I have been concerned about a trend on social media for a while. I haven’t written about it because while I knew where I stood philosophically, I have been trying to understand how people who are probably well-intended people could be participating in this behavior. I know you have seen videos and pictures of large escalations on the internet. Disassembled classrooms, knocked over desks, ripped artwork. They are impactful, and they enrage me. I am writing this article so that we can begin to have some nuanced dialogue around the issue. How, as professionals, do we appropriately vent? How can we reframe how we look at behavior in the classroom? What are the actual systemic changes that could directly affect behavior and our resources in supporting it?
If I give people the benefit of the doubt, I want to believe that these public shaming posts aim to raise awareness for people not in the teaching profession. They are a concrete example of what teachers are “up against.” They are used to highlight the system failures in the education system. But when has publicly shaming anyone resulted in changed behavior? We know that clip charts don’t work as an effective classroom management technique, so why do we think that posting student behavior on the internet will change anything? The superintendents and board members are not watching these videos and jumping into action to pay anyone a higher wage. The struggling student still doesn’t have the support they need to not act out in the way they may be acting out. These displays are troublesome because they support a problematic narrative regarding why students exhibit big behaviors and undermine the collected effort to reform the system. Student “behavior” is such a vague encompassing statement that highlighting it in the way that some creators are on the internet doesn’t do a single thing to change the system. In fact, it can often actually undermine actual attempts at reform.
Behavior is Communication
In the advocacy community, we all know and believe on a deep level that behavior is communication. We have all grown, either professionally or personally, to understand that the flipped desk is a symptom. Something is wrong. As special educators, our job is to try and unpack what is being communicated. Is it an identified or unidentified disability? Is it school trauma? Is it personal trauma? Is it a mental health challenge? What is the antecedent, and what strategy, tool, or accommodation can help support that student’s growth? But even in the world of special education, this is not a universal understanding.
Educators can get on what I call the hamster wheel of escalation (trigger happens, student escalates, adult feels dysregulated, the student can either de-escalate or is sent home or, even worse, restrained or secluded.) Repeat. Day after day after day, until everyone is burnt out, exhausted, and has lost the regulation and empathy that students need. There is no preventative plan or intervention. It’s an attempt to keep the schedule the same and move on to the next day. I won’t ever understand how anyone’s intervention is “hope for the best,” but I am no longer surprised to find out that very often, there is no concrete or purposeful plan in place.
One of the fundamental issues in these student behavior posts is that it is explained with a very ignorant and oversimplified idea that kids are just different now. They used to respect authority, and now they don’t. Now, they flip desks on purpose simply because there is not a harsh enough consequence. Humans evolve, and humans have always been complex. So, if we know that humans evolve and change and circumstances evolve and change, why would we think old strategies would work in the same way? Why wouldn’t the next thought be, “As educators, we must also evolve and change?” The demand for our response to children’s complex and evolving needs to be “how we used to” is a wild and, quite frankly, outlandish concept.
The Need for Systemic Change
Teachers are at the end of their ropes, and for so many justified reasons. The system is brutal. Toxic administrators who are accountable to no one, teachers who have second and sometimes third jobs to make ends meet, paraprofessionals who are paid less than a manager at a fast food restaurant, insanely high caseloads and classroom sizes, standardized tests that do not provide meaningful information, endless paperwork, lack of planning time, professional development shoved into what planning time there is….the list is endless. Teachers, teacher unions, parents, and communities should be fighting for these changes.
However, when you tie student behavior into that mess, you are helping perpetuate the narrative of “bad children” who make the job impossible. You are also undermining your own cause. Because whether we want to say this out loud or not does not make it any less true: adults need to change. Often, some behaviors we see are because students who need more support are not getting it. They are being “othered,” and splattering their moments all over the internet aids in the dehumanizing of them. If you haven’t provided IEP accommodations, you will see behavior. If you publicly reprimand kids, you will see behavior. If you are not scaffolding their instruction, you will see behavior. You will see behavior if you haven’t provided visual supports, a break space option (incorporated into your entire classroom culture), or transition cues.
As educators, we HAVE to shift and move past old ways of prompting students because it isn’t trauma-informed. If we don’t, we will continue to see behavior.
Disrupted learning is a major topic of discussion for school districts nationwide. How to effectively serve and support students with disabilities and students with effects from trauma is complex and layered. There tends to be really oversimplified thinking that, in my humble opinion, creates more harm. The answer to students exhibiting big behaviors is not to “other” them and remove them from the schools and all but eliminate their education through abbreviated days. The answer is not to restrain or seclude them. The answer is also not to turn a blind eye to the real questions, concerns, and challenges teachers have.
The answer is not to post a student’s most difficult moments on the internet to receive validation that your needs are not being met either.
Everyone has the right to be safe and supported. Teachers have that right. Neurotypical students have that right. And neurodivergent students, who are literally screaming for help, have that right. We all have to change. The system has to change and start listening to teachers and not retaliate against anyone voicing dissent. Teachers have to grow different skill sets to support our most impacted students. And the community has to stand behind teachers who are fighting for their own rights. We must lean into each other, understand that everyone is suffering and be there for one another. Everyone matters. Everyone deserves to be heard. Everyone deserves to be included.
Please stop putting student’s hardest moments on the internet.
Keep pushing back on the system, but leave the kids out of it.