Category Archives: Classroom Discipline

Issues related to discipline in the classroom

Choosing Your Battles Carefully

girls talking in class

During every lesson, you are constantly bombarded by stimuli and forced to make split second decisions.  Judy is looking out the window.  Timmy is asleep.  Roger is drawing a picture, and Karen is trying to get the mud off her shoe.  Chloe is listening intently, but across the aisle Theo is unwinding the spiral binding on his notebook.  Tristan heads to the garbage can with the pencil shavings from his pencil sharpener while Kevin is reading a book in his lap.  Which of these students’ behaviors need re-directing immediately?

All the while, you are giving directions, trying to monitor the progress of your students, keeping an eye on the time, and watching, watching, watching your students.

A common question of a novice teacher is “Which behaviors should I react to and which behaviors can I safely ignore?”  As a general rule of thumb, ask yourself these questions:

  1.   Is the student still mentally engaged in what the class is doing?
  2.   Could the student answer a question about content if you were to call upon   him/her?

If your answer to the first two questions is YES, continue to monitor the situation.  You may want to walk towards the off-task student, however.

Now, consider the following three questions:

  1.   Is the student totally oblivious to the lesson/activity that is going on in the     classroom?
  2.   Is the student distracting others?
  3.   Is the behavior going to become even more problematic without re-directing?  (i.e. The student who is unwinding the spiral edge of a notebook appears to be   fashioning a makeshift fishing pole to snag the bow in Twila’s pony tail.)

If you answer YES to the last three questions, intervene.  However, keep in mind that intervening does not necessarily mean calling the child out by name.  Try these steps first:

  • Walk towards the student who is not paying attention or is not on task.  Stand near his desk/work area.
  • Use the student’s name in the lesson.
  • Call upon the student to help you with something.  For example, send the student to the board, have him hold a poster, have him demonstrate how to focus a slide on a microscope.
  • Ask the student a question…not a “gotcha” question to point out that he/she is not listening, but rather one that will redirect his/her attention.

Unless there is a safety issue or a blatantly disrespectful action, try to keep the lesson moving without calling out each student who is off task.  Every time you stop the lesson to correct misbehavior, time is lost.  Choose your battles carefully.  You are the person who defines the classroom atmosphere.  For the sake of continuity and peace, be proactive rather than reactive!



Documenting Student Behavior

Documenting student behavior

During the first few weeks of school–sometimes even on the first day–interesting behaviors begin to manifest themselves.  It doesn’t take long to notice that Harry is usually not on task, the Jill talks incessantly, and that Amelia’s desk if full of trinkets from home that she plays with constantly.  While some behaviors are easily addressed and corrected, others become a pattern.

As the classroom teacher, you will want to make note of these behaviors in either a card file, on the computer, or in a notebook.  You will be glad that you did this when it comes time for parent-teacher conferences.  It is not good enough to tell a parent that “Amelia is always messing around in her desk.”  You need to be specific and have a record.  For example, I often record such items as the following:

Harry Smith:  Homework not finished on 8/22, 9/3, 9/7, 9/20, 10/1 and 10/8

Sally Smith:  Observed the following on 9/7–Playing with Polly Pocket in her desk from 10:03–10:23 on Sept. 2 (Yes, I have allowed this to go on so that I can record data);  On Sept. 4th, spent 10 minutes of math time taking apart bracelet that she had worn to school; Sept. 7, was observed tying her shoelaces to desk chair during silent reading and playing with trading cards in her desk during math

Bob Smith:  9/23 Refused to take out book when asked to do so.   Threw assignment in trash can on the way out of the classroom.  9/24 Had head down on desk during video clip, refused to work with group on biology project; 9/28 Absent from school, did not turn in his portion of group project;  9/30  Arrived late to class, said he was looking for his cell phone in the library; 10/1  late to class, said it wasn’t his fault he didn’t have his homework as it was taken from him in the lunch room and not returned

Clara Smith:  9/12  Asked to sharpen pencil at 10:02, stopped at Carl’s desk on way to sharpener, looked out window, stuck arm in fish tank, stopped to look at the “good work” board, and after sharpening pencil, returned to seat at 10: 08

We would like to think that we all have good memories when it comes to remembering what our students do during the day.  But if you are like me, when I am sitting with a parent at a conference and they are upset, I want to have my facts straight.  There is something more convincing about having written documentation than just telling a parent that “Bob isn’t doing well in class,” or the “Bob doesn’t use his time wisely.”

