Photo: Jason Sanchez
Jason Sanchez's sixth grade classroom.

Dear lawmakers:

Jason Sanchez

Before you make any law that affects public education, please talk to teachers — teachers from rural and urban areas as well as poorer and wealthier areas. Students, parents and teachers represent the largest proportion of the population that is directly affected by laws impacting public education. Please spend most of your time talking with them to understand how they will be affected.

Then talk to school and district administrators, lobbyists and other policymakers.

In May, after 10 years of teaching, I resigned and left a career I was passionate about. Even though I love teaching, I had to leave. Lack of support and ever-increasing job duties took their toll and cost me my motivation to continue.

A major tipping point was when I had a particularly challenging group of students, including some who were regularly purposefully defiant. I usually handled my own classroom discipline by working with students and their families, but this time those efforts failed to address the situation. All year long I begged my school district for support. I repeatedly suspended one of the students from the classroom because he disrupted practically all learning and my ability to teach. This frustrated our office staff and district administration, but they were not able to provide sufficient support to enable me to teach the rest of my students. Months later I finally got an instructional/behavioral aide for a few hours each morning, but even that was not enough.

Many other educators are leaving the profession citing similar concerns. Teaching is an extremely stressful job and student behavior is always one of the top reasons why people leave.

We all agree that students need to be in school so that they can learn. We know that students who are suspended are much less likely to graduate. And we know that students of color and students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds are suspended at higher rates. We all agree that these problems are unacceptable and need to be corrected.

We also know that positive, motivated and energetic teachers are one of the greatest factors that affect students’ learning. But overburdened and over-stressed teachers cannot consistently provide students with positive learning environments. For this reason, students cannot be allowed to remain in classrooms if they are defiant or disruptive. It is impossible to effectively teach in that kind of environment.

I know you have good intentions, but legislation to limit school suspensions is likely to do even more harm by causing teachers and administrators to become further disempowered from requiring and setting standards for appropriate school behavior. When busy administrators become unable to support teachers, the teachers are often left to fend for themselves.

We need your help. Schools are struggling. It’s affecting students’ attitudes about learning and their perceptions about tolerable classroom behavior, and it’s making teachers’ jobs even more difficult. In many of these school districts the number of suspensions has gone down, but student learning has also been reduced.

In numerous cases, administrators and teachers are powerless to give students appropriate consequences for their inappropriate behavior. While ideal, the amount of staff that is required to provide meaningful support programs with a focus on restorative justice practices simply does not exist in most school districts. (District administrators are also unaccustomed to making these staffing expenditures a priority and there are many competing needs.)

Please remember that almost every teacher who enters the profession is idealistic. They want to contribute to society, they care about students and they are excited about teaching. But sometimes their attitudes change as they are constantly worn down, year after year, by bureaucracy, increasing job responsibilities, lack of support, changing curriculum, over testing, poor student behavior, unhelpful professional development mandates, poor parenting and changing societal priorities. Over time, too many teachers end up becoming apathetic, withdrawn from the rest of the school, perpetually burnt out and chronically emotionally exhausted.

We know that when teachers build relationships with students, students are more likely to succeed in school. Teachers want to do this, but often they cannot because they are overwhelmed with poor student behavior, students who are significantly behind academically and students with special needs who receive too little support. So many of my students thought they were dumb, but they weren’t. I was just unable to provide them the extra instruction that they needed to help them catch up while also teaching the rest of my students.

Instead of bans that disempower teachers, please encourage in-school suspensions and provide funding so schools can implement and manage multiple levels of student support and restorative justice programs.

Also, in their overcrowded classrooms, teachers are struggling to teach students who are more than two grade levels behind. You can help them by providing more pull-out intervention programs and classroom instructional aides to support these students, especially with reading and mathematics instruction.

Such measures, not blanket bans, are the solution to a societal crisis.

