One of our school principals tells this story…
I had asked teachers to supervise their own detentions simply because I wasn’t “comfortable” with the idea of a place designated as the DT room. I hadn’t really thought it through for myself and articulated the concerns… perhaps it seemed that it might be a case of if you build it they will come! A few weeks into the semester a couple of teachers approached me with a request to combine their detained students so that “one person could supervise allowing the other to run intramurals.” That seemed like such a reasonable request. So practical and efficient a use of resources! In no time the number of teachers rotating in and out of the DT room grew, as did the number of inmates.
I asked the teachers to collect some data. To record the date, the names, and the reasons the students were there. I took the binder home over spring break and analyzed the entries. The same kids were spending time there for the same reasons over and over. This seemed to indicate that the detentions were not solving the problems. How could the supervising teacher know what work the student was responsible to complete? How could the supervising teacher help the student if they didn’t understand the assignment? How did the detention serve to increase the student’s respect for the teacher he had been rude to? How did the DT lead to the student remembering her books for the next class? How was the detention a punishment for the kid who never wanted to go outside anyway?
I asked TAs, who were forced to have an unpaid half-hour during our 60-minute lunch time, if they would agree to supervise at noon and be paid. This freed the teachers up to deal with their own students. If a child was rude, the teacher needed to meet with her and improve the relationship. If a parent needed to be called this gave the teacher time to attend to it. If the student didn’t understand the homework, the teacher could spend some time assisting him. If a teacher needed to speak with a counselor or an administrator about a student there was time for that. The teacher could let the student go once things were resolved and the student could still have some of the recreational time once his or her responsibilities were taken care of. None of these things could happen if another teacher was supervising the students in a detention room.
We often sacrifice meaningful gains to what we call efficiencies. But in the end, no matter how efficient something is, if it doesn’t gain the goal we seek, it’s a total waste of time. One of my secretaries marvels that I will spend an hour over the mitts lost by a kindergarten student. I will have this student and these parents in the school community for nine years! This is an efficient (and effective) use of my time if I gain this parent’s respect and cooperation in all the future encounters we will share over those nine years.