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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Sending Kids to the Office: When is it Appropriate?

Sending Kids to the Office: When is it Appropriate?

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Rather than the "don't smile before Christmas" attitude that some new teachers are encouraged to take on, I started out smiling on the first day. I take a similar approach to discipline. Rather than running a hard-lined disciplinarian environment, I see myself as a facilitator of a learning community. 95% of my students are respectful and take direction with no problems; when prompted or called on shenanigans, they get to work. That being said, I have a few kids who are not as invested in learning as others (to put it kindly). I've been "differentiating" my instruction and discipline for these few partly because I feel that I'm responsible for them and partly because I don't want to give them the gift of leaving class. More often than not I end up expending extra energy on these few just to get less-than-basic work out of them. It's been weeks and weeks, but still there feels like a respect deficit. I've tried being continually respectful and providing extra copies of assignments, extending deadlines etc. I simply want these kids to read or write something, but I feel that sending them to the office is all I can do next. My fear is that they will go to the office get a slap on the wrist and simply come back more angry than before. My administration is sending a clear message that I won't be viewed negatively for "failing" to contain these students, but I still feel like I'm missing out on something I could be doing. Deep down, I feel like the only time it's truly necessary to send a kid to a principal is when they are a danger to my class. To what point am I responsible for EVERY student's learning? What did you do in your first year with tough kids who didn't want to work?

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Carrie ODonnell's picture
Carrie ODonnell
1st & 4th grade teacher from Petaluma, California

I'm at the end of my student teaching and about to receive my credential. This has been a question that has plagued my solo time and frankly, I have a 1st grade class that has trouble (mostly on the playground) almost daily.

I am the type of person that likes to operate by formulas and I've decided that the criteria that I will use to send a student to the office is this:

Since the children of this age are required to draw a picture of what happened to land them there as well as what they could have done differently, I think about what is happening at that moment and decide if this is something that, after they draw their picture, will be supported by the parents. These notices go home and I don't want to have a parent look at the picture of their kid talking to their neighbor or bouncing a ball in the classroom and wonder to themselves, "THIS is why my kid was ordered to leave the class and was subjected to the stress and humiliation of going to the office?"

As a new teacher the pressure of the parents watching is even more nerve-wracking than the weekly formal observations I have to go through so being that they are ultimately my toughest critics, they are the criteria in which I will make my disciplinary decisions.

...but then again we'll see when I'm in my own classroom... :)

Tasha Nix's picture

This is my first year teaching kindergarten. I have taught 1st, 3rd, 4th, & 6th grades. I have a kid in my class who might be the victim of shaken baby syndrome and exhibits oppositional defiance. I also have a girl who was kicked out of daycare and likes to run away and have us chase her. Two daycare workers were fired in separate episodes even before she was kicked out. I frequently call administration when one is violent or on the run. I'm getting negative feedback from administration like I just need to handle my own class. Has anyone ever had that experience? Any advice?

Melissa Jensen's picture
Melissa Jensen
social studies student teacher from Seattle, WA

I'm only several weeks in to my student teaching, but I've already had a situation where I struggled with this exact question. The teacher was out for the day and I was in the classroom by myself. I had a student that was severely disrupting the classroom (i.e. yelling, hanging out the window, hitting other students) - and this is in high school! Several teachers in the school had told me that he would try to test me (this was after the fact, of course.) I just couldn't bring myself to send him to the office, knowing that the chances of him actually going there were slim to none. At the time, I did even think about sending someone else with him.
In hindsight, I should have sent him to the office from the get-go, as the problems only escalated. I guess part of me felt like his acting out and my desire to send him to the office meant that I wasn't doing a good job. Truth is, it was my first day alone in the classroom! Sure, I could have handled it better, but since then I've made an effort to engage with this student and things have gotten better. Bottom line=I think that if the disruption continues after a threat to send a student to the office, it's time for them to head to the office...

