While politicians skirmish, teachers and staff face life on the front lines

2 April 2023

Over the four decades that I’ve known my friend, he’s managed to carve out two successful careers without losing his sense of humor. He could have retired years ago and finished the collection of short stories he’s been working on, but couldn’t imagine himself just sitting around the house.

So, one day between ho-hum part-time jobs, he decided to apply for work as a campus monitor with the Clark County School District. As corny as it might sound, the idea of helping young people appealed to him and made him feel like he was contributing to something greater than himself.

Assigned to a middle school in what is considered a tough Southern Nevada neighborhood, he found himself enjoying most of the kids, teachers and administrators he encountered. When we’d talk about our work days, he’d often laugh as he related some of the crazy things the middle-schoolers said and did.

But not every day was sunny. As he gained more experience on the job, he started to find it less entertaining and more concerning, even depressing. Although many of the students managed to get through the school day without incident, others could be relied on to act out. Some did so violently.

As a campus monitor, it was part of his job to remind students to get to class and to help restore order when necessary. In the course of his daily work life, he’s been cursed at, threatened, shoved, punched, bitten and had food thrown at him.

With all that, he feels fortunate. He knows teachers and staffers who have had it much worse. And heaven help those who lose their cool and put their hands on a student.

In trying to do a job that pays a few bucks more than minimum wage, my friend finds himself on the front line of a debate about public school safety and restorative justice that reverberates through society and currently echoes through the state Legislature and inside Gov. Joe Lombardo’s office.

“Everyone knows our schools are violent,” he says. “Everyone knows kids can be disrespectful, but unless you’re in the middle of it you don’t know how bad it is. What you see on the news is only a snippet of what actually goes on. The reality is much worse.”

Elected officials believe something should be done to improve safety and security of students and teachers, but they haven’t come together to craft a solution. And keeping the current restorative justice model in place without substantial changes is not only counterproductive, but also courts disaster.

“We all know the importance of the rule of law in a society,” he says. “We fail to acknowledge the importance of the rule of law in our schools. Restorative justice does not work in its current form. I know because I’m a campus monitor at a troubled middle school. I’m in the battle zone every day. I say that and I’m a liberal. We need to increase the number of behavioral schools. I’m not a big Joe Lombardo guy, but he’s right about this one. We need to take our schools back. Behavioral interventions do not work for the worst students.”

In a way, he’s fortunate. He doesn’t have to try to teach in that atmosphere.

“Teachers are extremely frustrated,” he says. “The teachers know there are very few real consequences for the students. So, to be able to teach, they give bathroom passes to the bad students to get them out of the classroom. The bad students hang out in the halls. Some bang on doors, disrupting other classes. Some smoke weed in the bathroom, take extra-long bathroom breaks. … Some I catch go to the dean’s office. Sometimes they are sent back to class. If it happens enough, there’s a conference with a parent. Little changes with the really bad kids. We need way more behavioral schools. They need to send kids as soon as they get out of line.”

He knows that makes him sound a little like an old conservative guy with a crewcut and a sign in the front yard reading “Stay off my lawn.” So be it.

The causes and solutions are above his pay grade, he says, but you don’t have to look far to see that they are obviously influenced by a society that glamorizes violence and vulgarity. In many ways, the children are just imitating what they see every day. They just happen to live at a time when fights in the cafeteria are posted on social media.

With that, he allowed himself to wax a bit philosophical.

“Yes, the breakdown of the American family and various institutions are to blame,” he says. “But look at us all. We need look no further than ourselves. Our political discourse at the local and national level is nasty. Accidentally cut someone off in traffic, and they act like you’ve grievously wounded them. Everyone wants to fight. And now the kids do too.”

My friend doesn’t want to be misunderstood. He’s not feeling sorry for himself. He fears for the education system that he’s always believed in, and he’s pushing 70.

As winter turns to spring, he finds himself considering retiring at the end of the current school year.

He’s not sorry for trying to help out as a campus monitor, and isn’t bitter about even those bad days, but at his age he doesn’t want to lose what’s left of his sense of humor.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR.

The post While politicians skirmish, teachers and staff face life on the front lines appeared first on The Nevada Independent.

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