Performing Arts for Teachers
If I learned one thing about classroom management and discipline, it's that you must adapt both to the environment and the individual student you may be dealing with at a given time. Although it may conflict with what we may think or be told, I believe that you should not treat everyone equally, you should treat them fairly. Treating students fairly means that you do what work best in order to benefit each student and the class as a whole by creating an environment conducive to learning. I had to adapt to community standards, the culture established at my school, the climate in each individual class, and the personality and needs of each student. This led me to try many different classroom management techniques and many different methods of discipline.
I used general, common-sense expectations in my classroom, not a list of rules. I expected students to be respectful, responsible, and honest. I told the students that these are the same expectations that their family probably has of them at home. I liked this method because you don't need a list of specific rules, and you can just take behavior case-by-case and decide whether it meets all those expectations. This may not work as well with younger students, but it worked with my high school kids and I never had to add anything to it. This is more positive than having a list of "dont's" and I think it's more of an adult approach to behavior. It's also based on values that are important and I felt needed to be emphasized to my students.
Each student deserves a warning in order to inform them that a certain behavior is or is not appropriate, or so we're told. I've always used warnings in my class, although I have to tell my students that a general comment or complaint about a students behavior can be taken as a warning from me. I don't need to say "warning." I also don't feel the need to warn students about such behavior as throwing, cussing, hitting, or cheating after about 2 weeks. Come October, I certainly don't give warnings to students who cuss out classmates. So warnings are important, but I don't think you need to "start fresh" every day. Warnings work well with students who have some sense of pride in behavior or expect themselves to stay out of trouble. They also work when the next consequence is very undesirable to them.
I use "copying assignments" as the second consequence and the primary method of discipline in my classes. I try to relate them to the behavior demonstrated by the child. I have an assignment for eating in class that is a scientific definition of mastication, I have several respect assignments including one that outlines Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development and one that gives a timeline for the development of aggression in children. I also have assignments for tardiness, honesty, responsibility, and whining. For most students, writing assignments are undesirable enough to be an effective consequence. The trick is making sure that the students will complete them. I add on to forgotten assignments, but if students refuse to complete them in a reasonable amount of time, I move on to further consequences. For some students, I refuse to let them into class until they have completed the assignments somewhere else. Some students who are athletes are referred to their coach. This year I use corporal punishment as a back-up for students who do not complete the writing assignments. If a student cannot receive corporal punishment, then they are referred to the office. The bottom line is that somehow the student must complete the assignments, and after a few weeks they learn this and it becomes a very effective consequence.
Last year I made it through a month or two before I started sending a flood of referrals to the office. What I learned about passing my problems on to my administration is that it actually weakened my management. That's supposed to be the ultimate consequence, and when I had students who had just cussed me out or totally defied me being sent back to class, my management was totally undermined. As a second year teacher, I hardly ever refer a student to the office. I only do this when the documentation is necessary. If the office requests that I write someone up, or if a student is skipping class and I anticipate that they'll dispute the failing grade they are inevitably earning then I'll write them up. There are also a select few students who refuse all of my other consequences and I find that they just refuse to deal with me at all so I will refer them to the office. As a general rule though, this consequence weakens my management and wastes my time. It's best to try to handle problems on my own.
At my school, corporal punishment is accepted, established as a norm, and supported by the office. All certified teachers can paddle students. I made it through my first year without paddling students, although I was tempted near the end of the year and threatened to send kids to another teacher for corporal punishment. I also noticed that students who refused to do my writing assignments and even one who cussed me out were sent back to my class, but students in other classes who refused corporal punishment were either suspended or sent to ISS. My second year I decided that corporal punishment would be a third consequence following writing assignments in my classroom. Once I gave my first paddling in late August, it became a common occurrence. The first one is the hardest to give. I found this very effective for discipline and it's a good way to make sure that writing assignments get completed. It's also a quick and simple way to handle problems on your own that can otherwise get complicated and cause unneeded stress. The students never seemed to lose respect for me or resent me, and there was never any serious backlash from any of my paddlings. A few students even seemed to gain respect for me and relate to me in more positive ways after being paddled. I really don't regret using corporal punishment, although it is a little ridiculous to be paddling 11th and 12th grade students who are so near me in age.
I found taking students into the hall to talk about their behavior was sometimes just an unnecessary waste of time. However, like I said, each student is different and sometimes all I needed to do was take a student out and speak to them individually to get them to refocus and get their behavior back under control. I usually used the hall as a place to temporarily get students out of my class and then to present them with choices for discipline when they had failed to meet my expectations.
Most of the parents at my school are uninvolved, and calling home when students failed to meet my expectations proved to be ineffective. Due to several failures at the beginning of my first year, I quickly gave up on contacting parents for disciplinary purposes unless I knew that it would work with that particular student. Parents with whom I've had contact with typically initiated it themselves.
I tried class reward systems to encourage good class behavior, but I found these to fail. I think that with older kids (9th through 12th grades), the students are too independent for class rewards to work. The method of having classes compete against each other for a reward was also a failure. My students are more focused on themselves and I encourage them to be responsible for their own behavior. So when I tried to do class "gem jars" where a class would try to earn a party by filling their jar as a result of good behavior, I found it a huge burden with little to no positive effects. I told most of my classes that one day they made me mad and I smashed their jar with a hammer. I'll probably never try an organized class-wide reward system again.
My individual reward systems were much more effective and a crucial part of managing my classroom. I had a ticket system where students earned tickets for impressing me and participating in class. The tickets would be drawn periodically and the winner would get a prize. Students could also save tickets for prizes. I would base my decision on whether to draw tickets on class behavior, so their was some class-wide incentive tied to this system too. I started out giving candy as rewards with the option of homework passes, too, but by the second year I offered healthier snacks and the students responded positively because I explained it was to help them be healthier. Early on, students laughed at the tickets and thought they were too old for that type of system, but after a few weeks they were all begging for tickets.
I also picked a student of the month each month in each class period. The winner got a certificate and got to choose any snack or drink that I would go buy for them. This was a great motivator for many students, especially towards the end of the year when opportunities to win were running out. Some students would really work for an entire month with their goal to win student of the month.
I also took pictures of my students working and put them on a board that I had on the wall for each class period. They really liked the pictures and I would give some of them away as rewards. This just helped make the class more of a community and helped the kids enjoy it a little bit more.
The most important thing for me was just realizing how much of a commitment I had to make to classroom management, and then spending the time and effort to make it work. There were many times I had to make myself spend the first 10 minutes of class dealing with discipline, but I did what I had to do because I learned it was the only way to actually teach. As far as the how and what of classroom management, I think that it’s more of a fluid art-form than some rigid system a teacher can impose. I think you have to be flexible, go with the flow, and find out what works with each student within the context of your environment.