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Survey finds nationwide echo of discipline concerns among Pinellas teachers

Educators across the United States say classrooms are growing violent as administrators shy away from traditional discipline practices.

Teachers elsewhere are struggling with student discipline in the same ways as educators in Pinellas County, a recent national survey found.

Conducted by researchers at the Fordham Institute, Discipline Reform through the Eyes of Teachers states most American educators feel discipline processes at their school are “inconsistent or inadequate" — and their classrooms are suffering.

Responding teachers said recent declines in discipline-related data are at least partly due to underreporting or higher tolerance for bad behavior as schools explore new practices and programs.

A recent article by the Tampa Bay Times brought to light the same frustrations in Pinellas schools. Teachers in the district say even the most unruly students are sometimes not reprimanded, and it’s growing harder for educators to keep enough order to teach effectively.

GRADEBOOK PODCAST: Pinellas schools are disciplining far fewer students. Is that a good thing?

Teachers in the national survey shared experiences anonymously, and most echoed concerns told to the Times by Pinellas educators:

“A student threatened to KILL me. NOTHING was done. The matter was NEVER addressed. ... I was made to feel that I was the problem.”

“I retired because I couldn’t take the stress. ... (Administrators) kept changing the rules and not telling the teachers. And they did not enforce the rules we had.”

“Students are not held accountable for their actions anymore.”

“The administrators do not have the teachers’ backs when a student is violent or disruptive, possibly because their own supervisors don’t have theirs.”

“Students feel like they run the school, and honestly they do at my school ... Teachers need support! We are exhausted!”

“More often than not, administrators sweep incidents under the rug and don’t report them. The more they report, the worse it makes the school look.”

Others wrote specifically about “restorative justice,” a similar program to “restorative practices," which Pinellas adopted in 2015. Both are based on social science that promotes community-building to curb behavior problems.

Some respondents said the program should be discontinued. One said it “does not work.” Another said it is “failing students ... because it is reinforcing the idea that there are little or no consequences.”

Born from the Fordham survey were four recommendations, including that local school districts should give teachers and principals more discretion about discipline.

Like educators in Pinellas, the survey researchers pointed out that solving deep-rooted behavior issues will take time and money.

Contact Megan Reeves at Follow @mareevs.