have become so disingenuously clever—proclaim “Kids First” while covering their self-righteous rear-ends by blaming teacher effectiveness. And all the while spending funds that should go to the classroom on more layers of administration as a buffer for those who might suffer embarrassment for not doing their jobs.

Why or how can this be so?

May I suggest an analogy: A Russian physicist,Valentin Danilov, just released from a political prison in the former USSR, said that,
“The authorities do not descend upon us from the moon. They are the choice of the nation. So the authorities reflect the state of the nation.”

We citizens,parents, and teachers elect these incompetent education managers—only we can vote them out to effect real change and true public school reform.

posted by: robn on November 26, 2012  10:48pm

What this kid was taught is that its OK to disrespect authority if he’s sad. Absurd. This teacher got played like a Stradivarius..

posted by: Frogger on November 26, 2012  11:32pm

It is not OK that the student disrespected the teacher and there should be consequences for the behavior. However, it is unfair to disregard the students attempt to reconcile the situation and not simply ignore it. It is impossible to know whether or not the uncle’s death was truly a factor in the behavior. That being said, if it was true (perhaps not all kids lie…) it does show great self-awareness. That self-awareness hopefully means that in the future the student may (hopefully) catch themselves before reacting and displacing the hurt/anger on an innocent person. Acknowledging the positive behavior will hopefully reinforce the good decisions made. That doesn’t mean that the student should be free from repercussions from their actions.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on November 26, 2012  11:53pm

I think the negative commenters have forgotten that this is a KID.

And that adults dealing with a recent bereavement or other distressing experience, they often several socially acceptable ways of dealing with it (withdrawing, barking at subordinates, asking for relief from certain pressures, etc.); plus they probably have, just by being adults, a certain level of self-control and self-awareness that a KID does not have and should not be expected to have.  The KID has no subordinates to bark at, because he is a KID.  So he barked at a superior instead.  No adult has ever done this, of course.  No, never.

And also:  that being listened to while you are a KID is one of the building blocks of acquiring self-control as an adult.

And that the kid got hold of himself, sought out the teacher, and apologized.  Which is more than many adults would have done.

One of the most annoying aspects of Adult Privilege is the way we expect KIDS to have MORE self-control than most adults expect of ourselves under similar circumstances.

Have a little humanity, folks.

posted by: A.T. on November 27, 2012  12:15am

This is an odd story. A student was on his way to skipping a class, was hanging around the school with other students, swore at a teacher and acted disrespectfully and it was the teacher who did the soul searching? I don’t see how assigning no consequences helps the student. It’s clear who has the upper hand.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 27, 2012  1:19am

If the charter schools are so good.Send him there.My bad.He may have been dump back to the public school by a charter school?

posted by: isingiam on November 27, 2012  2:30am

My first response is that I’d like to know more about how students view “authority” (robn) in schools as compared to “disregarding a teacher” from your article.  Also, does this student have anyone else (who would offer to listen - whom he also trusts)?  Furthermore, does the death of a family member affect students’ abilities to focus?

posted by: Rosas on November 27, 2012  9:37am

The teacher didn’t teach Jeffrey that it’s OK to swear at an authority figure. Quite the opposite. Remember, Jeffrey ends up admitting his behavior was wrong.
The teacher did a fantastic job of stepping away from the emotional moment and getting to the cause of the kid’s behavior. Jeffrey learned more from having a real conversion in a calmer setting.
I’m sorry this piece was anonymous, because I’d like to send this educator a fan letter.

posted by: robn on November 27, 2012  9:53am

In any other school in any other town surrounding New Haven, if a student skipped class, got caught and then spoke to a teacher in that manner there would be, at a minimum, a very long suspension. Its not inhumane to expect teachers to assert their role (authority) and to demand respect from students.

posted by: RCguy on November 27, 2012  9:55am

Good for the student! Next time, he should be able to just say, “excuse me, sir. We are having a serious discussion here. I will go to class when we are through. No need to raise your voice.”

