Tying the Hands of the Teacher


By: Dani Langevin – November, 2012

As a teacher I am told that I must inspire my students. I must make my classes interesting and engaging, keep up with the latest technology, know and follow the curriculum frameworks and the Common Core Standards. I am given a short list of what it is I have to do and a laundry list of things that I can’t do. More and more my colleagues and I are being battered with new laws and regulations that restrict our abilities to keep order in ever increasing class sizes and ways in which we truly can keep an often time dry curriculum interesting and engaging.

When I was a young student teachers would reward us with stickers, certificates and even small pieces of hard candy when my peers and I were particularly well behaved, did something nice, raised our hands more often than not or some other behavior that deserved recognition. When I became a teacher I instituted the same policy. I even kept a small supply of crackers or cookies on hand for those students who didn’t always have the luxury of breakfast every morning. If their focus was off or they looked distracted and pale, I quietly ask them if they’d had breakfast and if not the quick snack would get them up and running.

How many times did any of us come home asking our mothers to make cupcakes for our birthday to bring in. I can’t count the number of times my own children did the same as they were growing up. In class, it was a great bonding moment; a nice break; and an important recognition for the birthday boy or girl.

Well, you can forget all about that. Recently many school systems and even states have adopted a new wellness policy that has pretty much outlawed the giving or sharing of any consumables completely. I could quite literally lose my job if I handed out so much as a tic tac. Teachers are no longer allowed to give out any type of food as a reward in any way. No more hard candies for doing all of your homework that week. No more sharing cupcakes on your birthday. If a child didn’t have breakfast that morning or any morning, too bad, they only have another three or four hours until lunch and that’s not counting the hours that have passed since their last meal. Math teachers used to have “Pi” day on or around March 14 to teach about the formula of Pi which is 3.14. Students would make various pies, engage in a discussion about the formula, its use and importance and they got to eat pie. Sorry, no pie for you. It’s not healthy.

No longer are school systems allowed to sell candy as a fundraiser for school trips, class activities or any school sponsored activity. This includes the traditional bake sales that have been around probably as long as the public school system was instituted. Anything edible being considered for sale for school sponsored programs must be approved ahead of time by the Director of School Nutrition Services. This even includes any food sold at concession stands at sporting events. Naturally, due to the high number of food allergies, anything with nuts or nut byproducts are strictly forbidden as well as anything that promotes childhood obesity. So, I guess it’s ice chips and water for everyone.

Sadly, many students never hear any encouraging words or receive a gentle touch that let’s them know that they are loved. Especially with young children a hand on their shoulder, a pat on the top of their head or back of their hand goes a long way. It may be the only gently form of physical contact they receive in a day, a week or a month.

Forget about any physical contact AT ALL. You might as well label yourself a registered pedophile. What need does a teacher have to touch a student? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen students in the lower grades wrap their arms around the waist of their teacher. The teacher’s first reaction is to hug them back, but then they hear the voice of the legal bugs whispering in their ear and they gently take hold of the little hands that desperately need reassurance and pry them free. I’ve had young teens crying in front of me only to have to put a desk between the two of us because my first instinct is to reach out and hold them, but I’m so afraid of it being misinterpreted so I distance myself. These young children who are on the verge of adulthood plead with us to let them know that they are loved and cared for if only for six hours a day and we’re not allowed to do anything but put an understanding look on our face and emptily tell them, “It’s going to be okay.”

And what about discipline? It used to be accepted that if a child misbehaved, missed homework, or was just generally disruptive in class we, as teachers, could use our discretion and have them come in for lunch recess to make up the work or to lose a privilege due to their poor decision making.

They would get to eat lunch; they just couldn’t go out and get their fifteen minutes of free time. It worked, too, for those students whose parents were not able to pick them up for an after school detention. Lunch detentions must now be approved by a parent. So, if a child can’t be picked up after school AND a parent does not allow them to stay in for lunch recess we have no, zip, zero, none, goose eggs of a manor in which to discipline an unruly child.

Apparently that fifteen minutes outside makes all the difference in the world on whether a child becomes obese or not. It couldn’t be the three bags of chips, two slices of left over pizza and two liter bottle of Mountain Dew they consume every day after school or the fact that they do nothing but watch TV while doing it. In house suspensions have been all but taken away along with out of school detentions because according to the state, if a school suspends a child he or she will be more likely to drop out of school and be incarcerated as a result. So, essentially it is our fault the child went astray due to the suspension. Recess monitors cannot force misbehaving students to, “stand on the line”. If a student is being unsafe or their behavior is threatening the safety of others the recess monitors would make them stand on a painted white line until the recess was up. When I was a kid, we had to stand against the wall. Can’t do that any more because it takes away fifteen minutes of activity. Recess monitors have to have the student walk beside them for the duration of the recess period.

Every year more and more is added to our “can’t do” list and yet, because we are professionals, we assess, modify and adjust and somehow make it work. I will continue to hug my students with words of encouragement and feed them with all the knowledge possible until I am told I cannot do that any longer and am replaced with a real robot.