Reflections on Discipline

Posted on October 31, 2013, in Teaching

An undergraduate education major at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota connected the word “discipline” to her school experience. Her experiences and perceptions are worth our reflection.

Pre-K: At the babysitter, I remember sitting on the couch with several other kids and getting chewed out. I don’t remember what we did, but distinctly remember her asking us, “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?” Disturbed by the thought of a cat biting my tongue, I stopped listening to the lecture and tried to figure out what she was talking about and how exactly this would work. Would a cat literally take my tongue? How naughty did I have to be before the cat actually showed up?

Kindergarten: I don’t remember ever getting in trouble in kindergarten but I LOVED my teacher. The lesson: kids are better behaved when they like you! This teacher was a perfect example of a caring teacher.

1st Grade: This teacher used a green, yellow, red card system and candy. Each day, everyone started out with a green card in their designated slot on the numbered chart. If you misbehaved, you had to change it to a yellow card as a warning. If you misbehaved again, your card was changed to red and you had to stay in for recess. For some students, a yellow card would bring them to tears, for others, it was a regular occurrence. Once the novelty wore off, this punishment was no longer threatening. This teacher also used candy to support “good” behavior. The only time I remember the candy strategy was when she gave Laffy Taffy to everyone who came back from bathroom break fast enough. I only remember this because I was too slow that day. Maybe had she offered something other than banana Laffy Taffy, I might have cared. It might have had an impact on my bathroom speed in the future but I doubt it.

3nd Grade: Looking back, I see that this teacher had so many other issues in the classroom and with students that I don’t even remember his discipline style. In my hometown parents dread the year (or years) that they have children in this man’s class.

4th Grade: In fourth grade we were back to the green, yellow, and red system. The outcomes were the same as in first grade.

5th Grade: If we did something “bad” our teacher would write our name on the board. I HATED this. The few times that it happened, I was so embarrassed that all I thought about for the rest of the day was staying on task. This consumed me so much, in fact, that it was the only thing I thought about and in turn paid no attention to the lesson. This tactic worked but at quite a cost for me. Unlike me, others figured out that a name on the board really meant nothing in the long run.

6th Grade: This teacher liked to get mad and yell. He would write names on the board but then nothing would ever happen. Sometimes students would have to stay for a short time after school, but rarely. I wonder if he didn’t follow through on his threats because he had to stay after school if he kept his students after school. Discipline in his classroom was a joke.

Junior High: I remember getting my name on the board a few times and once got a check mark behind it. I had to stay after school for ten minutes. I remember being very upset about this because I didn’t do anything wrong. Other people talked to me first. I had to answer them, I thought, because I couldn’t be rude.

High School: In high school, I never got in trouble. I had been well taught by my parents. But that wasn’t the case for everyone. Students were suspended, absences were common and everyone knew the kid who had drugs and drug paraphernalia. Over lunch some students would go smoke and drink in their cars. Theft was common. I don’t remember any adults trying to teach new behaviors but there were plenty of consequences that amounted to nothing more than empty threats.

Looking back, I can see a common characteristic among ineffective teachers whether they were strict disciplinarians or teachers with no discipline – they didn’t care. The bottom line is that those who really cared gave us a reason to behave.

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