An Educator’s Solution to Cops in Schools

Annie Newman
10 min readDec 20, 2022


Image credit: Pixabay via Pixels

The Lay of the Land

Last week I had a child run away from me because I wouldn’t let them go to the water fountain. This wasn’t some needless power play on my part: they had just finished breakfast in the classroom, and I had watched them drink two full cartons of apple juice. Immediately before the incident, this child had just had fifteen free minutes within which they could have retrieved another drink. Once in the hallway, the water fountain was on the opposite end of the school, and we were already a few minutes late for their music period. In short, this kid wasn’t thirsty, they were stalling. I told them several times why they were not being allowed to go get water. Undettered, the child then began to walk past me, in the opposite direction from the rest of the class. I placed myself in their way. They feinted to the left, and I stepped to match. Then dodged to the right, so I stepped back again, trying to reason with them. After several rounds of this, they literally rolled around me like an NFL receiver and sprinted down the hall. Being as I am not allowed to restrain a child, and nor do I want to exert that sort of force, I was powerless to stop them.

At least this child was relatively quiet, and a quick call to the vice principal put things more or less back on track. The children prone to outbursts, often laced with profanity and calls to violence — even at the elementary school stage — are a whole different level of difficulty. Towards the beginning of the year I had a child under the age of ten who was having a rough day. I could tell that they weren’t going to get a lot of work done, for whatever reason, and I had stopped trying to force them to do something that would only lead to more problems. For a while they drew quietly, but then they began scuffing their foot while the rest of the class was working on a writing assignment. The scuffing escalated to kicking the desk when they didn’t get a rise out of anyone.

I came around the first time and reminded them “your classmates are working on their writing assignment. I’ve already let you know you don’t have to do it right now, but kicking your desk is disrespectful to both their concentration and the school property.”

“So what?” they mumbled, but slowed back down to scuffing…for about a minute. Then the kicking started again.

“I told you once before that was disrespectful. Please stop,” I reminded them again. I got a glare for an answer. Less than sixty seconds later they were back at it again.

This time I walked over and bent down so we would be eye-level. I had to use one hand to balance myself, but I put the other hand palm up on their desk, trying to indicate an open, receptive, and problem-solving mood while saying calmly, “listen. This sort of behavior can’t continue. What do you think you can do instead? What can we do together to stop this?”

This same child looked at me with hate in their eyes and said through gritted teeth, “The only thing that will make me stop is if you kill me or I suicide.” I had no choice but to report that kind of language to the administrators.

Later that day, in the same class, I had another kid flip their chair because they got upset over a worksheet. I had them spin their desk around to face away from the rest of the class and put their head down. I chose to ignore their swearing, because it was mostly under their breath, and we only had ten more minutes before recess and the break we all needed. Weeks later, this same child who flipped their chair over the worksheet was permanently removed from the classroom because of their destructive behavior. While my heart bleeds for this poor, hurting child, there are seventeen of their classmates to consider. The safety of those other students, and their ability to learn, matters as well.

I was subbing for that grade’s paraprofessional the day of the final incident, and came in to the aftermath of teachers and shaken classmates righting desks, re-taping posters to walls, and picking up chairs. I scooped up some papers that had fallen to the floor. They were wrinkled and covered in dusty footprints. I checked names and handed them back to the students to whom they belonged. One of the children who knows me a bit better said “I can’t believe [they] did that! I was so freaked out!” Normally a chatty class, they seemed subdued the rest of the day as I popped in and out to help with reading and math.

When a child says they are going to kill everyone in their class, as another child I have worked with did the day before winter break, administrators have to frame this not only against national conversations around Columbine and Uvalde, but recent, personal incidents of jawdropping student aggression from children still in grade school (to say nothing of what happens when these kids enter high school, with teenage hormones added to the mix). How does a chronically underfunded, understaffed school system balance empathy and patience for one child in crisis with the imperative for safety of the other two-dozen children in a classroom?What is a school to do when faced with disruptions of this magnitude and frequency? It deeply saddens me that other school districts are getting the police involved, and I will do everything as a mother and an educator to keep it from getting to that point in my county. But I also sympathize with the teachers and administrators facing a brutal Sophie’s choice when confronted by a potentially violent student: risk the safety of the “problem child” by involving the police, or risk the school becoming the site of the next massacre, the next set of national headlines, the next recipient of the nation’s thoughts and prayers.

The problems behind the problem

Police in schools is a late-stage symptom of deeper deficiencies in our children’s broader education as human beings. After observing my substitute classes, my own children and their friends, and speaking with long-time educators, there are three fundamental lessons that I do not think kids are being taught. These lessons need to be specifically modeled in their life if we want to have better school environments free from police violence. These lessons are:

Understanding and respecting the personhood of others: A lot of this comes down to basic politeness: acknowledging others with a thank you when they hold the door open or pass you something, saying hello and goodbye upon entering and leaving a space, listening attentively as possible. But being polite is just a meaningless activity if a child doesn’t understand why we are polite. We are polite because it is a way to recognize the personhood of another individual. By being polite, we acknowledge that the person on the receiving end is, in fact, worthy of respect and attention. That should just be basic human kindness. But even though it is basic, it is not instinctual. Believe me, I have two young girls of my own at home and we have discussions around respecting each other on an almost daily basis. I think that parents — and the broader community — have not adequately passed this understanding down to our children.

