In a recent article, a teacher student fight resulted from a teacher confiscating the students cell phone. Other students who were present in the classroom posted the evidence on YouTube. Teachers who confiscate student’s personal property must use alternative strategies that avoid teacher student fights.

According to the New York Daily Times, The 23-second clip shows a freshman at John F. Kennedy High School in Paterson manhandling a middle-aged teacher. The student wraps his arm around the teacher, drags him through the front of the classroom and then throws him onto the ground, and appears to hit him several times.

The physics teacher, who is 62, makes no attempt to fight back and none of the other students try to stop the fight, but one mutters, “Yo, chill!” when the student throws down his teacher as another classmate calls for security.

New reported that David Cozart, principal of operations at JFK, said the incident happened during a physics class. He said the teacher apparently confiscated the phone — which belonged to the assailant — from another student. The principal said students are allowed to use cellphones in class for academic purposes, but staff may take the devices and return them at the end of the day if students use them for other reasons.

The first problem with the cellphone policy is that it only works if the student trust the teacher. Black students have difficulty with trusting White teachers for several reasons.

  • Black students have difficulty accepting teachers as the primary source of knowledge due to becoming accustomed to sharing information on an equal basis with adults rather than the adult teaching them.
  • Many teachers treat Black high school students as though they are incapable decision makers that require their permission to do everything even though the student has had experience caring for younger brothers and sisters, teaching them safety and personal hygiene skills, and taking care of the home.
  • Black students withdraw from the instructional process or become discontented with whatever the teacher does when the teacher hinders student spontaneity and enthusiasm and punished the student by requiring the student to raise his or her hand in order to be recognized.

When the student asked for his phone to be returned, the teacher should have returned it and submitted a discipline referral to the school administrator. This would have avoided any type of incident which could lead to a teacher student fight.


Another challenge is the instructional content of the Physics class. While Paterson Public Schools do not reveal the prerequisites for Physics, the bigger problem for this student may be frustration from an inability to meet classroom expectations which lead to the teacher student fight. At a minimum the student should have had extensive success with Algebra. It leads me to ask:

Why is a Paterson Public School ninth grader taking a Physics course?

Another problem is the relationship that the Physics teacher had with the other students in the class. It is very evident that he did not have positive classroom relationships with the students. School district spokesperson Terry Corallo told the paper she “disappointed” to see the other students didn’t try to stop the fight. It should be no surprise that the students align with themselves more than they do with teachers. In this case, with White teachers.

White teachers should use strategies that develop trust by promoting positive racial teacher student classroom relationships. Teachers develop positive relationships with students by engaging them in personal and meaningful dialogue that includes personal and nonacademic issues such as student interest, goals, aspirations, likes and dislike, family, and culture.

Confiscating cellphones from students without establishing positive relationships can only lead to a confrontation such as a teacher student fight.

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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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2 thoughts on “Did Paterson School cellphone policy promote teacher student fight?”

  1. I’m not sure how you come to your conclusions and how race became a part of this equation. Maybe the student simply didn’t want his phone to be taken. Maybe other classmates were afraid of him. Maybe he had algebra in the 8th grade, which a lot of math curricula calls for. Please help me understand.

    1. It is a confrontation between a White man and a Black teenager. The teacher could have and should have used alternative methis in this circumstance. If the teacher did not establish positive relationships with the students he will not have the respect to be able to confiscate anything from the children. In this case, he should have written two discipline referrals. One for the student and one for the student who originally had the cell phone. Another questions is why is a 62 year old White male teacher confronting a Black teenager. Maybe the teacher was feeling his oats that day. Another question. What is a 9th grader doing taking Physics. Evidently he as not mature enough for the class.

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