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Tennessee Teacher Meltdown – Students’ disruptive behavior a catalyst

October 14, 2010

No doubt you’ve seen the video — it made headlines from CBS News to the O’Reilly Factor and beyond. An 11th grade math teacher literally losing it in his classroom.

His meltdown was caught on a student’s cell phone.  When you look at the footage, what you first notice is how at the beginning of his fit of anger, the students are laughing and taunting him in the background.  That seems to have really set it off, leading to his screaming, throwing objects and furniture as he completely blows his cool.

What does it take to cause a teacher to go completely over the edge?  This wasn’t someone new to the profession either; he apparently had over 20 years of experience in the classroom.

According to his sister, what precipitated it was the students’ lack of respect and their disruptive behavior.  He finally had enough, and he snapped.

Now, I’m not going to excuse his behavior, but I can understand it.  In this teacher’s case, he seems to have had a complete nervous breakdown, according to doctors, and he remains hospitalized and in treatment at the present time.

What’s telling is the students’ behavior.  Too many classrooms are nearly warzones where students are disruptive, unruly and undisciplined and I can totally see where you could lose it when you have to deal with it day in and day out.  I’m not sure how many teachers manage to get anything done — well, to be honest, I know why they don’t get enough done.  As Leanne Smith, Brian Wood’s sister, said in her press interview, classroom behavior and disruptive students are a major problem in schools today.

It’s all around us.  From unruly and rude students to bullying and other forms of anti-social behavior, it all comes from a common cause.  In the case of teachers, problems with classroom management and discipline is consistently in the top three reasons of why teachers leave the classroom.

Yet, like the problem with bullying, what are we REALLY trying to do about it? I mean, taking action.  We try to give teachers better “classroom management” techniques, yet that assumes that the other side of the classroom management equation — the students — have the skills that allow them to be “managed.”  And too many don’t.  So, as I show in my presentation on Creating Effective Classrooms you put them both together and you have the perfect storm.

And this teacher’s freak session isn’t an isolated incident.  The CBS video documents several such recent events, including the teacher beating a student from last Spring, showing a disturbing trend of teachers who have just gone off the deep end because of the lack of discipline and respect they get from students.

The situation is not going to improve, folks, until you start teaching and showing the students how to behave, what’s expected of them, and why. It’s the “why” that’s missing too often in this type of education. If you don’t tell them why THEY should care, all they are going to hear when you try to set expectations for behavior and conduct is “Blah, blah, blah.” And their response: “Yeah, right, whatever.”

It’s time we took this topic seriously.  This is not just about rude students — it’s about teachers’ safety and sanity. What other businesses would allow these types of working conditions to continue, particularly if it harmed both the “workers” AND the “end-product?” Which, in this case, it does.

I keep going back to what Dr. Ronald Stevens, Director of the National School Safety Center, said as part of the interview in which I participated that aired on KIRO Newstalk Radio back in August:

“If you think teaching social skills and positive citizenship behavior is investing too much time,” he said. “Try ignoring the issue and see what happens.”

Guess we see again what happens, don’t we Dr. Stevens?

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