I have been teaching boys aged twelve to eighteen for many years and have no doubt whatsoever that consistent and firm discipline in high school does make a difference. It makes a difference to those who really count – the students.
The problem with using words such as ‘firm’ and ‘discipline’ is that they can conjure up thoughts of negativity and suppression among certain people. We need to re-educate ourselves in this matter and recognize that these words can be used in a positive manner. Discipline is something we can all strive for in all aspects of our lives. Indeed, young people in many instances crave a sense of discipline in their academic lives. It is and should be a learning process for their adult lives.
Anecdotal evidence from research in the United Kingdom suggests that students with serious discipline issues do indeed benefit from an environment where high expectations are part of the prevailing ethos. Students coming to school with behavioral issues need the safeguard of a firm disciplined environment in order to achieve their potential. These students invariably do not have defined boundaries in other aspects of their lives and deep down realize they need these structures. They often do not show this and it may take regular affirmation and teaching of appropriate behaviour, but in the majority of cases they benefit greatly as a result. They may not realize the benefits during their sojourn in high school, but do value it later in life.
Traditional approaches to ‘firm discipline’ in schools has not worked. The reason is that many disciplinarians approached the issue with negativity and a view that the person and the behaviour were one and the same. Naturally, this did not and cannot work. Appropriate behaviour needs to be modelled and taught. Teachers and school staff must view this as being a key part of their work. We often expect appropriate behaviour from our students but have not ensured that the appropriate behaviour has been taught and is being regularly reinforced by appropriate modelling.
A key word also in this debate is ‘consistent’. Students react negatively to inconsistency in any shape or form. If they believe that a staff member is inconsistent in their approach to discipline, their actions and reactions will become negative. Once this occurs, the task of developing appropriate behavior is almost impossible.
Consistent firm discipline in high schools can be achieved. It requires the correct approach and needs to be viewed as process that requires constant practice. Students will benefit, schools will benefit and society in general will benefit.