April 3rd, 2008
10:10 AM ET

Third grade plot on teacher: How we fix this

When I learned about the third grade students in Georgia who plotted to attack their teacher, my heart broke. FULL STORY  Essentially, three systems put in place for our kids—parental, educational, mental health–have not yielded an outcome of which anyone of us can be proud.   And let me be very clear, this is not about blame.  This is about raising awareness of our children and working as a team so that communities wrap around each and every child so they may have a positive outcome.  These are the systems in which  I believe awareness needs to be strengthened:

The parenting system.  I would hope that parents of any child know and connect with the teachers and leaders of the school their child attends.  It is their business as parents to know what their kids are up to.  In this situation, we are talking about 8- to 10- year-olds, not independent teenagers who even legally have been given freedom.  So I stress to parents everywhere:  Know yourself, know your child.  Parenting begins with you.

And what I mean by this is, a parent with a balanced life, both physically and mentally, is a better parent.  A parent more equipped to be a loving and healthy role model. If you are not in balance, there is no way your child can be in balance...

The education system.  Yes, ultimately the plan was discovered, but how is it possible that it got this far in the first place?  School is the place where children spend 8 hours daily of monitored time.  I would hope that a teacher or a counselor in the system was plugged in enough to see this plan being hatched.  And particularly disturbing was the premeditation of the plan, the division of labor.  These kids banded together, and by the way, banding together is a good thing. Even the negative feelings toward the teacher that caused the kids to connect is okay.  It’s the navigation of these feelings in an appropriate and guided way that was not available to these children—that is the piece that’s missing here.  I believe that had there been some awareness and guidance, the outcome could have been a positive one.

The mental health system.  It has been reported that some of these children had learning disabilities.  Very common in this day and age.  However, if there was outside help (outside and independent from the school), I would hope there was integration of this help to the other aspects of these children’s lives, specifically, integration with family and school.  I would also hope someone was monitoring the outcomes of these treatments if there were any.  Connecting these dots is key.

Aside from these three systems that are in place to support our kids across the board, there are also other influences, namely media, video games and the technology of 2008.  And with all these systems, the truth is, basics are and always will be the most important lessons for our kids.  Showing respect, love and tolerance is the place to start.  Modeling and teaching strength-based connections for our children today leads to positive outcomes for tomorrow.

For more information, check out drsophy online

– Dr. Charles Sophy, Medical Director, Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS)

Filed under: Dr. Charles Sophy
soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Joeleen

    It's the blame game. I don't blame TV, Movies, Games, or Toys. It's the parents and people in children's lives that make a positive or negative difference in their lives. It starts at home, it's up to parents to make sure that their child learns what is right and wrong. If you shelter children from every bad or negative thing they will not be able to coupe or adjust to what is the right thing to do.

    April 4, 2008 at 8:58 pm |
  2. Debra

    You are some what right , but schools are partley to blame as well as parents that are not involved with their children's schools. When my son was mosested , I was at a board meeting that same night . The principals looked my in my face and did not tell me that my son had been molested untill two weeks later .

    April 4, 2008 at 8:16 pm |
  3. John Abono

    Schools are just a part of the community to fix the schools you must fix the community. What are inner cities? ghettos, High crime ,poverty,drugs, single parents, e.t.c. How can you have a good school in the middle of a ghetto? Fix the problems of the inner cities and you will have good schools. Until then stop blaming the inner city schools.

    April 4, 2008 at 6:55 pm |
  4. Nykeemah

    To start this off my question is why. Some younger kids faces problems within. For these children to act like this way this teacher had to seriously did something wrong.

    April 4, 2008 at 12:19 pm |
  5. Erica Johnson

    I agree with pretty much everything that Anderson said. The first thing that came to my mind was, "mental health." What is the mindstate third grade children that would do this? That's where a lot of crime starts in this country and the world: mental health and mental state. The corruption of the mind starts with a person's environment or in some cases, it is just inherited, so that's how the household comes into play. Are these kids getting enough positive attention, love and things that develop them into mentally healthy people. A lot of kids aren't being developed positively.

    April 4, 2008 at 5:19 am |
  6. Melissa

    I'm quite shocked at how organized and methodical these kids are at such a young age to have it so thoroughly planned out right down to each of their roles. I can recall of how naive I personally was between the ages of 8-10 that it's hard to comprehend how they were able to plan this. I can only presume that the lack of parental involvement is a major part of the problem....the other part I'm not sure what.