Lesson learned.

posted by: Teacher in New Haven on November 27, 2012  10:01am

This is one of the most honest representations of our profession that I have seen in a while and it exposes the twin problems inherent in our school system.

On an individual level, I agree with Gretchen for the most part.  This is a kid, and one that was in pain.  I am glad that he stepped up, and apologized.  I recognize that it is necessary for kids to have a school where they can feel emotionally safe. 

On the other hand this kid did do something wrong, and faced no consequences greater than missing more class to apologize.  I respect the decisions made by the teacher in this case, but agree with many comments that the lesson learned was not a positive one.  Jeffrey was not referred to the social worker.  He was not punished for the class he missed.  He was not punished for the incredible disrespect he showed.  So, what could have been a lesson in the appropriate ways to manage loss, became a lesson that as long as you are hurting, there will be no consequences.

In the teacher’s shoes, I probably would have done exactly the same thing.  But when viewed from the outside, I have to say, this is no way to run a school system.  How many hours, days, or weeks out of the year do teachers and students spend on stuff like this?  How much education is lost as people who are trained as History or Math teachers try to remediate behavior and coping skills.

As an individual teacher, I will spend whatever time it takes to help Jeffrey know he has been heard.  As a taxpayer, and education watcher, I am worried about how much Math, Science, or English Jeffrey missed out on.  It is my sincerest hope that he will be able to catch up, but experience has shown me that more often than not my Jeffreys never get those classes back.

posted by: formerNhresident on November 27, 2012  10:22am

The student says,“You can’t yell at me like you’re my father.” I doubt he would be able to use profanity towards his father and disrespect him in the same way without suffering consequences. But again this is lack of parental guidance in the home. Never were we taught to disrespect adults regardless of who was right or wrong.

posted by: westville man on November 27, 2012  10:27am

Thank you, Gretchen Pritchard, for your refreshing perspective. I do, indeed, see adults acting worse than this child with no consequences. Some of the posts are overly harsh-this child is still developing and perhaps this was a seminal moment in that development.

posted by: HhE on November 27, 2012  10:34am

Once, in a very middle class, very white school, a student said to me, “You are a fucking asshole.”  It may be true, but that doesn’t mean you get to say it.  Off to the office he went to score his three day suspension. 

I was never very good at inner city teaching, but I know enough to know that if raising one’s voice a bit in order to cut into the fog gets this sort of response, then touching a student, say by tapping them on the shoulder, can only be as bad if not worse.

Props to New Haven public school teacher for putting this out there, and getting a slice of the second guessing that teachers get all the time, from every direction.  It is one of the things I don’t miss.
At the end of the day, are we well advised to attempt to build rapport and bridges with students?  Yes we are.  Do we need to prepare them for direct employment, college, the military, or a trade school?  Yes, high school is not an end onto itself.  This informs our actions. 

My solution?  I once had a student swear at me who I never had a problem with before or since (his behavior would get him expend latter that year).  He got his suspension, but we also had a good talk (with his father and an AP), and rebuilt our positive relationship.  Good that a teacher and a student could talk this out, but there also needs to be a consequence.

Props to

posted by: Joshua Mamis on November 27, 2012  10:45am

It’s interesting to me how many responders have focused on the power struggle in this piece, ignoring the moving human interaction with a hopeful ending. The solution to better schools, to better employees, to a better society, these readers believe, is simply to exert more power over the powerless—students, workers, etc., and, punish transgressors. There’s a word we use for this kind of society, and it’s not pretty.

posted by: robn on November 27, 2012  10:55am


There’s a difference between power and authority. And before you go there, there’s a difference between authority and authoritarianism. Neither power, nor authoritarianism is the issue. The issue is one of behavior (self-control).

posted by: Wooster Squared on November 27, 2012  12:06pm

Robn is 100% right on this one. In a professional situation colleagues and managers are not going to excuse wildly inappropriate behavior just because someone is having problems in their personal life - even if those problems are significant.

