The English Teacher

Philosophies Underlying Classroom Discipline

Often, when discipline strategies are needed, there is an underlying need that goes deeper and lasts longer than a single strategy will satisfy. Philosophies will enable one to look at and analyze whether there is a deeper need and will enable one to make the changes or adjustments necessary so that when new strategies are used, they have a lasting benefit.

In my opinion there are two considerations regarding when to discipline. One is teacher comfort. The other consideration is expressed by Sun Tsu in the Art of War. He states that the superior general does not fight battles. A gifted general gets into battles and fights his way out brilliantly. A lesser general usually wins his battles and a poor one loses them. The superior general does not fight any major battle because he uses the power of his armies in a timely and strategic manner before the need for a battle arises.

This concept can be applied to discipline. A teacher should not have to fight any major battles. However, there may be other factors that affect a teacher's control of the outcome of a classroom discipline situation. These factors need to considered -at the same time-.

First, teacher comfort determines whether or not discipline will be applied. The teacher will discipline when a certain discomfort level is reached. That level is usually first determined by the teacher's view of what is proper classroom conduct or behavior. This view is affected by what the teacher has been raised to think is acceptable from the school system which he attended as a student, the institution that trained him, and what the other teachers and the administrators of the school he is teaching at do and expect. For instance, a teacher may think that certain behavior is acceptable but knows that the administration feels differently. Or perhaps the reverse is true.

The teacher may have been formally trained in discipline techniques but that is often not the case. I have not met a teacher who felt that their teacher training courses adequately equipped them to deal with discipline issues in their classroom. Therefore, once teachers decide that discipline is necessary, most have to rely on techniques which they saw used when they were students in school. Also, perhaps the teacher whose classes they taught as student teachers gave them some advice.

Some teachers don't discipline because of fear. Others don't discipline because they are trying to 'work with' the problem students. Others don't discipline because they don't know what to do.

Underlying all discipline is the teacher's basic philosophical attitude which students feel, and the best techniques in the world will have limited effectiveness, or have effectiveness for a limited time without the foundation of a sound philosophy. [If you have not read the sections on Strategies for Teaching and Teacher Caused Discipline Problems, please do so.]

There are some discipline strategies of so general a nature that they are included here under the philosophy of discipline.

Don't discipline an entire class for the misdeeds of a single student, or a group of students. For instance, often a teacher will hold an entire class after the dismissal bell rings to punish some general behavior. Part of the philosophy behind this action is that the entire class will bring the misbehaving students into compliance with the teacher's wishes so that they can leave on time and not be late to their next class, lunch, etc. However, the students committing the disapproved actions may be beyond any coercion power the rest of the class may bring to bear. So the teacher's actions of punishing the class may not bring the desired results. Instead the results may be mostly negative. When an entire class is punished, there are at least four or five innocent students that grow in resentment for being punished for the guilt of someone else, perhaps some that they dislike and or fear. These students are then forced into a grouping with the others. Also there will be those in the class that go along with the strongest, or the most interesting, or amusing force in the classroom. Punishing the entire class brings all of these groups into alliance against the teacher.

1.) If a teacher will concentrate closely it will become apparent that there are usually one, two, or three students that lead out in behavior either positive or negative. Make a mental list of those who are leading in negative behavior. Discipline those students, not the entire class. Quickly removing a negative leader has an impressive effect on the others. [You may have to remove two or three students.]

2.) During this process the orderly students will support and approve, at least tacitly. The 'middle group' will go with whoever has the controls and power. The problem students will either submit or be removed from class. Usually, when one or two students are dealt with, the others see the reality of the situation and comply. Interestingly enough, I have seen some of the toughest students realize, after a discipline incident involving someone else early in the semester, that I had control of the class, and never cause any problems at all. It is as if they had lots of experience with using and receiving force and they understood where it was better than the others.

3.) In dealing with individual students I usually give someone three direct warnings regarding unacceptable behavior during a single class before I send them to the office. If the behavior stops, I still note the occurrences in the grade book [See: Keeping a Grade Book Record ] for future use. Now I don't allow each student three warnings and I don't allow an individual student three warnings each day. If the behavior stops within three warnings, then I usually choose some other way to deal with the behavior than send the student to the office.

Again, if the student will not stop the behavior after three instructions, send him to the office. Teachers cause themselves a great deal of problems by not sending such a student to the office and instead deciding to talk to them after class. The effect of non-action is that the student has decided the level of behavior in the classroom.

4.) For students who are not immediately removed, a conversation after class about the behavior and possible consequences is effective. Do not tell the student specifically what the consequences may be. Some may simply decide that they don't mind those consequences. Let some questions or doubt remain in their minds. Also a phone call to a parent helps. If you tell the student that you are going to call, they may go home and tell their version of the story first and then it takes 15-20 minutes longer in conversation for the parent to realize that you are not the type of teacher that their child has reported you to be.

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