    April 3, 2008 at 6:40 pm |
  7. Jennifer NC

    I am not surprised the teacher didn't know about this plot sooner. The kids could have planned on the schoolbus, the cafeteria or on the playground .At my school 125 kids can be on the playground at one time. There is no way to track all of the conversations out there. Anoher possibility is that these kids lived near each other and planned it at a playground or something. I have been a Special Ed teacher of elementary students (many LD among them) for 15 years. I feel very safe in saying that there must be serious home issues here. There was probably a TV show or movie that inspired this plot but these kids (at least some of them) do not have stable home environments. I wonder how many of these kids have dads at home (or any other positive male role models). I wonder too how many live in heavy crime and/or low income neighborhoods.
    Another question I have is what were the parent/teacher relationships before this happened? I have dealt on many occasions with parents who do not like their kids teachers and speak very disrespectfully about them in front of their kids. Then the kids are very disrespectful toward the teachers because their parents have encouraged it. These parents also tend to believe that their kids do no wrong and any problem is the fault of the school.
    I would also caution anyone from saying that the kids did this because they are LD and so they must be too stupid to know better or something. If these kids in fact were identified according to the true definition of a learning disability then they have IQs in the average to above average range and definitely would know the difference between right and wrong and have the decision making abilities to do the right thing.

    April 3, 2008 at 3:28 pm |
  8. Dave S, Tinley Park, IL

    Kids that age are followers, and it only takes one to egg on the rest. Forget about blaming video games, tv, etc etc. There've been plenty of deviate actions prior to the invention of these things. I've been watching horror movies since I was 4 and had a steady diet of these movies and then video games all thru my life (I'm 44 now). I've never had any desire to seek out and harm anyone or anything.

    And to whomever mentioned the Bible as being 'the answer'-please! There's plenty of violent acts within the Bible, and religion is the excuse for a great amount of violence for hundreds of years.

    Teach your kids right from wrong and the consequences of both. Raise them decently and they might turn out decent-but there's still no guarantees. There will always be loose screws in our society and nothing we can do will prevent it.

    April 3, 2008 at 3:15 pm |
  9. Jo Ann

    I am not a parent so I don’t pretend to know the answer to this problem, but I agree with Dr. Sophy’s post today and with the comments made to this post earlier by Robert Arvada, CO.

    That said, I do have an opinion on the issue. Most people who have children are unqualified. How sad that the most important job in the world does not require a license or even a resume, just the ability to reproduce.

    Doctor Sophy is so right when he says that people with mentally and physically balanced lives make the best parents. Unfortunately, I believe many people have children for purely selfish reasons, the worst being to try and fulfill their own unsatisfied life and when that doesn’t work out the children pay the price.

    Our educational and mental health care systems are merely support systems, they are not meant to take the place of an unavailable or inattentive parent. If these children did indeed have learning disabilities there must have been a breakdown in communication between these systems.

    I think parents must stop allowing outside influences to become more important to a child’s life than the family unit. Unfortunately, the technological age has done as much to separate us as it has to bringing us closer together. Interaction between family members must be paramount. If an individual is caught up in his or her job or other activities and is unwilling to make the family the center of his or her life then they have no business creating children.

    Jo Ann
    North Royalton,Ohio

    April 3, 2008 at 2:23 pm |
  10. Genevieve M, TX

    Did you investigate the reason(s) behind the students wanting to assult the teacher? It does not make sense to me why kids that age would suddenly want to attack their teacher unless they were provoked or mistreated by her.

    When I was in high school, I had a teacher who was nasty and mean to students—unless you were a “bootlicker”. Worse, she never wanted to teach the subject she was hired to teach, which was math. I had her for pre-calculus in 10th grade and 80% my classmates from that semester failed. I was very lucky I got an 88% (a B), no one got an A (90% +)..

    Why did students dislike her? Well, she only “taught” you the examples already done in the book. No extras and heaven help the poor soul who asked her to give a repeat explanation of an example problem! If you dared to ask her to repeat, she would say “I already explained it, since you don’t know- take this piece of chalk and teach the class!” I am not joking. In addition, she never reviewed her own quizzes/tests before she administered them, so more often than not, there were errors.

