In a recent article, it has been reported that public opinion considers California teachers as racist because of the over representation of Black student suspensions which results from classroom discipline. Many teachers believe that the major cause is student behavior and not the racial differences. White teachers can use other strategies that will ensure that they are not considered by public opinion as racist due to their classroom discipline techniques.
Presently, the California schools are utilizing a process termed ‘Restorative Justice’. Restorative justice is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of the victims and the offenders, as well as the involved community, instead of satisfying abstract legal principles or punishing the offender. Victims take an active role in the process, while offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, “to repair the harm they’ve done—by apologizing, returning stolen money, or community service”. In addition, it provides help for the offender in order to avoid future offences. It is based on a theory of justice that considers crime and wrongdoing to be an offence against an individual or community, rather than the state. Restorative justice that fosters dialogue between victim and offender shows the highest rates of victim satisfaction and offender accountability.
Even though the Restorative Justice System has had success with reducing the number of Black student suspensions, it is limited because it does not transform the culture of the schools nor does it transform the teachers behavior in such a fashion that it becomes conducive for both the student and the teacher.
It is important for teachers to understand that excessive Black student suspensions are counterproductive to academic achievement. The academic achievement of Black students is fast becoming a major priority in the United States. Many parents and other supportive organizations believe that if White teachers do not posses the capability nor ability to instruct Black students, then they are not qualified as a teacher. We find this movement becoming prominent in the United States under the guise of merit pay for teachers.
What strategies can White teachers use to reduce classroom discipline?
White teachers must understand some of the racial challenges that exist and have the high probability of producing classroom discipline. One possible source of classroom problems between White teachers and Black students is the trust factor.
Trust is developed before the White student and Black student have any type of verbal encounter. Trust is developed through initial facial expressions such as eye contact. Whites believe maintaining eye contact in face-to-face communication is most desirable. White American employees and employers believe maintaining eye contact communicates trustworthiness, masculinity, sincerity, and directedness and conclude when Black employees fail to maintain eye contact that the Black employees have something to hide. European Americans view looking away or looking downward as a sign of disinterest, shyness, or disrespect.
Some Black parents teach their children that looking an adult in the eye is a sign of disrespect while White children learn to do the opposite. When reprimanding Black children, they tend not to look at the teacher as a sign of respect. Blacks are less likely to maintain eye contact with persons in a position of authority, and Black children increase eye contact as they begin to trust the teacher. Black students who avert their eyes and verbally express themselves may be just as attentive as White students who gaze directly at the speaker. Students may avoid teacher eye contact when they do not want to be called on or do not know the answer and respond by busily taking notes, rearranging books and papers, and fropping their pencils. Black adults gaze at others when talking to indicate interest. Blacks often “give the eye” as a displeasure indication related to negative feelings.
One way to reduce classroom discipline that results from distrust between a White teacher and a Black student is to ask the class, “What steps can we take to develop trust?” You can take this opportunity to set-up classroom expectations with the intent of reducing classroom discipline.
The next possibility for classroom discipline that result from the racial differences between White teachers and Black and minority students is standing differences. Colleges teach teachers to ensure there is a distance between themselves and the students so the teacher can maintain discipline in the classroom. European Americans are more likely to have close social distance with Mexican Americans when compared to Blacks and prefer to keep their personal space at arm’s length. Hispanic Americans stand close to or side by side instead of face-to-face when talking to another person. Hispanic Americans stand 6 to 8 inches within an arm’s length when talking to another person. Latinos interact at a close distance and frequently touch one another. Latino Americans prefer closer standing distances when compared to North Americans. Blacks prefer closer social distance when compared to Mexican Americans. Blacks are more likely to touch each other in a conversation when compared to Whites. Individuals who perceive a proximity violator as someone who will provide them with negative rewards will react negatively when the proximity violator moves closer. Maintaining the appropriate or comfortable proximity is associated with a positive effect, friendship, and attraction.
One way to close the standing distance challenges is when students are working, examine and critique their work from a close distance. You can go as far as placing your finger on their papers that are resting on the desk to close the standing distance without it being considered offensive.
The next possibility for classroom discipline is the verbal exchange between the White teacher and the Black student is debating techniques. Blacks not only debate the idea; they also debate the person while Whites debate the idea rather than the person debating the idea. Blacks often probe beyond a given statement to find out where a person is “coming from,” in order to clarify the meaning and value of a particular behavior or attitude.
A White teacher can elect not to take this debating technique as a personal attack on them or their character. Or use this opportunity to teach students the proper techniques for winning a debate as an instructional tool.
Another point of contention for classroom discipline is talking during instruction. Black students contrast White middle-class communication when they speak over others’ voices and repeat the communication until they are responded to or until they have someone’s attention. Spontaneity in conversation is an acceptable component for Blacks, although others perceive interrupting another speaker in conversation as rude. Speaker and audience are often interchangeable as Blacks who are listening will often “call out” or respond to a speaker. Black communities accept the approach that their children use by interrupting others or speaking out of turn, which is an unacceptable school practice, and teachers view this behavior as disruptive and inappropriate.
Teachers who are confronted with students who talk during instruction can as that student, “Do you have something to add to the instruction?” You can also have students involved in additional cooperative learning activities which allows them to talk about the instruction and further setting the expectations for talking in the classroom.
You will notice that not every cultural challenge that leads to a classroom discipline has a recommended solution. In some cases, in order to avoid classroom discipline it is better to equip teachers with the cultural knowledge in a hope that it will become a more acceptable standard operating procedure for the classroom.
Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 1668 Blackwood, NJ 08012
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Author of Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships
“The model that you use to analyze teacher-student relationships is a good one for most school districts”.
~ Joe Vas ~ Perth Amboy Mayor
“Dr. Campbell’s Cultural Relationship Training Program is comprehensive, informative, and should be required training for all schools”
~ Darrell Pope ~ Hutchinson Kansas NAACP President