Bag Of Chips Provokes Shouting Match In Class

Quiet students abhor such disturbances; disaffected kids willfully defy rules; teachers should maintain order; but that's oft easier said than done.


(Editor's note: This column is written by High School English teacher Jerry Heverly. Its tag line is inspired by education blogger Joe Bower who says that when his students do an experiment, learning is the priority. Getting the correct answer is entirely secondary.)

I had a very difficult class today. It concerned the issue of food in the classroom.

At a recent staff meeting the importance of the food rule was reiterated: food and drink (except water) aren’t allowed in our building. If we see food in our classrooms, we're supposed to seize it and throw it in the trash.

Consistency is important because teachers who do not enforce the rule make life much harder for those who were.

I have had massive problems with food all year. I have explained over and over to the students that they may not have food in the classroom. (“But I’m not eating it,” they plead.)

Every day I sweep up twenty to thirty candy wrappers, evidence that I’m losing the war.

Today I noticed a large clear plastic bag sitting next to the desk of one of my students. The mouth of an open bag of chips was sticking out of the top of the bag. At least one other, full bag was underneath.

I took the bag from the student. Because of the large quantity of food involved I wasn’t sure if I should trash it all so I decided to lock it in my desk until the end of the period. I thought I might ultimately discard the open bag and forward the rest to the office for someone higher up to adjudicate.

Before I even got the food secured away the student began screaming at me.

“What are you doing? You’re gonna give that food back to me! The office gave me that food!”

Apparently someone had sent this food to the student and he had picked it up in the office earlier.

The room quickly descended into an uproar. Several students were screaming about the injustice of my having taken the food. I tried to restore order so that I could explain the situation but the students were having none of that. They rained insults at me including a few curses.

I tried to reason with one girl but she put her hands over her ears saying she wasn’t going to listen to anything I had to say.

Then I noticed a commotion near my desk.

A student had yanked the door of my desk open and spilled the bag of food on the floor. The chips from the open bag were everywhere. A sealed bag was hanging half out of the desk door.

The student who owned the food now became even more incensed.

“You’re givin’ me that food back or else,” he vowed.

I lost my temper. I opened the sealed bag of chips and emptied them in the trash. 

I spent the next few minutes trying to gain enough quiet to explain myself to the class. Finally I was able to do this. I related the school policy and my reasons for taking the food.

This did nothing to mollify the students. They remained angry and raucous. Only when the indignant food bearer stormed out of the room did they calm down.

I expect many readers will find my behavior inadequate. They expect the teacher to quickly cow a class into submission. Trying to reason with irrational fourteen year olds appears weak.

I will stipulate that, yes, I made several errors; most importantly I tried to explain when every word simply made the situation worse.

All I can say in my own defense is that teaching is a forging of relationships with 150 different personalities.

Incidents like this reveal the bind I often find myself in.

 Quiet students need a decorous classroom devoid of drama.

Disaffected kids come to class spoiling for a fight. They feign ignorance of the rules and become indignant at any perceived slight.  Rules become a red flag.

And what’s most surprising is that tomorrow virtually all the students will have forgotten the whole thing. 

Read other columns from the Entirely Secondary archive.

