Challenge: Find a Productive Way to Deal with 'Disrupters'

Article excerpt

In the quarter of an hour after class began, Michael, a seventh- grade boy, drummed a pencil on his desk, leaned back in his chair to make the legs creak, shouted out the window to a friend, and threw a wad of paper at the wastebasket. Distracting behavior like this plagues public-school classes. It prevents teachers from teaching and students from learning. And, if it isn't stopped, it guarantees the continued demise of our schools. "Michael, please take out your script," I say.

"My part's over," he blurts out. The class is reading a play. Most students enjoy exaggerating their voices to create characters. Michael, though, makes clucking sounds and grins at anyone who looks at him.

I see students like Michael every day. They have neither learned self-control nor persisted through intellectually difficult tasks. In fact, they often have a history of abandoned projects and social promotion. And many of them master only basic skills. Meanwhile, the victims of the disrupters have little class time to analyze problems and evaluate their work. A disrupter stops the flow of learning thus ruining the chance for thinking at higher levels. And most victims are girls, since most disrupters are boys. "Open your script, Michael. Your lines are coming up," I remind him. "I left it in my locker. Can I go get it?" he asks, getting up. He wants to roam the halls and wave at students in other classes. I hand him an extra script. In classrooms all over the United States, it is the Michaels who destroy the learning atmosphere. And, although this abuse is pervasive, taken individually these deceptively minor incidents are lost in more spectacular events. Yet every year, students reap the bitter harvest of substandard education. And not because the means don't exist to change this situation. School buildings and equipment might be old, but they are adequate. …