A Teacher Speaks Out on How to Save Students' Lives

It’s not every day that the world’s most famous newspaper publishes an article about South Hadley, Massachusetts. But that’s what The New York Times did on March 30. It took the disturbing death of a school girl to make that happen.

Phoebe Prince was a 15 year-old student at South Hadley High School (near Northampton) when she hung herself in January. On March 29, several students at the school were charged by District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel with the felony crime of bullying Prince so severely that she killed herself.

But the lengthy article by two Times reporters, one of whom traveled to South Hadley, only briefly mentioned the people who might have known best how to prevent similar deaths in the future: teachers. The Times reporters’ only mention of teachers was when they wrote:

“It was particularly alarming, the district attorney said, that some teachers, administrators and other staff members at the school were aware of the harassment but did not stop it. ‘The actions or inactions of some adults at the school were troublesome,’ Ms. Scheibel said, but did not violate any laws.”

Ted Chambers lived near South Hadley for several years. He is now a social studies teacher at the Clarence Edwards Middle School, a public school in Boston. He is an active member of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO www.aft.org

Chambers said he did not know all of the details about the South Hadley school, or how many students were in Phoebe Prince’s classes. But he was able to answer general questions about potential solutions to the kind of bullying that might lead to violence and mental health problems among children and teenagers.

“When class sizes start exceeding about 28 students, there is a huge potential for bullying and violence,” Chambers said.

He said he would support a decision by a judge and jury to send the students who bullied Prince to jail, if such a decision is made. But jailing school children may not be the best long-term way to prevent bullying, he said. “Teachers need time to deal with bullying.” If a teacher is busy teaching four or more classes per day, attending staff meetings, meeting with parents, and grading papers and preparing lessons for more than 100 students daily, they may simply be too exhausted to devote the kind of attention to individual students that they would normally want to devote.

“We also need programs for kids who chronically bully other kids,” he said. These could include classes that don’t involve sitting still all day, but that instead prepare students for jobs that involve physical labor like carpentry or organic farming. But the programs, whatever subjects they teach, would certainly involve a small number of students per teacher. Chambers cited the example of the Boston public schools’ successful Barron Center.

There are a number of ways that the government could come up with the money to hire more teachers. These include taxing the rich. In 1944, Americans who made more than $1 million a year paid 65 percent of their income in federal taxes. In 2005, Americans who made more than $1 million a year paid 23 percent of their income in federal taxes. (Source: The Nation magazine, 6/30/2008 issue.)

A small percentage of the U.S. military budget could pay the salaries of thousands of teachers.

Out of an annual federal budget of about $2,900,000,000,000 about half goes to war.

Details are at:

www.warresisters.org/files/FY2011piechart.pdf

More information on ways to improve public schools is also available from the nation’s other major teachers’ union, the National Education Association www.nea.org

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This article originally appeared at www.MassLaborNews.com

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