John Neal: Disruptive students hurt education process

As a high school teacher in Maine’s public schools since 1978, I write to encourage the end of compulsory education for Maine students over the age of 14.

Every Maine student should have access to a quality education, but when youngsters refuse to take advantage of that opportunity, instead, choosing to make life more difficult for teachers and administrators and learning troublesome for other students, schools should be able to tell them to leave.

Any assistant principal could relate that they spend 95 percent of their time with the same five percent of kids who repeatedly break the rules, disrespect the teachers and interfere with learning for the vast majority of students who are there to better themselves. Week after week, year after year, the same kids are in the office being disciplined, and schools must continually put up with them.

Imagine how much better the education would be for kids who care about it, if the assistant principal could bring his/her knowledge and experience into the classrooms, observing and assisting teachers to deliver higher-quality instruction. But no, their time is wasted by the same kids, over and over again.

How much more would dedicated students be able to learn if their teachers’ time wasn’t constantly being stolen by disruptive kids who refuse to follow the rules or make any effort toward learning?

We have kids who come to school only because it is a warm place to get free meals and visit their friends. They don’t even bring a pencil to class, never mind textbooks or homework. They do nothing except disrupt learning for others and bring down school test scores.

Meanwhile, they progress through the grades without learning anything, so their teachers have to abandon the current curriculum to remediate them — when they have no interest in learning.

So, the teachers look bad because these “students” are failing — by their own choice. Meanwhile, kids who want to learn have to wait while their teachers work even harder to try and reach kids who don’t care.

Any employee, anywhere, who refused to work and just made trouble would be fired, which is exactly what schools should be able to do.

“Fire” those kids who have made it obvious they have no intention of participating in education in any meaningful way.

I am not talking about kids who, despite their best efforts, struggle in school. Anyone who wants to try in school should be welcomed, regardless of disability. But otherwise capable kids who refuse to lift a finger toward their own education, or who repeatedly misbehave, should be fired.

Obviously, the decision to terminate a child’s education is serious and cannot be made capriciously or in haste. A youngster must demonstrate, over time, their unwillingness to try or behave. Furthermore, education should remain compulsory for younger children, who cannot understand the implications of their choices. However, once a youngster reaches age 13, they should become accountable.

Disciplinary referrals would be documented from that point onward; students who amass more than 10 a year, or who commit vandalism or violence, should be expelled.

Additionally, teachers should document student apathy. Again, after 10 instances, school-wide, of refusing to participate or complete assigned work, students should be referred for intervention; after two years of continued refusal to work, a youngster should be expelled.

One of education’s biggest problems, of course, is parents who are not parenting.

Once a teenager is home full-time, their parents will become a whole lot more committed to their child’s education. Also, high school will look much better to a kid who has done menial labor for minimum wage.

Therefore, there must also be a process whereby disaffected youngsters can return to school if they have a change of heart.

After a year of dismissal, students should be eligible to petition to return, but on a much shorter leash — either do your work and live by the rules, or you’re gone; and this time there will be no coming back.

Students dismissed for a second time could either petition another high school to take them, or enroll in a GED program.

There is, of course, room for debate about the particulars of these proposals; perhaps the age of accountability should be higher, or a different number of infractions committed before dismissal. But by the end of the freshman year in high school, kids need to actively demonstrate their commitment to learning.

If, instead, they repeatedly demonstrate their unwillingness to learn or to live by the rules, schools should be able to tell them to leave.

If that were the case, test scores would rocket upward, because only committed students would be tested; also, quality kids would get more time with teachers, driving scores even higher.

By ending compulsory education, there would be a much more accurate picture of teacher effectiveness while providing the majority of committed, hard-working Maine youngsters the very best opportunity for the highest-quality education possible.

John Neal is a high school teacher, a music composer and conductor. He lives in Greene.

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Steve  Dosh's picture

John Neal: Disruptive students hurt education process

John , 13.01.25 4:04 hst •
Ya' think ? They are everywhere . A D D . Mainstreaming seems to be here to stay, too . i work with developmentally challenged kids , also. They get just as frustrated as n e one else . Even more so sometimes . Many parents can not afford parochial , private , charter , or special needs schools. Tutors , either . Enlist the help of parents and other student with them . Just a suggestion
When i was taking my G R Es there was a gunfight outside the classroom . You can't make this up . t y v m for your service /s, Dr. Dosh , Hawai'i • 

JOANNE MOORE's picture

Good ideas, Mr Neal.

I worked in a middle school as a teacher's aide and saw for myself the same few students who made the classrooms hell for the teachers and the students who could not get the full value of their education. It was my job to "write up" these students for detention. Almost every day the same troublemakers spent time in the vice principal's office and in detention after school hours. Not once did I ever see a parent of one of these children. The parents were asked to come in for a meeting with the teachers or principal but they never showed up. There was no compelling reason for them to show up. They just did not care enough about education and used the school as a baby sitter - some place to park their kids.

I stayed at my job because of the vast majority of wonderful, bright kids who still come up to me when we occasionly meet out in the big world. I get hugs and even tearful reunions. I loved each and every one and miss them still.

How much better their educational years would have been if there had been a way to deal with the few who held them back.

Amedeo Lauria's picture

I've heard this argument before...

keep the “troubled” kids in school or they will be creating havoc in the community. In what context does this argument make any sense? Talk about unfair, it is unfair to the administrators, teachers and students; wasting countless educational hours.

The ability to attend our very expensive schools, with excellent teachers should be viewed as a privilege, not a right, then we might see some change.

I have dealt with young adults for 30 years in the military and 10 years in education, and my experience is that young people will do what you EXPECT and mentor and coach them to do; in other words if you have a reasonable standard and hold them to it, they will comply. A student’s failure to comply with reasonable standards of conduct and behavior results in reasonable consequence EVERY time failure occurs. The failure to do this in EVERY instance is why you see such a wide range of disciple and learning within a school. This effort is compounded when a parent of an errant child tries to defend the indefensible actions of their child. They are children, they make mistakes, and they need ADULTS to show them the proper way.

Also, we even have teachers who think that some school rules are “stupid” and ignore them. The other teachers know who they are; and the students CERTAINLY know who they are. They are the ones who should be shown the door; not the kids. Perhaps they can find other work. Administrators need to fully document the problem teachers, offer them mentoring and training to correct their issues, and if they don't get rid of them.

Also, society has “empowered” the youngsters, and have eviscerated the responsible adults. In America and many places, we have confused punishment with discipline. What we see in many schools and our society is lack of personal discipline and responsiblity that is coupled with a myriad of so called “rights.” They have all of the rights with none of the responsibilities.

Until we fix that situation, things will remain the same.

 's picture

since you can't get a

since you can't get a 'menial" job over the age of 18 without a hs diploma or ged (a few places will hire), few places are going to hire someone under the age of 16, child labor laws apply until 18, and the parents of teenagers who don't care when the kid is in school won't care that they aren't, the argument is bunk. what makes you think that a kid with no ambition in school will actually work at any "menial" job, that those running "menial" jobs will hire them, and that they don't have to compete for those "menial" jobs with college graduates and highly experienced adults in today's job market? toss the kid out of school, and you just have them causing trouble elsewhere. more unemployed, unemployable, uneducated troublemakers causing harm and gumming up the already overburdened system.


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