Donald Wood (pictured), an algebra teacher at McGavock High School in Nashville, Tenn., had a nervous breakdown in class. He threw desks and chairs, and it was all caught on video by a student.
A friend of mine in his first year of teaching told me before I started teaching that you have to be mean in the first year. No smiles, no joking, no laughing at their jokes. And every once in a while, you have to "go crazy just so they know." By going crazy, he would bang a stack of books on the desks so they would be quiet. Sometimes he'd throw things (not at the students, though) or just go off on a random tirade just to break up the monotony.
No one, and I do mean no one, wants to mess with a crazy person.
My friend explained that if you do this early on you'll have their respect for the rest of the year. No teacher gets in to teaching thinking that most of their time will be spent trying to discipline students, and if you want to avoid that, then you have to employ "tactics" such as these.
Unfortunately, in the case of Donald Woods, though, I don't think this was a "tactic." He seems to have really lost his mind. This was best evidenced when he admitted that he was the one who set his school on fire. This is NOT a tactic that will earn you respect with students, though it will definitely scare them. And me.
With teaching, you never want to let them see you sweat. Teaching is like a war, especially if your students are in the 7th to 12th grades. I've taught junior high and high school students, as well as college kids, in the city and the to 12th and the suburbs, and it's all the same. You have to come up with something early on to make them afraid to mess with you.
Though I don't condone breaking furniture, I do understand some of the frustration Woods must have been feeling. Students today are often overly disrespectful and irresponsible. Add in the obsession with texting and Trey Songz' latest ringtones that go off during class time and you have a recipe for disaster. But if you get control of the class early and often, which Woods clearly was incapable of doing, then you can win the war. Teaching is not a job for the faint of heart.
Of course, I've been on the other side, too. I was not the most well-behaved child, and I've been chased by a few teachers in my day (whom I provoked and probably sent to therapy). But, hey, I got straight As.
A report released in 2008, showed that in the United States, 15-year-olds trailed their peers in math in 23 countries, including Canada, Japan and Korea. The report underscored concerns that too few U.S. students are prepared to become engineers, scientists, and physicians, and the country is losing ground to its competitors. No surprise here. Did I mention that Woods was an Algebra teacher?
After the incident, Woods was hospitalized and put on administrative leave. If the federal government really wants to help the school system, forget No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and all the other government programs doomed to fail. Find concrete ways to give teachers extra resources and support, or a Donald Woods' meltdown likely won't be the last.
Watch Woods in the classroom here:
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