OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Bad behavior continues to plague Oklahoma City Public Schools, according to teachers who say they spend too much time disciplining students and not enough time teaching them.
About 80 percent of district teachers who responded to a union survey said they are responsible for administering the majority of student discipline, while nearly half said they have a student with a chronic discipline problem who should not be in their classroom.
"This is my 38th year in the district and the most difficult," one teacher reported. "Every day I am still working on discipline. These students are the most defiant, disrespectful and disruptive ones I have ever had."
Between 75 percent and 80 percent of teachers polled said they have students who either fail to comply with classroom rules or refuse to complete work. About 70 percent said they endure "disruptive outbursts" that "impede the learning process," while 61 percent said students have used "foul language" this year.
"Student behavior seems to be getting worse because there is no way to discipline them," said another teacher. "We need to bring back spanking.
"Suspension is highly discouraged. There is no way to discipline, and the kids know it."
One teacher pointed out that discipline is "out of control schoolwide, especially with new teachers."
"Extremely large class sizes make it more difficult even for career teachers," the teacher said. "Nothing is being done to students who continually display severe discipline problems, making it difficult for the teacher to teach and other students to learn."
About 600 teachers took the anonymous survey by the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers between Sept. 28 and Oct. 7, The Oklahoman reported. The results were shared with Superintendent Aurora Lora and school board members.
Lora said it will take more time "for us to fully digest this information," adding that the district has identified "gaps in supports for teachers and students as areas of focus."
"Our teachers, principals and central office leaders have been working together through a transformational mindset shift away from 'punishing' students toward helping students develop discipline and self-control," she said in a statement.
"When a student struggles in reading, we teach them; likewise, we believe that when a student struggles with making positive behavior choices, teaching should also be our first response."
More than 60 percent of teachers polled said they don't have adequate planning time to meet instructional and noninstructional needs, while 50 percent said more time to plan would make them a more effective classroom teacher.
"Most answers confirm what we hear on a daily basis, that we have problems with discipline and 'I can't get all the work done,'" said Ed Allen, president of the union that bargains on behalf of 2,100 classroom teachers.
Allen said district administrators continue to put pressure on principals to not suspend students.
"The district will deny that forever, but we hear it from principals and we hear it from teachers," he said. "Just because we don't suspend somebody doesn't mean their behavior has improved; it means they're in the classroom doing the same thing and frustrating teachers and every other student in that classroom."
As of Oct. 6, the district had suspended 1,194 students, a 9 percent increase over the first two months of the 2016-17 school year, officials reported.
"Inappropriate behavior and children making poor decisions will always be present in school, and for teachers who may have less experience with classroom management skills, some issues become amplified," said Chuck Tompkins, the district's director of student climate and student discipline.
Tompkins said his office "continues to increase the number of tools teachers can use to reduce behavior issues in their classrooms."
"We, as educators, interact with students from a variety of backgrounds, and it is essential that we work to meet them where they are in order to find the best interventions for our most disruptive students," he said.
In an email to certified teachers, Allen said that after reviewing the results "it is clear that all of us know our district is in serious trouble."
"The responses bring to light a dysfunctional district putting unrealistic demands on teachers and fostering a work environment that is stressful, chaotic and depressing," Allen wrote.
About 65 percent of teachers surveyed said greater enforcement of traditional discipline methods for offensive behavior would have the greatest impact on making them more effective teachers.
"We have some significant behavioral challenges this year, and I am concerned that if we do not get more administrative assistance with discipline, then we will have major problems at our school," one teacher reported.
Board member Mark Mann said discipline is an area of concern "we need to address immediately."
"I would say either we have not done an adequate job of communicating and implanting the discipline policy, or if we determine that in fact we have, then we have to review the discipline policy to address concerns," he said.
"If we haven't given site-based people the ability to do what they need to do, then we need to get that corrected. You cannot teach a class full of kids if you have kids that are disruptive, particularly when you have class sizes that are larger than we'd like."
The 20-question survey includes 31 pages of comments. Teachers weighed in on everything from dress codes to poor pay.
"Teacher time is spent on tedious objectives that have nothing to do with instruction," one teacher said. "Instead of me focusing on what I should be teaching, I am filling out 8-9 page lesson plans that change from day to day.
"If I don't complete the lesson plans, I am penalized with a bad evaluation or written up by administrators. I spend almost every plan focusing on something that they want to say our school is doing and not on the education of our students."
School board member Rebecca Budd said the school district overburdens teachers.
"Many OKCPS students do not come prepared to learn, so we expect our teachers to be social workers, disciplinarians and curriculum specialists in addition to teachers," she said. "We put too many barriers in the way of them being able to spend quality time with students."