Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Psychology and Research

Major Professor

Katherine H Greenberg

Committee Members

Amy Broemmel, Susan Groenke, Trena Paulus


The purpose of this dissertation study was to consider the ways in which middle school students made meaning of their experience with exclusionary discipline, specifically in-school suspension (ISS). While ISS has historically been positioned as an alternative to exclusionary discipline, ISS programs are often designed in ways that are exclusionary. Current research on exclusionary discipline points to the ways in which suspensions and expulsions impact students academically, socially, and emotionally. Very little of that research, however, considers the perspectives of the students who have been the recipients of exclusionary discipline. Thus, seeking to more fully understand the lived experiences of students who have been in ISS, I chose to apply a phenomenological methodology to the study.

The research took place in a large school system in the Southeast, specifically with 13 middle school students in grades six through eight. The participants had been suspended between four and 14 times, for between eight and 37 days. Situating the study within a social constructionist framework, I viewed student behavior as socially constructed within interactions with school personnel. Drawing on an interpretive approach to phenomenological inquiry, I developed verbal portraits of each student in the form of first person accounts of their experiences with ISS. I also conducted a thematic analysis of the 13 interviews, developing five themes that illustrated how they made meaning of their experience.

The themes, expressed in the words of the participants, are: (1) Gettin’ Written Up, (2) There are Some Teachers, (3) Sometimes it’s Boring. Sometimes it’s Fun. Sometimes it’s Torture. (4) The ISS Teacher’s a Nice Lady with a Snoozy Attitude, and (5) Our Learning Time. Based on these findings, implications are presented for both educators and educational researchers. Implications include (1) the need for students’ input into educational decisions and educational research, (2) the need to research and design ISS programs that benefit students rather than simply punish them, (3) the need for discussions around teachers who bully students and the ways in which students resist such treatment (or don’t), and (4) the need to further investigate the role of the ISS teacher in student discipline.

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