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Leah Hall November 08, 2012 at 08:23 PM
I place a demanding learning environment at a very high level of importance. However, it is adults who are responsible for ensuring that it is developmentally appropriate if we want the greatest number of students to succeed in our schools and life. "A parent (or other caring adult) who uses harsh and rigid forms of discipline may force a child into submission, rather than acceptance and understanding. This produces only surface conformity which hides insecurity and violent underlying destructiveness." --Western Journal of Medicine As inconvenient as the truth may be sometimes, it will bite back when it is perpetually ignored. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1511901/
Robert Marrujo November 08, 2012 at 08:27 PM
Teachers like Mr. Heaverly could get away with not having a commanding classroom presence if there was an attitude of discipline and order on campus in general. Lax security and inconsistent enforcement of the rules means that when a teacher randomly decides to be a disciplinarian they get a more voracious response than normal. It doesn't help either when parents are ignorant to or uncaring of classroom etiquette and rules. I don't know how many times I'd be running a tutorial and tell a kid to put away their cellphone only to be told, "oh, it's my mom/dad". It really doesn't help your kid's teachers when you're actively serving as a distraction to them. Not even just texting, outright phone calls sometimes! Ridiculous. But clearly, these problems are coming from within and without.
Leah Hall November 08, 2012 at 08:59 PM
I see a bit of dark comedy here. We're are chatting with each other online, where melt-downs, shouting matches, and uproars occur on an almost daily basis, with little sign of discipline coming from the combatants ourselves or General Patch Von Tom Abate. Just saying.
Robert Marrujo November 08, 2012 at 09:00 PM
Sending a kid to the principal's office for shouting at the teacher about a bag of chips he should have had put away in the first place seems perfectly "developmentally appropriate" to me.
Leah Hall November 08, 2012 at 09:14 PM
I won't argue with that point, it's banal what started it and what might have stopped it in my view. Most shouting matches usually are. I'm a great deal more curious about your other observations that get at the various student relationships (parent, teacher, other teachers and adults on campus, peers). Students rarely behave well merely out of fear of the punishments metered for breaking rules. Students behave positively on a consistent basis because they don't want to harm the adult relationships they value.
Rob Rich November 08, 2012 at 09:22 PM
Students need to know that there are rules, that they are enforced, and that there are consequences for breaking the rules. Everyone needs to be accountable. That's not the sum total of the classroom experience, but it is the bare minimum. I hope Mr. Heverly follows up, discussing the options at his disposal for kids who have food in class, scream, or reach into his desk.
Leah Hall November 08, 2012 at 09:54 PM
Agreed. In a civil society, that goes for people of all ages, not merely young adults. As adults, I believe we should make sure that these rules, and the scaffolding to support success, is developmentally appropriate for this age group. "Increased rebelliousness and defiance are normally characteristic of certain periods of development in healthy children." Fair enough. What's our excuse, Patch adults?
Robert Marrujo November 08, 2012 at 10:10 PM
Well, I can't say I totally agree with you there. There's nothing inherently wrong with discipline in the classroom, it teaches a respect for basic rules and conduct that a student will need to have if they want to function in the real world. I think it's a mistake to depend on a kid wanting to maintain interpersonal relationships to be enough to maintain a healthy outlook on authority and following rules. There needs to be a balance between discipline and positive reinforcement to foster a true healthy relationship between a student and teacher or child and parent. "Fear" has an unfair stigma attached to it these days, as though all it breeds are traumatized victims that hide in the basement and build bombs. You should have a healthy fear of breaking rules or ignoring social norms for the consequences it will bring. Consequences aren't/shouldn't be limited to punishment, either, but also how these infractions reflect on you as a person.
David November 08, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Leah, I'm not a child, and you're not a teacher.
Leah Hall November 08, 2012 at 10:33 PM
On some points I think we are in violent agreement, Robert. Discipline is necessary but not sufficient. Put another way, adults need to refuse students any type of behaviour that will bring danger/harm to him or to others. The means for achieving that end include fear of punishment, positive adult relationships that the student values, and other scaffolding structures like good nutrition and rest, rewarding activity and intentional downtime.
Leah Hall November 08, 2012 at 10:38 PM
May I introduce my Co-Combatant in Chief...'Er, David' He and I probably have more posts per day on Patch than any other readers here. A notorious badge of honor. :)
Robert Marrujo November 08, 2012 at 10:46 PM
I never said discipline was sufficient, but that it needed to be in tandem with positive reinforcement. Frankly, what you just typed is almost exactly what I said in response to you. Regardless, for any of this to do a student/child any good, it needs to happen on a consistent basis, something I feel the schools need to work on.
Leah Hall November 08, 2012 at 10:55 PM
Glad you feel that way, Robert. Violent agreement. I'd only echo your last comment by saying that it is something all of us who want to be supportive adults need to work on, not merely our neighborhood schools.
Robert Marrujo November 08, 2012 at 11:56 PM
"Violent agreements" pertain to arguments, not debates. Regardless, I think that one of the issues that makes disciplinary action hard in our schools is that a great many parents will instantly take their child's side regardless of what happened. It's understandable to defend one's offspring, but there are too many parents that will do so blindly and without hesitation. Thus, teachers and admins are reluctant to take action for fear of parent retribution. This is a behavior that crosses all socioeconomic boundaries, which makes it even harder to tackle.
Justin Agrella November 09, 2012 at 12:15 AM
