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“The old theory, we can make ’em work; all we have to do is get tough, has never produced intellectual effort in the history of the world, and it certainly won’t work in this situation.” — Glasser, The Key to Improving Schools, 1987
Teaching in Rural Tennessee
When I first started teaching in rural Tennessee, I had expected things to be a bit old-fashioned. I knew that the teachers were pulling 100% of their lessons from the textbook and the curriculum. And I imagined that detention and “study hall” were still heavily used as disciplinary tactics.
I was horrified to find out that it was actually much worse. Apparently, corporal punishment is still legal here (and in 18 other states).
I don’t think I was ever witness to watching a child get paddled. But the fact that it is still legal and is still used as a threat in schools makes me feel a bit uncomfortable.
“My Way or The Highway”
While working in the school setting, I heard everything from, “If John* can do it, you ALL should be able to do it.” Mind you, John was a special needs child who tended to move a bit slower than others. Additional thing to be noted: John was sitting IN HIS SEAT while the teacher said this to the rest of the class.
I’ve also heard, “Unless there are words on your feet, you need to look up.” This was said to a child who was looking down at the floor as the class was reading a story. He was doing this because his reading level was far below grade level. So instead of spending the time pretending to track the words with his finger, he stared at a spot on the floor so he would at the very least get to listen to the story.
Another thing I overheard was, “If you forget to write your last name, you don’t get to go to recess. Instead, you will go to study hall where you will practice writing your first name and last name over and over again until the end of the day.”
The Result of Outdated Discipline Techniques
The mindset among many of the teachers here was, “My way or the highway.” And students would often respond by choosing the highway. The same kids showed up in detention each day. And the same kids showed their faces in Study Hall. And they were just passed along through the system until they graduated and became someone else’s problem.
What we can do INSTEAD:
- Positive framing. Don’t tell a child what they are doing wrong. Tell them what they need to do to make it right.
- Narrate positive behavior. (Example: I see _____ taking out their pencil right away. _____ just helped their friend turn to the right page in the book.) By doing this, you are reminding your students of the instructions and expectations while also pointing out the positive in others.
- Focus on what a child can fix right now to move forward.
- Assume the best. Remain positive unless you know that an action they did was done intentionally.
- Allow anonymity. Correct students without saying their name. (Example: Remember class, we are looking at the speaker when they are talking).
- Read this book and this book. (Both will be helpful to you whether you are a parent or a teacher!)
*Names of my students were altered for this blog post.
Questions of the Day:
- If you are a teacher, what positive behavior supports do you have set up in your classroom?
- If you are a non-teacher, thinking back on your elementary years, was there a teacher who strayed away from the traditional approach to discipline? (e.g. detention, study hall, send to principal office, etc.)