As a high school teacher, I’ve handled my share of student behavior issues. Children and teenagers have rich internal lives that they can’t help but carry with them into the classroom. The triumphal highs and crushing lows of pubescent life color not just their free time but their class time as well!
Often, a patient approach is necessary when dealing with an uncooperative student, in order to understand not just what the issue is, but the behind-the-scenes causes as well.
The uncertainty and trauma of the Covid-19 pandemic, and its effect on schools, can make many of these issues even more difficult. Forming personal connections with students, along with helping them build skills and confidence, is harder from a distance. It can be challenging to know what approach to take.
One middle school principal in Indianapolis, IN, however, has the tools for the job. His story went viral after his response to a routine discipline issue: Sitting in front of Jason Smith, principal of Stonybrook Middle School, was a young teen. His mask was firmly in place, a requirement for the first day back to in-person learning. However, also firmly in place was his baseball hat, which he refused to remove when asked to by his teacher.
He was sent to the principal’s office for his choice, and awaited what he was sure was punishment.
“He really was not trying to get out of class. He just thought that he would be laughed at,” Smith later told WRTV. Under the boy’s hat, he was hiding a haircut that embarrassed him. “Lack of confidence in his appearance was keeping him from going to class,” Smith explained.
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“The principal could have easily called the child’s parent and put him out of school for the day, but he took time out of his busy schedule to make sure the student was successful completing his first day of school,” added Lewis Speaks Sr., an Indianapolis parent who was there. Instead of easily passing judgment on the student and lightening his own workload, Smith decided to call on skills outside his repertoire as an educator:
“I played college basketball and cut my teammates’ hair before games, and I’ve been cutting my son’s hair for 17 years. So, I had professional clippers and edgers at home,” he explained to the outlet. Smith made the young man an offer: He’d fix the cut himself if the boy would agree to go back to class afterward. The boy agreed, and Smith got to work!
He had help from La Don Allen, a local barber who interrupted his day and drove across town to freshen up the student’s haircut free of charge. “[For] a young man, especially an African American young man, the barbershop is a big deal in the community. Looking good and representing and presenting yourself is huge for kids,” Smith explained. Work like this is just part of the job as principal, serving his mission to “make [school] a place where problems get solved, instead of making them worse.”
The commitment to serving student needs that Smith displayed is a reminder, especially to educators: There is always a “why” for every action a person takes, and understanding that “why” is crucial to empowering them. If you have the tools needed to help them out, do so! As Speaks Sr. wrote on his Facebook post, “A GREAT LEADER ALWAYS recognizes that sometimes it’s necessary to step outside of your comfort zone and daily routine to set others up for success. Thank you Jason and La Don for your selfless service to our community!”Whizzco