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Dr. Ken Shore's
Classroom Problem Solver



Vandalism in schools might take a variety of forms, from doodling in books to writing on desks; from gouging walls to breaking windows, from slicing school bus seats to smashing school furniture. Although school administrators typically are responsible for dealing with student vandals, teachers who pay attention to the reasons for vandalism can play an important role in preventing the behavior.


Talk with students about respecting the property of others. Your students might need guidance about the importance of taking care of property that belongs to another person or to the school. Discuss with them what they should do if they lose or damage property that does not belong to them; talk about replacing the property or compensating the owner in some other way. Ask what they would want or expect to happen if another person damaged their property. Point out that school property also needs to be treated with respect, so it can be used and enjoyed by all students.

Examine a student's motivation for a specific act of vandalism. Understanding why a student damaged or destroyed property might help you figure out how to keep her from repeating the act. Try to identify the student's motivation by observing her carefully, and taking note of what triggers such behavior. Of course, although addressing the underlying concerns is important, that does not diminish the importance of holding the student accountable for the vandalism.

Be sure of a student's guilt before you accuse her. Do not accuse a student of vandalism unless you have convincing evidence she was responsible for it. If you suspect a student of vandalism, but have no proof, discuss the problem with her privately and ask if she knows what happened. If she denies any knowledge of the vandalism, don't pursue it. If you falsely accuse her, you risk alienating or angering her.

Inform your principal of any vandalism that occurs. Be sure to tell him or her about all but the most minor incidents. Your school might have a specific policy for handling vandalism, and your principal needs to know if the student or parent needs to compensate the school for the damage.

Inform parents of those responsible about all but the most minor acts of vandalism. Parental support ensures that you will be more effective in preventing future vandalism. Whether you contact parents for a particular incident depends on the extent of the damage. If a student has put gum under her desk or doodled in a book, you can handle the matter without informing the parent. If the incident is more serious, especially if it requires that the school be compensated in some way, a parent must be notified.

Require the student to make amends. Having the student remedy a problem she created is the best way of holding her accountable for her behavior. In determining the consequences, consider the nature of the damage and the age of the student, and make the punishment fit the crime. If a student has torn a page from a book, you might have her carefully tape the page back into the book. If she has put gum under a desk, you might have her stay after school and remove the gum from under all the desks in the classroom or cafeteria. If she has written on a desk, you might have her clean all the desks in the classroom. If the damage is such that a parent must pay for it, you might suggest --depending on the student's age -- that the parents find a suitable way for the child to work off at least a portion of the cost.


About Ken Shore

Dr. Kenneth Shore is a psychologist and chair of a child study team for the Hamilton, New Jersey Public Schools. He has written five books, including Special Kids Problem Solver and Elementary Teacher's Discipline Problem Solver.

Click to read a complete bio.