By Bill Foley
OSWEGO – Imagine an elementary child kicking, punching or biting a teacher. Or, obscenities flying from the mouths of secondary students not only in the hallways – but in classrooms.
These are just a few things that Oswego teachers face on a day to day basis.
Recently, Oswego City School District Board of Education President Aimee Callen noted that she had received complaints from parents about discipline.
She realized there were many aspects to the problem, but felt something had to be addressed and recommended that addressing “swearing” might be the first step in addressing the issue.
Inappropriate language is definitely a problem, but there is much more to the concern over lack of discipline and respect in schools.
Oswego Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dean Goewey sat down with Oswego County Today to talk about the wide ranging scope of the problem and some ways that the district is attempting to address the situation.
He stressed that discipline is not an Oswego only issue, but has become a societal issue facing educators across the country.
He said, “It is a changing population and behavior in many cases can be attributed to trauma at home and they come to school carrying that. Swearing is the least of our concerns as we need to get them to learn to read.”
Respect has diminished in some of the student population.
Secondary teachers, who did not wish to be identified, indicated students are late for class every period, in the hallways there is disrespect for teachers and they are not listening to teacher directives, students are swearing at teachers, there is a lack of respect toward teachers with no consequences, students are choosing their punishments, teachers are not being supported by administration, good kids are afraid of bullying with no consequences and overall there is a feeling that there is a lack of support when teachers try to enforce the rules.
“You can’t suspend every child every day. We have to address bullying, drugs, chronic absenteeism and fights,” Goewey said. “They are our priority. However, we are also seeing vaping, e-cigs and Juhls and the students think they are safe, but they are dangerous.”
The superintendent, when asked what the evolution of the decline of discipline said, “It has happened gradually. But, over the past five years, it has become much more dramatic. There has been extreme behavior of regular education students. I would say five to 10% fit into this area. Our suspension rate at the high school is up tremendously. It’s frustrating and we are attempting to find solutions.”
The district has become aware of Dr. Ross Green’s efforts in Trauma Informed Research and is implementing some of the thinking.
“You can’t learn if you don’t eat meals, are abused, neglected or witness something traumatic. It’s like post traumatic stress syndrome,” the superintendent explained. “We need to deal with that and create an environment that is safe.”
Elementary teachers spend a substantial amount of time simply dealing with discipline as it only takes one or two unruly students to disrupt the educational opportunities for the rest of the class.
Some teachers in the grades nine through 12 area attribute some of the problems to the middle school where they feel students are not held accountable.
Their thoughts are that if they were held accountable they would understand the consequences when they occur at the high school level.
“The freshmen have the highest rate (of discipline problems. And, it’s worse in the Fall semester than it is the Spring,” according to the superintendent.
Continuing he said, “For the freshmen, high school is a significant change in that they are under a team program at the middle school that keeps them pretty well constricted. There isn’t a lot of movement. However, it changes dramatically for them at the high school level.”
However, State Education directives also impact schools.
“There are new laws at SED in light of suspension rates it could impact your state aid,” Goewey pointed out. “We have to come up with a way to deal with that.”
“Problems don’t always start in schools we have to find a way to address social media as well as mental health issues,” he added. “Problems that start on social media find their way into our buildings.”
The district has implemented restorative justice and Goewey explained, “We hope to add two social workers to the Oswego High School and two counselors to Fitzhugh Park.”
Restorative Justice is an approach to justice in which the response to a situation is to organize mediation between the victim and the offender, and sometimes with representatives of a wider community as well.
The goal is to negotiate for a resolution to the satisfaction of all participants.
The program aims to get offenders to take responsibility for their actions, to understand the harm they have caused, to give them an opportunity to redeem themselves and to discourage them from causing further harm.
The discipline issues aren’t strictly limited to Oswego.
Goewey said that all of the area superintendents attend regular meetings at BOCES and that his wife, who is a superintendent in Eastern New York, sees and realizes the problems.
“It is a societal problem. It is everywhere,” Goewey said. “Times are changing and it almost appears students are becoming involved in a docile society. They don’t do things after school anymore at the levels they use to like sports and music. It is not an Oswego problem. You see it everywhere.”
Board President Callen brought the discipline issue to the forefront and it is anticipated there will be an evolution addressing the concerns in the months ahead.
However, it appears there is not simple solution.
However, the district will continue to provide a safe learning environment and where students will be “fully prepared and life ready.”