There are fettered and unfettered responses to discipline problems. A fettered response would take into consideration all sorts of factors like who said it, the tone of voice, the history of the kid’s involvement in class, the kid’s grade, who their parents are, if the administration likes them, if they are a cheerleader or a football player, what they were wearing the day they chose to say in class the word “faggot” in class or some other equally horrific word about another human being.
Unfortunately, most of us make the fettered response. Our response could even go so far as to be related to the weather conditions that day, or even our own mood. In that reasoning, if it’s a beautiful day in spring and we are having a good day and some kid calls a classmate a faggot, but it’s Friday afternoon and there is a big dance that night and everyone is happy, and the kid “really didn’t mean it”, did he, because he apologized on the spot, by that line of reasoning, calling a classmate that name just doesn’t look like it does on a Monday morning in January.
The unfettered response to the above situation is the machine-like response. In this response, it doesn’t matter who said it, the tone of voice, the history of the kid’s involvement in class, the kid’s grade, who their parents are, if the administration likes them, if they are a cheerleader or a football player, what they were wearing, what the weather was like that day, or the teacher’s mood that day: the word was used in class, people heard it, the teacher heard it, someone suffered, and the teacher acted in an unfettered way, a way worthy of a fully functioning adult human being whom society has entrusted to make such decisions.
We spend a lot of time thinking about how unjust everything is. We need to start thinking about how unjust we are when we fail in our professional obligations to the society that has employed us, by allowing children to hurt others in our classrooms or in the hallways but we let it go because we have a “class to teach”. There is nothing more important than a child’s safety than our acting in each moment of transgression, whether they are a perpretator or a victim. In either role, they are still children and they need our guidance, not our fear, and certainly not our glossing over of the situation, even it was less than one second long.
Many teachers don’t get that. It’s time we got that. It’s time we got our professional priorities in order of their real importance in our quickly crumbling society, crumbling because there are no leaders left anywhere.
Let me share this, with apologies in advance if I offend. I don’t like the feel of this discussion. I sense a generalized kind of fear in teachers to do what is right concerning their students, their parents, their bosses. Teachers seem to be afraid of everybody.
I challenge them to do let that fear go and show up for their jobs. Before it’s too late. Sure, it’s scary, but the alternative is a lot more scary, a society where fifteen year old kids get to do what they want and speak to adults and peers in whatever way they wish. In my view, that is the worse option than just being an adult in any given situation.
One reason some of us are still in school is because we never grew up. It’s time we did that.
27 thoughts on “Two Approaches to Discipline”
You are right about needing to let that fear go, about growing up. Part of that fear might be that students are already used to being in charge…and that they will retaliate against teachers who take a hard line with them.
Maybe that’s why too many of us lie low or leave. Maybe that’s why I am a coward.
When I talked with an older female teacher about student rudeness in our building, she told me that she has had a couple of threats from students this year–verbal, not physical. Yes, she reported it. Another teacher has taught MS/HS math for 40 years and has never seen such disrespect and apathy as he has seen this year. Those two are both retiring this year. This is a small, rural, 4 star school. And that’s why I wonder if it’s too late…
I have a new teacher in my classroom 2 days out of the week so though I’m not a mentor I feel like it (and my clientele is much more difficult than the other teams). I don’t leave him alone with the students often and I give him as much feedback as I can. We have a small emotionally broken (or his control mechanism). Anyway the student had his cell phone out so this teacher approached him and students were completing group work. He just told the student to put the cell away or he would take it. The student told him he couldn’t take it and if he tried he would slap him. ( that’s right this kid said he would slap a teacher) The new teacher stood there and told him to go ahead he would just stand there and take it write it up and go home relax and return to work tomorrow but that he student wouldn’t be here and that he (he teacher) would keep on teaching. I felt very proud of my new teacher (who is a gentle soul/ millennial). My principal investigated and brought this new teacher in and told him she would support him this time but not in the future. He “invited” the student to hit him.
Now I see what she is saying but this new quiet teacher stood up to one of our frequent fliers who was challenging him. I was floored…..
Yes he stood up but possibly at the expense of a lawsuit. Or physical injury. He played the alpha male card and got away with it but the alpha male card won’t work in this period of our history in education. Avoiding confrontation is so important. Such a big topic!