Geez Jerry! You are dealing with animals and not children there! I don't fault you for anything you did---it didn't make a difference though. I would have just called security if it were me. Send the kidlet to the principal with security and anyone else who wanted to continue to be a jackass---even if it emptied the class for the day. :p I bet Joe Clark could straighten out that school. Nothing short of that is going to work. Getting serious about guidelines and backing up the teachers is what is needed. If the Student keeps getting out of hand then you meet with the parents. If that doesn't work then there is always Lincoln. We need to separate the trouble makers from the students that are ACTUALLY there to learn. Mixing them together is doing no good at all. I'll keep you in my prayers Jerry because a former Oakland USD teacher once told me that she had a meat cleaver thrown at her during class. It sound slike you are going into that territory soon if something is not done and soon.
Leah Hall November 09, 2012 at 12:34 AM
Robert, When I hear stories like that I think of Madeline Levine. I truly wish every parent and caring adult would read her latest book, "Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success" Though Levine focuses on high-resourced and affluent parents, I believe many of her insights apply to the well being and success of most children in the American system. http://www.forbes.com/sites/helaineolen/2012/07/28/madeline-levine-and-the-problems-of-elite-parenting/
Fred Eiger November 09, 2012 at 04:34 AM
Jerry did the right thing. What that punk needed was a good swift boot to his ass.
Jessica Gardner November 09, 2012 at 03:21 PM
So rules that haven't been enforced for months perhaps years are now being enforced was this communicated to the students? What a different outcome it would have been if the teacher announced to the class food in class is now being enforced and everyone put your food away. Obviously this student thought it was okay as one the office gave him his two bags of chips and two he had them out on his desk. The teacher thinks everything is okay When in fact it isn't The teacher has alot to learn What a waste of a class no wonder students aren't learning
Jessica Gardner November 09, 2012 at 03:24 PM
The reason this doesn't happen in private schools is that the rules are communicated and enforced by all teachers all the time.
Jessica Gardner November 09, 2012 at 06:11 PM
The principal doesn't want a student sent to his office because he has a bag of chips..... If this was such an important issue... The principal would have personally communicated this to the students that this rule is now being enforced
Jessica Gardner November 09, 2012 at 06:14 PM
And too all of you workers out there most jobs have written policies for employees not to use company assets for personal use. So just imagine your getting a call from wife, child at 3pm on company phone xyz happened and your boss then walks by and hangs up your call... Your on company time using company assets for personal use.... Rules are rules
Fred Eiger November 10, 2012 at 04:23 AM
Jessica, who cares? This punk knew the rules. Eating in class has always been prohibited. Plus, it's just common manners. Kids aren't learning because people like you baby them for infinity.
Robert Marrujo November 10, 2012 at 05:51 AM
Mr. Heaverly states at the beginning of the article that he's been battling food in his classroom the whole year on a daily basis, implying that the kid would be aware that it's not tolerated in his particular classroom. Just because the office gave the kid the chips doesn't mean that he should have interpreted it as a sign to have them out in the classroom. For the kid to assume that because the office gave him the chips it meant a rule-change across campus or even just Mr. Heaverly's class doesn't make any sense. In this instance, I think the kid was the main source of the idiocy here. However, I agree that the school needs to be consistent about enforcing rules across the board in each classroom. It makes the lives of people like Mr. Heaverly ridiculously difficult for no reason.
Jessica Gardner November 10, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Like the article stated in the beginning this was communicated to the TEACHERS not the students. The current method of teaching isn't working from administration down.... If one bag of chips causes chaos and no one learning then it's an even bigger picture of the dysfunction of the education system. And for the record corporal punishment is outlawed
Fred Eiger November 10, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Again, Jessica...big deal. Haverly said he has had a problem all year with food in the classroom. This kid knew the rules and broke them. Plain and simple sister. It's not the education system that is dysfunctional it's illiterates who attempt to justify their ignorance by blaming the "educational system" and by people like you who try to make the criminal out to be a victim. This punk needed a kick to his ass and some discipline in his life. There's no doubt this kid end up in Juvenile Hall or Santa Rita within 6 years. This is why Obama has support by those who blame others, take no responsibility for themselves and feel that society owes them a living. Well, for the record, take care of your self and quit making excuses for failure.
Robert Marrujo November 10, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Again, Mr. Heaverly clearly states that he has been dealing with fighting food in his classroom all year. The child would have been sent to the office for his ridiculously over the top response to Mr. Heverly, it's exaggerating to say it would have been just because of the chips.
Justin Agrella November 10, 2012 at 08:28 PM
And clearly this is a problem. Mr. Haverly is not getting much backing up out here. I wonder how much he gets in the classroom. Sounds like not much. As I said before, we need a Joe Clark type principal at the High School to deal with these behavior problems.
Jessica Gardner November 10, 2012 at 11:33 PM
it's time for Jerry to go If he's been fighting this battle over food all year if not longer he's lost complete control Let someone teach and motivate who care No other teacher are backing him on this over the top reaction on his part
Jessica Gardner November 10, 2012 at 11:33 PM
And you get respect by giving it
Jessica Gardner November 11, 2012 at 12:08 AM
The student was not sent to the principal office for his behavior What happened was Jerry sat down and write this piece about potato chips


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