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Friday, January 9, 2015

Discipline in an Age of Educational Deformity

I've taught in two high-school schools in my career.  The first was notably tougher.  When I got transferred to a better school, I suddenly became a more effective disciplinarian.  When you ask kids to sit down and they actually do, it sure helps.  I also suddenly became a more effective teacher!  When you ask kids to study and most actually do, it sure helps.  When you put together the ability to sit down, focus and study, you're golden!  Put that in your multiple "digressions" analysis and process it!

But, no matter where you work, as a veteran teacher, I can recommend a few things for this era of educational deformity:

1.  Don't raise your voice.   Whatever you do, never scream out, "Stop!  The Core is killing me.  Your test scores are my last, best hope!"  Your pained face will not make a pretty picture.

If you yell at students, doubtless, you will not be the first.  You will join a long line of people who have yelled at them in their young lives--and you will be at the end of it, worse off than #151!  Now, you are nothing special:  One more loud voice which hasn't done anyone much good.  Humor, laughing with them, not against them, seems to go much further.  

And, never forget, once you have raised your voice, students will raise their voices--higher and higher.  Thus, begins a war of escalation.  Students will have you beat in so many ways, outnumbered thirty-four to one.  What were you thinking?

2.  Respecting students goes much further.  If you respect students, you gain allies.  NYS will not respect them.  They are branded a generation of Common-Cored failures--mainly because of you.  Secretary Duncan will not respect them.  They are the failing masses, coddled by parents, devoid of that glorious savior of humanity called "grit."  If you make them feel more than a test score, you have the D.o.E. beat at most every level!  You have taken the high ground!

The respect you give students will only return to you many times over.  If your crowd turns rowdy, perhaps overwhelmed with enthusiasm for a particularly highly-effective question of yours, one classmate from its ranks will rise to silence the rest.  Sometimes, it will be done in less than polite terms.  You mustn't show any signs of approval then.  You must resist adding that plus ten!  Bite your lip, if necessary.  Keep frowns constantly in reserve.  

3.  Calls home make a difference.  Although so many parents work, most will have a cellphone.  It will take messages, the good, the bad and the ugly.  It is most useful when you find parents willing to strip their children of privileges.  This proves particularly threatening in terms of the potential restriction of access to modern technology!  In some cases, however, the parent faces the same conundrum as you.  Nothing seems to work.  In other cases, the parent may have no home, no phone and no desire or ability to talk to you.  Good luck to you then!  Your VAM scores will not be very forgiving.  Don't worry it's all "science."  And, "science" never discriminates!

Never forget that, as the former State Commissioner once seemed to indicate, parents are motivated primarily by "special interests."  The "special interests" aren't so much well-endowed lobbyists as their own children.  If you show you care enough to call, and not just about the bad stuff, you may be able to build a team bent on helping a kid.  It doesn't always work, but it, at least, shows you care, strengthens the chances of success and gives you a sense of solidarity.  Call in the guidance, deans, psychologists, as needed.  They are there to help people.  

4.  Last, but definitely not least, in terms of discipline, preventative measures go the furthest.  Here is one suggestion.  Students stay on task better when they enjoy the task at hand and when they understand it.  If students are bored out of their wits or lack basic skills, they are more likely to disrupt the class.  

Sorry about the Core.  There's not much any of us can do about it.  It only exacerbates discipline problems.  Kids tune out of test prep.  Who wants to feel pressured to complete hundreds of problems in a race against time?  Who wants to Race to the Top of someone else's idea of "The Top"?  Who wants to break a simple problem down into multiple components?  Who wants to read manuals?  Who wants to dissect works of literature until the last ounce of enjoyment has been sucked out of it?   School and growing up are tough enough, as is.  Students, more than ever, may want to stand up and just scream!  You must be the example though.  If you must scream, be sure to go in the hallway and shut the door first!

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