Got it. Thank you. I’m glad that I can give him better advice thaen I initially did.
If this were to happen again (hopefully it never will)- should he state, “ It is not acceptable to physically threaten a teacher” and call security to remove him? (Given the sro might not come but he can file the discipline referral and wait for the student to get pulled by administration.
Maybe it’s bc I live one block from Columbine High School in suburban Denver, but I see this cell phone incident in much darker terms. Sarah you shared:
..the student told him he couldn’t take it and if he tried he would slap him. (That’s right this kid said he would slap a teacher.) The new teacher stood there and told him to go ahead he would just stand there….
I see the response of the young teacher as absolutely insane. A better response would have been to leave the room immediately. Dip. Bounce. Go. Report it to the admins. Give them one day. When they fail to respond, go to the police*. Sound too extreme? I don’t think so, but I don’t want to write a long rant on that topic here. But standing in and telling him to slap him and he would “just stand there”? That is not how we solve such problems in our profession!
*The police report accomplishes two things: (1) It supports you in outing, exposing your weak and ineffective admin team in case proof is needed later, (2) If the child ever does anything, he has the report on record.
This has been an interesting week of discussion. I like the plan and all the thoughts shared on the bullying issue. I did want to mention that we need to “take out the trash” or it stinks up the place. Don’t forget about those students that who are your “wonderful spring fragrance” and ” beautiful flowers” that make your house(classroom) a great place to be. Sometimes we do focus on the negative but don’t forget about the positive. We can’t make everyone happy so for a reminder of why you come to work and do the work that you do, think of the “spring time” that is in your room. I truly enjoy the “outside the box” thinking and cutting edge thoughts on education. This PLC is important to me and the right way to do professional development. Thank you Ben and the gang for inspiring me and giving me a professional home.
“Don’t forget about those students who are your “wonderful spring fragrance” — absolutely. I make a point to remind myself to go into class and speak directly to these lovely children, spend time asking about them and joking with them. They are the reason we do this work!
Of course you are more than welcome Hayne and we are glad you are with us. I don’t know how to respond to the question about the flowers, except that the power of the negative students seems to be so strong, strong enough to cast a deep shadow over the bright flowers on a daily basis. Dark energy is so ugly.
I don’t think there are many in our profession who speak with the honesty and humility that you do above lori. My take on it lori is that it is not too late, because the life of beauty can be lived even if there is no one to live it, in that it can be lived by Beauty itself. Or, as I believe, Beauty Himself.
What you said made me think of something I said here years ago –
I believe it a fact that each night, each time a teacher lays his or her head down on a pillow and goes to sleep, the angels burst into applause for something even they can’t do – teach kids.
maybe it’s time to reprint one or two of your “teacher’s prayers”, Ben. Something to shore up our courage and resolution again. Something to remind us that our jobs have meaning. thanks.
Just got this in an email “forward” from my aunt……it’s beautiful and very succinct to what we need to do:
To handle yourself, use your head…
To handle others, use your heart.
In my opinion too many teenagers think too highly of themselves with regard to their relationship to adults, as if they were already on the same level of experience etc. and they talk disrespectfully about their parents and teachers. It’s a matter of respect which has to be taught by the way we treat kids. It is very important to me to show respect and support to my students but I have come to demand the same of them and won’t let them get away if anyone starts their spiel of trying to be the secret boss in class.
My teaching years 1 through 6 is easier of course than managing older students but if we teachers don’t take a hard line with those kids, who will? And where will they end up when they’ve never experienced an adults who stands up to them when necessary?
Thank you Ben, for reminding us of what is crucial!
I agree Udo. I really believe that one of the great challenges and rewards in teaching is finding and blending the right pedagogy with our own personal power. Most teachers have neither of these elements (not their fault, on one prepares them in those two areas) and then they are the ones who end up quitting after five years or so, a mess. Without the right way to teach, and without the right sense, feeling, awareness of being the adult in the classroom – without both of those things – we cannot succeed. We must have both. Agree fully with everything you say above.
Just to offer a slightly different perspective.