    I told my parents repeatedly what was going on, but they did not believe me until my mother went to parent/teacher conference later that semester. I was frustrated and felt helpless because students don’t have any “rights” to change the situation without the help of parents. Anyway, my mother went to the conference and what this teacher said not only convinced her that I was not joking, but it made her very angry. The teacher told my mother, “Genevieve would have higher grades if she spent her LUNCH HOUR in my room working on problems instead of talking with her friends.” My mother loudly retorted, “My daughter is entitled to her lunch break. Over half your students are failing and she has the second highest grade!” Afterwards, my parents apologized for not believing me before then and my mother spoke to the principal about putting me in another class, but it was too late into the semester to do so. That teacher was fired 4 years later for poor student performance in the classroom and on standardized exams. It’s such a shame that she was terminated only after many students suffered from being in her class.

    I am sorry this is a long post, but I felt the need to share my story on this subject. Unless you or someone else has solid proof to the contrary…I strongly believe that the teacher’s behavior contributed to the students’ wanting to attack her.

    April 3, 2008 at 2:02 pm |
  11. Bev C.

    Lay the blame for this directly on the parents of these kids. Kids today are spoiled rotten. When I was a kid, I was NEVER indoors, always outside from breakfast to lunch, lunch to dinner and dinner until the street lights came on. Take away their computer, except for school work. Keep track of what they're doing. What a world we have now!!!!

    April 3, 2008 at 1:47 pm |
  12. Tina

    This event clearly should cause parents to stop and evaluate their childs daily activities. Are they receiving enough free time to use their imagination and participate in physical activity? Do they have too much time on their hands? How are they at handling life stuff suitable to their age. How do they respond to authority; do they fall into the victim, bully or drama categories? Help them learn how to cope with their feelings appropriately.

    This becomes more challenging the older they become which is why the first 5 years are so important. That is when the foundation is built. When they are older it is not impossible....just takes more time, sometimes creativity and alot more patience.

    Just this morning I was told I was "a mean mom" because I would not do what my child wanted me to do for her. It became a teaching moment – needed to be addressed then – so she can understand why she has to make efforts and not just wait (find) someone else to do it. Her challenges are not "someone elses fault".

    April 3, 2008 at 1:41 pm |
  13. Renee

    The focus on this country should be the family. It is the tapestry of our world.

    Unfortunately most of the families in America are broken. Many people think big homes, second homes, two big cars, five big screen televisions, Blackberries and video games are required for a good and happy life.

    A good and rich happy life IMHO is minimizing stuff and focusing on relationships and friendships. The stuff is all well and good if you can afford it. Too many families are over extended with multiple car payments and large mortgages. It is time to get rid of the material stuff and focus on the needs of each other, the children and our parents.

    April 3, 2008 at 1:35 pm |
  14. Rob, Arvada, CO

    The second paragraph of this article says it all. The social fabric of our country's families is coming undone. Don't blame the outside world for our children's problems. It all starts at home. Parents are the key to education, values, and religion. If you give children whatever they want, rarely discipline them, and don't make time for them, they will become tomorrow's criminals, homeless, and drug addicts. Having children is not like having a pet, it takes so much more than just feeding and housing them. It is a full-long time committment. People should not be having children just for the sake of having them. It is not a status symbol, like owning a home. Children are a tremendous responsibilty and it is all of our duty to make sure they get the love, attention, discipline, and values they need to survive in adulthood.

    April 3, 2008 at 12:55 pm |
  15. EJ - Ohio

    1) I don't have faith that people's parents are just going to change because others want them to.

    If a kid has a parent or parents who care, are involved in their lives, and are always looking out for their well being – he/she should consider himself/herself lucky. A lot of kids do not have that and never will.

    2) Violent video games and R-rated movies (although they do have a great influence) are not going to go away. I used to watch some R-rated Schwarzenneger and Police Academy movies when I was in elementary school and I seemed to turn out fine.

    3) There are always going to be a few bad apples in every grade. I wasn't so surprised to hear that 3 were charged.

    The other 6 seemed to be somewhat clueless followers – I think that can be changed... but expecting that kids are not going to do these types of things *ever* is not realistic.

    The overwhelming majority of 3rd graders do not plot to kill anyone. Just like most kids don't shoot up their schools when they get bullied.

    I remember when I was growing up (elementary school) there were always at least 2 people that were trouble in a grade level – bordering on criminal level activity. If that's what kind of home you come from (neglect, abuse, crime, drugs, etc) and that's all you see all day – then that is what will influence you.

