A major component of being an effective teacher is making correct classroom discipline decisions. Teachers who cannot manage student discipline in their classroom are limited in their overall effectiveness in almost every other area of teaching. Classroom discipline in that sense may be the most critical component of being an outstanding teacher.
Effective classroom discipline starts during the first minute of the first day of school. Many students come in looking to see what they can get away with. It is necessary to establish your expectations, procedures, and consequences for dealing with any violation immediately. Within the first few days, these expectations and procedures should be the focal point of discussion. They should be practiced as often as possible.
It is also important to understand that kids will still be kids. At some point, they will test you and push the envelope to see how you are going to handle it. It is essential that each situation be handled on a case by case basis taking into account the nature of the incident, history of the student, and reflecting on how you have handled similar cases in the past.
Gaining a reputation as a strict teacher is a beneficial thing, especially if you are also known as fair. It is far better to be strict than to be known as a push over because you are trying to get your students to like you. Ultimately your students will respect you more if your classroom is structured and every student is held accountable for their actions.
Students will also respect you more if you handle the majority of the discipline decisions yourself rather than passing them on to the principal. Most issues that occur in the classroom are minor in nature and can and should be dealt with by the teacher. However, there are many teachers that send every student straight to the office. This will ultimately undermine their authority and students will see them as weak creating more issues. There are definite cases that merit an office referral, but most can be dealt with by the teacher.
The following is a sample blueprint of how five common issues could be handled. It is only intended to serve as a guide and to provoke thought and discussion. Each of the following problems is typical to what any teacher may see occur in their classroom. The scenarios given are post investigation giving you what was proved to have actually happened.
Introduction: Excessive talking can become a serious issue in any classroom if it is not handled immediately. It is contagious by nature. Two students engaging in a conversation during class can quickly turn into a loud and disruptive whole classroom affair. There are times that talking is needed and acceptable, but students must be taught the difference between classroom discussion and engaging in conversation about what they are going to be doing on the weekend.
Scenario: Two 7th grade girls have been engaged in constant chatter throughout the morning. The teacher has given two warnings to quit, but it has continued. Several students are now complaining about being disrupted by their talking. One of these students has had this issue on several other occasions while the other hasn’t been in trouble for anything.
Consequences: The first thing is to separate the two students. Isolate the student, who has had similar issues, from the other students by moving her next to your desk. Give both of them several days of detention. Contact both parents explaining the situation. Finally, create a plan and share it with the girls and their parents detailing how this issue will be dealt with if it continues in the future.
Introduction: Cheating is something that is nearly impossible to stop especially for work that is done outside of class. However, when you do catch students cheating, you should use them to set an example that you hope will deter other students from engaging in the same practice. Students should be taught that cheating will not help them even if they get away with it.
Scenario: A high school Biology I teacher is giving a test and catches two students using answers they had written on their hands.
Consequences: The teacher should take their tests up immediately and give them both zeros. The teacher could also give them several days of detention or be creative by giving them an assignment such as writing a paper explaining why students shouldn’t cheat. The teacher should also contact both students’ parents explaining the situation to them.
Failure to Bring Appropriate Materials
Introduction: When students fail to bring materials to class such as pencils, paper, and books it becomes annoying and ultimately takes up valuable class time. Most students who continuously forget to bring their materials to class have an organization problem.
Scenario: An 8th grade boy routinely comes to math class without his book or some other required material. This typically happens 2-3 times per week. The teacher has given the student detention on multiple occasions, but it has not been effective in correcting the behavior.
Consequences: This student likely has a problem with organization. The teacher should set up a parent meeting and include the student. During the meeting create a plan to help the student with organization at school. In the plan include strategies such as daily locker checks and assigning a responsible student to assist the student in getting the needed materials to each class. Give the student and parent suggestions and strategies to work on organization at home.
Refusal to Complete Work
Introduction: This is an issue that can swell from something minor to something major very quickly. This isn’t a problem that should ever be ignored. Concepts are taught sequentially, so even missing one assignment, could lead to gaps down the road.
Scenario: A 3rd grade student hasn’t completed two reading assignments in a row. When asked why, he says that he didn’t have time to do them even though most other students finished the assignments during class.
Consequences: No student should be allowed to take a zero. It is essential that the student be required to complete the assignment even if only partial credit is given. This will keep the student from missing a key concept. The student could be required to stay after school for extra tutoring to make up the assignments. The parent should be contacted, and a specific plan should be designed to discourage this issue from becoming a habit.
Conflict between Students
Introduction: There will likely always be petty conflicts between students for various reasons. It doesn’t take long for a pretty conflict to turn into an all out fight. That is why it is necessary to get to the root of the conflict and put a stop to it immediately.
Scenario: Two 5th grade boys come back from lunch upset at each other. The conflict hasn’t become physical, but the two have exchanged words without cursing. After some investigation, the teacher determines that the boys are arguing because they both have a crush over the same girl.
Consequences: The teacher should start by reiterating the fighting policy to both boys. Asking the principal to take a few minutes to speak with both boys about the situation can also help deter further issues. Typically a situation like this will diffuse itself if both parties are reminded of the consequences if it progresses any further.