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Readers take a stand for fired teacher

“In a time where support for teachers is lacking, surveillance cameras should be standard anyway,” said one reader.

Our recent story “Teacher who video recorded disruptive student suing over job loss” prompted a wave of responses from readers who sympathized with the Philadelphia educator who became so frustrated with disruptive behavior in his classroom that he turned a video camera on the students—and was fired as a result.

While many stories reported by eSchool News elicit a diverse mix of reactions, it seems this one—at least in the eyes of our readers—was fairly black and white: Teacher Harry Drake was an unfortunate victim of poorly behaved students and an unsupportive administration.

Here’s what others had to say about the situation—from whether it should be OK for a teacher to record disruptive behavior to show administrators, to some of the underlying legal issues in Drake’s favor.

One reader even gave a detailed account of how videotaping can work in a classroom—and earn the support of the administration, too.

(Comments edited for brevity)

Disruptive students are education’s ‘800-pound gorilla’

Many readers noted that behavioral issues play a larger role in a school’s success—or lack thereof—than policy makers acknowledge.

“I wish cameras were in the classroom,” said reader perrydo. “This way, there would be documentation on just how bad some of the students behave and give some teachers protection. It would force the administration and parents to take a hard look at student behavior—the 800-pound gorilla.”

Reader Antonio said students should be held to the same standards of accountability as are teachers and their schools.

“Seems to me that in all this accountability, [whereby] states are pushing to tie teacher pay/retention/etc. to student test scores, … teachers should have the right to video record students for school disciplinary use,” said Antonio. “If the teacher’s evaluation will be hampered by disruptive, disrespectful students impeding [the] ability to teach and the other students’ abilities to learn, then that needs to be acknowledged.”

“It is finally getting out that a large part of our ‘education problem’ is out-of-control students,” said S Meyers. “It is difficult to teach when students refuse to follow basic, decent, classroom rules and expectations and there are no consequences, no follow-up. This is by no means an isolated situation. Teachers are certainly cramped between a rock and a wall. This is due in large part to the anti-intellectual climate of this country. Learning and critical thinking have become suspect.”

Teachers need more support from school administrators

Based on responses to this story, it appears that many teachers feel administrators don’t have their backs or don’t give them the support they need to maintain control of their classroom and teach effectively.

“I was at a school where teachers were given poor performance ratings for classroom management if they wrote too many office referrals, even when they were justified,” said Ann Marie. “I think the politicians, including school board members and district administrators, should spend a few days in classrooms as substitute teachers [to see the other side].”

“First; this is NOT a normal classroom, but a workshop environment where horseplay can be dangerous for all students—and disrespect for or ignoring the rules can have serious consequences,” stated weedonald. “Second; the teacher’s intent was clear—he had forewarned the students that he would videotape them only when they misbehaved, as proof to the administration that such behavior was rampant and uncontrollable. Third; he did not attack anyone but WAS assaulted by a disruptive student who intended to try and violently take the camera from the teacher. That student did not ask politely to not be recorded. Fourth; he received NO support, opportunity to defend himself, or effort to understand the desperate situation that was ongoing in his classroom and that was putting students at risk every day. He was summarily condemned, found guilty, and sequestered by administration. …”

weedonald continued: “This entire tragi-comedy of errors is perfectly representative of the CYA and ‘us against them’ mentality administrators in many U.S. public schools foster and hide behind when they fear parental legal reprisals and ‘a bad image’ at [the] school board level.”

“I’ve been in a similar situation myself, teaching mathematics to 9th graders,” said richardholden. “Sending these students to the office became a joke, because they would come back smirking and would continue their disruptive behavior. The administration played it safe by simply noting the high failure rate of the students in the classroom and surmising it must be due to poor teaching. The office listing of how many times students were sent there only verified that the teacher was not managing the class properly. Needless to say, I quit teaching there, went on to get my doctorate, and now teach students who want to learn and who pay for their education. So what is the answer to improving public education? I would say (1) hire administrators with a backbone to support the teachers, (2) install cameras as policy in any classroom where disruptions are reported, and (3) forget ‘compulsory education’ for those intent on not learning–send them to shops to learn basic manual skills so they can learn that education is not a right, but a rare privilege found only in wealthier countries.”

