As with any other skill, some teachers have a natural talent for relating to students. They quickly develop a rapport that is both professional and friendly, and leads to a very effective teacher/student relationship. They are respected, even by 13-year-olds, and they have an empathy with every student. Let me be incredibly clear – I am SO JEALOUS of these people. If you are one of these majorly cool people, you may as well stop reading and go help someone less fortunate. PLEASE.

Before digging into the problems faced by everyone else; I want to mention the common idea that people who were “bad” students make “good” teachers, because they know where the troublemakers are coming from, in their hearts and souls. You know what, it’s actually true! If, like me, you were one of those students who stayed up until 2 a.m. making sure your Science poster was perfect, you have no frame of reference for students who just don’t turn in their homework. You can’t fathom anyone not giving 110% to get a 100% grade. “Anything worth doing is worth doing well,” you say. Unfortunately, you just limited the teaching jobs where you will be happy to 0.01% – those are the universities that have a zero tolerance policy for late work. (made up statistic)


Here’s your discussion question for the week:

  1. In your undergraduate teacher preparation program, did you ever have a class on classroom discipline? Sounds a bit like making a plan to make a plan…but think about this honestly. How much does your success and happiness as a teacher depend on classroom discipline, and how much time did you spend in your degree on classroom discipline?

My answer: 90% of my success and happiness, and 1% of my degree program. WHOA. So those of us without the natural talent, we’ve got a steep learning curve.

Now the most useful part of this post – the examples! And yes, they are all true.

  1. A student draws swear words on the walls of the classroom.
  2. A student constantly talks out of turn in class.
  3. A student challenges you on every idea you present to the class.
  4. A student violently threatens the teacher.

Here’s the good news: there is no one right way to deal with these discipline issues. And here’s the bad news: there is no one right way to deal with these discipline issues. This is why discipline is dangerous – you can dig yourself a big hole with one bad decision. Losing it and yelling in class, while not a problem you can’t recover from, is a BIG PROBLEM.

The more different schools you work at, the more disciplinary policies you will see. Some schools use a reflective process, where a student doesn’t “get in trouble” so much as they are asked to “reflect on their actions.” Some schools play baseball: 3 strikes and the student is out. Some try to combine the positive and negative: award or point systems, give and take away. Let’s see what happens with our examples:

  1. The kid who loves inappropriate language sits with the school counselor for a while and writes a report about why he/she felt the need to decorate the classroom.
  2. The chatty kid loses all their points. They earn no special privileges. They keep talking in class.
  3. Hey, the argumentative student obviously wants all eyes on him/her. They earn a strike, a visit to the principal, a call home to parents, or the teacher develops their own system in class of responding to the student’s commentary. Messy.
  4. Suspension. Does it help? Unlikely.

Sometimes, a reprimand or word of encouragement will work. The students know the rules, and on the days when the rules don’t chafe too badly, they will listen to the teacher. But just as often, we hit those brick walls as represented above.

So if you are now clamoring for the BIG SECRET TO DEALING WITH TROUBLEMAKERS, here it is! Two things: patience and kindness. Why? Because if the student knows you are on their side, they will come around. If your behavior is above reproach, a truly argumentative student runs out of ammunition. And if you are patient with each and every student, no matter what, you will have a place to stand on when the principal and the parents come to call. Why is discipline dangerous? Because continuous patience is HARD. If you can do it though, it you build a zen kindness that becomes as natural as breathing and can be applied every day:

  1. No reaction is sometimes the best reaction. Clean up any writing on the walls with the student, at a prearranged time.
  2. Meet the extra talking with silence. The student knows immediately from the silent look what your goal is.
  3. Treat the student as an adult. Admit that other points of view exist. Do not argue back. The other students in class can see the situation as well as you, after all.
  4. Probably the most difficult situation, and it does mandate a referral to the counselor, the principal, and the parents. Stay out of the student’s way while you arrange for someone from the main office to come escort the student out of your classroom. Depending on the severity of the situation, a friend may be able to walk them to the office.

We can’t solve discipline issues overnight, even if they keep us awake. We can’t get close to talking about everything to do with discipline – that is why every third week of every month of this blog will have a discipline-related topic. Teachers have to reach a different level of what it means to be a “good human” and sometimes all you can do is practice. Meanwhile:

Useful Book! Classroom Management for Art, Music, and PE Teachers by Michael Linsin

The Basics!

Videotaping Yourself!


Have your own classroom discipline stories or strategies? Your comments and stories are more than welcome!

Next week! “Being an Island: Staying Connected”

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