Recently in a teacher training the topic of walking in straight lines came up during the discussion about classroom management. I was very surprised at the responses. Traditionally, teachers have been champions of having children walk in a straight line. “We’ve been under a long impression of tradition and knowledge of what works with “managing” children,” says one veteran teacher of over 28 years. After listening to educators speak on the subject about the management of classrooms and children; particular having them walk in a straight line, I realized that this is also the same conversation had about educational reform and why we’re still figuring out ways to successfully turnaround schools in 2019.
Acknowledgement and awareness around the school to prison pipeline from advocates has caused teachers and school leaders to look differently at some of the traditions of public education.
Requiring Students to Walk in Straight Lines; A Punitive Measure or Effective Management?
Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely times that walking in a straight line are important. However, I do believe that students, starting in 5th grade, should have the autonomy to walk to classes in different ways.
As a middle school teacher, I have noticed over the last couple of years that when students enter middle school they have no sense of time management, responsibility or accountability.
At the community school in my community, their 5th grade teachers did a great job with getting their students ready for middle and high school. Previously, their 5th grade scholars switched classes to get adjusted to walking to various classes on a time scheduled as opposed to lining up and walking in and out in a straight line. In talking with teachers at Brown Middle School, they attribute the innovation in elementary as a great skill to prepare 5th graders for the middle school experience.
Walking in a straight line is a conversation starter! It’s a great way to challenge the ideals we have as educators regarding. In doing research on the school to prison pipeline, juvenile detention centers have scholars to line up in a straight line, hands to the side, looking forward, not able to move until their instructor says so. Does this sound familiar?
Many schools often adapt to punitive discipline rules and procedures. These policies often target the behaviors of boys who need to be a little more active at times than girls. In speaking to parents, many of them have had experiences with getting a lot of phone calls from the school about discipline. One parent shared her experience. “A lot of those times were calls about my son not getting in line or not being still in class.”, states Ms. Spells.
“…there are better ways to manage children!”
Ms. Spells left her community public school because she found a school that she felt was a better environment for her son . “I wanted my son to be in an environment that doesn’t punish him for being a kid.” She doesn’t agree with children walking in a straight line after primary grades. “I’ve seen not just teachers but educators talk really mean to children about standing in a straight line. It’s overbearing and used to control children. There are better ways to manage children.”
I agree that there are better ways. I too have seen this in too many schools. As more school leaders and districts are exploring ways to improve schools, we should truly begin with the policies that involve discipline, behavior and attendance.
Imagine being the kid with unique, exceptional characteristics and being punished because you can’t stay still in a line. This is happening to children in 2nd and 3rd grade. We see the news reports constantly of the parents of Black boys having to advocate for this. Black boys especially are being given disciplinary consequences at higher rates for things such as simply not standing in a straight line.
Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.