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I‘m the mother of three African American children, two of them boys, so discipline is at times an issue. I am a firm believer that discipline begins at home, and most people would say I am a no-nonsense type of parent.

Working with the teachers and administrators when it comes to my children’s education is my number one priority, but there have been times where the “zero tolerance policy” seemed to punish my children more severely than their misbehavior seemed to call for.

When my twins started kindergarten at Christel House Academy South l in Indianapolis, my son—who is my mildest child and doesn’t even talk much because his twin sister seems to want to do all the talking for him—was constantly being sent to the office. I kept getting notes and phone calls from the teacher saying he was disruptive.

In the beginning, in my effort to support educators, I would give him a punishment at home for his misbehavior but the behavior continued—but only at school. He was still the same low-key, respectful, quiet and fun loving kid at home, church and relatives’ homes.

It was at this point that I stopped automatically punishing him at home and started asking his teacher questions. If he had gotten in trouble talking in the hall, my question now was, “Did he stop talking when you asked him stop?” And the answer always was yes. He was sent out of class for what I was told was “refusing to do his work” but after talking to him he simply did not understand how to complete the assignment.

So I had to ask myself: Was this truly disruptive behavior or simply the typical behavior of a 5-year-old boy?

This is when I found my voice as a parent. I stopped just agreeing and started researching. I felt so bad because I had punished my child for being a 5 year old. I demanded that he stop being sent out of class. Yes, they could discipline him, but not sent out of class because was not learning anything in the hallway. This made the teachers and staff come up with a plan that maintained order but did not prevent him or the other children from learning.  Instead of being sent out of class for discipline he would stay in from a portion of recess. Together we devised a behavior folder that allowed us to communicate what was going on from day to day.

I also always wanted to know what happened before the incident. Did you ask him WHY he wasn’t doing his work? What did he say? WHY did he push another kid?  My questions to teachers and staff made them ask the same questions of my son, because they knew they would have to be prepared with some answers when they called me.

In time he just didn’t get in trouble. Maybe he just figured out the rules, or maybe he learned as we all do in kindergarten how to get along at school— don’t talk in the hallway or while the teacher is talking, raise your hand if you don’t understand something, and most of all, to trust his classmates and teachers. It was his first year being apart from his twin sister all day, and he was very nervous and reacted out of what I later realized was just plain fear.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had allowed just this to continue without ever addressing the underlying issues. My sweet, respectful, now-16-year-old honor student could have been labeled a behavior problem for simply being a 5-year-old boy who had never spent so many hours away from his twin sister.

Regardless of my concerns, I never let my son hear or see me disagree with his teachers or act like we were on a different page. To him, his mom and his teacher were a united front and he is better because of it.


Cheryl Kirk is a mother and activist living in Indianapolis, Indiana. This post was republished with permission from Indy/Ed.

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