The English Teacher

Punishment Attitude

An issue related to student behavior and classroom discipline is the Punishment milieu that is 'set' in the class. This 'vibe environment' is the combination of the inner emotional attitude and the outer mental attitude that teachers have toward 'wrongdoers' in their classroom. It can be termed 'punishment attitude' and it is something that teachers would do well to examine and not to neglect in considering. 'Punishment attitude' may sometimes be described as guiding students' actions, disciplining students, correcting student behavior, etc. but at the basic human level teachers need to know their inner feelings toward punishing students' misbehavior.

Whatever 'punishment attitude' teachers have will come back to them. [As teachers demonstrate firmness and mercy, students will also 'give teachers a break' when they make a 'human error.'] It will come back not only in the behavior of the students they are currently punishing, but in the behavior of the observing students that teachers are not aware of at the time. These other students are also setting their 'behavior watches,' by the 'behavior time' that the teachers set.

For example, in class I have given students 'breaks' by not punishing them as they deserved by the 'law,' for such things as swearing, not doing their work, being tardy, etc., but I did it for the students who were actually trying to live the law that was set for them. [See the article, Setting a 'Level of Law.'] If they are giving all they have, sometimes teachers can overlook the actuality of their behavior and 'carry' them for their intent. But this is for really very few students, in any given class because too many 'breaks' invalidate the law that is set.

Again, giving breaks does not mean do not enforce the 'law' that is set. The students must see teachers reprimand, send someone out of class, penalize them in some way, BEFORE they can realize that the teachers are giving breaks. And teachers should not give breaks to, or relent in their purpose for someone who has no intention of complying with the rules. The bottom line is that that non-complying students must find another place to be. If a teacher is the only one teaching the class that year, the student may have to wait until next year when another teacher teaches, it. The student may have to get help from another teacher with independent study; they may have to get help from the original teacher, but not in a disruptive classroom environment, but perhaps rather, after school. [This latter situation may seem to punish the teacher with more work for a disruptive student, who is getting what is wanted, which is out of class. Teachers can work to prevent this situation from happening... usually, unless there are only a few weeks left in the class, and the student has had passing grades until then. If that is the case, the teacher hasn't been vigilant in enforcing the law earlier in the school year, but has been lenient mistakenly, thinking a student would change. Teachers should discern which students are really trying to live the law and which they are only hoping will change to live the law. By this means teachers can avoid most of the after school special deals at the semester's end. BTW- probably every teacher has been fooled into making a project out of saving a student that needs to at last be removed from class 14 weeks after the beginning.]

Appropriate, consistent punishment takes an alert, consistent, watchful mind. In actuality teachers may not be able to reach this state at all times, but the closer that it can be reached, the more satisfying are the results.

Teachers may avoid punishing students at times by alertly watching student behavior. Teachers can observe the 'Moment' students are deciding on some action they may be punished for. As the teacher observes this 'moment,' a quick glance, a word, an action, a distraction, a moving on in the lesson, etc. by the teacher, may change the student's intended behavior. It may push the student from the 'point of balance' at the 'moment of decision' back to complying with the law.

Teachers shouldn't berate themselves when a student gets deservedly kicked out of class for actions that might have been prevented had the teacher been in an ideal mental/emotional/physical state. Students are responsible for their actions too.

Have a sense of humor.

Teachers shouldn't wear themselves out trying to save a student that they are rationalizing saving because they don't have the courage to discipline them yet. Also they shouldn't let pride or diffidence get in the way of dealing with students. Sometimes administrators cultivate the attitude in teachers that teachers are lacking in ability or have failed if they don't deal with all discipline situations in the classroom. This attitude is unrealistic and raises the stress between teachers, administrators, and in the classroom. Teachers also may not deal with students because they don't want to 'sink to the students' level.' They want to have higher and more caring feelings than misbehaving students do. All of these attitudes can keep the teacher from establishing a peaceful, comfortable classroom atmosphere.

Deal with specific students so comfortably that other students do not go into defensive shock because the teacher's anger might spill over to them. This comfort state takes a great deal of time and effort to establish. A teacher should NOT forget to apologize when needed, but shouldn't become a victim through an apology or because something has been done wrongly. Do not let the students 'milk' the situation. Teachers make mistakes sometimes. They should apologize sincerely, and not do it again [patterning their behavior for the students]. Then they should move on to teaching something worthwhile for the students' time.

Return to: Strategies for Classroom Discipline