Khassim.JPGThe Case

Khassim is a thirteen year old boy in the seventh grade. His IEP labels him as emotionally disturbed and he begins the school year with the reputation for inappropriate outbursts. His seventh grade teachers know his name before he even enters the room because they have been told to expect him, and to expect him to be unmanageable. Khassim is an invested student. He seeks approval in each piece of his work as he demonstrates his ability to analyze texts, write creatively and argumentatively, and perform any and all math his teachers put in front of him. When Khassim is told that he has room for improvement or that he is incorrect, he gets mad.

Khassim has a hard time with other students. He likes to make jokes, to play pranks, and to “pester” the students in his class. He does so continuously and when they do not respond well he does not either. Khassim’s mother has spent the entirety of his life in and out of jobs and on and off of drugs. At the beginning of his seventh grade year she is clean and working at the local grocery store at the check out counter. She is clearly devoted to her son and to his education and potential.

Knowing Khassim’s proclivity to react strongly in a variety of situations, his teachers begin the year with a focus on the school wide PBIS system that is driven by a school rewards systems in which student "earn" currency to purchase toys and trinkets. Khassim is given a specific behavioral plan with a space for comments from each teacher and is awarded with “money” for positive behavior as decided by his teachers. For a while this works, but with Khassim’s general behavioral reactions, the wearing patience of the teachers, and the zero tolerance policy of the school, it is only a few months before Khassim commits his first suspend-able offense. Mind, you during those first few months, Khassim has completed 100% of his homework, participated in class regularly and performed above average on all in school assignments.

So Khassim is suspended, the first time. When he returns to school he is placed immediately back into all of his classrooms with little to no conversation or support. Finding that he is behind in his work, Khassim is immediately frustrated. The work he was asked to complete while suspended is not the same as the work his classmates have completed. His teachers note that he did complete that work and attempt to catch him up on the classwork. Khassim tries to get himself back into the swing of things, but with each subject he encounters the same uphill climb. We do not know the extent to which the suspension has impacted his social interactions, but it seems that his absence has had a similar effect of ostracizing him from the daily goings-on of his peers. By the end of the week Khassim can be found spending the day in the in house suspension room. While he is there he misses more of what is happening in his classroom. Within the month Khassim has committed his second zero-tolerance suspend-able act. This cycle continues to the point that by the end of the year Khassim has spent less than 60% of the year actually in his classroom and the classes that he is passing he passes with a 65% (the cut off for pass/fail).

Questions for Discussion

  1. What supports could have been put in place to interrupt Khassim's cycle of suspension?
  2. What are students in your school suspended for? What is the purpose of those suspensions and is it achieved?
  3. Which practices enacted by Khassim's teachers were exclusionary and which were inclusive? How might they push their practices to be more inclusive, in general and specifically with Khassim?
  4. How much is social emotional development the classroom teacher's responsibility?

Suggestions for Alternatives

  1. Rather than an extrinsic rewards and consequences system to reinforce certain behaviors and discourage others, students like Khassim may need to be taught how to communicate their needs through behaviors that other people may understand better and respond to more positively.
  2. Being aware of students' whole lives including concerns at home, tensions in their neighborhoods, and relationships with classmates may help you to understand triggers for certain behaviors that lead to consequences like suspension, and help students manage their emotions around those triggers.
  3. Developing true and honest relationships with students can help them to seek out ways of being that are genuinely respectful, rather than motivated by rewards.
  4. In cases when students are suspended, or removed from the class for any reason, there must be special attention paid and time spent on a plan for their return to the classroom.