How The Pandemic Is Changing School Discipline
The pandemic has its pros and cons
There is one thing about virtual learning that makes the life of every student, principal, and teacher easier: no suspensions. I have not heard of a single suspension that has gone down during the pandemic — while I had to participate in suspension meetings and learned of them frequently during my time in the actual school building. It occupied a significant amount of my days and weeks.
I’m only talking about my own anecdotal experience, but I’m sure no administrator would complain about not feeling the need to suspend kids, particularly in a district like my own in Baltimore City. There were days where I’m sure some people spent their whole day in suspension meetings. Now, suspensions are an afterthought — the worst a student can do in virtual learning is not show up.
With the pandemic and virtual learning, discipline has gotten a lot earlier. A misbehaved kid doesn’t want to come to school? They just don’t show up on the computer. It certainly didn’t help that for me, the students who got suspended the most often in the school building had the lowest attendance in school.
Kalyn Belsha at ChalkBeat reports on how virtual learning has led to a student discipline crisis. In some districts, teachers and administrators pay more, not less attention to student misbehavior. And the most vulnerable students bear the brunt of these consequences. Belsha concludes that these harsh consequences are worrisome for the most vulnerable of students, and not giving students the gift of grace within a virtual setting.
According to the University of Illinois, some of the advantages of virtual learning include discussion being more students centered and leveling the playing field for learners of all abilities. As a special educator in a high poverty school district, I see students who flourish through virtual learning, and I see the opposite as well.
However, classroom management is just an afterthought in virtual learning. When a student is misbehaving and using profanity, I can just mute them. On one occasion, I was Zoom-bombed after my Zoom link for my classroom was shared on Instagram, and I merely removed the kids who were disrupting my classroom. The “mute all” button is an asset to get students on task for your lesson plan.
I can’t help but feel like classroom discipline has gotten significantly easier in the virtual setting, far easier than it was before the pandemic. Perhaps classroom discipline is one of the few pros of virtual learning. Other districts might have the luxury and the punitive measures to penalize students for not doing their work or not turning on their cameras for virtual learning, but we do not.
What I know is that I haven’t been in a single suspension meeting since March of last year. I haven’t heard of a single suspension, and I’m sure my administrators aren’t complaining either. According to Aaricka Washington at the New York Times, discipline and punishment should come after relationship building, an ideal that isn’t always possible in person. However, Washington, like myself, has been able to find that disciplinary actions are actually the first step in a path to juvenile correctional facilities, and we are grateful that school discipline has become an afterthought.
Of course, there are times that school discipline is a weakness during virtual learning. In some states, students who don’t wear masks are removed from school. Intentionally coughing is the basis for assault in some Texas school districts. Of course, these measures disproportionately target Black children as teachers and school districts focus excessively on student misbehavior.
However, I personally feel, no matter someone’s philosophical differences, classroom management stance on student discipline, that these measures are a waste of time. Personally, if a student chooses not to turn their camera on during instruction, who cares? If a student doesn’t do their work, they bear the brunt of their work, and shouldn’t be disciplined for doing so.
Classroom management has fundamentally changed during virtual learning, and for good reason. Schools should stop suspending children for minor offenses. I’m sure my principals are no longer complaining that they no longer have to devote so much time to school discipline.
And that’s one of the major benefits to virtual learning — that student discipline is mainly a non-factor. For the first time, I have been able to focus predominantly on instruction, not discipline. And for the first time, as a second year teacher in an inner city environment, I feel like I can actually teach. I have rekindled the idealism of the early stages of my first year because the primary concerns of misbehavior and student discipline no longer apply, and I don’t have to waste my time anymore.
For most schools, the pandemic has given school districts that are still opting into virtual learning, like my own, the luxury of pushing student discipline as an afterthought. For me and for my district, student engagement is the more important part — as it always should have been.
I listen to all my students, but when a student utters profanity, I can just mute them. When a student doesn’t show up to class, I can just call a family member to make sure he or she shows up to class. When a student doesn’t do their work or has failing grades, I can use district tools to contact a student and make them aware of their progress.
In short, the pandemic has its pros and cons. I have plenty of students who haven’t shown up at all, but those numbers are minimal compared to the spring. Virtual learning has been, more or less, a luxury for most teachers dealing with school discipline, and teachers and administrators have to take it upon themselves not to micromanage — for once, most teachers can focus on instruction, not discipline.