    The 3 kids – the 2 girls and 1 boy – may already be exhibiting sociopathic or antisocial behavior. If this isn't a sign to their parent(s) right now and they don't do anything about it (or try), I think they will grow up to be troublemakers and possibly criminals. That's how the world works I suppose. Foster care doesn't seem to do a much better job with so many kids falling victim to abusive situations (yet again).

    April 3, 2008 at 12:40 pm |
  16. Tammy

    When I saw this story, I became sick. My nephew is a third grader, and the last thing I imagine him doing is plotting to kill off his teacher. Then again, his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins look out for him. We talk with him. We encourage his talents. He's read all the Potter books at least twice and is a pretty good actor in local children's theater. He created and sold his first newspaper last year. We as a family are all active in his life no matter what goes on in ours. We make time for him. I have to think that kids who are plotting to murder their teacher have no adult responsible enough to spend time with their children. These kids are like feral children raising themselves. It is a societal problem when a parent's life and job have to be more important than being home every night and spending time with their kids doing things as simple as reading a book or watching TV together. My parents both worked, and yet we had dinner together every night (conversation was a norm), spent time together going places on weekends (museums, historic sites, concerts, visiting family, and attending church), and dare I say it prayed as a family every night before I went to bed. If parents would do their jobs, the schools and mental health agencies could do theirs more effectively without having to act in loco parentis solving issues and problems they shouldn't have to solve in the first place. We need a return to family values yesterday. It would be nice if someone realized it's now almost too late.

    April 3, 2008 at 12:37 pm |
  17. Pamina

    This is a heartbreaking story. As an administrator in special education, parent/ school involvement and communication is vital to student's success. It is important to not assign blame, the whole system needs to work together, not try to blame each other, if we want our students to be successful.

    April 3, 2008 at 12:28 pm |
  18. Slater

    I am a firm believer in private schools and home schooling. Parents just get more involved in their children's education and upbringing and education if they are paying for it or supervising it.

    Private schooling is better structured. You pay good money for it. It is an investment in your and your child's future.

    Home schooling is structured as the parent sees fit. Some parents structure the entire week with schooling, play time and supervise socialization of their children.

    I was lucky along with my four brothers to have parents that really were interested in my future and invested in private schooling. They could have thrown me into public schools, but they cringed at the thought. Thank goodness for that! Later, I would not even consider public college, I went online and loved it. There was no peer pressure, no getting interrupted by the unruly kids whose parents treated education as a babysitter that pacified their child until they were of age and my environment was my own, so I had no anxieties about being shot in some random act of anger by a student with a gun who never got into the "in" crowd and wanted revenge.

    Imagine that. A world where parents take accountability and responsibility for the education and socialization of their children. Gang violence would go down because, well, where would they recruit from? Teachers would be safer because they would be working on a cyber basis, from home or an office. They could even hold online classes.

    But then I get these liberal responses from people who just think that we need to have public schooling because of the unfortunate. So tell them to stand up and take accountability and responsibility for their kids. If they are on welfare, they can home-school their child. They can find programs in the community to get their child involved in.

    I think people are lazy and depend on being ignorant so they can blame others, the system and the government for their demise. Get real. Get educated. Get moving.

    April 3, 2008 at 12:23 pm |
  19. Becca

    I'm not willing to concede that there was a fourth failure here – the media.

    These kids were between 8 and 10 years old. Not too soon for video games and R-rated movies to also be an influence. This sounds as cold and calculating as any action-adventure movie made today.

    I know many don't feel that the media are that influential, but these kids sure didn't get this idea from reading Winnie the Pooh or Harry Potter.

    April 3, 2008 at 11:19 am |
  20. jimmy velman


    April 3, 2008 at 11:12 am |
  21. Jamila. B


    April 3, 2008 at 11:10 am |
  22. Lesli

    Dr Sophy

    I was so shock, discouraged and heartsick when I heard of this story. It was one of those "What is this world coming to moments!"

    Your article was great, putting in perspective the three systems of raising a child – it does take a village.

    I look at my friends and coworkers, and my husband and I and say, there's just too much business in our lives. Over time we have pared down the activities and tried to stay connected with our 21 year old son and 14 year old daughter.

