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Kids need consequences

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My name is Ray Gallegos, and I was born in Las Vegas, N.M. I retired from education last year and have more than 35 years of educational experience as a teacher and administrator. My role as a single parent of two daughters may prove to be the most credible of my qualifications to comment on education.

I fail to understand the diminishing respect that school boards and parents have for teachers when they are directly responsible for so much of the kindness and development of the human condition in this world.  Teacher burnout begins our first year of teaching when we realize that we expend 90 percent of our effort and resources coping with the incorrigible 10 percent of the student population and their enabling parents. I always thought, like most teachers, that the school district was paying me to teach those three disruptive students per mod; and I was gladly teaching the rest of the students for free.
These are the disruptive students who do not complete assignments or bring paper and pencil to class. They are pathological liars, narcissistic, and habitually problem solves to victimize and hurt others clearly without remorse. They chronically average more than two referrals a week. It is a misnomer to think of these students as underprivileged or from single- parent homes, and that their behavior is a cry for help. 

Their garb is collectors’ baseball caps and jerseys, $300 sneakers and cell phones, designer clothes, and more cash in their pockets than their teachers. The same students go to the rec center after school to rifle through all the lockers, break the showerheads and the vending machines.  Then on to Wal-Mart and other stores to shoplift, litter, eat and drink products inside the store without paying for them. When they finally get home, they spend hours desensitized to the violence and gruesome realism depicted in the sadistic video games that their parents buy for them. After a child realizes that their parent will justify their behavior and lie in front of the administration on their behalf, they begin to behave like this. They adopt a sense of detachment that makes it difficult to help them, and their cognition to become a better person is fleeting. It would be terribly naïve to think that evil does not exist in this world. The growing number of shootings in our schools like Columbine, and most recently Sandy Hook Elementary has changed education in the same way that Sept. 11 changed flying. These school setting behaviors are consistent with an emerging FBI and ATF profile of those students who plan to come to school venues and harm large numbers of students. The school of psychiatry defines a sociopath as a person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.

These students create false positives with the data points that typically drive instructional leadership. Because they have a history of cheating or never doing any of the required class work, they are statistically identified as in need of remediation, while there is absolutely nothing lacking in their ability to learn. The data points grossly distort the herculean efforts by their teachers to assist them. Teachers are by and large adopting a teaching style of rules that makes it easier to supervise and control these students.
New Mexico is usually second or third from the bottom in academic achievement and second or third from the top in DWI, child abuse and neglect. Our high school graduation rate appears to be less than 60 percent. There are currently more individuals on public assistance than working in New Mexico.

I am not writing to complain about our state, our city, our parents, and demonize our students. New Mexico is a beautiful state with a remarkable history. The culture, the people, the diversity, the climate, and the kindred spirit that we share make Las Vegas a remarkable place to live and raise a family. The irony lies in that we do have the power, resources, and ability to improve our dilapidated school systems. The characteristics and behaviors of successful politicians and tenured superintendents are not always consistent with the difficult decisions that raise the expectations of our community and improve academic performance in our schools. A substandard educational system places our children at a distinct disadvantage.

When a student reaches his third referral in a marking period, he should be suspended for at least three days, and another three days after every referral during the current marking period without exception. “Third-strike consequences” have been very successful with this population. The general student population is compelled to survive in the company of these disruptive students. They have come to perceive that they run the school; not the adults and staff members. 

Students who informed on the potentially violent students before they were able to act thwarted just fewer than 150 such credible attacks last school year. The culture within the schools where there were strict codes of discipline, often with uniforms, created an ethos where the school was more of a community.  Students felt safe and were disposed to communicate with staff and administration. The culture within the school was much more of an effective deterrent than an armed guard at the school. Bad people do bad things in an environment that makes them feel comfortable. Perhaps we should examine why these students feel so comfortable using the F-word and behaving like this in our schools.

We need to expand the definition of child abuse and neglect to include the lack of parenting associated with an indifference toward the academic success and inappropriate behavior by children in the public school; punishable by jail, fines, and removing the child from the home. Our solution to problems in public education is not a derivative of money and remedial programs, but leadership and a nurturing of the human condition. Most have come to admit the harm that the four-day week has done to academic performance this year. I am reminded of an administrator that I suffered under who routinely tried to solve one problem out of context, but as a result, frequently created at least three additional more serious problems.

I presented these same issues to the East Las Vegas School Board and superintendent weeks ago, and I left with the impression that they were “pretending to listen and show concern,” and not interested or concerned about the topic at hand. I am probably wrong about that too.

Time line of school and mass shootings: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_school_shootings_in_the_United_States

Ray Gallegos is a retired educator, having more than 35 years experience as a teacher and administrator. He may be reached at sourrboy@hotmail.com