In fact, discipline is a key component in successful classroom management. Although many think first of discipline as punishment, I prefer to think of it as the organizational framework, or structure that you and your students can count on from day to day. I certainly like to know there are policies or procedures for performing my job that I can take for granted; I don’t want to wonder each day how things should be done. Why wouldn’t students appreciate some constants as well?
This is not to say that discipline as corrective action has no place in the classroom; it does. If my school district does not allow students to use cell phones in classrooms, I am obligated to confiscate them when students are texting during class. That’s my school’s policy. It doesn’t matter what my personal opinion of the policy is. Students can be expected to abide by the policies as well, despite their personal opinions on the issue.
A friend who evaluates teacher effectiveness in area school districts says that the most common problem for ineffective teachers is classroom management, the hallmark of which is consistent discipline. In other words, when I take a student’s cell phone, she has no reason to complain–she knows the policy–unless the student sitting across from her continues to tap away while I do nothing. In this situation, neither student knows whether I will take a cell phone away tomorrow or not (and both will try to test this). There’s no consistent structure.
Before I begin to sound preachy, let me make clear that I am far from perfect at classroom management. In my first year of teaching, I was pretty horrible at it, but I think I’ve improved over the years, mostly because I recognize the benefits. Some of the things I’ve learned are:
- I’m a teacher, not a buddy
- Compassion and genuine interest in the success of all students is the only appropriate attitude for a teacher; it also prevents a lot of problems
- It requires substantial effort to consistently enforce a policy, but it’s worth the effort
- When establishing classroom policies, consider what the goals are and whether the policies will accomplish them effectively. Arbitrary rules are counterproductive.
- Students who know they are breaking a rule will not be angry at a teacher for enforcing it
- Though I’d like to be both liked and respected as a teacher, if I have to choose between them, I choose the latter
- Admitting and apologizing for mistakes goes a long way in generating respect
Why am I thinking about this now? School starts next week, and it helps to remind myself (again!) what the ground rules are. I’m assessing the policies I’ve used in past years and deciding which ones to keep and which to toss. If I’m not committed to them, students won’t be either. Discipline is just as important for me as it is for my students.