Cleveland Schools CEO Eugene Sanders has said that cracking down on unruly behavior is one of his top priorities. While stories of student fights and teacher assaults make the headlines, there are educators working quietly within the system who maintain order against all odds. ideastream's David C. Barnett recently paid a visit to a local classroom where discipline is a matter of mutual respect.
The fact that the teacher is different becomes very obvious to the students from the moment she begins the roll call.
Teddy Mwonyonyi: I say, 'Look, if I don't say your name right, excuse me. Because I know you cannot say mine either.'
It's a tongue-twister, alright. Last name, Moan-YONE-yee. First name Teddy. She's a native of Uganda who came to the U.S. to pursue college studies, but also to escape the civil unrest that had infested her country under the rule of President Idi Amin in the 1970s. After taking teacher education courses at Kent State, she was hired by the Cleveland School District.
These 8th grade students at Carl & Louis Stokes Central Academy are learning about social interactions; about some of the moral choices one has to make in dealing with friends and family.
Teddy Mwonyonyi loves to teach middle schoolers - the ones walking the tightrope between childhood innocence and teenaged jadedness. These are the ones you can still "mold," as she puts it.
Teddy Mwonyonyi: It has happened to me once, for a child to disrespect me to my face. I had to get rid of her 'till the mother came in. And I quoted exactly what she said, and she cried. But, you know what? We are the best of friends, right now.
Sarah Davis has taught in the Cincinnati Public Schools for the past 20 years. She's also a trainer at the Center for Peace Education, focusing on the techniques of maintaining classroom discipline. Davis says children need to be guided, rather than punished into good behavior.
Sarah Davis: It's not that, in the past, they've had the opportunity to do right or to do wrong and they chose to do wrong. I think that in many cases, children don't understand that there is that opportunity out there to choose.
Stokes Central Academy Principal Donna Baynes says a good teacher has to know more than his or her subject matter.
Donna Baynes: When you go in to teach, you've got to know the culture of those kids, you've got to know where they come from, you've got to be willing to take them from where they are to where you want them to go.
To look at all the new housing sprouting up around Stokes Academy on East 40th Street, you might get the impression that this is an upscale neighborhood. But, school enrollment statistics tell a different story. Many children come from homes with single parents, from homes where grandparents are raising the kids, and in some cases, from families who are homeless. Teddy Mwonyonyi thinks that some teachers haven't adapted to these new realities.
Teddy Mwonyonyi: The student has changed. I don't think the teacher has changed with the student. The student I taught in 1980, is not the same student that I get now.
I set the tone in the beginning of the year. We have school rules about safety, respect, success, okay? We are going to have a lot of fun this year, if you are willing to take my advice. But, once you disrespect me, I cannot teach you.
For all her enthusiasm, Teddy Mwonyonyi admits that there are times when she gets overwhelmed. Her principal, Donna Baynes, understands. She started out as a teacher, 30 years ago, and has watched the profession take on more and more responsibilities, while resources continue to shrink.
Donna Baynes: Over the years, we have become the primary disciplinarian. We become the social worker. We become the nurse. We become the doctor. The psychiatrist. That's fine. We're here to educate the whole child. But, we really want to get to the business of teaching them learning.
David C. Barnett, 90.3.