•••

Jason Sanchez serves as a member of the California National Guard at a base in Fresno, California. He taught elementary school in Tulare County for 10 years, but recently left the profession.

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  1. Bo Loney 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    I’m happy to hear a teacher call out the parents. How do you legislate to get them to sit down with their kids and make sure they do their part in supporting their child’s education. You know little things like library trips and actually making sure they get their homework done every night?!

  2. Dominic Zarecki 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Hey Jason, thank you for writing this. I'm sorry you and other educators are leaving a profession you love because of a lack of public funding. Sadly, the research we have on bans suggests they harm students, too. The only published paper looked at Philadelphia before and after it banned suspensions for infractions such as disruption, profanity, and forgery. Suspension rates increased, disparities between racial groups increased, and academic performance declined: http://edex.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/publication/pdfs/%2812.05%29%20The%20Academic%20and%20Behavioral%20Consequences%20of%20Discipline%20Policy%20Reform%20Evidence%20from%20Philadelphia.pdf My working … Read More

    Hey Jason, thank you for writing this. I’m sorry you and other educators are leaving a profession you love because of a lack of public funding.

    Sadly, the research we have on bans suggests they harm students, too.

    The only published paper looked at Philadelphia before and after it banned suspensions for infractions such as disruption, profanity, and forgery. Suspension rates increased, disparities between racial groups increased, and academic performance declined: http://edex.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/publication/pdfs/%2812.05%29%20The%20Academic%20and%20Behavioral%20Consequences%20of%20Discipline%20Policy%20Reform%20Evidence%20from%20Philadelphia.pdf

    My working paper similarly finds a substantial negative impact on Math in four California districts that already adopted bans for K-12 – Los Angeles, San Francisco, Pasadena, and Oakland: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3251581

    The evidence suggests this remedy is worse than the disease.

    Replies

    • Jason Sanchez 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      Dominic Zarecki, thank you for sharing, and thank you for working on this very important research. Everyone needs to know about it! This research confirms what teachers know from their experience in the classroom. In just the forward alone, it says it all! And then it mentions study after study before stating similar conclusions about Philadelphia schools. It begins the idea about suspensions with: "Overall, we agree that suspensions are unlikely to benefit suspended students. But … Read More

      Dominic Zarecki, thank you for sharing, and thank you for working on this very important research. Everyone needs to know about it! This research confirms what teachers know from their experience in the classroom.

      In just the forward alone, it says it all! And then it mentions study after study before stating similar conclusions about Philadelphia schools. It begins the idea about suspensions with:

      “Overall, we agree that suspensions are unlikely to benefit suspended students. But the problem with the current debate about discipline policy is that those aren’t the only students whose futures are at stake. For example, a 2008 study found that children from troubled families “significantly decrease their peers’ reading and math test scores and significantly increase misbehavior of others in the classroom.” And a 2009 study found that when disruptive students from New Orleans relocated to Houston schools after Hurricane Katrina they “increased native absenteeism and disciplinary problems.” – The Academic and Behavioral Consequences of Discipline Policy Reform: Evidence from Philadelphia, page 5

      The research also points out other very real factors that are not usually acknowledged when racial disparities are cited:

      “Yes, there are still many schools where large numbers of African American and Latino students are suspended or expelled, and we do not doubt that some of America’s 100,000-plus schools discriminate against minority children. Yet studies also show that a disproportionate number of these youngsters face challenges that put them at risk of antisocial behavior. Tragically, they are much more likely to be poor, grow up in a single-parent family, have a parent 
in prison, and live in neighborhoods where poverty is concentrated. So it should not shock us to discover that, in some circumstances and communities, minority students misbehave at “disproportionate” rates. No responsible social scientist would attribute America’s stubborn racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps solely to educator bias.” –The Academic and Behavioral Consequences of Discipline Policy Reform: Evidence from Philadelphia, page 5

      Remember, “school” only works for about 70% to 80% of the American population. Maybe the students who struggle in traditional school settings, should receive their education in a different way – possibly opportunity schools with very small class sizes, different content, and more support services. It would probably been a much more cost effective way to educate our neediest students.

