What’s a young teacher to do about discipline?


As another school year begins, one of many pertinent questions is “Has the per child or per-teacher (it doesn’t matter) rate of verbal and emotional abuse by teachers on students increased dramatically over the past 50 years or is it that the definition of such abuse has been dumbed down?”

The answer is yes.

As to the former, today’s young teachers are the first lot to have never experienced — first- or second-hand — what effective classroom discipline looks like. When they went through school, many if not all the old guard, the last bastion of classroom common sense, were gone. Consequently, the young teachers in question did not witness, first-hand, how a competent teacher “controls” the atmosphere of a classroom. In college, furthermore, in their teacher training classes, control was a bad word. Today’s young teachers may not even know that in the 1950s and before, it was normal for one diminutive female teacher to have no major discipline problems in a year with a classroom of 40 or more kids.

The deterioration of classroom decorum is the inevitable consequence of shifting from a leadership model of teaching to a relationship model as we did in the 1970s; thus, the folly and absurdity of having emotionally-driven young people evaluate their teachers. My best teachers were not concerned with being liked, and along with most of my classmates I generally did not like them.

The fallacy behind this student-teacher-relationship thing is that despite what this latest crop of young teachers have been told, children need adult authority; they do not need warm, fuzzy, palzie-walzie relationships with adults. When authority is lacking, the natural instincts of the child (despite the humanist myth, not a pretty thing) burst forth. If pandemonium does not reign, it constantly teases.

Mind you, the teacher is “disciplining” as her college professors defined it. So, believing her methods are not at fault, she blames the kids. They are, she tells her colleagues, a “very difficult group” in which there is more than her share of “bad apples” and so on.

Her mounting frustration begins to drive increasingly inappropriate attempts to control her class while at the same time not falling out of favor with her students. She must appear to not be bothered, to retain a good sense of humor in the face of what has now become a vicious cycle of her ineptitude and their disrespect. But she is bothered, and badly. So, one day, having had it, she throws an eraser at a kid.

When reports of this faux pas go viral, the descriptor used most often is emotional abuse. Is it? I seriously doubt that a one-off of that sort induces some permanent trauma in a child. Maybe his peers will see him as a clown. On the other hand, maybe they’ll see him as a hero who will forever be remembered as the kid who caused Miss Wilson (or Debbie, as she is known to her students) to lose it.

So, yes, over the past 50 years the per capita rate of teachers reacting inappropriately to the extreme to student misbehavior has increased. And yes, over that same period the consensual definition of what constitutes a perpetration of emotional abuse has been steadily dumbed down.

I came home from school one day as a child and told my mother, with great pathos, that one of my fifth-grade teachers had punished me for something I didn’t even do!

“And Mom, when you hear what she did I’m sure you will march over there and set her straight, by golly!”

Instead, Mom told me that since I now knew what set the teacher off I had no excuse for setting her off ever again and if I did I would be in big trouble with her when I got home. The next day, Mom sent a note to said teacher affirming her support and requesting a call if I ever again misbehaved in her class. I was on my best behavior for the rest of the year. I absolutely hated the ground on which said teacher strode. She was one of the best teachers I ever had.



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