Rather than speaking about taking a hard line with students, I prefer to look at it as setting firm boundaries. That, I think, let’s us see that we are part of a process that is natural and normal, though poor choices by others may warp that process.
It is in the nature of children and teenagers (and twenty-somethings) to push the boundaries. There are a number of reasons for this, including – especially for teenagers and older – learning to function on their own and become responsible. (Most people would say “independent”, but that places too much emphasis on isolation rather than relation.)
Another reason is the search for security. That may sound contradictory, but it is not. Children and teenagers push against the boundaries, but they want to know that the boundaries hold firm. Operating within firm boundaries gives them a sense of security, an understanding that just as those boundaries keep them “in”, they also keep rather scary things out. Children whose parents and other teachers have never set boundaries that hold see the world (at least unconsciously) as a place that is capricious and chaotic. They have no sense of security, and they keep trying more and more extreme behavior in the (again often unconscious) hope that someone will keep them safe.
When we become the caring adult in the room, we maintain the boundaries and provide the sense of security that our students need. Depending on their personality, background, and experiences, some of them may react strongly to this, but ultimately we are providing them with what they need.
Twice within the last week, I have had to show my sixth-period class that the boundaries hold – and reinforce what those boundaries are.
In incident number one, we were deciding for which teachers we will sing German Christmas carols. Students suggested teachers, and then we voted in order to prioritize. When a student suggested a particular teacher, a couple of students reacted with negative comments. I immediately stopped what we were doing and reminded them that this was inappropriate conduct in my class. If they did not want to sing for this teacher, then they should not vote to sing for the teacher, but it is never okay in my class to disparage other people. (BTW, this teacher is one of those who is very strict and often “disliked” by students but whose former students come back and thank her for what she did for them. She sets very firm boundaries that are a bit tighter than those of many others.)
In the other incident, over half the class was simply out of control with talking, blurting, etc. I stopped the class again and calmly, yet seriously, informed them of the rudeness and inappropriateness of the behavior, as well as potential consequences (like going to worksheets) of my being unable to provide them with comprehensible input. I also moved a couple of people. The change in behavior was dramatic, and we finished the period with cooperation and learning (I was talking about one of the Christmas carols we are singing) going on. Now we need to see if the change in behavior lasts. Of course, I need to keep reinforcing the rules and reminding them of why the rules are in place.
Particularly in the second situation, I think it was extremely important that I did not blow up at the students. (I was a bit more forceful about the disparaging comments in the first situation, in part because I know that this particular teacher is going through a rough time herself.) Instead, I calmly but seriously stopped the lesson and spoke quietly yet forcefully to them. Any students who thrive on watching their teachers “lose it” (and they are out there) were sorely disappointed, but I definitely got my point across.
At least for myself, I find it useful to understand classroom “policies” as setting the boundaries that students need. Within those boundaries, I try to give students as much freedom and power as possible. Procedures are things that we do to make the class run more smoothly and maximize the time together. I still struggle with some of those, and this is where student jobs are helpful.
” Children and teenagers push against the boundaries, but they want to know that the boundaries hold firm. Operating within firm boundaries gives them a sense of security, an understanding that just as those boundaries keep them “in”, they also keep rather scary things out.”
I really like this Robert. In my first very stressful year of teaching, my mom told me to think of boundaries like the arms of a hug. This was a helpful image for me when dealing with difficult students.
Ben, I’ve been thinking about this since I saw it as a post last night on FB. My initial reaction was that I didn’t agree. Some of my students are experiencing challenges I have never faced nor will I ever have to face. They are learning how to deal with those challenges and it is hard for them in ways I don’t understand. Also, I am not a robot and it is hard to react like one. Without even meaning to my brain and heart make small adjustments to my reactions to different students once I know some of their backstories.
I think it is natural to have a human FEELING when faced with a negative student behavior, but I think the key is having the feeling but training yourself to channel it into a standardized ACTION in response. In terms of fairness, that actually seems the most fair. To have the same action for every student demonstrates fairness in your classroom policies. I’m still processing my thoughts on this, but I think I am getting somewhere by parsing out the feeling vs the action in response. This is where having and using a rules poster is soooooo necessary. It seems straightforward but it is a skill that has to be practiced. I am practicing.