Ryan Reed's picture
Ryan Reed
7/8th Grade Social Studies Teacher in Maine

The first thing I learned from student teaching was that no matter what my professors told me, a good lesson wasn't enough to keep every kid in line. I think the best advice here is to find the root of the problem and try and deal with that, rather than the behavior. That being said, sometimes you will have situations that require you be reactive, rather than proactive. Something as simple as having a student stay a few minutes after class to discuss their behavior can give you a whole new perspective and help to gain their trust.

As far as the magical "when," the best advice I got in college was to know your breaking point, and send the kid/remove yourself 5 minutes before you got to that point. That way, you never do something you will regret later. And if all else fails, a call home around dinner time may make a huge difference ;)

Emilio Torres's picture
Emilio Torres
High School Math Teacher from San Diego, California

Building a relationship with a disruptive student can make a huge difference in classroom behavior, at least in your class. Students want to feel liked and accepted, even by their teachers. We, as teachers, also want students to appreciate our efforts. We hope that they will see that teaching itself is an endeavor of caring. The reality is that most students will not recognize all we do for them as teachers (not while they are students, anyway), nor will they appreciate that we teach because we care about them and their futures. There's nothing wrong with that lack of appreciation; it's just too abstract for them. What we can do, then, is show them in more concrete terms that we care by showing a personal interest in them as people, not just as students.

Before class, try to engage a disruptive student in a conversation that has nothing to do with class, assignments, or even school. If the student carries a skateboard, ask them about skateboarding, where they skate, do they compete, who is their favorite skateboarder etc. Listen to them, and show genuine interest. Try this for a week, and see what happens. And if you do send a student out, make sure you let them know that each day is a new day, there will be no grudges on your end, and they will be welcomed back and given a new chance tomorrow.

Math&PhysicsMom's picture
Secondary School Teacher in Ontario, Canada

I agree with Angela. If a student is preventing the other kids from learning because of their behavior, he/she must be removed from the classroom. The other students are watching, and they would get a good warning from this incident.

Holly Willis's picture
Holly Willis
Former Social Media Marketing Assistant at Edutopia

I just came across this great question and decided to ask our Twitter followers for their input. Here are just a few of the great responses. Find the rest on Twitter.

Starr: Handle issues in house for as long as possible to not give up power or respect. Only look for help when absolutely necessary.

Brenda: If someone is in danger if being hurt. Only then.

Dru: Depends on the quality of the administrator who's in the office. Just paperwork? No worth for the kid.

amhalp's picture

My first year, I had a horribly disruptive student and I did my best to send that student with work to another teacher -- his mentor's room until he was ready to rejoin my class properly. Most weeks this prevented a trip to the office and kept him in my room most of the time and with math work nearly every day. It also kept the student in a regular school environment for all of 6th grade, and his math grades, including test grades soared.

Delaine Macdonald's picture
Delaine Macdonald
Principal at Andrews Elementary School, Andrews, North Carolina Cherokee Co

This is a question that always draws a lot of debate on both sides. Having spent time in both the teacher's chair and the Principal's chair, I have some strong thoughts about this matter. It is important that teachers establish themselves as the disciplinarian in the classroom and that students know their teacher is in charge. Sometimes teachers are too quick to send matters they should handle to the office. This works against them in the long run. However, there are clear cut matters that should come to the Principal's office with the paper trail to support what has preceded: anytime blood, weapons, or fighting is involved it should be in the Principal's office. If there are chronic student issues such as chronically not following directions; chronically not completing classwork or homework; chronically being disrespectful--these issues should come to the office as well. My thoughts on this matter are that when one or two students are keeping everyone else from learning because of their chronic behaviors this becomes a Principal issue.

Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Educational Consultant. Author. Speaker. Blogger.

This is an older post, from before my time as New Teacher Connections Facilitator. (Started moderating group in January of 2010.) However, I've answered others who have posed the same question to our group. As a former admin, I must say that it's important to be on the same page as the culture of the school and the school-wide discipline plan. Check in with your colleagues and administrator to be sure that you are following school protocol. As a new teacher...you don't want to be the ONLY one who sends students to the office for every offense. Seek out support from a mentor/admin. Of course there will be those times when there is no other solution. But hopefully they are few and far between.

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