Week 3.3: Discipline is not Bipolar

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.

"Weird emojies."

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 teachingismadhard@gmail.com to share your own discipline-personality tips!


Great blog here: https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2012/01/28/8-things-teachers-do-to-cause-boredom/

Videotaping: https://www.southwindsorschools.org/uploaded/documents/technology/vtr/WatchingYourselfonVideotape.pdf

Next week! The Power of Reflection.

Week 2.3: Why Discipline is Dangerous, Part 2

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”

Week 3: Why Discipline is Dangerous

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! http://www.doe.in.gov/sites/default/files/cte/ncteb-classmang.pdf

Videotaping Yourself! http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/2011/01/19/the-best-posts-articles-about-videotaping-teachers-in-the-classroom/


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

Next week! “Being an Island: Staying Connected”