The English Teacher

Difficulty Level of Classes

Another issue that relates to teacher caused discipline problems is how difficult the classes are and the reasons for their difficulty. Some teachers have acquired the idea that a class should be difficult and there should be a certain number of various levels of grades, A's, B's, C's, F's, etc. This decision is pre-determined and the students are forced into this preconception no matter what their actual performance as a class may be. Students can feel this fixed attitude being imposed upon them and in response begin to generate a negative defensive classroom mood that leads toward discipline problems.

A teacher who expects a certain number of failures might consider my son's comment 'if it were a parachute school, how many failures would you expect or accept?' Although this question is not exactly analogous because students in a parachute school have much higher motivation, the question properly pondered can reveal when our classroom expectations are simply conditioned responses.

Teachers often derive their classroom expectations from the school they attended. One teacher said "I remember some of the finals that I had. They put the fear into you. I'm going to have my kids feel the same way." [Why] Consider the resultant classroom mood and the contribution toward discipline problems that this feeling may cause.

Some students feel a sort of 'boy, we got through Mr. _____'s class and it sure was difficult.' Students often are not able to discern that there is a -difficult- from the class being designed just to be difficult. They do not realize until they experience it that there is also a -difficult- from the class having clear, competent, instruction with no deliberate difficulties built in but having a lot of growth and knowledge to be gained. Once they realize the difference, the classes that are designed just to be difficult are avoided whenever possible.

There are some teacher attitudes that can lead away from these teacher caused disciple problems. One day as I was leaving the school in the growing dark of autumn, I looked over and saw the football players practicing in the miserable conditions of mud, wet, and cold. I wondered why do they work so hard at that? There is a short 'season of reward' with lots of work, practice, pain, and sacrifice before and during. Furthermore, their coaches sometimes yell at them, criticize them, and expect them to learn many plays and gain many new abilities. It seemed to me they did all this because the coach was helping them' gain what they wanted.' I thought, do my students feel that I am helping them gain something they want? What do they want? Can anything I am teaching compete with the 'glory of football?' I don't know what competes with football, but I know that my classes have responded to my feeling that I am a coach helping them gain what they need.

Tolstoy reportedly said "everyone wants to know what to do and how to act." Many of our students desperately want to know how to read and write better, but they have lost some hope of doing so.* Many more respond with pleasure to increasing their skills with words: understanding them and using them. Some simply know that these abilities are necessary for obtaining a job. All of them can feel and know that the teacher wants' to help them with something that they, the students, want to do.

* NOTE: Some students can remember the day, or moment, that they decided that they were no longer going to work in the educational system. Ask them, "can you remember when you decided not to worry about school work, or do home work any more?" For most it is grade school or middle school. It is beneficial to ponder why these students came to their decisions and how this knowledge affects your teaching strategies.

Return to: Strategies for Classroom Discipline