Seeing one’s self as part of a larger collective: The US in particular has a long, toxic romance with individualism, and I think we’re starting to see it’s inevitable outcome. Children no longer see themselves as part of something larger, whether that be a representative of their sports team, class, extended family, or community group. When children are raised to believe that their actions have no consequences beyond themselves, why should they care about anything beyond themselves? I remind my girls daily that they are part of something larger, and anything they do reflects upon the rest of us. Is one of them going over to a play date? Make sure to behave, because we don’t want to be labeled as the family that has wild kids and never gets invited to fun things like barbeques and pool parties. Did you try your best on that group project? Because only your best effort will get everyone in the group a good grade. Children need this modeled for them not just in school, but also at home, church, neighborhood, and team levels.

Finally, teach the gravity of life and death: I was raised on Tom & Jerry cartoons and have played my fair share of violent video games. My own kids watch movies with violence and death in them (their favorite movie is Princess Mononoke). But they are also active in the caretaking of our family pets and garden. My kids are also in the unique position of being farm kids, and have been attending our chicken processings since they were six weeks old. They have seen living things actually die and understand that it is no small event: they pray with their father before the first kill, and give thanks again when we eat a meal from the meat of those chickens. And they are certainly not allowed to casually drop phrases like “I’ll kill you.” But that is not the case with most kids. They throw around scary language without realizing the seriousness of it, and being able to get away with that sort of language is, in my opinion, the true first step in desensitization towards violence. With no one teaching them the difference between the dramatization they may see in a game or a video and the real world, who can blame them? We need to be more explicit in teaching them the difference.

These lessons aren’t (or shouldn’t be) the responsibility of the teachers

Raising healthy and well-adjusted children is time-consuming, resource-intensive work. Yet as a society, we’re pulling resources away from the people equipped to do that work while pouring money into the people who enforce the inevitable consequences at gunpoint.

Teachers do many wonderful things, and can be wonderful, positive influences upon their students’ lives. But teachers are not social workers, therapists, psychiatrists, surrogate parents, or big brothers/sisters. Society is nevertheless insisting on educators occupying these roles while providing them fewer and fewer resources, and it is reaching a crisis point.

Parents are also starved of resources, especially the resource of time. Wage theft, debt slavery, rising rents, and the one-two punch of COVID and the recent explosion of inflation are stripping parents of their humanity and reducing them to economic machinery, their children effectively orphaned to whichever part of the state has the most resources which, in this country, are usually the people with the weapons.

To wit, many police forces are awash in so much funding they’re better equipped than some nations’ armies. Just as they have become the de facto first responders to all other community problems, police are now in the position of being the only ones equipped to handle the escalating behavior we are seeing in schools. And as we see from the stories out of Brevard County, Florida to Jacksonville, Illinois they’re handling it exactly the way they have been trained to: with violence, intimidation, and fear. The resulting outrage at the police is beyond justified, but as a mother and an educator, I think we are collectively barking only at the effect of the real problem, rather than the cause.

The solution to this is two-fold and multi-step that starts with advocating for systemic change on multiple fronts.

Those tired parents need help making ends meet so they have the mental bandwidth to actually parent. This means drafting new policies around access to child care, health care, good food through WIC and similar services, and living wages.

Teachers and schools are going to need more resources: better pay, better staff:student ratios, and more therapeutic support for children so they can deal with behavioral and emotional issues before police involvement becomes the only choice left.

Finally, community in general needs more fostering. This can be done a lot of ways and through lots of organizations, but at a government level that can look like anything from a town council sponsoring more community events to a school board approving ongoing education courses in conflict resolution.

This change takes time, and the collective action of multiple agencies, but we can help speed it along: of course voting and calling your representatives is a good start. Getting involved in local government is even better because they often have more leeway to see more change, faster, than higher levels of government do. If you want to run for something, by all means, go for it! But don’t let that intimidate you, involvement can be quieter, too: volunteering at your polling place or local town offices, or attending school board meetings and sharing your thoughts on matters open to public opinion, for example.

We all have a role to play here at a more personal level as well. Apply to substitute teach: it’s a great, flexible part-time gig with summers off, and schools always need more substitute teachers. Short of that, volunteer with the school. Or a tutoring program, or a sports or scouting program. Or simply be involved with the kids around you: be kind and show interest in your neighbor’s kids, your cousin’s kids, whoever has kids around you, just be a positive adult influence in their life, instilling the crucial and forgotten lessons that have been outlined above. It takes a village to raise a child.

Cops in schools are a concerning trend. An angry tweet or tiktok response may make us feel better in the moment, and may even raise a modicum of awareness, but then we need to put that awareness to work. When you share these stories, talk about the reasons why more cops are in schools, too, and talk about what needs to be done to fix that. We still have the power to turn this around, and it shouldn’t take a tragedy to make us come together around our children.

Annie Newman is a substitute teacher, mom, and aspiring children’s book author raising two children: one neurotypical and one autistic. You can also follow her day-to-day learning on Instagram and on Tiktok.



Annie Newman

Two kids, one NT and one Autistic. On a learning and therapy journey that is constantly evolving.