We do kids like Jeffrey a disservice when we fail to instill in them a sense of discipline and self control. If you pull a stunt like that in any sort of professional setting, you’ll typically be shown the door that day, personal problems or not.

posted by: robn on November 27, 2012  12:55pm

And another thing; I don’t expect teenage students to have tremendous self-control, but I do expect their authority figures in the school system to be assertive about what’s acceptable and what’s not. Yes its heartwarming that this teacher had a nice personal moment with the student but the disciplinary reaction time for the original transgression was too little too late.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on November 27, 2012  1:01pm

School, however, is not YET a “professional setting.”  Of course what Jeffrey did is inappropriate.  It also provided a teachable moment.  On some level he obviously realized even at the time that flipping off a teacher was disrespectful and that in some other contexts he wouldn’t get this kind of leeway.  He thought it over and went back and apologized. 

The whole point of this article is that clearly he HAS LEARNED SOMETHING from this and is motivated to try to control his own behavior and manage his feelings more proactively next time, because he sees the teacher as a fellow human being and knows the teacher sees him in the same way. 

School is for LEARNING.  Jeffrey LEARNED something.  Would suspending him or expelling him or dressing him down harder or louder—either at the time or when he came back to apologize—have been more likely to have resulted in a LEARNING outcome?  Or in better behavior next time?

I’m as eager as the next person to have an atmosphere of broad respect, order, civility and focused learning in schools.  But you don’t get there by just deciding that it WILL happen, and saying that louder and louder and more and more punitively.

posted by: isingiam on November 27, 2012  1:09pm

Does it solve the cause of the problem to not listen?  Is Jeffrey’s behavior “wildly inappropriate”?  I do not know the background of this school but I am reminded of dozens of other schools in the U.S. that operate as student and teacher run models, where there are balances of power.  Why are there different models of schooling?  Are they ‘useless’ and do they cause “inappropriate” behavior such as walking, sitting, and talking?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 27, 2012  1:48pm

First of all,He is not a kid.A kid is a goat and goats do not listen.Let me tell all of you something.Go sit in these schools for a month and you will see worst.I see students tell throw chairs,Curse teachers out,Have there parents come up to the school and curse teachers out and start a fight with them.I seen a student tell a teacher in his face M F
you better not call my house again,The teacher did and as he was talking to the mother,The student tokk the phone and said it is you N word and you wait tell I come to school.I got something for your Black A. For you student loves.I know a teacher who’s son was jump in the mall and beat up because they said your mother gives us to much homework.How many of you have been to ACES?So give me a Break.Teachers have hard days to.That teacher was lucking that that student did not say the teacher put his hands on him.If he did that teacher would be put out fo 45 days.Or put in the Rubber Room like this.


posted by: isingiam on November 27, 2012  2:59pm

This may be an entirely unecessary quote but the commonality linking the comments is from “Teacher in New Haven” and pryor: “but agree with many comments that the lesson learned was not a positive one.”  I think I’d like to request a show of hands for how many of you think that that experience was not conducive or relevant to education, for either the teacher or the student?  Is teaching and learning, is it a rule to limit learning - to the room of the class?

posted by: mechanic on November 27, 2012  3:25pm

There are lots of calls to automatically suspend this student, based on a straight-forward consequence for his actions.  While that would be an appropriate response, there are a few other issues at play here.  One is that NHPS has been pressured to limit our suspensions, especially for specific demographic groups which may or may not include the student featured in this diary entry.  Regardless, the emphasis in most schools is to try to keep students in school as much as possible.  Another thing to notice is that when the teacher wrote the referral, he found that things were “a little crazy in the office.”  It’s very possible that there were neither the time nor the resources to suspend a student who cursed at a teacher.  If this happened in a small school where there may only be two administrators, there are many other issues that could take precedence over insubordination, such as the fall-out from a fight or a call to DCF.  I’m not saying that this is the right way to do things, but it is certainly a reality in New Haven.

