Saturday, January 25, 2014

Five Good Reasons Teachers Avoid Discipline

In my first couple years in the classroom, I struggled with student discipline. Back then, I didn’t know how to establish routines and procedures or how to communicate and enforce expectations. When I could not ignore my high school students’ disruptions, I typically engaged in sarcasm or insults, or empty threats. 

Neither my pre-service teaching courses nor my school leaders ever explained how to handle student discipline. I really did not know whether or not I could ever send a student to the office, or how to even use an office referral. I honestly felt I was on my own, and I just had to outsmart and out-talk misbehaving students. 

Of course, eventually, I angered and frustrated my students, and they turned on me. All the positive aspects of our relationship counted for nothing when I failed to interact with them in a professional and adult manner. I realize, now, that fear is the reason I struggled to discipline my students. 

Teachers who don’t control their classrooms or have problematic relationships with students frustrate principals, but there are actually a few really good reasons that teachers resist disciplining students: fear of conflict, fear of losing control, fear of parent or student hostility, and fear of others’ negative perceptions of one's practice. All of these fears are rooted in an overarching fear of not being supported by school leaders. 

School administrators must provide support to teachers and students in the form of an explicit building-wide discipline system. Specific rules and step-based consequences, along with an emphasis on using supportive language and a non-emotional tone of voice, are all that is needed to transform an entire school climate. 

Like any other practice they want to see embedded in his or her school, the administrator must communicate the system, monitor the adults’ implementation of these components, and support teachers’ practice with the system. 

Principals must address their teachers’ unspoken fears regarding student discipline. Explain how to handle conflict with a student. Assure your teachers that you will help them if the class is out of control or threatens to get out of control. Show them how you can help with a hostile parent. Let them know that even the best classroom manager eventually meets a student (or a group of students) who pushes his or her emotional buttons. 

Everyone eventually needs support to handle one or more difficult students. We must support each other, for the benefit of our students and for the health of our school.

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