BTW, I just had a great class period with a very tricky bunch of 7th grade students and it is because I stopped and referred back to my rules poster at every infraction. It was a lot of times.
But I did it silently and with a bitchy smile every time. I am working on my bitchy smile…it’s not a natural thing for me but I can learn…and it is working 🙂
This conversation and the ones prior management has been extremely powerful and vital for me this year. My principal has three SPED homerooms From last year into two classes and on one team of a two team eighth-grade. (I’m worried about teacher burn out. Luckily I have OWIs and the Invisibles) Parents often complaining about learning not being able to occur because there’s too much redirection needed- no one seems to have mentioned that not only were the students dispersed into 3 homerooms and 2 teams.My homeroom is one of those those SPED homerooms with 5 ADHD students 4 autistic students 3 EBD students and about 4 low mean students (who are also popular). I am working on discipline usually I have to give out silent lunch and detentions immediately and then the class starts behaving like a class should. I want students to learn to be nice and to have coping skills not just leave the classroom. My sped teacher wants me to just send 5-7. Students with him but that means that I have quit on those students learning and I am not one to give up on anyone. Also the students who are rude/ disrespectful and leave classes when they get redirecting love my class and don’t do that in my Spanish class. Our principal is enabling these students by working from a podium at the corner of our hallway so these students don’t take off and get discipline referrals (one student who is EBD has a parole officer for stealing a car and sending police on a high speed chase down the highway over the summer- she also didn’t pass 7th so she shouldn’t be in 8th grade but that means she doesn’t have the skills to succeed so class is a scary place for her). Sorry for the tangent but this is a very difficult year and situation and my principal is not going to admit that she did something wrong and I can’t talk about this at school because then I would be labeled decisive and negative.
I’m actually really optimistic and my students don’t have any clue that I hold any of these opinions because I work to not let any of these struggles and feelings show. It’s not their fault. But please continue these conversations and tips. I need them like water.
Sarah it just seems so labor and mental-energy intensive for you. I don’t have any solutions, but just making that observation.
Well thanks to y’all’s workshop this summer I’m in a much better spot than most of the teachers on my team who are struggling with 8th grade content. I get through what I can and stop for discipline. I’m working on more positive feedback to the well behaved students. We just have some classes with no class artist because I didn’t like how students critiqued the artwork.
…we just have some classes with no class artist because I didn’t like how students critiqued the artwork….
Bam! That’s what I’m talking about!
You’re right, Ben. We need to focus on being consistent with our discipline and without emotion. Any “big” thing I catch and stop and make it clear that it’s not acceptable while still being kind. Where I need to work is on the small things – side conversations, not looking at me, etc. I do it most of the time but sometimes, I catch myself letting kids off the hook (and I haven’t even realized it). I’m noticing this now in the last week since I’ve gone deskless. I wasn’t sure about it before, but I’m really liking it now. The students are close to me and can’t hide behind tables. I see much more.
And Dana I think the big liberating insight for a lot of us in classroom management is that it can be done in such a soft way. We don’t need to huff and puff. We can stay calm. As I continue to work with Tina I see more and more that she is a master at this kind of teaching and classroom management. You know that from Philadelphia last summer. Hey we are going back and Laura Munich is organizing it at her school downtown this time. It’s going to be fun. I’ve never visited Philadelphia but I hear it is kind of like a smaller clone version of NYC.
Have fun! I might actually come to your Atlanta one as my hubby might go to a conference in Chicago the same time. So we need to work these things out. 🙂 At any rate, I’ll be seeing you again this summer for coaching and for Tina’s CALP. Yay!
This is such a crucial discussion. We are in the crosshairs of a cultural shift and sometimes, at (only?) 54 I feel soooo Old School. This past week I had not 1 but 2 parents bypass me and go straight to the principal-a rare occurrence. One was a Frequent Flyer parent who basically wants a private class for her kid -anyway she emailed the boss to let him know how absurd it was for me to invite her darling to wait a few seconds before responding, giving the rest of the class processing time! She claimed I was “shutting down” her daughter. The (uber cool new) principal handled it (he already knows mom) after we talked – he told her that it would not be OK to always call on her darling if she always raised her hand first… So in the same way, the T (me) is giving opportunities to the other kids to respond. He had my back, because she cray-cray.