Also, many teachers get pulled into situations like this pretty regularly.  I’m sure you can imagine how quickly this sort of thing eats up time that we could be spending preparing for our classes, correcting papers, differentiating instruction, or other tasks that people imagine teachers do with their days.  While I believe that building relationships like this helps make our classrooms and schools stronger places, I also believe that this kind of activity takes away from valuable prep time ultimately affecting classroom teaching and learning.

This is probably the most real story I’ve read about what happens in our schools, and really describes perfectly and beautifully the challenges that we face as educators in New Haven.

posted by: Teacher in New Haven on November 27, 2012  5:00pm


I think you may misunderstand me.  I would happily put my hand up in response to your comment.  There is enormous room for learning outside of the classroom and character education is never a waste of time. 

I do however think you miss a larger point here.  By most measures our schools are not succeeding in imparting the basic literacy and math skills necessary to compete in a 21st century job market.  Our reading and writing scores are poor.  Our math and science scores are worse.

Jeffrey needed someone to be there for him today.  I am glad that someone was.  But his behavior caused 2 students to miss class (class they may never make up for) and one teacher to spend a significant portion of her day dealing with behavior that every one agrees is rude and inappropriate. 

I think a system that condones this kind of behavior, or worse lauds it as a success, is ensuring that students in that system will not be as competitive as they could or should be.

posted by: new havener on November 27, 2012  9:40pm

I just focus on the last line, it’s all I really need to know about the weakness in New Haven’s schools, and how backwards the management is from the top down, and how screwed up the students get, from the bottom grades to the top:

“Sometimes the job of a teacher is to teach. Other times, maybe most of the time, it’s more important just to listen.”

Uhhhh…hello? The job of a teacher is to teach. Listening for feedback on lesson success is part of the job. This ‘teacher’ thinks he should listen most of the time…yeesh! Touchy, feely? Sentimental hogwash, as Potter would say.

posted by: Miss E on November 28, 2012  9:25am

I always read stories involving kids very carefully. This one is a good story, however, I agree with a lot of the comments here. First and foremost, if this kid is old enough to use the language he did with the teacher, believe it, he is old enough to suffer consequences. I understand him being upset over what is going on at home, but allowing him a free pass to disrespect and adult and authority figure is part of what is wrong with our younger generation now. When I was in school not myself or anyone I knew would even THINK of ignoring a request by any adult, especially a teacher or using that kind of language. We knew the consequences at home would be far greater than anything they could do to us at school. I have raised both of my daughters with that same concept. I have been to school only ONE time for their mouths and attitudes and never had to go again. It has to begin at home with the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors..

posted by: Rosas on November 28, 2012  10:09am

There’s this outcry among commenters that the kid should have been punished. The purpose of punishment is to correct behavior. His behavior was corrected. I find that adults frequently view teens as dangerous and in need of tight control. As the mother of a teen (an honor student with good manners), I don’t get it. Gentle guidance and understanding get you much better results.

posted by: robn on November 28, 2012  12:01pm


The purpose of a punishment or a reprimand or whatever you want to call it is to teach people that there are consequences for their bad behavior. This student wasn’t reprimanded, he was coddled. This is one reason why we have a well entrenched culture of rudeness and lawlessness in New Haven (refer to recent debate about illegal use of motorcycles for a refresher.)

posted by: Wooster Squared on November 28, 2012  12:42pm


Your plea for “gentle guidance” might carry more weight if:

1. The New Haven School system hadn’t already embraced this soft-touch approach;

2. This approach hadn’t already failed miserably (see the complete disciplinary disaster that is NHPS and the high rate of crime in the City, much if not most of which is committed by youths and young adults).

People can argue back and forth all day based on empty theory and conjecture, but when something is failing the only rational thing to do is to try something else.

