In my five years in the classroom, I was often the teacher who wrote the least amount of discipline referrals in the school. Some of my colleagues would say it was because of the students I taught (mostly advanced classes, with roughly half of the students being classified as gifted), to which I responded that talented kids are just as capable at problem behavior as traditional students. They just tend to misbehave in more creative ways.
The real reason for my lack of paperwork was that I could usually relate to why a particular student was acting out and tried to address the problem at the source. I credit that approach for a lot of the success I experienced in the classroom.
As anyone who has spent more than five minutes with a middle school student would tell you, the cause was usually a lack of self-discipline. I simply did not see how getting a student suspended from school would solve a student’s lack of self-control.
Why the traditional approach no longer works
To me, the traditional approach of working up a discipline ladder that usually ended with a suspension was contrary to what most of these children actually needed. Think about it. A kid lacks the social skills to be successful in a class group, so we’re going to make sure he gets less practice in working within the class by sending him home.
Let’s face it: society is providing us with more and more students that simply are not prepared socially to be successful in the traditional classroom setting. Debating the causes of this situation is outside the scope of this article, except to say that the role of the modern teacheris now equally defined by social as well as academic instruction.
The social skills that these students lack, and which we fail to address through traditional discipline, are skills that will haunt them throughout their lives. They will not “just grow out of it”. The same skill deficiencies that affect their success in school will affect their success in the workplace, if they make it that far.
So what do we do?
Instead of blaming society for forcing us to be parents to these children, we should embrace the role. Because, frankly, we don’t have a choice. It’s easier to change a classroom than change a society. We need to recommit ourselves to empowering students rather than entering in a power struggle with them.
Just as parents would, we should provide more social opportunities for students. The days of “sit down quietly and copy the notes on the board” are over. That approach just invites more anti-social behavior. Give them opportunities to help and be helped. Embrace a classroom culture of ideas and sharing. There are wonderful, restorative practice ideas on how to make this happen in the Further Reading section down below.
My most important tip: just listen. We all have our least-favorite students, and there are hundreds of things we would rather do than talk to them, which is where the majority of referrals come from. But just hearing their perspective on things could yield the largest return on investment of anything you do all year.