It’s impossible to be a teacher or administrator and not have to discipline students. What should discipline look like though? I taught for seven years in Africa. There, it’s still common practice to hit students with a stick when they are misbehaving. Is that discipline? How about having students kneel beside their desk or stand in the back of the classroom for long periods of time? How about kicking students out of the room and asking them to wait in the hallway or go to another classroom? What about running laps?
I remember one year, when I was teaching, there was this unruly class in the school. They got a new teacher part-way through the year and he was tough. Pretty soon we all started noticing changes. The class was silent as they walked to lunch, they were always in their seats when you walked past the classroom window. We were all amazed. One day the school was closed because that class was scheduled to take their national exams. None of the teachers were there, instead it was some external examiners who were monitoring the test. Well myself and the principal were meeting at school that day and I popped my head in the classroom when the students were on their break. What I saw was utter mayhem. One student was jumping from the top of one desk to the next to the next. Students were running, the classroom was a mess! It seemed clear that these students hadn’t changed as much as we all thought, they simply were behaving out of fear of their teacher. When he wasn’t around, they were completely different.
Discipline and punishment have fundamental differences that stem back to the purpose behind why you are doing it. You see, punishment’s goal is to stop the misbehavior. The punisher (though they may not admit to it) is most often angry and has negative motivations fueling his or her desire to punish. They might be trying to produce fear, shame or humiliation in the student. The punisher is exerting control and demonstrating his power.
Discipline on the other hand isn’t about the punisher. It desires to transform the one being disciplined. To not only stop the misbehavior but cause future positive behaviors. Discipline is done with the best in mind for the student. It might be motivated by safety concerns, to produce character in the student, or to ensure learning. It’s not meant to be the fastest option, but to produce long-term results.
Our purpose as educators is not only to teach academics but to model character, to teach students to respect others and work together. If we simply hand out punishments creating fear and shame, we won’t create true character and the type of individuals we all hope our students will grow up to be.
So next time you give out a consequence for misbehavior ask yourself why are you choosing that specific consequence? What is your end goal? If its to make the student listen to you or fear you, you’ll find that the moment your back is turned the student will be right back to doing the misbehavior.
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