The fact that so many people have jumped in on this forum to excuse Jeffrey’s awful behavior tells you everything you need to know about the problems in the New Haven School system and the high rate of youth crime in this City.

posted by: Rosas on November 28, 2012  12:44pm

Robn—The opposite of rudeness is respect. Why do people find it so offensive that the teacher extended respect, along with a good measure of compassion, to a kid who was having a hard time?
In addition to being a great religious guide, “Do unto others” is the best teaching tool.

posted by: isingiam on November 28, 2012  1:04pm

I have 20min to write on this.
“He is not a kid.” (threefifths) Response:  Thank you for this.  Is addressing students more affective than telling them what to do?
“A little crazy in the office” “time and resources”; Do schools provide enough resources (and human resources) to address these ‘problems’ of death, affecting many people?
“I’ve read about what happens in our schools”; If I interpret CrossTeacher accurately, I think, Hm, is this a commonality in many schools?

My main concern today is: Does suspension address causes – or why this commonality may be as pervasive as it is?  While the student is suspended, I wonder, ‘Can people force other people to think – in other words, are there ‘time and resources’ to address the causes while the student is not in school?  How much time does it take?  Are students suspended longer than they need be – does it make a difference how long they are suspended if they are just going to go back to school – and similar patterns will most likely occur?

How many students have been repeatedly suspended?  If there is apathy within and outside of school, then is the answer to simply remove students who are capable of learning, but may lack attention do to over-crowding, that is become more and more prevalent – without, again, addressing the causes?

What this reads as is districts displaying apathy, too.  Need I say more?

Yes.  Does telling a student what to do and punish, without addressing the causes, doesn’t teach or show the student how to think.  This also teaches the student to tell other people – what to think.  What is the cycle?  People telling other people what to do and if action is a product of thought, then how we think and think about are thinking is repeatedly disregarded. 

This lends to negative forms of interdependence via disregarding the ability for the student to figure out how to think for them-selves.  The art is in allowing/letting students come to their own conclusions in a safe place, which partially includes coming to their own conclusions.  The disregarding also doesn’t allow the student to think and practice thinking independently, which includes the student to also figure out why they think differently and apply it to their individual learning processes.

I’m writing this essay because simply saying “bad” behavior doesn’t explain

posted by: isingiam on November 28, 2012  1:15pm

Teacher in New Haven: I request you to distinguish between self-competition and competition driven by comparing the self to others’ implicit individual ways of learning and creating?  Does diversity lay in thought processes and the products of those thoughts (“how”), or is it a location (and/or lucky, perhaps genetically related), circumstances?

posted by: Teacher in New Haven on November 28, 2012  2:05pm


While I agree that the most meaningful measure of student achievement is individual in nature, I do not think that the story of education ends there.

I also believe that there are skills and knowledge that all students need to take away from their education.  These standards are agreed upon through our democratic system, and they represent the goals and expectations of our society.  They are necessary for students to become productive members of our society.

In a districts that fails, every single year, to meet those standards I firmly believe in competition with others as a measure of our success.  As long as hundreds of students “graduate” every year by the skin of their teeth, while others dropout in horrifying numbers, I will worry about the minutes, hours and days lost as we teach coping skills most kids learn when they in elementary school (though I will still teach them whenever I am called on to do so).

As long as we fail to meet these standards, in the name of behavioral remediation, we are complicit in turning the great gateway to the middle class (free public education) into an insurmountable barrier.

posted by: Edward_H on November 28, 2012  2:55pm

If this teacher had instead been a NHPD officer assigned to the school the would be no story here. The kid would have shut his mouth went along to class like he should have. Kids like this know exactly who they can push around and manipulate. The same people who are applauding this teacher would then applaud the cop for keeping a stable learning environment in the school

posted by: Brutus2011 on November 28, 2012  3:25pm

“Edward_H” hits the nail on the head:

In other words, the inmates are running the asylum.

The kids know exactly what is inappropriate and what is appropriate—end of story.

I can wax eloquent and all that cow-pucky but if we want to change this destructive dynamic in our schools we must let our children know exactly who are the adults and who are the children.

