By VERONICA O’BRIEN
Passing the buck. It’s done day in, day out. And, no where does the buck get shuffled through changing hands more than at school. Particularly, the buck of discipline is lost in the loose handshakes of the school system.
Follow this classroom scenario: a teacher lays down a law, student breaks law, teacher sends student out of room for administrative discipline, child returns a short while later, hand unaffected. Sound familiar? Well, according to the teacher in the 1947 teacher education videos, its all in your control as the teacher.
Everyone has a strong opinion about discipline in the school systems. Children blame teachers for unruly classrooms, teachers blame weak administrations, administrators blame districts or board of education policy. Everyone has a finger to point, but no responsibility is ever accepted. Teachers could blame students for their disrespect, but what youngster follows every rule? In an ideal world this would be the case, but who lives in Mayberry?
Believe it or not, teachers have power over student behavior. I am a strict teacher. I have the confidence to admit this. I do not allow my students to dictate over my rule. I know what type of classroom environment is most suitable for learning and am unafraid to enforce it. I am the professional, not them. But this doesn’t stop them from questioning every move. Children must learn from someone how to properly behave and when missteps occur, correction is due. So as long as there is mutual respect, peace is possible. But, when this is breached, there are consequences. It is very simple. It works.
As draconian as this sounds, my students appreciate this realm of action-consequence. Whenever the “friend” approach was used by my peers, their classrooms quicky turned to chaos. Every student knows which teachers have “out of control” classrooms. They joke about how circus-like Mr. X’s class is. Never do you hear them exalt that crazy classroom as a real learning environment. I have found that the children in those classrooms have more disdain for the loose environment than the teachers themselves who complain about the stress of the chaos. The teachers hate it. The students hate it more.
Now, I know it’s not simple to have a well ordered classroom. But, anything worthwhile is hard. Unfortunately, in many districts, the administration does more to prevent a disciplined classroom than they do to create one. “Mercy” rulings give them the power to wipe the slate clean, yet when a child returns to the classroom, the spared punishment only serves to fuel future outbursts or violations. The lesson of the day when amnesty is granted is: I got away with it again! Chance after chance is given in the vice principals office, but once the student graduates they are at a large disadvantage because the court system is not that forgiving!
Teachers are left with their backs against the wall. There is so little they can do without the backing of the big-ups in “the office.” Raising complaints to the administration is like pissing in the wind—more often than not they end up wet (or in more trouble than the offender who started the mess to begin with). What are we, as educators, left to do?
Parents, often looked at last in the equation, should hold more responsibility for their children’s actions. Mom and Dad coming into school is often much more effective than an afterschool detention—that is If they are effective as parents at all. These days parents are more concerned with self esteem and popularity than any adherence to conventional behavioral norms. Let me tell you, detention was nothing compared to what was waiting for me when I got home. My parents were infamous. Even though I often complained about them– I sure learned the lessons of appropriate behaviors.
I find that kids are not afraid of their parents or consequence, as I once was. This fearlessness can and should make teachers very afraid. Why are adults afraid to chafe a student’s sense of right and wrong?
Of course classroom conflicts are more complex than the simple solution of discipline and for the sake of brevity; I acknowledge that I am sticking to the trifecta of parent, teacher, administration when the problem may require more than just those three. But—all learning occurs in controlled environments, so the foundation of character building is often fostered at school. Thus, we have the greatest affect and must all work together to build a foundation which will suffice to uphold the societal standards of our future. If the teacher, administrator and parent cannot come to some accord, we will bear witness to the corrosion of respect for good. Authority will continue to fade as school administrations further loosen their grasp on discipline which will only make teaching harder in schools already plagued by other issues. Remember, as in the first moments of the movie, “The vast majority of behavior problems in the classroom involve minor breeches of discipline…all within the control of the teacher.”