Teacher Classroom Control Means Student Self-Control
"The control students need is self-control and the discipline needed is self-discipline. The reward--punishment system simply cannot produce self-directed, responsible, independent students. Classroom management, classroom control and classroom discipline are absolutely essential if students are to achieve our educational goals. But, those educational goals must include the promotion of autonomous, responsible, self-disciplined, independent, productive, problem-solving, decision-making, intelligent-thinking, self-directing, continuously learning individuals. I know of no way schools and teachers can accomplish these goals except to create democratic learning communities at every level from the classroom up so students can participate in the decisions that influence their lives."
by Bill Page
I. Assumptions, beliefs and premises:
- You can't control students! They have to control themselves.
There is no educational way teachers can control 25 kids in a classroom except that they are willing to control themselves in relation to what the teacher and the course offer. If I know more about the subject than you -- you need to listen to me. And, in order to listen, you may also need to sit down, keep quiet and follow some rules. However ideal that may sound, it is the way we learn. We learn to follow rules because they make sense to us, they are reasonable and they make things, easier, better, fairer, safer. Why do many people violate speed laws but not stop signs? It's because the stop sign rule makes sense. We expect others to stop while we take our turn. But many speed laws seem unreasonable. Many people think we can exceed speed limits safely and don't mind if others do too.
We follow rules willingly, on the bus, at the theater, in the mall or in our car. If we go beyond the limits, there are external controls to protect us--we need laws, police, and jails. But, they are not there to teach us; they are there to control us. There are times we need control in school, but we as teachers are normally engaged in the teaching-learning process. Controlling is not one of the lessons we need to teach. Self-control is a lesson we need to teach.
- The advice, "Don't smile 'till Christmas!" was very wrong.
Most teachers were taught to "Get control so you can teach." And, "Don't get too familiar, they won't mind you." or "Have your class rules posted prominently, before the students get there." They are wrong! It is just exactly the opposite!
These methods are designed for external control. Self-control requires internal control which is learned through participation, experience and discovery. Students need to participate in determining the classroom rules and in solving classroom problems through democratic action. Self-control cannot be learned through being controlled. You teach in a manner that causes students to control themselves and that enables them to learn self-discipline. The better we know them, the better we can teach them. They learn self- control through experiencing it and learning from and reflecting on those experiences. Most of all they learn from its being modeled.
- Discipline is not synonymous with punishment---or with reward.
That school must be a disciplined community is unquestioned; but discipline does not mean punishment or its counterpart, reward. Punishment has an extremely limited value and is generally counterproductive to most of our educational goals:
- Punishment usually works for the moment; it can stop the misbehavior but does not teach about misbehavior. Its effects are only temporary.
- Punishment often leads to negative responses including resentment, anger, aggression, deception, withdrawal, vandalism, violence or retaliation.
- Punishment most often teaches the wrong lesson about relationships and can lead to a negative self-image or continuation of the physical violence.
- The "carrot or the stick" is not the issue.
Punishment and reward are at the opposite ends of the same continuum. Whatever is said about one is equally true of the other. There are those who say they don't believe in negative reinforcement, but do believe in positive reinforcement. They are fooling themselves. And, we must not mistake positive reinforcement for encouragement. Reinforcement is manipulation while encouragement is a genuine expression of feelings. Encouragement is important and appropriate. Whether teachers use positive or negative actions to control behavior, the kid is still doing it for or because of the controller, not for his own internal reasons. If teachers do the thinking, reasoning or worrying, students don't need to, and won't need to learn about it.
- Student-teacher relationship is the key to the teaching-learning process.
Without mutual respect, trust, and caring, there is not likely to be any real learning going on. There are many bases and levels of respect. You can respect a teacher for his/her knowledge, for his/her intentions, hard work, morality or many aspects and combinations of his/her personality and teaching style.
Normally, the respect is stated as "caring." In my own schooling, the teachers from whom I learned were those I sincerely believed cared about me: the teachers who showed me they had an interest in me, my welfare, my feelings and my learning. And I in turn, cared about them and their efforts. Without the caring, there was a disinterest, disrespect and a neglect or disregard with all of the manifestations thereof, including disruptions, lack of effort, lack of cooperation and lack of learning.
- What we need in the classroom is a Constitution.
What is needed in classroom discipline is the same thing needed in any community---a way of protecting the rights of individuals in the group while guaranteeing the rights of the group. Some of the classroom protections and guarantees to be considered are these:
A bill of student rights
Equality, equity and individuality
A heterogeneous, pluralistic, diverse group
A non-threatening, non-coercive relationship
A pleasant, inviting, class climate
A secure, comfortable learning place
- Bill Page's article, <http://teachers.net/gazette
/AUG02/page.html> "Classroom Rules???" wherein he posts his "Credo" as his classroom Bill of Rights.
- The three most important elements of instruction are relationship, responsibility and attitude. These elements are essential for an effective teaching-learning relationship.
