There’s bad news and there’s good news about classroom discipline. The bad news is that sometimes we are the cause of the discipline problems in our classes. We cause them because we inaccurately assess our students’ needs, fail to plan adequately for emergencies and daily activities, misread our students’ reactions, or unknowingly commit any number of mistakes that challenging students are quick to capitalize on.Discipline problems that we do not cause ourselves are just not as easy to manage.
The good news about the mistakes we make in our classrooms is that we have control over them. in fact, most of the time, we can usually prevent the ones that we cause. In the following list of teacher-made mistakes, you will find some of the reasons why you may have inadvertently caused the discipline issues you’ve had to manage. With each mistake listed here you will also find a way to avoid making it into a discipline problem.
Mistake 1: You refuse to answer or give a poor answer when students question you about why they should learn the material you want them to master.
Solution: We need to be careful to provide students at the start of a unit of study with the reasons why they need to learn the material in the unit. Start each class with a review of the purpose for learning the information in the day’s lesson. Also, make sure students are aware of the real-life applications for the learning you require of them.
Mistake 2: You present yourself in too tentative a fashion—too easily side-tracked, too tentative, too permissive.
Solution: Approach students with sincere courtesy and confidence. Set limits and take a positive approach to all students, and particularly the challenging ones, by preparing interesting lessons and attending to the classroom-management concerns that will make your students more successful in school.
Mistake 3: You are too vague in giving directions to your students. Challenging students need specifics.
Solution: Be specific when telling students what they need to do. Instead of saying “Don’t be annoying,” a better choice is to say “Please stop tapping your pencil.”
Mistake 4: You are unclear in the limits you set for your students, resulting in a constant testing of the boundaries and of your patience.
Solution: Be as specific as possible in setting limits when you establish your class rules and procedures. Students need to know and understand just what they should do and what will happen if they choose not to follow the directions you have for them.
Mistake 5: You give too many negative directions. This sets an unpleasant tone for your students.
Solution: Replace your negatives with positives. Instead of saying “Don’t play around,” you will be more positive if you say, “Get started on your assignment now.”
Mistake 6: You try to solve discipline problems without trying to determine the underlying causes.
Solution: Spend time trying to figure out what caused the problem to begin with. If you don’t determine the root of the matter, you won’t be successful in preventing it from reoccurring. You may also misread the situation and make a serious mistake in trying to solve it.
Mistake 7: You react to a discipline problem by becoming angry and upset.
Solution: Instead of spending your energy in anger, take time to examine the problem objectively before acting. Take a problem-solving approach to really deal with it.
Mistake 8: You neglect to command attention by talking even though students aren’t listening.
Solution: Refuse to give directions or instruction until you have your students’ attention. There are many techniques you can follow for commanding attention: setting a timer, asking a leading question, holding up something unusual, and standing in the front of the room are just a few.
Mistake 9: You have lessons that are poorly paced. Students either have too much work to do and give up or they don’t have enough work.
Solution: Think of your class time in 15-minute blocks and schedule activities that can be completed in that time (or in a longer block with a brief break or change of pace) to keep students at their peak of learning.
Mistake 10: You make mistakes in assigning punishment by doing so without proof or by blaming the wrong student.
Solution: Determine who did what before you act. Punishing unfairly will create long-lasting bad feelings among your students. This will take longer than rushing to act, but taking your time to assign blame is always a good idea.
Mistake 11: You are inconsistent in enforcing consequences. This will lead students to a steady testing of the limits of good and bad behaviors.
Solution: Establish the consequences of rule-breaking at the start of the term and then be as consistent as possible in enforcing the rules. Make sure the consequences are ones with which you will be comfortable in enforcing all term if you want to be consistent.
Mistake 12: You punish students for something while overlooking a more serious situation. For example, you reprimand a student for leaving a book bag in the aisle during a test, but neglect to notice that others in the room are cheating on the test. Solution: Take care to assess a situation as completely as you can before acting. Never punish unless you are a sure what the problem is and who is to blame. Be aware that it is easy to overlook misbehavior if you are distracted.