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Students Welcome Reasonable Discipline

Maintaining a Consistent Policy

Found in: Classroom Management

The responsibility for good student discipline rests primarily with the classroom teacher. Most authorities agree that without a comfortable disciplinary situation, the teacher's job becomes frustrating and often unbearable, and as a result, little teaching or learning takes place.

It is very important that you establish clearly and immediately the behavior pattern to be followed by the students in your classes. Actually, students welcome reasonable discipline and have respect for teachers who follow a consistent policy.

Ask your support teacher or Association representative for copies of discipline policies for your district and/or building. Your classroom policy should reflect the district guidelines.  

General Tips for Maintaining Discipline

These suggestions for better classroom discipline are offered by your colleagues, who have, as they say, "been there."

  • Be consistent in application of discipline and fair in your requirements and assignments.
  • Show courtesy to every student, and display trust and confidence in them all. Avoid showing dislike.
  • Let students tell you their side of the situation. Be willing to consider mitigating circumstances.
  • Talk about the misdeeds of students only to those who have a right and need to know. Avoid openly comparing one student to another.
  • Admit you've made a mistake and apologize if you've treated a student unjustly.
  • Make sure punishments are appropriate for the misbehavior and explain to the student why he or she is being punished.

Frequently Occurring Discipline Problems and Suggested Solutions

Here are some of the more common discipline situations and a pattern for dealing with them.

What do you do when you have a confrontation with a student?

Before you act, you should know:

  1. What triggered the confrontation? Did you issue a challenge? ("Do you want to leave this class?") Did you "put down" the student? Is the student challenging you?
  2. Can the situation be avoided or delayed? Should there be a cooling off period? Should there be an audience?
  3. What are the consequences? How will this result in a better relationship?

You can try:

  • Showing that you are in control of yourself by using relaxed gestures and a steady voice.
  • Moving to a neutral location.
  • Restating problems or feelings you think you hear, using "feeling" words.
  • Focusing on specific behavior and not on the person.
  • Withholding judgment until there is an agreement on what happened.

What do you do when a student seems to be a constant distraction to the rest of the class?

Before you act, you should know:

  1. What need the student is trying to fill (acceptance, love, attention, and worth).
  2. What the consequences have been for the student's behavior up to now.
  3. What attitude the other students demonstrate toward this student (respect, dislike, and envy).
  4. Whether this is a problem of behavior or attitude.

You can try:

  • Planning a contract with the student that specifies what you will do in recognition of a change in behavior.
  • Using a "time out" place to remove the student from the situation. This place in the room, contains no distractions, and is not a punishment, but rather an aid for focusing.
  • Telling the class there will be 10 minutes of free time if the work is completed on schedule. Put the number 10 on the board. If distractions occur, cross out the 10 and reduce the free time to 9. Usually, other students will put the pressure on the troublemaker to behave.

What do you do when students have tuned you out and are not listening?

Before you act, you should know:

  1. What percentage of the students are tuning you out?
  2. Has tuning you out become a habit for these students?
  3. Why are students tuning you out? Are you saying relevant things? Have you been talking too long? Are you talking beyond the students' capacity to understand? Are you excited about what you are saying? Is the student preoccupied with personal problems?
  4. What does your response to the "tuned out" students say to them? Are you personally offended? Have you become defensive? Are you disappointed with yourself?

You can try:

  • Ignoring these students, letting them experience the consequences of their behavior. Enjoying the students who are tuned in.
  • Probing some other interest that these students may have.
  • Observing closely for possible learning problems or physical problems that may be influencing these students.
  • Stating your feelings about their behavior.

What do you do when a student curses or uses an obscene gesture?

Before you act, you should know:

  1. If the student knows the meaning of what he or she is saying or doing.
  2. What triggered this behavior (anger, attempt to be funny, need for attention, shock value)?
  3. Who this was intended for? (Was this meant for another student? Was this meant for you to see and/or react to?)
  4. Whether or not this is worth a confrontation -- major or minor.
  5. If you can turn this into a positive learning experience.

You can try:

  • Not registering shock, anger, or embarrassment -- but keeping your cool.
  • Ignoring the behavior.
  • Asking the student the meaning of what he said or did.
  • Asking the student to use a substitute word.
  • Calling a conference with the student and the parents of repeat offenders to emphasize your position on cursing in school.

What do you do when two students are fighting?

Act immediately. If possible, separate them. If not possible, send for another adult. Before you do anything else, you should answer these questions.

  1. Should you remove the combatants from those who watched the fight? This could mean less pressure on the combatants to put on a show for others. This could mean less pressure on you to act hastily for the sake of others.
  2. Do either you or the students need a cooling-off period to think about what happened and the consequences?
  3. Are these students frequently involved in fights, or is this an unusual situation?
  4. Do you clearly understand the most recent court rulings on corporal punishment and their implications?

You can try:

  • Keeping your composure and speaking and acting as unemotionally as possible.
  • Keeping the situation in perspective -- if the students have cooled down, don't ignite their anger.
  • Determining what triggered the fight.
  • Determining if there was a clear-cut aggressor and if only that student deserves the punishment.
  • Allowing students to verbalize their anger.
  • Helping students look at better ways to deal with the situation.
  • Selecting a consequence that is humane and fair to both students.
  • Stating that once the consequences are carried out, the issue is gone from your mind and should be gone from their minds, too.

Good classroom discipline should not be thought of merely as being strict, but as a cause-and-effect relationship. The student should be made aware that certain types of behavior will cause unpleasant results, while others will elicit teacher recognition and praise. If you use this cause-and-effect approach, then most students will naturally develop good behavior attitudes and responses.

In summary, you can achieve good classroom control, acceptable student conduct, and real student achievement if you are firm, fair, friendly, consistent, and prepared.

Note: These tips are based on Discipline Is Caring by Alvin W. Howard, Helping Children Learn Self-Control by the National Association for Education of Young Children, Order in the Classroom by David Hill, The First Year Teacher from the NEA Professional Library, and It Starts in the Classroom by the National School Public Relations Association.

"Classroom Management." Tools for Success, A Handbook for First Year Teachers' Professional Growth. The North Carolina Association of Educators


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