The English Teacher

Setting a 'Level of Law' in the Classroom

An issue related to student behavior and classroom discipline is the 'Level of Law' that is set in the class. The 'level of law' means the working ethical and behavioral system in your class. What level of behavior is allowed in the class? Can students, shout, push, criticize other students, chew gum, eat food, spit, talk politely, interrupt, go to the bathroom, get a drink, criticize the teacher, have their sincere apologies accepted, have their insincere apologies accepted, etc.

As the 'level of law' is being established for a new class, the teacher may need to have some non-complying students removed from the class to signal to other non-complying students that they will have to comply or transfer. Students will transfer out of a class that has behavior standards that they don't wish to, or cannot live. The rest of the class will rise to the 'level of law' set by the teacher, so the advice to teachers is, set the 'level of law' at the level that will be comfortable and natural for the teachers to live by. If teachers do not, or can not, establish the 'level of law' in the classroom, the 'level of law' will be established by the behavioral level of the dominant student or group of students.

As teachers are establishing their 'level of law' at the beginning of the school year, they should not think that non-complying students are their personal enemy. The conflict felt between some students and teachers is simply the principle of the dynamics of living different levels of law. Non-complying behavior is not really 'personal' toward the teacher. The teacher may explain to the class on the first day of class, as the behavior rules are read, that these rules are not personally directed toward any students. The teacher did not spend the summer thinking of some way to personally make a student or students uncomfortable. Instead the teacher may point out that the purpose of the class rules is to allow a comfortable learning situation in the class.

Some teachers feel uncomfortable setting a certain 'level of law' in class, but the reality is that there must be some level set, or the teacher can not teach and the students can not learn. The most natural 'level of law' to set and enforce is the one that the teacher feels most comfortable with. Teachers also should be aware that the majority of the students enjoy and deeply appreciate teachers who set a 'level of law' that results in a comfortable, secure, learning situation. Students will gravitate toward teachers whose 'level of law' matches theirs. If one teacher's level is too high, they will find another teacher whose level more nearly matches their own. Be comfortable.

For the teacher, new or otherwise, who feels at some period after the beginning of the school year that their 'level of law' is too low for comfort, it is difficult but not impossible to raise the level. The level can be raised by removing the student who is living the lowest behavior level and who is also adversely affecting the class. This action can be repeated for two or three other students, so that the class generally conforms to the new level, but real change may have to wait for a new class with new students. For a teacher who is trying to lose a reputation as a lax or easy teacher there needs to be real consistent determination and behavior for several years until the new reputation is spread to the incoming student body. Reputations can be changed, but it takes consistent work. However, teachers who have been uncomfortable for years with a 'level of law' below their comfort level have much to gain in the years they later teach at their comfort level. Then students who are looking for an easy, lax teacher will no longer purposefully sign up for that teacher's class.

All of these situation have to be adjusted to the reality of the school setting. Some schools may have lax behavioral standards and so teachers have to do more work setting behavior levels in their classrooms. Some schools may be so strict that a teacher may not feel comfortable enforcing certain required rules. Therefore some schools may not be a 'behavioral fit' for particular teachers and they would benefit by teaching in another school where they feel more comfortable.

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