Last week, a classroom of Baltimore City students witnessed a peer punch a teacher dead in the face. And before the bell could ring, the video was uploaded to social media for the world to see, with tens of thousands watching it within the first 24 hours.
As a former educator in Baltimore City schools, I have witnessed similar situations. The students involved were often disciplined following the altercations, but it was always clear that the problem was bigger than the moment.
The fact of the matter is: We cannot expect the violence that the students of this city endure in their communities not to make its way into the classroom. And when it does, it affects every person in that school building. The disruption that is caused by a viral incident such as this one can set a school climate back tremendously and derail everyday learning, leading to further headlines and criticism.
Teaching should not be policing, but in many cases it is. Teachers must protect their own safety, as well as the well-being of dozens of students in their care. The success of the classroom teacher is most often based on the relationship he/she builds with students and the boundaries that are set at the beginning of the school year and regularly reinforced. But far too often, the path to connecting with students is obstructed by the baggage of their home life, the impact of social media and the countless negative influences that they encounter each day. The reality is that more students pack hurt and pain in their backpacks than actual notebooks and pencils. While this is never an excuse for violent behavior, it is something that cannot afford to be ignored.
The young people in our city are tired. And they use every opportunity possible to show us that. In order for our students to hear us we have to show them we are listening. When our young people are ignored they will do anything to be heard, and sometimes that includes using their fists to speak — which is always wrong. Yet we do not need another young person kicked out of school, expediting their entry into a system designed to hold them back; nor do we need another teacher forced to focus more on classroom management than actual teaching.
There needs to be consistent discipline enforced that supports both students and staff.
To keep violence out of the classrooms in this city, we have to feed our children with positive images to counteract what they see out their windows. We cannot erase generations of hopelessness, but we can make sure that there is a community of city residents demonstrating how to behave in any situation.
Everybody has something that they can give, whether it’s time, consistent mentorship or even money to support some of the great programming already going on in the city. We can all do something to support the students and teachers of Baltimore City schools, but simply voicing opinions on social media is not the answer. I’m pretty certain no principal will turn you away, if you really have something that can benefit his or her student body.
If we truly want to make our city a better place, we must invest in the hearts and minds of our young people.
Sheri Booker (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an author and poet. She currently teaches writing at Morgan State University.