A Descent Into The Maelström: Public School Confidential (Student Discipline)

A2PNotes: Ann Arbor is home to some 16,000 public school students. Those students are parented by tens of thousands of women and men who haven’t a clue about what their kids really do at school all day, not because they don’t want to know. Quite the opposite, most parents of school-age children want to know what happens in the classroom, the lunch room and on the bus. Elementary school parents are hectored into helping out at school; expected to be involved. However, middle and high school are quite different. Parents become personae non gratae not only in the eyes of kids who are trying to become more independent, but in the eyes of a school District that does not provide many opportunities for parent classroom involvement in the upper grades. So, A2Politico has asked two kids to write about their lives as students. One of these students attends the AAPS, and the other attends a local private school. For obvious reasons, these two will write their entries anonymously. So, look for A Descent Into the Maelstrom weekly, and read about what your kids wouldn’t tell you even if you asked.

Violation of Expectations. VOE. Would you consider giving someone a high-five hand slap a PDA (public display of affection?) The Ann Arbor Public Schools does now.

VOE, a new behavior referral system, was begun as a result of budget cuts, and cut staff from the Detention Room. That was where teachers could send kids who were being disruptive or violent. I had experience with the Detention Room for talking while the teacher was instructing the class. The atmosphere in the DR didn’t make me feel like it was a punishment, it more like a time out. There were two supervisors who would talk to you, and then send you into the Detention Room to sit down for a little while. Then, they would send you back to class.

That ended this year with the VOEs. This year, when the teacher feels a student is disruptive or violent in class, the teacher may (or probably will not) fill out a very complicated VOE form. The VOE categorizes a high-five hand slap as a public display of affection. What does that mean? Along with high-fives in this category there is also kissing and hugging. Last year high-fiving would have never gotten a student sent to the Detention Room. Now, a high-five not only could get a student a VOE, and also a letter home to parents as well as a detention.

I know a classmate whom this happened to. I saw it happen. A teacher at my school saw two students high-five each other. I saw the teacher chase my classmate down the hallway, yelling, “Get back here. Why did you give a high-five. I’m going to give you a VOE.” What did this mean to my classmates? The VOE got the students a letter home to parents and a one-hour detention in which (unlike last year) you can’t do homework or read.

Only one of my six teachers supports the VOE system. For example, one time my friends and I were talking about this year’s new VOE system within earshot of a teacher. The teacher said, “This is crazy! Why did they do this?” Another one of my teachers and I were talking about the new VOE system, and this teacher is one who frequently gives kids high-fives, which now under the new VOE regime, is a public display of affection. In general, my teachers have said that giving a VOE to a student for not bringing a pencil to class once or twice, should not result in a detention, which it could under the new VOE system.

My teachers have, all but one, verbally put down the new VOE system, and say they refuse to use it because the system oversteps boundaries—it’s a bit “control freaky.”

Since September, I have seen a maximum of five, perhaps six VOEs given out by my teachers in my classes. Last year, I would say that I visited the Detention Room much more frequently and saw dozens of incidents where my classmates were sent to the Detention Room. Now, kids who would have been sent out of class and to the Detention Room, (myself included, of course) just stay in class and continue to disrupt the teacher. The Detention Room allowed both the teacher and the students to have a break from disruptions, so the teacher could teach and the students could learn. What the new VOE system means to me, as a student, is that when disruptive classmates aren’t getting sent out of the class, it impacts how much the teacher can get done in a class period. This is different from last year when disruptive classmates were sent to the Detention Room, and the teacher could get more accomplished.

I know it might sound funny for a student to say that the student discipline system should be made more effective, but it should. I’d say that the Detention Room should definitely be brought back as VOEs are a much less efficient and effective way of dealing with disruptive students in my Ann Arbor public school. In four out of my seven classes, I have consistently disruptive students who talk, and/or argue with the teacher and students. I have seen teachers in those classes give a total of six VOEs in the past five months of school. Last year, all of those students would have been sent to the Detention Room many, many more times.

I’d like to end this by giving my readers a high-five. This may or may not result in a VOE for me.

Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=6280

13 Comments for “A Descent Into The Maelström: Public School Confidential (Student Discipline)”

  1. […] then give him huge high fives (At our house, high fives never lead to detention or VOEs, as the AAPS student-writer of another A2Politico piece posted not to too ago), hugs and verbal kudos […]

  2. LOL! Look out A2P, the next generation is creeping up behind you!

  3. Thank you to everybody for your kind comments and input. It was incredible when I got home from school today and saw I had so many comments. If we had computers at school today I would have peeked and risked a VOE!! For my next entry I’m going to write about my best teacher ever (no names of course) and my worst teacher ever in the AAPS and what it meant to me as a student. Tune in later.

  4. @Pearl it would be four infraction points for a fist bump, resulting in a detention. If you don’t tell I won’t tell.

  5. @A2GOP I just thought it would be a cool, fun thing to write about school, and thank you for the suggestion about the millage. I will try to write about the millage, although to be sure I am not a millage expert!

  6. @Joe, glad you like the new column. The Detroit News linked to A2Politico not too long ago!

  7. You’ve scooped the outlets again! Nice post.

    Will we start seeing your stuff in the FREEP as well?

  8. It’s not just that it’s too broadly defined, it’s antithecal to true behavior improvement. It will breed more resentment and not elicit the change it seeks. I don’t know who advised the schools on this,but it’s very poor behavior theory application. They best find someone who understand behavior theory.

  9. I’m the parent of a middle school student and just want to chime in on this VOE discussion. My daughter was ‘VOEed’ for a relatively minor infraction and I have to say I was shocked when the letter/form came home. Of course we had to follow up on it, but I was not happy to have to do so. Am I being overly indulgent? I think not. The VOE system as the student writes in much too broadly defined. I had no idea the students could be disciplined formally for forgetting a pencil. When I went to school the teachers kept jars of pencils for just these situations. Meanwhile disruptive students are not taken out of the classroom? How is this system supposed to work for the students and the teachers? Thank you so much for finding a student to write about this! Are you using just one AAPS student or do you plan to have more student writers from the different schools?

  10. I am so glad you wrote about this. The VOE are just a crazy aberration of the schools trying to institute PBS, badly.

    First rule of positive reinforcement, you reinforce the positive not negative. The school staff should be giving high fives for achieving expectations!

    It’s bad practice to send disruptive kids out because that bad behavior will continue. They will continue to disrupt because it gets them out of class. It’s not rocket science either.

    However, somebody has to take the time to figure out why they are disruptive, and then work on fixing it! That’s the real problem.

    The whole VOE concept and it’s execution is a perversion of PBS, and the administration should revamp that immediately.

    When you give an invalid behavior system our for staff to follow, they’ll try it a few times, then they won’t follow it, and then your left with…whatever.

  11. Thanks for the love A2GOP. I am very excited to debut this column. I just got Facebook messages from people who are *very* pleased to read about the AAPS from the perspective of a student. I just want to point out that next Monday there will be a post from a student at a local private school. These two writers will alternate weeks.

    As for how I convinced a student to do this, blackmail is always my method of choice, followed by bribery, then pathetic entreaties. It has been really fun working with both the public and private school students. They are rising to the challenge of writing honestly and thoughtfully about themselves and their schools.

    When this writer proposed the subject of school discipline, I was pleasantly surprised. When this student fessed up to being a visitor to the Detention Room, I was doubly pleased for self-insight is an important part of writing. The private school student will tackle issues of socio-economics and race in a local private school.

  12. Thanks for the explanation… refreshing honesty…. Is a fist bump okay to pass along? Or would that get you in trouble at school?

  13. Once again, A2P gives us out of the box writing and this time about education. I don’t know how you convinced a student to spend his or her free time writing about school, but God bless you. It’s about time the voices of those over whose educations we worry, and argue, get a hearing. In Washtenaw County we spend half a billion each year on these kids, and experiment with school reform. We study and measure student progress. How often do we actually give these kids a chance to thoughtfully speak about our attempts to make their educational experiences better? I hope this writer will give us some idea of whether the upcoming school millage should be passed. I’ll hear from the adults, but my wouldn’t it be grand to hear from the students?

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