Thursday, December 09, 2010

After several years of having no detention, during school or after school, recently our district appropriated the money to reinstitute this option for teachers. We can assign lunch detention ourselves, but after-school detention is available Tuesdays and Thursdays only, at the discretion of the principal.

When detention was an option, it was one I rarely used. I hate the idea of sending a student somewhere else, to someone else, for punishment for something they did in my room. To me, that process takes me out of the punishment part of the offense, and gives the power to someone else. If one of my kids is ‘bad’ enough to serve detention, I want it done in my presence, where I can ensure the misery matches the crime.

That isn’t to say I’ve never sent a student to the office, or assigned detention, but those occasions are rare, and in severe circumstances where all other options have been completely exhausted.

When the job posting for teachers to man the after school detention room was posted, the pay was good and I thought, hmmm… I really want to build my granddaughter an awesome wooden swing set next summer. Here’s a way to easily bank some extra bucks fairly easily.

I split the assignment with another teacher – he does Tuesday afternoons, I take Thursday’s. Today was my first Thursday with ‘customers’. I was supposed to have 4 customers, but one was suspended until next week, another skipped detention, and there I was with two young men, both of whom I had ‘experienced’ in 7th grade a couple of years ago. Needless to say, I was not surprised to see their names on my list. One was there for extensive tardies, the other, for skipping a class.

Once we got the pleasantries out of the way, the boys settled in. I had to keep reminding them to sit up, no sleeping allowed in detention. Finally, they seemed to settle in and I started working on a project on my laptop. My teacher sensor noticed the one young man intently interested in his desk behind his folded coat. I kept working, watching, averting my eyes when he looked up, trying to make sure my suspicions were accurate. Standing, I walked to him, as he tried to nonchalantly hide his cell phone under the jacket. I snagged it, with him sighing, and halfheartedly trying to argue, but knowing there was no use.

“Head up!”

“Hood off!”

The reminders were few, but enough to keep me focused on them more than the work in
front of me.

Finally, the clock ticked louder and louder as four o’clock came closer and closer.

The bell sounded and they left, the one begging his phone back as he left. Both said, “See you next week!” laughing, knowing this would become a regular date between us.

So, now, I am left questioning the purpose and worth of the detention room. These are frequent flyers, even with the program new, just a few weeks in. They were disruptions in middle school, are still disruptions now, and have no apparent plan to change on the horizon.

I wonder if the money paid to the two of us manning the detention room would be better served paying us to mentor these young men, maybe grabbing a burger and fries, and talking about their lives, in and out of school.

Detentions don’t work. They don’t change behaviors. Sending a student to some magical room may make the teacher feel better, at least temporarily, but it doesn’t FIX the problem. Until we find ways to effectively touch these troubled students, find ways to encourage them to change those behaviors and channel their frustrations in more positive ways, we are just throwing money out the window.

The same kids get sent to detention, day after day, year after year. It is pointless. Just one more indicator of the many ineffective educational practices we continue to embrace.

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