In a recent article, a La Marque High School teacher escapes responsibility in instigating a teacher student fight. A student responded to the teachers refusal to return her personal property by assaulting the teacher. The school community showed their support for the teacher by having the student arrested and collected testimony from students to reinforce their power over values which prevail in the La Marque High School.

The purpose for collection of student testimony is consistent with the organizational malaise level of a dysfunctional organization. The major reason that La Marque High School teachers rushed to collect student testimony was to cover-up how the teacher and the school district has contributed to the teacher student fight. The teachers and administrators will sift through the testimonies to only submit the ones that support their values. This process is consistent with a dysfunctional organization.

Dysfunctional organizations exhibit several characteristics that are detrimental to its existence. The foundation for the dysfunctional organization begins with each person’s use of defense mechanisms for coping. Defense mechanisms are the unwritten rules an individual learns and utilizes to effectively deal with circumstances that are upsetting, embarrassing, or threatening.

The second level is skilled incompetence, which is the outcome of the defense mechanisms we have internalized. When the defensive behaviors we’ve learned are transformed into a learned behavior, that behavior becomes a skill – albeit an incompetent skill – that we consider necessary in order to deal with issues that are embarrassing, threatening, or upsetting. A skill that is learned from the regular application of a defense mechanism has a high degree of incompetence embedded within it, because we are unaware of how this skill will impact our future.

Skilled incompetence transforms into a defensive routine. Defensive mechanisms are the third level. When the skilled incompetence is automatically exhibited at all times, the behavior is now a defensive routine.

Defensive routines lead to fancy footwork. Fancy footwork is the fourth level. Fancy footwork happens when individuals try to deny the behavioral inconsistencies they exhibit, or else they place blame on other people, which results in distancing themselves from taking responsibility for their behavioral inconsistencies.

Fancy footwork leads to organizational malaise. Organizational malaise is the final level. During this phase the individuals in the organization will seek to find fault within the organization rather than accept responsibility for their actions and correct their behavior accordingly. The individual continues the process by accentuating the negative and deemphasizing the positive in an effort to cover up their actions. The organizational malaise is further exacerbated by a refusal of one or all the members to discuss their area of responsibility.

Organizational Malaise

The superintendent Terri Watkins stated that the students attack on the teacher is unacceptable. This belief is reinforced by the La Marque High School staff taking the steps to have the student arrested without publicly denouncing that the teacher stepped out of her authority by confiscating the student’s book bag as well as without telling the student why. Evidently, carrying a book bag to class is not a violation of the school’s rules or it is one that the teachers allow students to violate.

Fancy Footwork

It was reported that teachers rushed in to take statements from the students who witnessed the teacher student fight. This is an attempt by teachers to collect as much information as possible so that they can deny any inconsistencies with the distribution of discipline at the La Marque High School.

Defensive Routine

The automatic skill that the teachers and administrators exhibited is to assume that the student was 100% wrong. Whenever there is a confrontation between a student and a teacher the assumption is that the student is the violator.

Skilled Incompetence

The abuse of teacher authority is not something new. Teachers are give legitimized authority in the classroom and when it comes to classroom mismanagement and discipline they are encouraged to test the waters with the support of upper level administration and other teachers.

Defensive Mechanisms

The defensive mechanism is “power over authority”. Without it the monetary livelihood of a teacher is jeopardized.

Since the school is dysfunctional it will have to use other strategies that exclude increased police presence or enhancing the zero-intolerance discipline for students. The best way for the La Marque High School staff to overcome the characteristics of a dysfunctional organization which leads to teacher student fights is for the staff to develop a shared vision and strategic plan for reducing teacher student fights and enhancing teacher student classroom relationships.

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Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D. PO Box 1668 Blackwood, NJ 08012


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Author of Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships


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