  3. Kat Wolfe 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Instead of pushing for suspension which you stated doesn’t remedy behavioral problems, why not seek other options? I agree behavioral issues are disrupting lots of educational settings, why not seek answers that don’t cause further harm (trauma)? Behavioral interventions should be held accountable, way too often the identified function isn’t addressed in a meaningful manner. We should be encouraging our law and policy makers to better fund education, and increase recruitment of … Read More

    Instead of pushing for suspension which you stated doesn’t remedy behavioral problems, why not seek other options? I agree behavioral issues are disrupting lots of educational settings, why not seek answers that don’t cause further harm (trauma)?

    Behavioral interventions should be held accountable, way too often the identified function isn’t addressed in a meaningful manner. We should be encouraging our law and policy makers to better fund education, and increase recruitment of supportive people to teachers and students! Of all the places to make a claim for suspension which can cause trauma, why here?

    Replies

    • Jason Sanchez 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      Kay Wolfe, I actually agree with you more than you realize. Suspensions are not the best solution, but they can be a useful tool. A suspension makes the student take a break from school to cool off, and it makes the parent realize the severity of the problem. I am a huge supporter of restorative justice and PBIS strategies, but suspensions need to also be an option for administrators. A suspension shouldn’t be a traumatic nor … Read More

      Kay Wolfe, I actually agree with you more than you realize. Suspensions are not the best solution, but they can be a useful tool. A suspension makes the student take a break from school to cool off, and it makes the parent realize the severity of the problem.

      I am a huge supporter of restorative justice and PBIS strategies, but suspensions need to also be an option for administrators. A suspension shouldn’t be a traumatic nor a harmful experience. If it is overly traumatic, the school is doing it wrong.

      In my experience there are always kids who follow the rules, there are always kids who do not want to follow the rules, and there are the rest of the students.

      When students repeatedly see other students behaving badly with no consequences, they give up and stop putting in the effort to behave and work hard.

      A student who is repeatedly being willfully defiant or disruptive makes it practically impossible for a teacher to teach. The student must be removed from a classroom (and given a consequence and support) for the sake of the other 29 to 35 students. The student shouldn’t be allowed to return to the classroom until they are ready to put effort into being a productive cooperative member of the classroom.

      We must always remember that there is a difference between discipline and punishment. Discipline should be used to teach and correct behavior.

      School systems are far from perfect, I wish I have taught all my students who were behind in a small group setting. I would have been able to help them realize how intelligent they are and that they are able to be “good” kids. So many students do not believe in themselves, and it’s a tragedy.

      Teachers just do not have enough time or energy to give students all the support they need. And overburdened and stressed out teachers have an even more difficult time maintaining the loving and caring classroom environment that they all want.

  4. Mary Ellen 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Don't call it "suspension." Let the student decide: He (it's usually a "he") can remain in the class if he obeys class rules, or he can go to a room for disruptive students. What should take place in such a room is open for discussion. The main objective is to remove from the classroom a student who is denying other students their right to an education. Read More

    Don’t call it “suspension.” Let the student decide: He (it’s usually a “he”) can remain in the class if he obeys class rules, or he can go to a room for disruptive students. What should take place in such a room is open for discussion. The main objective is to remove from the classroom a student who is denying other students their right to an education.

    Replies

    • Jason Sanchez 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      Mary Ellen, thank you. You get it. The choice and the natural consequence is a great strategy. One of the problems is that we did not have a room for disruptive students for our 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. Our school district is also nervous about having “opportunity rooms” for disruptive students in middle school and high school because they are still considered “suspended” by some lawyers... even when the students are still at school. … Read More

      Mary Ellen, thank you. You get it. The choice and the natural consequence is a great strategy. One of the problems is that we did not have a room for disruptive students for our 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. Our school district is also nervous about having “opportunity rooms” for disruptive students in middle school and high school because they are still considered “suspended” by some lawyers… even when the students are still at school. It’s still is a legal compliance issue for administrators because the students are not receiving the “same” education. Sigh.

