On July 22, 2015 educators gathered at the White House to Rethink School Discipline.
“The conference sought to advance the national conversation about reducing the overuse of unnecessary out of school suspensions and expulsions and replacing these practices with positive alternatives that keep students in school and engaged in learning, but also ensure accountability.”
As I participated in the Twitter conversation #rethinkdiscipline, I began to think about ways we could avoid reaching the point where we have to suspend students. Just as we find ways to prevent illness using preventive measures, there are preventive methods we can use to reduce suspensions and expulsions. These methods are not a cure-all, but it can help stem the tide.
I think Rita Pierson said it best in her TedEd talk, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” Teachers do not have to be a child’s best friend. But we do have to show them that we care. Compassion and empathy are great tools to use in the classroom.
We are not going to like all of our students, but we don’t have to let them know it. Can you imagine being a child who comes to school every day, knowing that your teacher doesn’t like you? Many of us have felt that way about some of our students, but we can’t let them feel it. Rita also stated, “James Comer says that no significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.” Take a little time to find out about their circumstances and that may bring some comprehension to why the child is behaving in a negative manner.
Give students ownership
It’s time to let go of the traditional, “This is my classroom, and you will do as I say.” You do not have to relinquish your authority to the point where your classroom is in chaos. Students appreciate structure. A teacher-friend of mine had trouble with a student all year. She stated, “We were in a constant power struggle, I was not going to let him win!” Think about the war that was going on in that classroom. But, imagine what would happen if our students were given control of what happens in their classroom? Start small, let them create the rules. Read articles or use tools that help you manage a classroom, so that you are comfortable enough to loosen the reigns.
I have taught for 30 years, and I have seen this situation played out over and over. As much as we would like to deny it, race and gender are factors in how students are disciplined. When Johnny and Jamal exhibit the same type of behavior, Johnny is, “spoken to” or strategies are devised to help him work out his issues. Jamal is kicked out of the classroom, suspended, or expelled. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens too many times. Our students are aware of the differences in the way they are treated, and it creates animosity in the classroom.
Fresh start every day, every year
This is difficult. One year I watched the new teacher sit next to the old teacher, class list in hand, and ask for information on each student. Depressing, isn’t it? Any chance of that student starting fresh, gone.
When a student that has been disrespectful, taken a teacher to the brink of insanity, and comes in the next day, the tendency is to hold a grudge. Let go at the end of the day. Speak to them before they leave. Let them know tomorrow is another day, a day to start fresh. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but give them that chance. When they enter the classroom the next morning, begin again.
Hire more teachers of color
There has been a push to hire more teachers of color. Our students of color deserve to have teachers that look like them. Our students deserve to be taught by teachers of color, who may share some aspects of their culture, that other teachers may not be privy to. They need to know that becoming an educator is an option. All students deserve to see people of color in their schools in the role of an educator. Will the race of the teacher erase discipline problems? Of course not, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Give second chances
Zero tolerance was one of the worst policies created, it helped create the school to prison pipeline. How many times have adults been given not only a second chance, but a third or fourth one as well? Instead of treating each situation differently, we give all infractions equal weight. What is wrong with giving a child a chance to redeem themselves? What might happen if we showed them that we believed that it was possible?
I used the term, engage, and not entertain. If a student is bored, then he or she is more likely to become a behavior problem. Don’t be afraid to incorporate technology in your classroom. Try lessons that make students think, debate, talk to each other. Make connections with other classrooms, experts, and teachers. Standing in front of the classroom talking or yelling at students is not going to create a classroom of fewer discipline problems, but creating an environment where students feel engaged probably will.
They are children
They are someone’s child; I always consider them mine. I always thought of my own children sitting in a teacher’s room, and the way I wanted them to be treated. Think of strategies that might work. Take a deep breath. Work with their parent. And if there is no parental support, find a way to work without it. Find their passion. Make them a leader. Love them. Remember, “The children who need love the most will always ask for it in the most unloving ways,” ~Russel Barkley. Let’s #rethink discipline, there has to be a better way.
This article originally appeared in Lisa Mims’ blog Diary of a Public School Teacher!