Having written documentation also shows the parent that you are professional, and that you are on top of your game!  Just be careful that when you deliver the information to the parent, you are courteous and matter of fact.  You do not want to inadvertently communicate, “Gotcha!”

On another note, my faulty memory has often worked against a student.  Is Jimmy really turning in quite a bit of late work…or am I confusing him with several other students.  I have actually thought to myself, “This student is absent A LOT,” only to find out that attendance records do not corroborate my assumption.  Keeping careful documentation can be not only be helpful in problem solving, but also help you avoid embarrassing situations.

Decide early in the year how you will document behaviors, then be consistent.  It only takes a few minutes to jot down information that may become useful at IEP meetings, conferences, student intervention programs, and so on.


The First Five Minutes–Order or Anarchy?

classroom discipline

Believe it or not, the first five minutes of class set the tone for the entire rest of the day/class period.  I can walk into a new teacher’s classroom and predict by what I see happening  in the first five minutes how the rest of the class period will unfold.  In order for you to be successful, you must set the tone early and consistently every day of the school year.  

Students must find your classroom to be characterized by the following elements:

  1. Safe
  2. Tidy
  3. Predictable (this doesn’t mean you can’t plan for surprises)
  4. Fair
  5. Fun

Put yourself in a student’s shoes.  If you were invited over to a friend’s house to attend a Tupperware party, how would you feel if–

1. … a large dog sat in a corner waiting to jump on you at your slightest move? (UNSAFE)

2.  …the house looked like a pigsty and you could not possibly pay attention to the demonstration because your eyes were constantly pulled to the underwear sticking out of the sofa cushions and the open box of uneaten pizza behind the recliner?  (UNTIDY)

3.  …you had been to this house before and strange things happened on each occasion?   At one party you got no dessert, at another there was no place for you to sit, and the last time, there was a bug in your coffee!  (UNPREDICTABLE)

4.  …the last time you attended the party, you were overcharged for the merchandise you ordered, and you found out that other attendees were given large discounts–but you didn’t get one?  (UNFAIR)

5.  …you found that the only seat left was in the kitchen where you could see nothing, hear very little of the presentation, and you had to sit with the hostess’s husband who tried to engage you in conversation about how he was facing knee surgery? (NO FUN)

Would you EVER want to go back to this person’s house for a Tupperware party?  How do you want your students to feel when they come into your classroom day after day?

Ask yourself this question?  How can I make my classroom safe, tidy, predictable, fair, and fun?  Then MAKE IT HAPPEN.  Here’s how it works:

Safe–Everybody must be convinced that they will be protected in your classroom.  You absolutely must defend all students, from weakest to strongest, from both ridicule and physical harm.

Tidy–You must straighten up your room each night after school and train students to pick up after themselves.

Predictable-You must devise an orderly set of classroom routines that will operate flawlessly (for the most part) from day to day.

Fair–You must maintain consistency in grading and meting out consequences on a daily basis and not let your emotions rule when you are tired, upset, or stressed out.

Fun–You have a product to sell–education!  You must do the best you can to create interesting and motivating lessons with the hope that all students will want your product!

If it is truly your desire to conduct your classroom in this fashion, your first minutes of the school day/class will be productive and enjoyable.  This takes practice, but is achievable by all teachers when your heart is set on being the best teacher you can be!