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A student’s actions dictate consequences.

I agree that disruptive kids shouldn’t just stay in the classroom, but I feel like many teachers do it wrong. How should they go about putting students out? What do they say? What warrants being kicked out? Where do they go? How do they determine when a kid needs to be sent out for the class period vs. one who needs actual suspension? And how do they kick them out without destroying the relationship they have with students?

Sending a student out of class is a last resort, but there are times when it has to happen to preserve A) the ability of the other students to learn in peace, B) the ability of the teacher to teach, or C) an orderly and respectful environment where academics are the focus.

Where does the student go? If not the principal’s office, many schools have a detention room or some euphemism thereof, like a “cool down” room. Similar to sending your child to time out, this gives the student a chance to think about his behavior while the teacher (and class) takes a deep breath. In this room the student can phone a parent to report what he’s done, read or write an essay on good behavior, or engage in some other appropriate consequence for wrecking everyone’s learning.

If there’s no place to send disruptive students, teachers may need to get creative. I once taught in a school where in the name of sheer survival teachers created a covert “time out” tunnel of their own called TTS. If you needed a pupil out of your class, you simply laid the TTS (“Take This Student”) card on his desk. He then went to another teacher’s room where a special table already set up with an assignment would be waiting for him.

What do you say to a kid who’s being removed? It doesn’t have to be anything. With “TTS”, it was just a card on a desk. In general, a teacher’s actions speak louder and clearer than words. This is why teachers who do a lot of ranting and raving, but assign few consequences, have the most chaotic classrooms. Their sound and fury ultimately signifies nothing, and the students know it. Say what you mean, do what you say, and get on with your work.

Keeping all this from damaging a teacher’s constructive relationship with the student can be tough. Ideally teachers would teach lessons and administrators would administer discipline. This would mark a clean separation of responsibility and allow teachers to serve as nourishers and providers. The system doesn’t always care for this arrangement, however, so teachers have to do their best to play the good cop and bad cop in one. In this effort, “disciplineship” – my word for consequences augmented with teaching the child how to improve – can help.

When does a behavior surpass a one-period time out and rise to the level of a suspension? As soon as it violates the school’s established criteria for doing so. Teachers must let the student’s actions, not their personal feelings, dictate the consequence.

The best procedure for removing a disruptive child is to implement a structure that discourages kids from getting sent out to begin with. One problem with many classroom discipline plans is they depend on hollow “warnings” that don’t go anywhere. Tough students don’t view these admonitions as roadblocks to bad behavior; they’re speed bumps.

But if teachers administer recorded infractions (or demerits or “cool down frownies” or whatever name you prefer) that build to stronger consequences, it makes students take notice.

For example, if five infractions results in a mandatory parent conference and 10 results in a referral to the principal, students will have to really think about where they’re headed and will work to correct their own behavior. Self-correction is the gold standard for any behavior plan.

Whether it’s infractions or frownies or TTS cards – and whether you’re a teacher or a parent – the key to discipline is consistency and predictability. You can’t treat boys and girls with two different standards. You can’t assign consequences depending on your mood. If children know your rules, know that you’re fair, and don’t like the consequences for stepping out of line, they will soon rise to your expectations.

That’s when you can show you care about them in much more delightful ways than imposing discipline.

Jody Stallings has been an award-winning teacher in Charleston since 1992 and is director of the Charleston Teacher Alliance. To submit a question or receive notification of new columns, email him at JodyLStallings@gmail.com. Follow Teacher to Parent on Facebook at facebook.com/teachertoparent and on Twitter @stallings_jody.

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