Dealing With Disruptive Students

Veteran Of New York City Schools Offers Teachers Tips

April 24, 1992|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Staff writer

Peter Commanday pulls no punches when he lectures to teachers aroundthe country.

"Don't be suckered into the verbal abuse," he said. "Never fall for that because you either end up in the hospital, on the floor or in the court."

Commanday, a 27-year veteran of the New York City public schools,is conducting a series of workshops in the county for teachers and administrators on how to deal with disruptive students.

At Annapolis High, several recent fights have broken out between students from two of the city's public housing communities, and other county schoolshave seen an increase in violence and weapons.

But from the response of those who attended a workshop at Annapolis High School yesterday, it is clear Commanday has witnessed far worse violence than county teachers.

Holding up a bicycle chain turned into a belt, Commanday showed how it is used as a weapon. Several teachers gasped at the demonstration.

During the next 15 minutes, Commanday showed a variety of knives concealed in everything from a belt to a tube of lipstick, a single-shot gun made to look like a pen, and a stun gun, among other weapons. All were confiscated in schools around the country, hesaid.

"Has anybody seen any of this stuff in your schools?" Commanday asked the 75 teachers and administrators who stayed after schoolfor the workshop.

The teachers answered no.

"See how blessed your are," Commanday said.

But one teacher responded, "Or blind."

Commanday predicted that in about five years, Anne Arundel would get some the weapons he showed. He told teachers that if they have admitted they are afraid then, "God bless you.

"Anyone who's not afraid is out of their minds," he added.

After the attention-grabbing introduction, Commanday got down to the heart of his workshop -- how to get and give dignity and respect.

Teachers should not be confrontational when talking to students, he said. They should be aware of the tone in their voices. "Don't take that official deep-throated voice we like to use," he said.

When breaking up a fight between students, Commanday said teachers should not use restraint holds because they could get hurt. Instead, Commanday said, it is easier to move students out of the way because they are usually off-balance when fighting.

Teachers should be aware of their hands and using the "pistol pointer", Commanday said, pointing his finger at the teachers. It is a negative sign to students. Also, when breaking up fights, teachers should never look a student in the eye, but look at the bridge of thenose, he said. Eye contact also can be a negative sign, he said.

Commanday said teachers should stay in control and remain quiet if verbally abused by a student. "Silence drives them nuts," he said.

He also gave teachers certain key phrases that anger students, such as"calm down," which says that whatever the student is angry about is not important to the teacher. The two-hour workshop, which included role-playing, touched on everything from how to stand near students towhere to place hands and how to touch students in non-threatening ways.

"Let's not let the system run us," Commanday said. "Let's learn as many techniques as we can to be in charge."

Annapolis Principal Laura Webb said Commanday provided teachers with reasonable ways of dealing with disruptive students. She said some teachers do get caught up in the trap of not showing their students respect. The seminarsections on dignity and respect could be applied to all students, she added.

English teacher Serena Gillepsie said she found the workshop advantageous and sees the need for more workshops that involve both students and teachers. But one problem with the workshop is that some teachers already fear their students, Gillepsie said. Showing them weapons and telling them horror stories of the New York school system will make those teachers more fearful, she said.

"We need to bemore empathetic," Gillepsie said. "A few years ago, we went out and we saw the different communities our students live in. We saw the difference between the nice, big house and the other environments our students come from. It does make a difference.

"But that was three years ago. We need to do more things like that. Those are the things we need to know to deal with our students," she said.

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