Week 2.3: Why Discipline is Dangerous, Part 2
Three weeks ago, we featured “Why Discipline is Dangerous, Part 1.” The main take-away from that post is that every student needs to constantly be treated with respect and kindness. Almost all the students will “come around” eventually if respect and kindness are there. Now that we have done away with “because I said so’s” and “Wait until I call your parents” moments, it’s time to move to the next level of discipline. Master these, earn your blue belt! For Part 2, we’ll discuss a couple things: how discipline issues in the classroom affect the “other” students, and whether humor and discipline mix.
So in Part 1, the “silent teacher” reaction was recommended. This works partly because the misbehaving student realizes that it is time to pay attention, and partly because all the other students in the class realize what type of behavior is getting the silent treatment. Classroom discipline is a seesaw. On one end are the students who are unlikely to cause a disruption of class, and on the other, students who have more trouble concentrating. A teacher’s job is to tip the seesaw towards the happy, hard-working side. The difficulty of this task changes whenever a new student joins the class, when a disruptive student is also a popular student, or of course, on any weeks that include a holiday, half-day, school sports event, school dance, or a Friday.
Most kids spend 12 years or more of their life on a school schedule. They know what is expected of them. They know exactly the problem a teacher is reacting to when a fellow student talks in class, asks to go to the restroom every day, doesn’t turn in their homework, or a myriad of other little things that happen regularly. In fact, the fellow students probably know more about what is going on in the disruptive student’s life than the teacher, whether they are BFF’s with that student or not. Their reactions are a powerful tool for classroom discipline, if it seems right for the teacher to use it. For example, a student who is commonly a hard worker will “hush” the disruptive student while the teacher is doing the silent stare. It might work. It might cause more anger. In my experience, it does not work when a teacher is active in the relationship between classmates, for example, if the teacher says “Could someone please remind ZaZa of our classroom rules?” Totally annoying. It works slightly better when the teacher gives a compliment to a student who is acting the preferred way: “ZaZa, thank you for sitting so silently and waiting patiently for the next task.” Still kind of passive-aggressive though. Or, the teacher could study methods used with learning disorder students: “ZaZa, your chair really would like to stand firmly on the floor.” (Everything is related to an inanimate object that cannot talk back.) However, when you think through these methods in your mind, they all have a chance of not working. Which brings us back to our Part 1 rule: Respect and kindness. “ZaZa, will you please join us in the next part of the lesson? You are a valuable member of this class.” Now, you as a teacher have done nothing to show favoritism, or to elicit a further reaction from other students.
The main thing to remember is that discipline becomes dangerous when it stops being a regular expectation and begins being punishment. When that happens, you stop being a teacher who expects excellence and you start being evil in the minds of students and parents. Would you rather be Dumbledore or Snape?
Now for humor! Humor is a necessity, especially in middle school classrooms. But do discipline and humor mix? I think it depends on the severity of the student’s disruption. For example, when a student is chatty in class, this is a good time for humor. Try to avoid sarcasm, but when a teacher walks over to a student having a conversation at the wrong time in class, and joins in the conversation as if they were best friends, that can be pretty funny. So pattern your humor based on the teacher who sees a student sleeping, turns off all the lights and has the class quietly leave the classroom; rather than the teacher who makes a loud noise by dropping a textbook on the desk in front of the sleeping student. On the other hand, when a student has a low grade because they are not turning in homework, don’t shrug it off with humor. Their future success is important. So have fun and make as many silly jokes during your lecture as you want – humans need to laugh.
The process of building classroom discipline is a marathon, not a sprint. There may be students who simply want to push your buttons, and the ONLY way to get them to stop is to not react. Not reacting, or reacting only with silence followed by encouragement, may be the only way to stay positive for 30 years in a difficult job. Focusing only on student successes may seem ridiculous at times, but is a good way to break a bad discipline habit in the classroom.
Comment or email with your own discipline success stories, or failure stories (we all have them) and enjoy the following resources:
Humor in the Classroom: http://www.nea.org/tools/52165.htm
Classroom Interaction: http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/certop/imp_ssi.html
Next Week! “The Great Communicator”