  5. Steve Fraire 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Very well put and written. We lose way too many excellent well intended teachers like Jason. The job of administration is to provide support for the classroom staff to make their jobs easier. This includes intervention with appropriate consequences and interventions to help students with behavior issues.

  6. Allen 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Isn't this why we have supplemental and concentration grant funding on top of the LCAP base rate? Districts and collective bargaining units need to work together to ensure all of this additional funding is going to professional development, staffing support, counselors, social workers, and similar types of supports to keep challenging students in classrooms without overburdening teachers. Instead, this funding is often identified as a way to increase salaries, fund health benefits, or meet … Read More

    Isn’t this why we have supplemental and concentration grant funding on top of the LCAP base rate? Districts and collective bargaining units need to work together to ensure all of this additional funding is going to professional development, staffing support, counselors, social workers, and similar types of supports to keep challenging students in classrooms without overburdening teachers. Instead, this funding is often identified as a way to increase salaries, fund health benefits, or meet pension obligations at all levels in the organization.

    I actually appreciate the Legislature enacting reforms on school suspensions as it will force districts and charters to refocus priorities on supports to keep students in school.

    Replies

    • Jason Sanchez 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      Allen, I was very optimistic when LCAP began, but it hasn’t really helped. District administrators often have different priorities than classroom teachers, and the funds are quickly used up. Plus the amount of supports that students actually need are immense. You make a strong point when you say, “I actually appreciate the Legislature enacting reforms on school suspensions as it will force districts and charters to refocus priorities on supports to keep students in school.” Unfortunately, in the … Read More

      Allen,
      I was very optimistic when LCAP began, but it hasn’t really helped. District administrators often have different priorities than classroom teachers, and the funds are quickly used up. Plus the amount of supports that students actually need are immense.

      You make a strong point when you say, “I actually appreciate the Legislature enacting reforms on school suspensions as it will force districts and charters to refocus priorities on supports to keep students in school.”

      Unfortunately, in the vast majority of school districts that have already enacted these policies, instead of forcing them to prioritize student supports, bad behavior and lack of accountability has only become the “new normal.” Look at the research. It paints a sad picture. Also in the meantime, teachers and students suffer immensely and for a long time before anyone reacts.

      Instead of banning suspensions and making problems worse, why not just require supports for students who are struggling with behavior or receiving too many suspensions?

  7. Ed 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Most of the comments focused on behavior and classroom needs but the most important part of the message was in the lead. Legislators who engage with teachers or others with real world experience are more likely to make sound decisions on complex issues like classroom discipline. Encourage your legislators to engage with their constituents who perform difficult jobs before legislating.

  8. Ann 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Of course Jason is 100% correct regarding this misguided policy. However with regard to: "Also, in their overcrowded classrooms, teachers are struggling to teach students who are more than two grade levels behind. You can help them by providing more pull-out intervention programs and classroom instructional aides to support these students, especially with reading and mathematics instruction." – if students were afforded appropriate instruction by teachers trained in early literacy instead of "social justice" there … Read More

    Of course Jason is 100% correct regarding this misguided policy. However with regard to: “Also, in their overcrowded classrooms, teachers are struggling to teach students who are more than two grade levels behind. You can help them by providing more pull-out intervention programs and classroom instructional aides to support these students, especially with reading and mathematics instruction.” – if students were afforded appropriate instruction by teachers trained in early literacy instead of “social justice” there would not be so many students needing intervention late in the game. It only gets more and more difficult as kids get older.

    Replies

    • Terry 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      Thank you Ann. Your comment regarding appropriate reading/literacy instruction is spot on. I suspect that if we adequately addressed the learning needs of students early on, the number of students disrupting the classroom learning would significantly decrease.

