Suspension Down Frustration High

Recent reporting of U-46 suspension numbers dropping seems for some to be a satisfactory measure of our classrooms’ climate and student behavior concerns.  But for the classroom teacher and our students, this data point has come to represent the failure of the system rather than its success. While certainly some sites have made progress in meeting social-emotional standards, we are far from all classrooms being able to sustain safe learning for all.

For the last several years, at many site committees, at many District meetings, and even at the bargaining table, the ETA has attempted to share our growing concerns and challenges as we see children and families struggling and under extreme stress. Those struggles are coming to school with many children, making classroom learning difficult, and the supports needed simply have not been addressed. We have shared ongoing experiences of individual teachers, trying to work with limited site resources and endless directives for data collection, only to find many classrooms losing instruction while they try to accommodate the needs of one student.

Fewer students being suspended does not automatically mean that students are receiving the services they need to learn in our classrooms. Nor does it eliminate the possibility that struggling students are disrupting the learning of others. In some cases, it simply means that students were returned back to classrooms where teachers were left to meet diverse and sometimes extreme needs with few supports. Implementation of programs are often superficial and dependent on the extra efforts of one or a few staff. Simple issues like resources for behavior incentives is left for individual sites to produce on limited budgets. Behavior plans often do not include the teacher and often are solely dependent on the teacher providing additional individualized assistance when they have no time or resources to do so. Training for crisis is important and necessary. All staff should be prepared for situations that happen regardless of systems or supports. We need safe schools. But as the focus continues to be on security systems, the more our schools are beginning to resemble prison like settings. What expectation does that set for both staff and students?

While we understand the inequities of old disciplinary practices and their inability to support student learning, we had hoped the Board and the Administration would dig deeper into understand the growing challenges in each and every classroom. Teachers have needed a professional conversation about what were the mistakes of the past and what is science behind the behavior and potential interventions. For all these reasons, the ETA has sought out the conversations we think our teachers need to begin to truly understand the extraordinary needs of our current students. The professional conversation provided to us by the Illinois Chapter of Pediatrics about the brain chemistry of toxic stress and the effects on learning is the foundation that must come first if we are to act as professionals. If teachers are given the information they need, then we can make conscious and well planned steps towards helping students and hopefully, without diminishing the learning for all. To meet the promise of our public schools, we must remember that our students are more than a single data point.  We will need the support of our community partners, and will need a recognition that no one teacher can always meet the very special needs of every student. With honest conversation and sincere collaboration, we can provide learning for all.


  1. BIP’s including teachers only work if teachers actually read them.

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