- Relationship: One of mutual respect, dignity and equality as unique human beings, a reciprocal interaction.
- Responsibility/participation: Those who are affected by the rules participate in the rules. I cannot be responsible for anything in which I have no voice or say-so. And then I can only be responsible to the extent I participate.
- Attitude: A feeling about something, a tendency to move toward or move away from a thing or topic. "I hate math" is an attitude; so is "I love math." If a kid indeed hates math, no learning is likely to occur until the attitude is changed.
- How do you change a kid's attitude? The answer is: you don't! Only s/he can do that. I am the only one who can change me. There are two ways I have found that I can help my students:
- By my own attitude. One thing every one of my students has learned from me is me. ("is I," to be grammatically correct, but it sounds funny.) My kids know whether I like them, whether I like my subject and how I feel about homework. You cannot spend time with me and not learn about me.
- By seeing it in a new way. If a kid sees that math can be broken into smaller units, sequenced differently, or that s/he can learn enough of the prerequisites to see that it makes sense, s/he might begin to see it as easier than s/he thought. S/he might even work or practice enough that it does seem easier and more satisfying.
- Preventive Discipline is essential. Discipline cannot be separated from teaching, whatever I am doing is both discipline and teaching. For the most part, how you teach will determine the student's behavior, for instance:
- A flexible, changing room arrangement
- Applying rules individually
- Arbitrary rules vs. Basic rules
- Discipline as feedback and as learning
- Peer involvement in rules and enforcement
- Class meetings emphasizing the affective dimension of the classroom
- Pairing, partners, and cooperation
- Adding movement, music, humor, and "chance" elements to the lessons
II. Ideas That Can Improve Relationships And Help Preclude Discipline Problems
- Ground Rules vs. Basic Rules
Basic rules are basic. They are rules that are not generally within the teacher's power to affect. "This is English class. We meet at 9:00, you are assigned to this class, it meets in room 138, and I am the assigned teacher." That is basic, however most of the rules in the classroom are arbitrary, changeable and varied at the prerogative of the teacher. They can and should be shared with the members of the class. You have to write (learn to write) themes, letters, stories, poems, plays, etc.--- that's basic. But, consider questions such as these:
- Do you have to write on Friday?
- Does it have to be graded?
- Does it have to be turned in on Friday?
- Does it have to be marked? For spelling? For Grammar?
- Do you have to sit at your seat, or could you lie on the floor?
- Could you work with a partner on it?
- Does it have to be this title?
- May we get help, have a second chance, revise it for a new grade.
- Learning: A course of study
- Set up a unit on, "How We Learn Things?"
- Set up experiments to see whether you learn better with a partner, with the stereo on or in 15-minute intervals, with flash cards, partners, etc.
- Books and audiotapes on mnemonic devices, Memory Training, Super learning or a Dale Carnegie memory course.
- The best book I've ever used in the classroom. It's free and readily available.
A school materials catalog e.g. Beckly-Cardy School Supplies
- It has pictures of virtually every learning device anyone has ever thought of that can help people learn.
- It has all of the learning games from phonic bingo and place value to game boards for the civil war or chemical elements.
- I require that students make their own materials or versions. The making of materials is more valuable than working the materials.
- In the process of making the materials, students have the opportunity to discuss, compare, question, etc., while the teacher has the opportunity to help personalize the experience or help make it personally meaningful.
- Do an analysis of the concept of homework with the kids.
- Give projects or long-range assignments in lieu of daily assignments.
- Let kids propose homework so that they can work with me to find more appropriate activities for their needs
- Categorize homework and vary the categories, or let them choose. Three categories I use are;
- Practice more of what was done in class.
- Application of concepts or principles to new material or problems.
- Enrichment or extension to related material.
- Provide a thorough rationale and explanation for any aspect of course work that might be considered "homework." Examine, re-examine and apply to objectives.
- Give two or three weeks of class assignments at once to kick off a unit.
- Encourage those who can work independently, to work at their own rate and to help one another. Those who do not respond well can be grouped or have the assignments modified individually.
- Utilize a tape recorder, study sheets, other student's work and alternative texts to assist the independent kids and keep them going independently.
- Use pair/share, study buddy, pairing and small group interaction.
- Provide a "tune-out period" (don't call it time-out--that's associated with punishment) wherein a student can opt out of a period, a lesson or activity when s/he is unprepared, all ready knows the material, is upset or otherwise on a path to disruption or non-participation. The procedures and rules for the tune-out are widely varied and individual. As long as the user understands that it is done out of genuine understanding, concern and acceptance.
Visit Bill Page's Web Site: www.teacherteacher.com for articles that can be downloaded free. Bill enjoys answering questions by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bill Page is available as a staff development program leader and he has audio and video tapes available for teachers, administrators, and parents:
For information or brochures, check his web site or call toll free: 1-888-471-4385
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