This is why I hammer away at our so-called political and education leaders—they know this but choose to kick the can down the road for expediency (theirs) sake—it is a crime of immense proportions.

And we citizens are too _______________ (fill in the blank) to do anything about it.

I mean, our kids are dying in our streets, come on, really?

If extra-terrestrials are observing this insanity, no wonder they don’t make contact—we are probably under galactic quarantine and don’t even know it.

posted by: robn on November 28, 2012  3:35pm


Please replace my “pizza” quote of the day with BRUTUS2011’s “Galactic Quarantine” quote….hands down winner.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on November 28, 2012  5:31pm

Everybody who is so confident about how this SHOULD have been handled:  precisely how would you handle it?  What exactly needs to be done / should have been done so that at-risk high-school students display respect and apply themselves to learning?

Free public education as a gateway to the middle class used to work moderately well because not everybody was expected to finish it and turn into an adult with advanced capacity for desk work, head work, and abstract thinking.  The fact is, not everybody has that kind of aptitude.  A good many kids, especially males, dropped out and went to work with their hands or their backs ... and could make a decent living at it, and respect themselves, and support a family, as long as they didn’t develop any really bad habits like drinking and gambling.

Now they can’t.  The really scary fact about 21st century America is that are not enough living wage jobs for people without a certain standard of skills—and these are skills which a sizeable percentage of our population is probably just not capable of reaching.  Not because they are “stupid” or “worthless,” but because their kind of intelligence runs into different directions.  Do we really think we are going to fix that basic problem with our labor market, by ... somehow, magically, just deciding that kids who know they have no feasible future WILL BEHAVE THEMSELVES AND RESPECT THEIR TEACHERS, just because we say so?

posted by: Teacher in New Haven on November 28, 2012  6:07pm


I have enormous respect for your point of view, all the more because unlike many of us, you are here under your name.

I will however step up to your challenge.  I would not have suspended Jeffrey.  I would however have, after his apology, assigned him a detention.  I would have discussed with him the importance of paying the consequences for his disrespect and class cutting.  I think that (if he is not running a game) he has learned most of his lesson, and that the final piece is a concrete consequence.

As I read this, I understand that many of the commenters here will find this consequence too small, and many too harsh.  In my experience, this strategy allows for more time to discuss what needs to be discussed while preserving and potentially strengthening the relationship between teacher and student.

That said, I respectfully disagree with your assessment of schools as a gateway.  I do not accept that a substantial number of our students lack the potential to succeed in an academic setting.  You may have hit on one of the many reasons that students fail to achieve, but in my experience consequences (such as the inability to get a manual labor job) that are 4 years in the future do not motivate high school freshmen to do homework or not.  Far more common in my experience, is the unwillingness to do homework, study, work in any meaningful way at school which stems from a lack of motivation (which can be helped in some measure by the addition of consequences).

Yes, it is hard out there.  Yes, the economy has changed.  But that only strengthens my resolve to hold our students to the highest standards, because there is no longer a safety net for those who fail.

posted by: Brutus2011 on November 28, 2012  7:05pm

to “Gretchen Pritchard:”

I hear your pain and I feel it as well.

I am a certified teacher in several subjects. I have taught at-risk kids in alternate schools, honors kids in high school, and middle school.

I am male of African-American descent—actually I am the descendant of slaves.

I have achieved academic honors in college and in graduate school—this simply means that I know how to be a good student.

But I am not valued by inner city administrators—I am deemed too threatening—most of us are and we certainly just can’t be as intelligent or industrious, etc.

What am I trying to say?

The answer to our collective problem that you poignantly express is right here in our community at the bottom level (organization-wise).

However, the resources used by the education system are allocated top-down (organization-wise) instead of bottom up. For proof, examine City of New Haven and New Haven Public Schools organization charts on their websites. In addition, examine the projected budgets (they are harder to find on-line these days, but with perseverance you can find them) and see where the money is being spent ( and here you can bet that there is much discretionary spending that the public won’t see without a court order).

Why are things this dysfunctional?