“If the administration had taken action on his previous reports of behavioral issues in his classroom, he would never have had to video his students,” said arosi80299. “The administration needs to take responsibility for their lack of involvement, leading to poor instruction for ALL the students.”

Should cameras be standard classroom equipment?

Many readers suggested that surveillance cameras should be placed in classrooms as a way to hold everyone accountable, while others noted that in today’s culture of YouTube and cell-phone cameras, there is less of an expectation of privacy to begin with.

“In a time where support for teachers is lacking and students think they have a right to behave as they will, surveillance cameras in classrooms–especially classrooms like shop and carpentry–should be standard anyway,” said jwhiteaker. “We think nothing of walking into a store that has surveillance equipment.”

“Where are the records of the times that this teacher sent discipline requests in? asked okayfine87. “The students are videotaped on the buses, in hallways, and in other PUBLIC places [with] no written consent from parents [needed]. The students were warned that they would be videotaped for behavior reasons and still continued the behaviors that are unsafe to themselves and their teacher.”

“If one is in a situation where one feels so at risk as to use a personal device to contact the authorities, would that be considered a breach of district policy? It would NOT,” said dinapie. “Then why is it against district policy to use the same device as a recorder to gain the same level of protection against an abusive man? He may be in his late teens, but the student was obviously physically abusive. The teacher simply used the SAME device that he would have used to make a 911 call. It was just easier to push the record button. If a paramedic can use his/her cell phone to record a gruesome scene and not be exposed to suit, then a teacher (another civil servant) should have that same right.”

“We are being videoed as we drive down the roads, walk into a bank, shop in stores, take a pleasant walk, eat in restaurants, and more,” argued Doris Settles, author of Understanding i-KIDS. “Digitally recording without permission is a normal part of our everyday life. We don’t live in a world where privacy, particularly as it pertains to rude, unsafe and threatening behaviors, is a consideration. Students are videoed as they walk down the hall in most schools. When an accident or rude event occurs anywhere on the planet people whip out their cell phones to upload it to YouTube or sell to news networks. So why shouldn’t this teacher be allowed to document behavioral issues that interfere with his ability to do his job? Why was it the teacher who was penalized when the students were breaking the schools code of conduct?”

Legal ramifications of videotaping students

Some readers cited legal reasons to support Drake’s case.

“The school district is in CYA mode,” wrote the cman. “If the facts are correct and the video corroborates the teacher’s allegations, then he should not have been disciplined. The recording of students should fall under the time, place, and manor rule. It is a First Amendment issue. Basically the classroom is not a private place. Any certified educator can observe the goings on. The camera was not hidden, other students were present, from the report, and the student behavior was not provoked. The video should stand as evidence of the teacher’s actions. If the teacher were to have posted the video in a public forum like YouTube, then that would have violated FERPA for all of the students in the recording. If, on the other hand, he turned the recording over the administration, it would be appropriate. Why is everyone so scared as to allow common sense to be trumped by the threat of litigation?”

Saul Troen, Ph.D., a consultant for the SmartClassroom, offered this suggestion for educators who want to record classroom behavior to document it for officials:

“The proper way to videotape a classroom is for the instructor to inform the administration/school board that videotaping will be done to help improve instruction,” said Troen. “Then the teacher, administrator, or educational consultant informs the class, in advance, that the class is being taped to improve instruction. Next, place the camera on a tripod in the corner of the room so that the class and the instructor are included in the videotaping. This maintains the integrity of the concept that ‘the videotaping is being done to improve instruction’—I did this over a 3-year period as an educational consultant in a large school system. (A second camera can be place in a corner in front of the class that records student participation, reaction, and behavior.)”

Troen continued: “My findings are: After approximately five minutes, students forget that videotaping is taking place and the teacher is able to obtain the information that is needed. In other words, the taping is not to record negative student actions but rather to try and find better ways to improve instruction and, at the same, record disruptive students and perhaps discover why he/she is disruptive. After reviewing video with principal/school board/educational consultant, a decision can be made whether or not to show the video to class and/or parents.”

“Our school has a permission form in the student handbook where parents can give consent for videotaping that is approved by the building principal,” said Pat Fuller, a K-8 school counselor. “We have it on our school buses to protect students and bus drivers from accusations. I often suggest that students pretend their parent has a video on them and then behave as they would if their parents were watching them.”

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