At Risk Students

Discipline, Punishment and Students

Our modern lifestyle has caused many parents to place their children in the care of others or to simply neglect them. As a high school teacher, I receive the tail end of 15 years of such practices which tax the school system by sending many of the worst cases to an alternate school. Strangely enough, several of these students have confessed to me that they would like to remain in the ‘discipline’ school, where everything is structured and closely supervised.

This message has not been heard, though it contains a cry for help to which we should pay close attention. Many struggling mothers have asked me for advice: “How can I control my teen?” Sometimes they are single mothers, holding two jobs to make ends meet. The father may be far away, because that’s the only job he could get, working in the fields. Still other mothers are facing an alcoholic father who cannot support the family. In all these cases, the children end up paying the price.

Even though very difficult students represent only 10% to 15% of the total population, there are quite a few more who exhibit marginal behaviors that put them in the hard-to-handle category. Out of 30 students, the normal class size, 3 students fall into the extreme category (disruptive behavior, lack of respect, not doing the work), and another 10 will fall into the borderline area of unruly behavior. In almost every case, there is a family situation of lack of discipline, lack of love, lack of attention and internal strife.

After talking to many of these undisciplined teens, I discovered that they are mostly trying to get attention from both teachers and peers. Some enjoy playing the clown in class; others try to project the image of toughness and thus gain respect through fear. One thing they have in common is a deep underlying lack of self-esteem and confidence in themselves. There are however some ways to help them regain their self-respect: One is through sports. The other one is the military where strict discipline will eventually give way to self-esteem.

Public schools could help these at risk students; they are already offering ‘boot camp’ schools where discipline is strictly enforced by ex-military personnel. These alternative learning centers work well for the majority, but they are too small to accommodate all that need their help. Sports are also a way to help these troubled teens, but not everybody has the talent to play football or soccer. The program should be expanded to include boxing (think of Mike Tyson who escaped a criminal career, temporarily anyway) and other high energy sports.

We are losing valuable skills as a society when these troubled teens end up in prison or dead through overdose. More money is needed for alternative programs. We can’t depend on public schools to act as reform schools; they already have a formidable challenge educating thousands of regular kids.