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Bostic: Times are changing but not all for the better

Bostic: Times are changing but not all for the better

Author: Action News 17/Sunday, June 2, 2019/Categories: Front Page, Voices

A View from my Front Porch
By: Louise Bostic

It is disturbing to hear of the lack of support our teachers feel when serious issues arise on our public school campuses. Violence is a “way of life” for many of the youth who attend our schools.

Ten days ago a 20-something woman threatened to “pound me to death” when I attempted to explain a lease agreement to her. The volume of her outrage and the level of profanity caused me to realize that I was in very real danger. I dialed for help and was able to escape unharmed. A very simple and civil observation ignited an irrational tirade and an immediate response of physical violence.

Five years ago I mentored students while they were in seventh and eighth grade attending our local public schools. Often when I visited the school I observed students being detained for inappropriate behavior. My young friends often told me of encounters and observations of fights occurring daily on their campus. We discussed ways to avoid direct involvement and methods to avoid physical combat but I was more concerned about the constant endangerment of these children in that environment. Sadly fighting was considered the only way to respond to perceived injustice at home and in their neighborhoods. To “walk away” was a coward’s response.

Discipline has radically changed in the seven decades since I began teaching in public school in the 1960’s. My first "discipline" issue was in 1965 when an amazing twelve year old arrived late for our 8am class almost every day aggravating an already stressful schedule.

My first attempt to correct the truancy was to post the child’s name on the “stay after school” list. When the boy did not come for after school detention, I explained that the next alternative would be to administer “Mr Johnson’s paddle.” To my chagrin, it came to that. On the given day at the scheduled time, this adoring twelve year old and I climbed the stairs to Principal Johnson’s office where two secretaries and Mr Johnson stood waiting. The rule was that the teacher administer the paddle.

I had never struck a child or anyone in my life and wanted desperately to run as far and fast as I could to avoid this terrible thing I had initiated. My precious student looked so tiny and frail as he touched his toes awaiting his punishment. The witnesses stood stern not knowing or caring what dastardly deed the boy had done and I closed my eyes and swung once. I practically threw the paddle back to Mr Johnson and my student and I rushed out of the office both blinded by the tears neither of us could hold back.

To this day I remember learning the circumstances beyond his control which caused my student to be late. The child, shy before the punishment episode, never could look at me after that day. I vowed never again to make unreasonable threats and to consistently adjust my expectations to the level and ability of every student. A terrible lesson for a nineteen year old teacher in her first month of teaching.

The children in our classrooms in the sixties often lived in dire circumstances but were healthy, polite, and devoted to those who taught them. Parents supported teachers in the public schools even in those cases where we might not deserve support. The opposite is true today. The teachers I know are still devoted, still idealistic, still underpaid but seem appallingly alone in their efforts to change young lives through education. The support systems we took for granted decades ago do not seem to exist today.

I cannot comment on the family which has announced a lawsuit against the Ponchatoula teachers fired for intervening in a brawl between female students at school, but I can express my heartbreak as careers are being damaged for actions that are warranted on a daily basis. Reasoning with these young people who have been taught that “talking through a conflict is a coward’s approach”is often not an option.

When a child bullies another and physical harm appears imminent, any good person particularly an adult is compelled to intervene. Our children should feel safe at school and when their safety is threatened intervention should be commended not condemned. The public should be incensed by the treatment of two male teachers who did what they were asked to do as best they could to avoid harming any of the children involved in the fight on their campus.

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