Retaking the School with Classroom Discipline

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Good classroom discipline may well mean different things to different people in different schools, but overall, it is the individual student’s ability to discipline him/herself that is the measure of real success in any educational environment.  

Generally speaking, the smaller the class size the more control a teacher may have over individual behaviours, yet control in and of itself is not always a contributor to learning. Sometimes too much control can lead to stifling repression and discouragement.

It is probably fair to say that in the past, Jamaican school children had a generally greater sense of self-motivation and self-discipline than they do today, in particular when school attendance was not compulsory, but accepted as a privilege.

Unfortunately, today’s family and community life seem to reflect far less parental and community involvement with the student’s personal life and development. Though understandable, the result sadly seems to be a worsening of general school performance.

My experience suggests that the school itself must compensate for this reduction in personal involvement, but that it cannot be without some organized system being imposed to take its place. LIke good parenting, that system has to be as caring as it is critical, if not more so. 

There seems to be little doubt that in today’s Jamaican schools, growing class sizes are putting more and more burdens on teachers, especially those educators who still find themselves with the great desire to assist individual students. Sadly, those teachers who were once excellent mentors, guides and friends to their students are becoming like the “old woman in the shoe”… they have so many children they simply don’t know what to do.

Though it is true that many of today’s educational reform programs have attempted to address what eventually results in poor classroom discipline, the vast majority fail because they cannot not change the home environments from which the undisciplined students come.

One solution, which I have seen work successfully, is admittedly a last resort effort. It was an organized system of school- wide disciplinary management that first required that all teachers in a given school be trained to manage indiscipline in the same manner, without any serious personal involvement.

In that system, every misbehaving child is treated the same by being given two chances to remain in the classroom. At the first instance of misbehaviour the child is recognized and the behaviour noted. Upon the second, the class activity is stopped, the child is singled out, the misbehaviour explained and an alternative offered.

On the third occasion the child is removed from the classroom and sent to a ‘time out’ room facility where another teacher and school administrator await their arrival and make a record of the incident of their removal from class. They examine the student’s record of cumulative removals and decide upon an intervention strategy.

In this way, teachers can go on with their lessons quickly without having the child further disturb the classroom activity. The misbehaving student is only kept from the classroom for a short period. His or her discipline must be fast and fair and then the child must be given the opportunity to return to class as soon as possible.

This ‘removal from class’ turned out to be the key to the overall success of the program: All the children wanted to be in their classes, but in this case, being in those classes was being taught as the right of the child, but given and recognized only when the child learned to manage the responsibility for acceptable behaviour in that class.

The more times a student is removed from his or her classroom, the more serious the school’s intervention becomes. This can range from simple punishments, to conferences with parents, to being suspended from school altogether. The list can be as long and involved as the school has the capability to intervene.

A good working relationship between administrators, teachers, guidance counselors and parents must be established for the program to be successful. The program must be outlined and explained to all involved and the interventions agreed upon before school begins each year. Records must be standardized and kept accurately.   

This type of program may seem severe, but for students who respect their right to be in a classroom and behave appropriately, and for the teacher who has fairly treated and removed a misbehaving student, the classroom learning experience goes on with as little disruption as possible. Over time, the school turns around and grows.

Ed McCoy is a former school teacher and program designer.

     

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