Friday, September 13, 2013

Year 4: Week 2 – Embracing Being A Disciplinarian

One of the things I missed the most about teaching over summer break was disciplining my students. Now this may seem odd. Isn’t dealing with kids who are being disrespectful, impulsive and a pain the worst part of being a teacher?

Not for me.

Let me be clear. I don’t enjoy disciplining students because I like seeing my kids feel sad about things they have done or angry at me for calling them out. I hate seeing my students being anything but happy, but often it’s in the conversations when I discipline my students that I have the most meaningful conversations and build the most memorable relationships.

When I first started teaching I hated having to discipline students mostly because I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. The first school that I taught at had a pretty clear referral and detention system. If a student did something wrong there would be a punishment that was handed down. There really weren’t a lot of conversations that were had around these consequences. The times when there were conversation only created a distances between my students and me.

It wasn’t until my first year at this school that I observed a variety of approaches to these disciplinary conversations that made sense to me. All of these conversations were actual conversations, not a teacher berating a student without the student being able to state his or her case.

I watched an 8th grade teacher express annoyance at two students for wasting his time with their misbehavior because their actions were so ridiculous for their age. There was the 6th grade teacher who asked questions to a student in  such a way that it led him to articulate everything she did wrong, making her regret his actions. Then there was the 3rd grade teacher who sat there as his student cried in shame as they unpacked the situation letting him feel bad as a natural consequence to his actions.

In all of these circumstances, there was a high level of respect that was afforded to these students. They weren’t being talked to as students but as people. The underlying theme in all of these conversations was: “I’m disappointed, because you can do better and I’m never going to stop believing in you.”

The misbehavior of students is an inevitable part of teaching. It is something you have to address. I used to get annoyed that disincline issues  “got in the way” of me doing my job until I realized that disciplinary conversations are one of the most important parts of my job.

Mixing in all of the approaches I’ve observed at this school, one piece that I always add is that I try to make my students understand my actions in response to their behavior as I try to understand why they did what they did. For me that’s the most important part of the conversation.

This means that when a student tells me that they did something because I was being boring as a teacher or that they don’t care about my class, I can’t take it personally and I have to take these statements as an expression of true feelings and not disrespect. This is really hard, but if that student sees that you are taking their feeling seriously they will work harder to understand why you as the teacher had to take action.

At the end of it all, you know each other a little better and it’s that feeling of a new understanding that I missed over the summer and keeps me coming back to teaching.

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