DEVELOPING DISCIPLINE IN THE CLASSROOM
“She almost sensed a feeling of dread as she walked down the steps to her basement classroom. The idea of teaching Sunday School had sounded so exciting during the Commitment Service last Fall. She had pictured twenty junior, sitting neatly in rows, eagerly absorbing her every word, listening in excited rapture. Six months into the year now, the excitement had been quickly swept away by a weekly battle of chewing gum, note passing, noisy disruptions, apathy, and general chaos. Some weeks the lessons so carefully prepared were barely even taught as she launched into yet another torrential rain of threats and pleas; threats seldom carried through, and pleas seldom heeded.
Surely there was something that she could do! Thoughts of resigning the class came on a weekly basis, and yet she could not relieve herself of the intense desire to see this seemingly uncontrollable group brought to
a saving knowledge of the love of Jesus Christ. With salty tears moistening her eyes she mouthed a silent prayer, ‘please God, I need Your help…'”
How much we would like to say that the above situation has no bearing of similitude to our own. And, yet, most of us that are honest will have to admit that the greatest challenge that confronts the majority of teachers in our generation is the creation of a climate of classroom discipline.
It must be understood, however, at the offset that discipline is not a happen-chance thing that we blindly stumble into. Neither is it a personality trait that some have ‘magically’ inherited while the rest of us are left to fend for ourselves. Discipline is a carefully built, consistently maintained climate that is entirely within the grasp of every teacher that is willing to take the steps to develop it.
Although exhausting volumes have been written on this subject, as well as intensive psychological studies that are too detailed to analyze here, there are several practical things that can be implemented by
every teacher that will gradually change the atmosphere of their classroom experience. Few, if any, will change overnight. Most changes will occur gradually over a period of weeks. Yet, with determined
effort, the situation is entirely within our control – and things will change!
Five General Factors
1. DETERMINE YOUR BOUNDARIES
The most basic problem in many classrooms is that definite boundaries of behavior have been neither set nor maintained. It is essential that the teacher define in a very clear and rational way what is and what is not acceptable. This should not be done while a problem is occurring, but rather well in advance of any infractions of the rules. It is best for a teacher to carefully describe expected behavior during a time when the class atmosphere is pleasant. It is also important for a teacher to give rational explanations for their requests. “Because I said so…” is not a good reason. Rules given under that premise will probably be ignored.
Believe it or not, most students really feel more comfortable in a disciplined environment. If boundaries are set, and reminders are clearly given students will want to see everyone cooperate.
2. BE REASONABLE
It is important in setting boundaries of acceptable discipline for the teacher to be reasonable in his/her expectations. Classrooms are designed for learning, not just for teaching! Teachers shouldn’t expect
a military style atmosphere for 12-13 year olds. Even if it were maintained, it is doubtful that this is the best way for these students to learn about the love of Jesus. Likewise, no teacher of a kindergarten level class should expect their children to sit with folded hands for two hours. Should it even be possible (which it is not), it would probably not be the most enhancing way for them to become excited about the material being taught.
This facet of discipline in the classroom climate also brings are important sidenote to be considered in teacher sensitivity in methods and in content. It is necessary for anyone desiring to teach to be sensitive to students needs. Often problems arise because of callousness on the part of the instructor. Methods and content should always be adaptable to the concerns of the class. There are times when the lecturer must pause for question and comment; the project must be sidestepped for a song or a story. When the teacher refuses to ever break from the comfortable pattern, frustration will be manifested in a variety of disruptions.
3. BE CONSISTENT
The writer of the General Epistle of James observed that ‘a double-minded man is unstable in all of his ways’ (James 1:8). One of the most important elements in building and in the maintenance of a healthy
classroom climate, is the consistency of the teacher. Once boundaries have been set, they must remain the same for all students in all instances. When someone oversteps the boundaries that have been determined they must be dealt with in some fashion or the rule becomes obsolete immediately. Discipline should never be based on the mood or emotion of the instructor, but rather on specific pre-determined rules. Too often a teacher is overly severe when their feelings are negative, and then far too tolerant when in a pleasant state of mind. This serves only to wreak havoc in the classroom. What is absolute must remain that way; every moment, every week, and every month. If boundaries change, the teacher must make that clear, and also set the new rules.
It is important that all students be treated consistently. Every student is different and must be dealt with in a variety of ways, but adopt this principle and make it stand: what is wrong for one, is wrong for all. It is so easy to ignore intrusions of discipline among those that are usually cooperative; but it is fair neither to them of their classmates to do so! Being consistent, the teacher will find that students bestow a new sense of respect upon him/her. Students will also feel a greater stability and confidence within their class leader.
4. EMPHASIZE THE DISCIPLINE IS A POSITIVE FORCE
Many people make the common mistake of thinking that discipline is synonymous with punishment. This simply is not true. Although punishment is certainly one facet of discipline, discipline is a much larger thing. Daniel Webster defines discipline as “training that develops self-control, character, or efficiency….” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second Edition, 1969). Discipline builds armies, performs symphonies, paints beautiful portraits, and develops a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is important that your students feel that the boundaries which you have set, and the demands that you make upon them are going to result in very great things in their lives.
Many teachers fail in thinking that the only time discipline is necessary is when there are problems. This thinking is distorted. Problems don’t create the need for discipline, but rather a proper climate of discipline will prevent the occurrence of the problems. Discipline is not a cure, it is a prevention! Students should not only be punished for infractions of set boundaries; they need also to be genuinely praised for correct behavior. Often disruptions are the only thing we deem worthy of our attentions and emotions! When attention is consistently given for positive behavior, it will result in a desire among the class to emulate that behavior to receive the same rewards! Discipline is creative. Discipline is building. Discipline is positive!
5. BE A LEADER
A true leader, be it a General, president, employer, pastor or teacher must have the welfare of his/her people at heart. There is nothing that can replace genuine concern and love in the hands of a leader. The
classroom teacher must be more than a tape-recorder, spitting out tacts and setting new rules. The teacher must be a leader. Everyone of us has a genuine desire to be led by one who loves and cares for us. Before one can tell of the love of Jesus, they must first show it.
A true leader is also a role-model. Realize that you set the example for others to follow. Someone one jokingly said, “Do as I say, not as I do!…” A real leader will speak through his/her actions. Many Sunday
School children never get to know anyone in the church quite like they know their classroom teacher, particularly in those places where there are large bus ministries. Sitting in your class watching you are
potential thieves murderers-liars-drunk; they are also potential artists-musicians-nurses-missionaries-ministers-youth leaders. What potential they realize is very largely your responsibility. Please, for their sake, be a leader!
In order to build a classroom climate of effective discipline, some effort must be expended, and likewise maintained. Determine your boundaries. You will have to be reasonable in dealing with your students, as well as being consistent with them. You must understand that discipline is a positive, creative force. You must then pass that attitude on to your students in actions as well as with words. You are the leader. What your class is will be determined not by some miraculous twist of fate. It will be determined by your actions.
As you begin to put these five simple factors into practice, be patient. As time goes on, you will find that the dread you formerly faced on Saturday evening and early Sunday morning is beginning to vanish. Eagerly you will think of new ideas new projects new students. Your class will sense this change and join in your enthusiasm! Step out right now with faith and determination, and re-commit your efforts to Him.
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