Discipline.

Despite being back from vacation it appears I’ve been on extended leave from this blog.  Of course, now that I have to start working again—writing lesson plans, sorting through final portfolios, compiling exercises—I remembered this blog.  Procrastination can be the mother of productivity, even if it’s not the kind of productivity that faces an immediate deadline.

The thing that’s been on my mind lately, as my nonprofit’s summer program grows nearer, is maintaining discipline in the classroom.  I’ll be working with the rising 9th grade, i.e. our current 8th graders, one of the worst classes we have in our program.  I’ve already had a metal folding chair thrown in my direction (which I managed to slightly sidestep, but really I’m shocked it didn’t hit me) and a student who refused to talk to me in anything but Spanish, which I don’t speak and which therefore became a source of hilarity for the whole class.  I worked with them twice before on preparation or the English Language Arts (ELA) exam, which all 8th graders are required to pass in order to enter high school, and both times it took over 40 minutes to get them to quiet down enough to go over the lesson.  The thing is, though, these troublemakers are smart.  It’s part of what makes them such good troublemakers.  But once they were all paying attention, the worst students became the best ones, exhibiting memory skills and listening skills that were actually at their grade level.

As a college professor, I don’t have to deal with discipline issues in the classroom very often.  My modus operandi is to treat my students like adults: they’re paying for the class; if they’re screwing around, it’s on them.  If their behavior begins affecting the rest of the class, I give them a friendly warning, and if it continues I deduct points from their participation grade—the cushion for their final grade.  Also, when they don’t pay attention it shows in their other work, resulting in lower grades.  And because college is all about GPA, for the most part grades are a sufficient incentive to get students to sit down, shut up, and pay attention and participate.  The worst problem I’ve encountered at the college level was when a student sitting front-row, dead center started reading a Spanish porn magazine in front of me.  But after I took him outside, lectured him, and told him I would start taking points off his grade, he became a model student.  Discipline in the college classroom?  Easy as pie.

When it comes to inner-city high school classrooms, though, I have no idea where to begin.  My nonprofit doesn’t offer discipline training for its employees.  One of my former college students, who worked in a special needs school, talked about being trained in mediation techniques and holds to break up fighting.  Last summer I had a fight practically break out in my classroom and almost broke down because I had no idea how to approach it.  I’m still getting over the notion that kids aren’t so fragile you can’t grab them and pull them off of someone else, but I can’t shake the fear that I might be hurt as well, and my insurance coverage is pretty much nil.

So, how do you effectively discipline students in secondary ed without losing their respect and making them antagonistic and resentful for the rest of the course?  It’s more important to build up these kids’ self-esteem levels, but at the same time it’s important to let them know when they’re behaving inappropriately.  Right now my program is working up a rewards system and a disciplinary system, but the latter still seems murky.

If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them.  It’d be nice to be able to prevent any more chairs from being thrown, rather than having to stay on my toes in order to dodge them.

Creative Commons License
This work by V. Manivannan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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