One Toxic Middle School in Mississippi
Letter from a substitute teacher, March 22, 2005

Project NoSpank

Dear Mr. Riak,

I am writing to tell you what's happening at __________ Middle School, in Mississippi, where I sub. I hope you can advise me if there is anything that anybody can do. I'll explain why I can't work at this school any more. This has been a very difficult decision for me because I love kids and enjoy working with them.

Just so you know about me, I am a mother of three grown children. When we lived in San Jose, California, and my kids were in school, I was chair of the school site council, vice president of the PTA, I was involved with fundraising for the Young Astronauts and I was a Brownie leader. I was always involved at our school and working with kids. I have a B.S. (psychology) and am planning to return to school for additional credits in order to certify to teach special education.

When I signed up to sub at this school, I was very enthusiastic. But on my first day, I had my first experience with corporal punishment. The teacher in the adjacent class told me she had a "bad day" and had to paddle 8 kids. She seemed to be bragging about it. I could hardly believe what I was hearing.

Here's what just happened a few days ago, which is why I am so upset. On the morning of March 10, our school principal went outside to wait for the school busses. When they arrived and began to unload, he rounded up about 100 boys and told them that for not having their shirts tucked in they were going to have to choose between a 3 day suspension or a paddling. About 60 of them took the paddling.

I never saw anything like that when we lived in San Jose. There was no paddling. When a student did something wrong, our principal talked to him privately and figured out how to solve the problem. Everybody liked and respected that man. But here in this Mississippi town, it's different. The only way this principal knows how to solve problems is by paddlng students. Every day there are paddlings in the hall. Even with my classroom door shut I can hear them.

If a teacher writes up somebody for misbehavior, the result is corporal punishment. I try everything possible to solve a problem rather than write up a student because I know if I do, he or she is going to get paddled, no questions asked. Paddle first, talk later. I think our principal enjoys doing it because he doesn't seem to miss an opportunity. On the last day before spring break, he announced to the school "This is still one of the 180 learning days, and I will not put up with anybody who acts up. So, have a nice day, or not -- the choice is yours." The students think he is a jerk.

A few days ago, the regular teacher who I was relieving warned me about a new girl in class who was giving everybody a lot of trouble, that she has "an attitude problem." The teacher explained that the girl had been in the special school and they just sent her back to the mainstream. She told me to keep an eye on her, and write her up the minute she steps out of line. That way we can get her shipped back to the special school. I had that girl sit close to my desk, and I talked to her and showed an interest. That's all she needed, just somebody to be pleasant and give her a little attention and kindness. She was fine. Actually, that's all any of these children need. They don't need people hitting them.

TEACHER: "If he gives you any trouble at all, just send him down to me. I'd love to tan his black hide."

Another time a teacher pointed out a student to me and said, "If he gives you any trouble at all, just send him down to me. I'd love to tan his black hide." Black boys get most of the paddlings in our school.

What really worries me is that these kids believe this is the normal way. That's all they've seen. Many of them have home lives that are just as bad so their problems don't get solved in either place.

I gave the school notice that I will not be available to sub any more. In my heart I want to stay and help the children, but I also have to protect myself. I can't afford to get depressed or sick. I don't need this job.

Who do we tell about this? Does anybody know or care what's happening here?

Ms. R____

This letter was circulated to education authorities and members of the Mississippi state legislature. There were no substantive responses.


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