Adjusting to USA school laws

three high school girls outside school
Photo: iStock

Coming to the USA as a teenager who grew up as a refugee in different countries, I did not really understand legal systems.

My family resettled in the United States when I was 16 years old. I still had a lot to learn about life in general. One of the things I had to learn was how USA school laws work.

I was coming from a refugee camp, where people were governed by the laws of our host country and the customs of our country of origin. The American legal system seemed different in many ways, even before I was informed about most of the laws.

I, of course, knew right and wrong. I had witnessed people getting arrested because of the different crimes they committed. But it was not until I resettled then I realize some of the things people did where I grew up were illegal here. For example, it was normal for a teacher to physically punish a child at school.

Growing up, my classmates and I always knew that we had to do everything the teacher asked.

We had been raised in a society where you were expected to do as you were told and never question it.

Our homework had to be submitted on time. We were not allowed to speak in class without raising hands and being asked to speak first. We could not be late for any reason if we did not want to be punished. For most of my life before attending an American college, this was my normal. Fortunately, I was always a disciplined student. It was very rare that I faced a teacher’s punishments.

My classmates were not always so lucky. I remember students being asked to kneel down outside of the classroom for hours because they did not solve a math problem correctly. There were times when a student who did not turn in their homework was beaten in front of the entire class. It never felt right to me, but that was what most teachers did. They believed that the system helped them keep the student motivated. It felt the opposite to me, especially when classmates who did not often do as well in schoolwork would decide to quit altogether.

After all of that, it was a big adjustment for me to attend high school here in the USA.

The school system here has rules and laws to follow. USA school laws prevent teachers from physical punishment. I noticed the differences the very first time I attended class. Students were talking before the teachers asked them to speak. Some students came to class 30 minutes late. At times, students argued with teachers during class. It was clear that things had changed, but I did not realize right away that the law prohibits the kinds of treatment many of my old classmates expected.

Finally, I learned that it was illegal in my state to physically punish a child in school. This helped me understood why students interacted with their teachers differently than I knew before. It has been interesting to get to experience two very different education cultures.

Opinions expressed and advice given in USAHello’s Voices and Hello blogs are the writers’ own. USAHello offers impartial information and online courses to help newcomers in the USA.