  9. Bc 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    As a former teacher, I know that teaching brings a lot of demands and work, but based on my experience, teachers run into problems with students when they the teachers don’t have engaging curriculum and lessons, and when they don’t really understand or know their students. Of course, I don’t anything about Jason and how he taught in his classroom, but it’s important to examine what is taking place in schools and classrooms when students … Read More

    As a former teacher, I know that teaching brings a lot of demands and work, but based on my experience, teachers run into problems with students when they the teachers don’t have engaging curriculum and lessons, and when they don’t really understand or know their students.

    Of course, I don’t anything about Jason and how he taught in his classroom, but it’s important to examine what is taking place in schools and classrooms when students act out. It’s also important to give teachers the support they need, especially in schools where the population is struggling academically. The type of support includes classroom management training, smaller class sizes, engaging lessons, incentives for students to do well in school, etc.

    Jason’s commentary simply does not provide the information needed to understand the type of support he needs and why students acted out in his class.

    Replies

    • Jason Sanchez 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      BC, look around. There are many teachers who are engaging, creative, kind, prepared, and hard-working people who still leave their jobs exhausted everyday. And please don’t blame the teachers! Are you saying that students are justified in misbehaving when their teachers have a boring lesson or struggle with classroom management techniques? Yes, of course engaging lessons and positive behavior strategies are very important, but they’re not always enough. If you really were a teacher, you know that even … Read More

      BC, look around. There are many teachers who are engaging, creative, kind, prepared, and hard-working people who still leave their jobs exhausted everyday.

      And please don’t blame the teachers! Are you saying that students are justified in misbehaving when their teachers have a boring lesson or struggle with classroom management techniques?

      Yes, of course engaging lessons and positive behavior strategies are very important, but they’re not always enough.

      If you really were a teacher, you know that even the most well-planned and beautifully crafted lesson can fall flat on its face. Have you ever taught in a classroom with 30 12-year-old students in a poorer area? Some of the tried and true strategies that you used might not work outside of your classroom utopia.

      BTW. I taught 6th grade for 10 years. I had both good years and bad years, but I truly cared about all my students, I honestly liked every single student when I got a chance to interact with them one on one.

      During the year I mentioned, at least half of the students read at a 3rd grade level or below. I had five student who read at a first grade level, and one student who didn’t even know all his letter sounds (in sixth grade). At least five of my students were on IEPs, including three students who were regularly defiant. I also had students who were at grade level and a few who were advanced.

      My three students who were regularly defiant and disruptive because they didn’t want to and/or weren’t able to do the work. I had one student who kept telling me he wanted to kill himself because he knew it would get him out of the classroom. I had one student who spoke no English, and I had no resources to teach her English. I ended up sending her to a second grade classroom for part of the day. I created packets, curriculum and tried to include everyone in the classroom. I found fun computer games to encourage learning, and I fit in fun projects and science experiments when I could. I not only implemented Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports, I also advocated for the techniques, taught techniques to other teachers, and chaired our PBIS committee. On top of all that I coordinated and taught a positive parenting education workshop series. I tried small group instruction, cooperative learning strategies, Kagan strategies, but I just had too many students who were regularly too disruptive for too much of the day. I even tutored students for free after school and I regularly visited one at his house to offer free tutoring. I bent over backwards to support my students. My school district finally gave me a little support, but it was not enough.

      What would have been enough? If I had one aide for the day to manage the most defiant student’s behavior, that would have been enough. All the students would have been able to learn everything they needed to know because too many were too far behind, but I would have been able to restore peace and safety to the classroom.

      I also didn’t even mention all the prep time, break time, and lunch time that I spent with students to give them pep talks, encourage them, and counsel them.