There are probably as many theories as there are mouths to utter them.

So, I will throw my two cents in—babbling brook that I am.

Our country’s republican experiment was said by the framers (during the founding era) to require something called public virtue. This, in my not-so-humble opinion, basically means that qualified persons serve in government for a limited time for the greater good and not as a career or for personal aggrandizement.

Obviously, our local politicians and their appointees have made our city their own private fiefdom in a kind of opposite of what the framers intended.

Therefore, again in my not-so-humble opinion, we must do first things first.

Which is—VOTE for change next November—if we don’t start there then everything else is smoke and utterly worthless.

I hope that helps or was in some way intelligible.

posted by: Edward_H on November 29, 2012  3:34am

“Free public education ...”

There is no such thing as “free” the costs are subsidized by the taxpayers, a fact all public workers and politicians love to leave out.

posted by: Miss E on November 29, 2012  9:05am

Teacher in New Haven-I respect and agree with your post about the detention scenario. This would have given him time to actually think about what got him there, how much he didn’t like and also to have time to calm down. When a kid is in an emotional upset, some do not know how to respond instead of react and it comes through in the wrong perspective. We also must lay some of the blame on the home front. Parents MUST teach their children from a young age what is right, wrong and what is acceptable or not.

posted by: Teacher in New Haven on November 29, 2012  9:26am


The users of free public education are almost universally below the age and personal income level necessary to pay taxes.  Only a handful of students own any kind of property, and an even smaller group make enough money each year to be taxed.

While everyone agrees that society pays a great deal for public education, the end users of that education pay so little that we call it free. 

The use of the word free is not some grand left wing conspiracy.  It is a generalization about the cost to students.

posted by: Edward_H on November 30, 2012  12:52am

Teacher in New Haven

Free means “without charge or cost” .  Just because the “end user” does not pay a direct cost does not mean there are no costs involved. You are correct that the use of the word “free” is not a left wing conspiracy, I don’t recall anyone every claiming it to be so. The use of the word “free” is a display of ignorance for basic economics.

The “end users” of our prison system, in general, pay little for what is provided for them in prison. No one ever describes our prison system as “free”. Everyone is very aware of the fact that taxpayers carry this burden. No wonder children have no respect for and place no value on their surroundings when educators are describing their books, transportation, cafeteria meals , computers and new school buildings as “free”.

posted by: Teacher in New Haven on November 30, 2012  11:38am


You make a reasonable point.  I understand your position better now.

I realized after I hit send, that I was using the parlance of special education.  In that case students are required to have a free and appropriate special educational program.  This means that if a student is deaf, they will receive a much more expensive education at no additional cost.

Apparently the term was poorly applied.  I will even go so far as to agree that students might not value “free” things very highly.

I can assure you however, that my colleagues and I are much much more likely to discuss the cost of education than we are to call it free (at least where students are concerned).

posted by: isingiam on December 2, 2012  6:24pm

I see this is a public school, and although this isn’t a response to the diary, perhaps any of the commenters know of a book or website with up to date information about all types of schools.  Also, I made a post earlier ending with “I’m writing this essay because simply saying “bad” behavior doesn’t explain” and didn’t realize I passed the limit.  Anyway, here’s the rest: “I’m writing this essay because simply saying “bad” behavior doesn’t explain why or how it is “bad”, further degenerating their minds.  If there are more counseling services offered where students feel they can trust others to not offend their way of thinking or choices, where the student can open up to the other leaders.

To rebuke or “reprimand”, without including addressing causes, further gives the district reason to rebuke and “reprimand” their own talented teachers.  Also, last I checked, students overly-stressed because one of their parents died and they are tending to their siblings’ needs, speaks to ability to focus and often causes sicknesses or illnesses.” 

Some readers may need clarification about some “conspiracy”.  For instance, I am currently reading the following article and the words chosen are obviously a coincidence, if you refer to the obvious context and the obvious date (Posted: 10/31/2012 11:55 am):


Just sayin’.