Discipline Must Be Logical: Teaching Advice

In this excerpt from Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire, Rafe Esquith discusses discipline and how punishments should fit the crime. New teachers will find this behavior-management advice particularly valuable.

Discipline Must Be Logical

Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire

You need to maintain order in your classroom. However, never forget this basic truth about discipline: Children do not mind a tough teacher, but they despise an unfair one. Punishments must fit the crimes, and too often they do not. Once the kids see you as unfair, you've lost them.

Over the years, children have related to me their pet peeves regarding unjust punishments and illogical consequences. It usually goes something like this: A child is acting up in class; the teacher decides the entire class will miss playing baseball that afternoon. The kids take it, but they hate it. Many are thinking, Kenny robbed the bank—why am I going to jail? Another classic example: John does not do his math homework; his punishment is to miss art during the afternoon, or sit on a bench at recess. There is no connection here. In Room 56, I strive to make our activities so exciting that the worst punishment for misbehavior is to be banned from the activity during which the misbehavior occurred. If a child is misbehaving during a science experiment, I can simply say, "Jason, you are not using the science materials properly, so please stand outside the group. You can watch the experiment but you may not participate. You will have another chance tomorrow." If a child is a poor sport during a baseball game, he is asked to sit on the bench. It's logical, and I make sure that when a child plays correctly, he will be allowed back on the field.

A few years ago, my group of Hobart Shakespeareans—a group of young thespians comprised of students from different classrooms who work with me each day after school—was asked to give a performance at one of the most prestigious venues in Los Angeles. They would have to miss two hours of school for the performance. All but one of the students' teachers were thrilled their students were given the opportunity. The lone objector was the same teacher who never wants his children to join orchestra or chorus. You've met the type: He believes his children can learn only from him. In this case the students eventually prevailed—their parents demanded that the kids be allowed to perform—but upon returning to school they were forced to write the following sentence one hundred times a day for a week: "In the future I will make more responsible choices about my education." By the end of the week, the children's disgust with this teacher's illogical actions prevented them from hearing anything he had to say for the rest of the year (even when it was something worthwhile). He was not fair. Game over. Mission not accomplished.

Read more of Rafe's advice!
Fire in the Classroom
Gimme Some Truth
Replace Fear with Trust
Children Depend on Us, So Be Dependable
You Are a Role Model
More Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire Resources

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