In the 2nd instance a frequent flyer blurter (also a fast processor) was asked to take a brief (2 min?) break in the hallway (after several warnings – not the first time, either). Just because the universe is funny, the boy’s dad was walking in the hallway at that moment – (dropping off a sib?), and saw his son ‘thrown out’ of class…I went to retrieve my student and saw the dad, and smiled and said, ‘This isn’t what you think; your son isn’t in trouble – he was just blurting cuz he was so engaged. You know, he has so many great ideas – but it was distracting to his classmates – so he took a reset break!’ Dad seemed down w/that. Totally cool, but that’s dad…
I then circled back w/the kid after class, stroking his fast processing but reminding him that he’s denying his friends opportunities by all the disruption…and BTW dad is all good.
I thought I was all good, too, but then mom got wind of it – and went over my head to complain. So I called her and (tried to?) make nice – but I could tell she was pissed off w/me.
Someone slap me IF I EVER try to get a teacher in trouble for respectfully ‘disciplining’ one of my kids for impeding the learning…
Parents calling in to question our professional judgement about piddly interactions is very new for me – and reflects, I think, a new a distrust and intense desire to blame and need to project anger…
Such recent (- 5-10 yrs)? queries are almost always taken out of context. I am totally fine w/a parent asking for an conversation if a kid goes home sad (has never happened to me, but I did call my daughter’s PE teacher once when she came home crying twice in 2 weeks), but starting the interaction with a nasty over-the-teacher’s head accusatory email? No.
And these kinds of complaints have a cascading effect – the more the parents complain, the less likely the Ts are to hold firm and appropriately norm and discipline their classes…and the Ss can sense it and take advantage of the spineless atmosphere…but I do not plan to throw the towel in any time soon…
Alisa, talking about a “new breed” of helicopter parents, said:
…parents calling into question our professional judgement about piddly interactions is very new for me – and reflects, I think, a new a distrust and intense desire to blame and need to project anger….
I think it’s kind of new to the country. Not really new, but that calling into question our professional judgement has a new level of snark to it. It’s part of the shift into what I personally think (don’t want to start a big metaphysical discussion here but would like to share my opinion) is going to be a very dark period in all the levels of our society before it breaks, like an illness lifts. We will get through it and there will be a kind of light we have never seen before and it isn’t so far away. I cannot help but believe very deeply that the shitshow we are now in is part of a wonderful rebirth of mankind to the higher values and each and every shitty interaction we have with crazy parents is just a step closer to what will be a way of teaching that is all Pure Land. It’s my belief.
And so what are we doing when we suffer so much (let’s just say it, bc it is true) in our classrooms? We are helping move humanity towards something new. And we are getting all the help we need, in my own belief system:
We cannot know what is really going on in each difficult moment in our classrooms, those frequent abjectly depressing and confused moments when we just want to quit. We cannot know why we have these interactions with such weird-ass parents. We cannot know why our children need to express themselves in such rude ways. We cannot know why we have close ties with certain people and not with others.
But we are all tied together in a web of beauteous invisible connectedness and there is nothing to fear. Comprehensible input is just part of bringing the change that is ramping up in America right now. Comprehensible input is merely a vehicle. A vehicle for what? A vehicle to bring love into the world in a way never seen before. That is my belief.
Alisa, we had this kind of problem (parents going over the teacher’s head) for many years at our Waldorfschool, which is inappropriate behavior of course; it’s like those parents want to bring in their big brother who will make you do what THEY want.
Finally in the course of some big changes at our school teachers and sensible parents decided on an order that parents have to follow: They first have to talk to the teacher concerned and are not allowed to go over that teacher’s head. So if they go to someone else first, they are asked if they had already spoken to the teacher in question. This redirecting has helped a lot. Usually the problem is solved between the teacher and the parent and no further steps are necessary.
Udo this is PRECISELY what the new principal is trying to ‘train’ the parents to do!
I’m glad to hear it bc it means the principal is on your side where he/she should be.