Week 3.3: Discipline is not Bipolar
The title of this post comes from a student, of course – in my very first year of teaching, a student decided I was bipolar. Remembering that the student was young and probably just learned the term for the first time; it was not meant in disrespect. This post is also not meant in humor or disrespect towards anyone with a bipolar condition. But my method of discipline, in class as a young teacher, seemed bipolar to the student because I had an interesting habit of trying to address each little thing going on in the classroom. A student would talk out of turn; I would give them a frown and say, “Please don’t talk out of turn.” In the next instant, a student would correctly answer a question, I would smile and say, “Good job, that’s right!” So I wasn’t really being bipolar, but I was definitely acting like a Greek comedy/tragedy mask. I really hope I wasn’t coming across to students like the Joker; with a smile painted on over an evil face! But who’s to know?
Therefore, discipline in the classroom is not bipolar. As teachers, we don’t need to address everything we see – there is an awful lot going on at any one time in the classroom. By the second year of teaching I had calmed down enough to realize that the best teachers I had seen were more like the eye of the storm. A center of calm that remained no matter what was going on, no matter how frustrated the students were with new material; radiating a belief that every student was capable of acting appropriately and mastering the lesson.
Beautiful and Zen idea. For those who want a definition, “Zen emphasizes rigorous self-control, meditation-practice, and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others.” Just like a teacher, right? I try to imitate those teachers as much as I can. But I’m not naturally a calm person – so I try to make enthusiasm and energy work for me, even when the students think I’m spastic. Unfortunately, there is no substitute for patience in the classroom – and patience is not bipolar either.
So if discipline is not bipolar, what is it? My own, very accurate made-up definition is this: “Discipline is an expectation that everyone is capable of hard work.” As you can see, my definition doesn’t include punishment, or even instructions on how to act, but it does help me orient my actions as a teacher toward encouragement and strong work ethic.
Besides making your own definition of discipline, my only suggestion is to go all the way back to student-teaching semesters and VIDEOTAPE yourself! That way, you see what the student sees. We all know it is painful to watch ourselves teach, in the same way that people don’t like listening to their message on an answering machine. But it also allows you to see how you are responding to students, whether you look spastic or not, and whether you explained that process as well as you thought you did.
Check out these resources on discipline and videotaping; and remember to develop a teaching personality that is comfortable for you and your students, and easy to sustain over time! Leave a comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your own discipline-personality tips!
Next week! The Power of Reflection.