Discipline in the classroom can be a challenge. I learned quite a few lessons about this challenge during my tenure as a classroom teacher.
I made many mistakes, but with each error I learned more about how to maintain order in the classroom and get the best from my students.
My education about discipline began when I was pursuing my undergraduate degree at Jacksonville State University. I had an amazing teacher and mentor - Wanda Wigley, a professor in the Education Department.
She advised that I come into my classroom for the first week of school as the “wicked witch of the west” as far as discipline is concerned. Her ultimate words of wisdom: “You can always ease up, but you can never get tougher. Make sure students know your rules must be followed, and aren’t just suggestions.”
My second lesson about discipline came from personal experience and just a little common sense. I remembered the teachers I worked hardest for when I was a student. They were the ones who actively listened when I talked with them, the ones who seemed genuinely interested in my opinions and me, the ones who didn’t dismiss me before I had a chance to ask my question or share my thought. I liked them. And I learned that these behaviors led to a mutual respect, which led to easier discipline.
I won’t pretend that I always had everything under control. Some days were very trying. Early in my career I learned that I should never threaten a consequence I wasn’t willing to follow through on.
At Scottsboro Junior High School chewing gum was not allowed in school. Anyone who has ever had to clean up gum from floors, walls and under desks understands this rule.
I had a young man in class that I caught chewing gum. I asked him to throw it in the trash. Less than five minutes later, I caught him with gum a second time. I told him that if I caught him with gum again I would paddle him.
I had never even held a paddle, much less used one. But I never dreamed he would push the issue. He did. Less than five minutes after the warning I caught him with gum again. I was backed into a corner.
I knew that if I didn’t follow through on the promised consequence I would lose credibility. So I went across the hall to my neighbor’s classroom, borrowed his paddle, and asked him to witness.
I called the student into the hallway, and I tried to paddle him. I just couldn’t do it. My solution was to talk with the young man and explain to him that I didn’t feel that chewing gum warranted corporal punishment, but felt I had to follow through.
He didn’t want a paddling. I didn’t want to paddle him. We reached an agreement. I pretended to paddle him, and he pretended I had. I learned to think before I spoke when it came to consequences.