Recent attacks worry teachers

Aware that the seventh grader was prone to angry outbursts, Kayla Conklin knew she had to intervene before the conflict escalated. Conklin is a Temple student who spent last summer tutoring students at Roberto Clemente

Aware that the seventh grader was prone to angry outbursts, Kayla Conklin knew she had to intervene before the conflict escalated.

Conklin is a Temple student who spent last summer tutoring students at Roberto Clemente Middle School in North Philadelphia through the Philadelphia
Freedom Schools program, which is designed to promote literacy enrichment. She approached the dispute between the two students, understanding that the aggressive behavior exhibited by one of the females rooted from emotional distress.

“I had to restrain her once, which was kind of hard to do because she was larger than me,” the senior secondary English education major said. “With that particular student, I tried to always remind myself that she had a lot going on and was emotionally having a hard time.”

Conklin recalled her experience in light of the recent turmoil among students and teachers in the city’s public high schools.

Last month, two students assaulted
and broke the neck of a Germantown
High School teacher after he confiscated an iPod. The students were charged with aggravated assault and conspiracy. This incident was widely reported along with the increase in threats, robberies, fights and assaults at local schools.

Conklin said the psychological characteristics of students should be taken into consideration when evaluating
assault cases. She also said teachers need to consider how the cultural setting within
a student’s neighborhood can contribute
to his or her behavior.

“There are a lot of issues of cultural
differences in schools,” said Conklin, who is currently a student teacher at Gen. George G. Meade Elementary School. There, she tutors fifth graders in reading and writing.

“While there’s absolutely no excuse
for assaulting a teacher, I think teachers need to learn how to manage their conflicts with their students, especially when their students come from a different cultural background,” she said. Meade Elementary School is a partnership school in the College of Education. The safety of student teachers within these schools is a primary concern for Bernard McGee, assistant director of education curriculum, instruction and technology. McGee oversees
the application process and placement
for student teachers.

McGee, a former principal for 20 years, said violence can happen in any school building in both the city and suburbs.

Conklin believes the media has tainted the perception of public school students.

“I think that kids in high school are looking for attention and to be noticed. What they’ve been doing is getting on the news and causing a huge stir,” Conklin said.

“We do not place students where it is dangerous,” McGee said, adding that the majority of student teachers request to return to schools where they were originally reluctant to teach due to safety concerns.

“Nobody has ever came and said I have to get out because it’s dangerous to me,” he said. Peshe Kuriloff, program director in the College of Education, said she has only heard student teachers complain about verbal abuse. But she said she is confident that student teachers are safe in their schools.

“There’s a lot of stereotyping,” Kuriloff said. “Obviously, some people, depending on where they come from, will be nervous. We are very careful about the places where we encourage students to go.”

The College of Education places student COMteachers both individually and collectively at schools across the region. To prepare them for conflict resolution and management, the College of Education provides training through a federally-funded program called Conflict Resolution in Education and Teacher Education.

Temple is one of only two universities that receives funding for this program from the U.S. Department of Education. Cleveland State University is the other collaborative partner school. CRETE is a four-day external training program offering skill-orientated projects aimed at teaching pre-service teachers about conflict management in the classroom.

One of the main objectives of CRETE is to instruct teachers on how to encourage their students to become more emotionally aware of their unruly conduct through positive discipline strategies. Tricia Jones, professor of psychological studies in education, designed the school’s conflict resolution in education course. Jones based the course on her professional interest in conflict competence and social and emotional learning for elementary and secondary students.

The course stresses that teachers should acknowledge the emotions that may pressure students to misbehave.

“Those are the kids that are really calling out for help by their behavior,” Jones said.

Jones said she disagrees with school administrators’ efforts to enforce punishment as a consequence for students who exhibit disruptive behavior.

“A lot of times it is a coping mechanism because they have seen or witnessed violence and either their brain teaches them to withdraw and become anti-social, or they become very aggressive toward others,” Jones said.

Jones urged parents and educators to make a difference during early childhood education before aggressive behavior continues
to challenge children’s ability to learn academically. Sophomore political science major Tamara Johns agreed that aggressive students should be evaluated using conflict resolution. She said developing student-and-teacher mutuality
is the first step.

“If you have a teacher with 40-plus students in their class, strong teacher and student relationships aren’t built,” said Johns, a mentor in Temple Youth VOICES.

“When you don’t have that relationship, you don’t have mutual trust and respect for each other.”

Sponsored by the University Community
Collaborative of Philadelphia, VOICES is a project-based learning initiative that offers classes to inner-city youth between the ages of 14 and 21. The program strives to provide meaningful opportunities and supportive alternatives for youth in safe learning environments.

Johns works with her students in a university-based setting and empowers them to use their voice for positive social reform. As a mentor, Johns said making safe learning environments available to her students is imperative for their education.

“Instead of the school system trying to implement more metal detectors and security guards, they need to build an environment where students feel safe so the issue of violence is no longer an issue,” Johns said. “I don’t think the students are letting the system down. I think the system is letting them down.”

Brittany Diggs can be reached at

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