NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Discipline in the classroom is a top concern for teachers. Lawmakers passed the Tennessee Discipline Act to make changes.
Mark Hayes was a Middle Tennessee teacher for 31 years.
“It’s a fulfilling career. It’s filled with many great opportunities,” said Hayes.
However, one student changed all of that during a fit of anger.
“The student pushed me in my chest, knocked me off my feet, landed on my back. I was blindsided, just something that has never happened to me,” said Hayes.
It wasn’t long before that student was back in his classroom.
“I was forced to teach someone who physically assaulted me,” said Hayes. “I decided I had to walk away from a 31 year career, which I never thought I would have to do.”
Hayes is not alone.
“We are talking about out and out defiance, teacher assaults,” said J.C. Bowman. “Using every bit of language that you can imagine that’ll make a sailor blush.”
Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. He sees first-hand the top struggles teachers are facing.
“For 13 straight years, discipline has been in the top 10,” said Bowman. “People don’t know this stuff. We had one in Antioch just last week where a kid went out and got pepper spray and sprayed their teacher for telling her to get off her phone.”
To improve Tennessee classrooms, lawmakers passed the Tennessee Discipline Act two years ago. The law addresses unruly students who regularly cause disruptions; it sets up a series of steps before a student faces discipline like suspension; it involves school counselors and administrators; and at its heart and soul, it brings parents into the mix early on when a student is facing discipline at school.
“I think it’s a good law. We were proud to champion it,” said Bowman. “Our hope is always that we get parents involved earlier in the discipline process, so that they will know what their child is doing or not doing in the school.”
“It’s challenging for the teacher to have to continue to teach when there are disruptive students that are blocking the learning from students who truly want an education and want to learn,” said Hayes.
Vanderbilt University Assistant Professor Mark Chin has his reservations about The Discipline Act.
“A lot of the language around the bill allows a lot of leeway for interpretation from the teachers,” said Chin.
Chin analyzed nationwide discipline data when it comes to race. His research showed a correlation between a teacher’s anti-black/pro-white racial bias and student’s suspension rate.
“We have really good research, I think, at this point that says students who are involved in the same altercations in schools. If one student is black and one student is white, the black student is more likely to receive the exclusionary discipline,” said Chin. “This particular policy doesn’t strike me as something that is going to change the game.”
The Tennessee Discipline Act has been around two years, which researchers say is too early to see reliable data. In the meantime, Hayes said teachers need our support.
If you would like to dive deeper into Chin’s work on racial bias, follow this link.