Tag Archives: zero tolerance

Zero tolerance

22 Oct

In 1997, when I was teaching ESL at Meadow Park Middle School, I accidentally got an 8th grade boy suspended. He was sitting in my ESL class and suddenly his pants exploded. It wasn’t a big explosion, but it was loud. He had caps in his pocket, had stuck his hand in to play around with them as an old man might play with coins in his pants. He accidentally set them off. I sent him to the office because he’d burnt his hands a little and he ended up suspended for having explosives at school. I learned my lesson.

A few years later, I’d moved to the elementary school I now teach at. I taught 4th grade out in a portable. I had a scatterbrained gifted kid who showed up one day with a toy knife. It was very realistic. I knew exactly what had happened before he even told me. He’d been playing with it at home, Mom told him it was time to go to school and it just travelled along. I took it from him and told him he could have it back when I saw his mom at conferences. I called Mom to let there know about it. He came back the next day and told me that his mom said he had to than me and say I was the nicer teacher ever. We all knew that if this incident had made it to the office, he would have been suspended.

In this zero tolerance world, kids aren’t allowed to make any little  errors of judgement. No little mistakes to learn how to keep from making big mistakes.


Enter Zero Tolerance by Claudia Mills.  When perfect student  Sierra Shepherd realizes she has her mom’s lunch with a paring knife, she tries to do the right thing. She tells the lunch lady who takes her to the office. There, she is put into in school suspension (ISS) pending an expulsion hearing. It seems so ludicrous, but the school policy is clear.

Mills totally nails Sierra’s voice.  The book is narrated in the 3rd person, but it really feels as though Sierra s telling the story. As she spends time in ISS she gets to know kids she hasn’t really spent much time thinking about. She understands that everyone doesn’t love school or have a supportive family. She learns about the real world and herself. I imagined her growing up to be a laser like her father, but fighting for the little guys. A solid read for middle grade students.

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