As a student going through a teacher education program, by far the most frequent question I heard was “How can we discipline a child who consistently misbehaves?” This has become a serious problem recently, as schools and parents become increasingly sensitive to how children are treated in the classroom. In the past, a student might receive a slap on the wrist (literally), suspension, or expulsion. Of course, these discipline methods came with problems: some simply did not work, and others kept children out of the classroom, which is counter-productive. In a large classroom in a school with only one principal, who does not have time to discipline children all day, how then can the teacher keep their class in line?
It is most important to determine why students act out. Most often it is a way to get attention, or a reaction to a situation in which the student sees themselves as having no control. By acting up, they make themselves the focus. And yet, in school the student should already be the focus! Thus, the best way to eliminate the need for discipline is to be sure the students understand the importance of their role in the classroom. The student should take an active part in their learning environment. The teacher should try to include the students when laying out what subjects they will cover in the year. Students can be given choice of novels to read, or have say on how they will be assessed. Obviously, there need to be limits: the teacher must cover certain materials, but this does not mean they cannot be flexible in responding to students desires. After all, if the students have taken part in designing their education, they have a vested interest in it and are more likely to complete assignments and try their best. If a student has helped to determine how they will be assessed, there is a better chance that they will work diligently on their tests, essays and projects, and not leave assigments uncompleted.
Similarly, teachers should allow students at least some say in the rules of the classroom. If the teacher is willing to listen to the students concerns and compromise slightly with them, the students will clearly see that the teacher values them and their needs, and will be less likely to break rules that they themselves created. Obviously, students cannot vote that there be no penalty for missed homework, but they could generate ideas and vote on what that punishment would be. Would they rather lose 10 points, or write an additional essay the following week? Students cannot be allowed to play video games during class, but why not allow them to get up and walk around every once in a while to release some energy? This way, the students are perpetually clear on what the regulations are and why they are that way, and must be accountable for their actions.
Only so much can be accomplished by sending a kid to the office every day. Yes, this temporarily keeps the child from distracting others, but the child then misses instruction time, which can lead to further problems. Besides, the student loses respect for the teacher if they feel the adult cannot discipline them on their own. We should do all we can to stop students acting out in the first place, and by allowing students a greater role in designing their education, we show that we respect them and expect that respect to be reciprocated. If the student feels their voice is being heard, they have no need to make it heard by being distracting or making jokes during lectures.