Perhaps the hardest thing for a teacher to maintain is classroom discipline. A teacher can be prepared for class from now until Sunday and be extremely knowledgeable in his/her subject matter, but all is for naught if the class is completely uncontrollable. So how does a teacher go about setting up and maintaining class discipline? This month's article will explore the realm of classroom discipline, first looking at what the teacher needs to accomplish before actual teaching, and then looking at various methods of maintaining control and discipline in the class.
The first step in maintaining classroom discipline is to find out exactly what the overall school disciplinary procedure is. Somewhere, a school should have a published discipline policy and you need to obtain it. This policy should clearly explain the school rules, and what punishments occur when these rules are broken. If your school does not have a rules/discipline policy, it is up to you to talk to an administrator and verbally get a list of rules (after all, you cannot "play the game" if you do not know the rules). Additionally, find out what sort of disciplinary actions you and the school can take when these rules are broken. Once you have the school rules, set up your own class rules (preferably ones that dovetail with the school rules. For more information on classroom rules, please see my previous article on classroom rules). Explain the rules to your students and explain the punishments that go along with breaking the rules. If you are ambitious, you can set up a "first/second/third" offence policy. What ever you set up, please STICK BY YOUR POLICIES! Once you allow one exception to the rules, students will walk all over you. Let us now look at some common methods of maintaining classroom discipline. NOTE: Just because I write about them does NOT mean I endorse them. Personally, I do not believe in draconian methods of punishment. With that said, some teachers can use them effectively.
I. Draconian Methods of Classroom Discipline. Called this because they directly act upon the student, making them do some sort of physical action as a punishment for bad behavior.
A. Standing at attention. This is a simple method of classroom discipline. If a student breaks a rule, simply make him or her stand at attention for a set length of time.
B. Nose to the wall. A bit more harsh than standing at attention, this method of punishment requires a student not only to stand at attention BUT to hold a piece of paper against the classroom wall using his/her nose. Very humiliating, but can be effective for severe troublemakers.
II. Brownian Movement Methods of Discipline. Called this because you make the student or students move to various parts of the room.
A. The "dunce" chair. Have a desk in the front of your class. The offending student gets to sit in full-view isolation for a period of time. This method can work well for talkers.
B. Full class movement. Students like to sit with friends and talk. Break them up by assigning seats. Sitting by student number works well in maintaining a healthy and effective learning environment. If this does not work, seat your students in boy/girl alternates. For the younger grades, this can work wonders.
C. "Dumb and Dumber" Method of Discipline. It has been my experience that the students in need of the most discipline are those who are either failing of receiving a "courtesy pass" (a common grade here in LOS). Re-arrange the seats so that the lowest grades sit up front with you. The advantages of doing this is twofold: first, these students are less likely to cause trouble; and second, you can easily give them extra help.
III. Pavlovian Methods of Discipline. Yes, good old reward and punish!
A. Loads of homework - part one. The offending student receives extra homework or class work for every infraction of the rules. Eventually, the poor lad/lass is bogged down with extra work and soon learns (you hope) that good behavior means less work. If your little offender does not do the extra work, a simple call to the parents can work wonders.
B. Loads of homework - part two. If a student breaks a rule or is generally a pain, then load the class with extra work. Make sure the class knows who is responsible for the extra assignments. Hopefully, your class will be disciplining themselves in order to get out of extra work. Additionally, your little offender might receive a bit of "street justice" which is far more effective than anything you could do!
IV. Proximity Methods of Discipline. Go to where the trouble is!
A. Vocal. Many students tend to talk when you are talking. Fine, then put them on the spot. Personally call on the talker and ask him/her a question based on what you said. For me, I always ask, "What did I just say?" Yes, this causes embarrassment, but it does get students listening. Additionally, it can reinforce your lecture by having students repeat salient parts.
B. Physical. This is my favorite method of maintaining classroom discipline. When I see a troubled area of my classroom, I simply walk over there and teach from that section of the room. I will even get my students involved by having them make my whiteboard notes. We all know how shy students can be, especially at the younger ages; so, for me, this works the best. If a student in my "trouble area" does well at making my whiteboard notes or solving problems I give him/her, then I make sure the whole class knows what a good job that student did.
Remember, these are only brief suggestions designed to spark your own ideas in maintaining discipline in your class. Not all ideas work for all teachers or situations. Let's face it; any class of over 50 students is next to impossible to discipline based on the numbers. The best you can hope for is to teach to the 10-20 students who want to learn, and hope that (maybe by osmosis?) the rest of the students learn something. The important things to remember are this: create a set of rules and enforce them; and create a discipline system that works for you and use it.