    Some of the best recommendations to stay in touch with your children are as follows:

    1. Play games with them – at all ages. They learn a lot of skills – both emotionally, and mentally, and it gives you an insite into your children'ts strengths and weaknesses.
    2. Have one meal a day minimum where you sit down together and discuss what has happened. Keep subject matter light and steer away from any heated discussions at this time. We find that when we go out to eat as a family we take away the distractions at home and often have better discussions as we see other people and how they relate to each other.
    3. Watch what they watch on TV. If they want to watch something you're not sure about, then watch it with them. When objectionable things happen, discuss them so that they understand why the show is not suitable for their age group, or your faith or whatever. We did this with the Simpsons and our son when he was five and it worked wonderfully.
    4. Don't rely on others to raise your kids. You had them, you take care of them, know where they are at all times. Insist they don't wander the streets. If your kids are spending a lot of time at someone else's home, then you'd better know an awful lot about that home.
    5. Let it be known that you want people who know your children to tell you if they observe any behaviour which is not suitable. you Then listen when they tell you, and don't jump to your child's defence. If a teacher or another parent or family member or friend comment, they may be just over critical, or they may have a point.
    6. Teach your children to respect others. When you are out demand exemplary behavior, and if they don't measure up – TAKE THEM HOME. Do not subject others to inappropriate behavior because you have errands to run or things to do.
    7. If both parents are involved in a child's life whether parents are divorced or married, you must maintain a united front. If you disagree about something in the way you raise your children, discuss it away from them – if things get confontational. Your spouse or ex should never allow a child to disresect the other parent – every!. Spouses and exes must stand up for each other even if they don't agree. These matters should be handled away from the child. That's not to say that you shouldn't disagree or solve things in front of them, but when you let your children know you don't respect their other parent, it leads them to believe it is acceptable for them to do it too.
    8. Love them. Tell them every day – yes every single day!

    I don't know if any of these tips will help anyone else, but this is the way our family works. Perhaps if you accept this you may want to comment or remove some tips – no problem.

    Parenting is a journey and there's no map quest. You just gotta make the wrong turns and wind your way through it.

    April 3, 2008 at 11:05 am |
  23. Michael

    My thought on this issue is that we as parents to need to step up and find out what is going in our kids lives. I think we have gotten so used to thinking of what our needs and wants as adults that we have totally forgot about the youth of this country. The fact of the matter is the we as the AMERICAN PUBLIC need to stpp looking at RACE and see how we can futher this country on its development. What need to do is think like this;" All of us are here now so lets see if we can make it work!" Is that so bad I mean damn I am a black man working for one of the major power companies in the country I do see the racism but do you I care I have to take care of my family. Those people did not hire me only I am responsible for me not them. Well I went on a rant but lets see if we stop putting the images and the ideas of all this unlawful stuff maybe things may get better with time

    April 3, 2008 at 11:00 am |
  24. Annie Kate

    I have wondered in this story if any of the children thought what they were planning to do was wrong but was too afraid to speak up and say so. It is a hard thing to do at any age but as a child when you want so desperately to be liked by your peers, it is even harder. Somehow we need to teach our children to have the courage of their convictions and at the same time to have respect for the convictions of their peers. Sounds easy but it so very hard.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 3, 2008 at 10:48 am |
  25. Cindy

    I have to say that I don't think that the school system let these kids down in any way! The teacher was doing the right thing by disciplining them for standing on a chair. The ones to blame are the parents who obviously have no control over their kids! Obviously they are let run amok and don't think that they have to follow rules. It seems there are a lot of kids out there these days who are spoiled too much and think the rules don't apply to them. It falls on the parents to teach their kids right from wrong and to discipline them at home to make them know that they have to follow the rules. The schools can't do it all.

    Cynthia, Covington, Ga.

    April 3, 2008 at 10:46 am |
  26. Betty Ann

    I would really like for you to find out WHY these little third graders wanted to kill their teacher.
    What about her was so bad that third graders wanted to murder her?
    Please tell. . .

    April 3, 2008 at 10:41 am |
  27. Faith formerly from PA

    Get the kids outside to play. Stop the violence on TV (that include playing gruesome news over and over) Get rid of video games and most of all teach children respect from a young age. We are all so busy keeping up with the Jones that we fail our children by not giving them the proper values. If they scream loud enough we give them what they want just to shut them up. if they do not stop there are no consequenses. I have heard so many children telling their parents shut up or mind your business I do not think there is any hope for our future.

    April 3, 2008 at 10:22 am |