      If you have learned how to teach a student with a disability to read (when he barely knows some of his letter sounds) and only gets to see an RSP teacher for 45 minutes within a six hour day, and is regularly reluctant to do any work, even when I give him 20 minutes of my attention, and when other students purposely disrupt the rest of the class, please let me know. I probably wasn’t as good at teaching as you were.

      Why did you end up leaving the teaching profession?

      • Andrew 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

        Thank you, Jason, for your well stated perspective and your courage in providing it, not only in the body of the article, but in your comments as well. And thank you for your years of service and efforts in teaching under adverse circumstances. The more conscientious a teacher is, the more frustrated and burned out he or she would become when faced with what you encountered. It surprises me that adults … Read More

        Thank you, Jason, for your well stated perspective and your courage in providing it, not only in the body of the article, but in your comments as well. And thank you for your years of service and efforts in teaching under adverse circumstances.

        The more conscientious a teacher is, the more frustrated and burned out he or she would become when faced with what you encountered.

        It surprises me that adults who would never tolerate ongoing highly distracting, disturbing or even dangerous behavior in their own adult workplaces, without summoning law enforcement for an arrest, expect you to teach effectively and students to learn in the presence of such behavior.

    • Mary Ellen 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      Bc: I am a product of California public schools, in a working class district. I remember days of boredom and frustration, along with days of excitement and fun. I hated memorizing times tables, long division made me cry, and the approach to teaching history made the subject dry and dull. But, back then, school wasn't about "entertainment" or even "engagement." An important aspect of school is learning social literacy … Read More

      Bc: I am a product of California public schools, in a working class district. I remember days of boredom and frustration, along with days of excitement and fun. I hated memorizing times tables, long division made me cry, and the approach to teaching history made the subject dry and dull. But, back then, school wasn’t about “entertainment” or even “engagement.” An important aspect of school is learning social literacy and good citizenship.

  10. Eileen 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Restore suspensions in elementary schools?

    Replies

    • Jason Sanchez 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      Eileen, well I wouldn’t advocate for suspending K-3 students, but it may be appropriate to suspend older students. The problem is that the law prevents administrators from deciding whether or not a student should be suspended. Let’s trust our administrators to make that tough decision while they’re managing available staff to work with students when it’s possible. Teachers have never been able to suspend students from the school. A teacher can only legally suspend … Read More

      Eileen, well I wouldn’t advocate for suspending K-3 students, but it may be appropriate to suspend older students.

      The problem is that the law prevents administrators from deciding whether or not a student should be suspended. Let’s trust our administrators to make that tough decision while they’re managing available staff to work with students when it’s possible.

      Teachers have never been able to suspend students from the school. A teacher can only legally suspend a student from his/her classroom for the day and the following day (in California). The problem is that when a teacher has to suspend a student from a classroom, there is usually nowhere for administration to put the student, so everyone gets frustrated at the teacher for exercising his/her right as an educator, who is charged with maintaining safety and order in the classroom.

  11. Annie Ogata 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Spot on. We just hope that someday the powers that be will roll up theirs sleeves and make meaningful changes, like Jason suggests.

  12. Robert 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    As the son of a now retired teacher, I have heard many stories about disruptive students. The amount of energy and time it takes to keep students attentive is huge. Then to have just one student start disruptions causing all the students to stop paying attention is very stressful. If the teacher is lucky enough to be able to separate the disruptive student, they now have to expend more time and energy to get … Read More

    As the son of a now retired teacher, I have heard many stories about disruptive students. The amount of energy and time it takes to keep students attentive is huge. Then to have just one student start disruptions causing all the students to stop paying attention is very stressful. If the teacher is lucky enough to be able to separate the disruptive student, they now have to expend more time and energy to get the class back in order. Doing this multiple times a day, multiple times a week, and getting little to no support from the front office or even the district in worse cases is very disheartening and leaves an empty feeling of no support.

    Administration and lawmakers have lost focus on what is important, the students. If legislation and laws are passed that don’t benefit the students and teachers, they should be scrapped.