LITTLE ROCK - Despite higher pay, rising disciplinary problems with students are causing many teachers to rethink their future in the profession, lawmakers were told Wednesday.
During a two-hour meeting of two subcommittees of the House Interim Committee on Education, teachers asked for stricter reporting of discipline problems, the enforcement of current policies and restructuring of the state's alternative education system.
"It's very stressful to try to do your best and feel like you are fighting a losing battle," said Nancy Marshall, a teacher at Springhill Elementary School in Bryant. "It doesn't matter how much money make, if you are miserable and stressed out, all the money in the world is not going to mean, you know, your sanity."
Rep. Harmon Seawel, D-Pocahontas, co-chairman of the House Education Committee, said he asked for the joint subcommittee meeting after several teachers in his House district said they considered the rising discipline problem among students more important than pay raises.
The Legislature during a recent special session on education, raised the minimum teacher salaries and gave experienced teachers raises in an effort to meet a state Supreme Court mandate to improve education in Arkansas. Incentives to attract teachers to areas of the state that have a difficult time attracting educators also were approved.
Marshall, who taught fourth grade for 13 years before becoming the school's librarian five years ago, said much of the discipline problems can be linked to a student's family life, but often students have emotional and developmental problems and need to attend alternative schools.
Class size also is a problem because one or two difficult children make it nearly impossible to present a complete lesson to the other children, who are behaving.
"Larger classes do breed more discipline problems," she said. "We have kids who are violent, have no social skills and no conscience," she said. "There is such disrespect, and a lot of times the parents exhibit the same thing."
Marshall also said she has had students removed from the classroom assigned to alternative schools, but she has concerns that those students didn't receive an adequate education.
"I have had homework sent to the alternative education, but I had no idea how it was being instructed," she said.
June Gilbreath, who teaches eighth grade at Paris Middle School, said she was concerned about recent news that a school for children with emotional problems was closing. Four students from her school were assigned to the school last year, she said.
"I'm dreading going back to school because they're going to be back in the classroom," she said. "I will not be able to teach with them there," she said.
Michael Phillips, a special needs teacher at Center Valley Elementary School near Russellville, urged lawmakers to expand the use of alternative schools and remove the stigma and provide usable skills to children who don't thrive in a normal classroom setting.
"We need to eliminate the stigma that these schools are just for at-risk kids and just disciplinary dumps," he said, adding that maybe the schools could offer vocational and technical courses.
"We need to completely overhaul alternative education," he said, noting that Independence County created an alternative school which was available to all school districts in that county, including Batesville.
The countywide school saved money, and offered a variety of programs.
Phillips and other teachers also suggested that the Legislature evaluate discipline procedures and possibly develop a statewide policy.
Attorney General Mike Beebe told the committees that the Legislature has done quite a bit to help local school districts address discipline problems, including allowing expulsions, suspensions and the use of corporal punishment. Courts also have given local school districts leeway in how they dole out punishment, he said. [Emphasis added.]
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