Career Questions: Support with Discipline
Q: The past year was tough. I had several students who insisted on being disruptive at every turn. They were disrespectful, used foul language, didn’t do their work, and were just generally unpleasant. The worst part was that whenever I removed one of them from my classroom, he was back in a very short time. The principal is completely ineffective when it comes to discipline, and I’m feeling like I have no administrative support. Any ideas?
A: I can’t judge whether the principal is effective or not, but I will say that he’s sending you a clear message: You’re on your own when it comes to student discipline.
As a teacher, I actually once found myself in the situation you describe. On the rare occasions that I had to remove a student from my classroom, the principal didn’t seem to know what to do with him. It wasn’t just my problem; it turned out the principal was unsupportive to everyone in terms of classroom discipline.
So here’s what we teachers did. We met together as a small group and devised classroom disciplinary rules and consequences. We shared those rules with our students and sent the discipline plan home to their parents. We were clear and consistent. We tried to keep all of our students in the room, but when a student had to be removed, he didn’t go to the principal’s office. Instead, he went to the back of a colleague’s room, where he sat until his regular teacher decided to allow him back into his classroom. This strategy is particularly effective when the “time out” classroom contained younger or older students rather than the student’s own grade level. The student simply sat by himself at the back of the room, ignored by everyone else.
We were unafraid to call or meet with a recalcitrant student’s parents, and we frequently did so. In the end things improved because we realized that it was up to us to provide discipline for our students if we wanted the year to be productive and safe. We couldn’t control the principal’s behavior, but we learned we could control our students’ behavior.