Dealing with School Vandalism
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
Vandalism in schools may take various forms, from writing in books to writing on desks, from marring walls to smashing windows, from cutting up school bus seats to taking school furniture apart. While the principal is typically responsible for dealing with student vandals, teachers play an important role in preventing vandalism by attending to the reasons for the behavior.
What You Can Do
- Talk with your students about caring for others’ property. Your students may need some guidance about the importance of caring for property that belongs to another person or the school. Talk with them about what to do if they lose or damage property that is not theirs, including replacing it or compensating the person. Consider asking them what they would expect to happen if another student damaged their property. Discuss how school property also needs to be treated with respect so it can be enjoyed by other students.
- Examine the student’s motivation. Understanding why the student damaged or destroyed property may help you figure out how to keep him from repeating the act. Try to identify the student’s motivation by observing him carefully, taking note of what triggers the behavior. While it is important to address these underlying concerns, this does not lessen the importance of holding the student accountable for the vandalism.
- Be sure of a student’s guilt before you accuse him. Do not accuse a student of vandalism unless you have convincing evidence that he was responsible. If you suspect him of having done it but have no proof, tell him in private of the problem and ask if he has any knowledge of what happened. If he denies it, don’t pursue it any further with him. If you falsely accuse him of having engaged in vandalism, you risk alienating him and perhaps incurring his wrath.
- Inform your principal. Make sure to let him know of all but minor incidents of vandalism. Your school may have a specific policy for handling vandalism. Also let to the principal know if the student or parent needs to compensate the school in some way for the damage.
- Inform the parents for other than minor incidents. You will be more effective in preventing future acts of vandalism if you have parent support. Whether you contact parents for a particular incident should depend on the extent of the damage. If the student has put gum under his desk or written in a book, you can handle this matter without informing the parents. If the incident is more serious, especially if it requires that the school be compensated in some way, parents must be notified.
- Require the student to make amends. Having the student remedy the problem he created is the best way of holding him accountable for his behavior. In devising this remedy, consider the nature of the damage and the age of the student, and make the punishment fit the crime. If the student has torn a page from a book, you might have him carefully tape it back in the book. If he has put gum under his desk, you might have him stay after school and remove gum from under all the desks. If he has written on the desk, have him clean the desks in your classroom. If the damage is such that the parents must pay for it, suggest that they find some way for their child to do chores at home to work off the cost in a way that is suitable for his age.
- Model respect for school property. Demonstrate to your students how you value school property through your actions. You can do this by treating items in your room with care, whether by the way you have arranged books on the shelves or the attention you have paid to decorating the room.
- Recognize students who treat property with care. Praise students when you see them handling materials carefully (“Sarah, I really like the way you have protected your books by covering them”). This not only conveys the message that care of school property is an important value but also suggests to students that treat classroom materials respectfully will gain attention from you.
- Have the student write down what he did. Have an older student describe what he did on paper and ask him to discuss the possible consequences of school vandalism. Tell him that you will put this paper in his school file and remove it at the end of the year if there are no further incidents of vandalism. You might also send his written statement to his parents while telling the student you are doing this.
- Eliminate evidence of school vandalism immediately. By showing students that the defacing of school property will not only be punished but also will be of short duration, you will discourage others from engaging in vandalism.
- Give the student a sense of belonging in school. He will be less likely to damage school property if he feels a sense of ownership and pride in the school. Involve him in activities that give him a good feeling about school so that he is more likely to care for it than vandalize it. Some possible activities: planting a garden; decorating one of the school’s walls; and painting walls that have been defaced.
- Help the student understand the consequences of vandalism. Find out from the principal the cost of repairs for the previous year for vandalism. Have students figure out how many pizza parties the school could have had if there was no vandalism.
- Make the student responsible for specific school property. Surprise the student who has engaged in vandalism by showing trust in his ability to care for school property. You might, for example, have him help you with audio-visual or athletic equipment. Tell him that you are confident he can handle this task in a responsible manner. He will not want to disappoint you.