Classroom Discipline on NPR

On October 17, 2014 National Public Radio (NPR) aired a podcast about Classroom Discipline on their program, This American Life. The program shared stories about parents and schools struggling with what to do about misbehaving kids from three (3) years-of-age to high school students.

This article discusses three of the incidents.

In the first story, four teachers were asked to confront a student who would not take his hat off in class—contrary to the classroom discipline rules of the school.

Each of the four (4) teachers interviewed had no specific procedure to handle the situation. All agreed that they would react in a way that they hoped would be successful. None were.

In a second confrontational discipline case, a student would not hang up his coat—again against the school’s classroom discipline code. When the student went to the bathroom, the teacher took the student’s coat and hung it up in the closet with the other coats. Upon returning to the classroom, the student accused the teacher of “stealing” his coat, whereupon he began “stealing” items from the teacher’s desk—stuffing a stapler and other teacher’s possessions into his pants.

In a third incident, students were departing a subway train on their way to a field trip. An adult shoved one of the students. Another student said to the adult, “You should apologize.” The adult said to the commenting student, “F…Y….” The school had a discipline program referred to as Restorative Justice that was based upon working with incarcerated youth. The students wanted–right then and there–to have a discussion on how to resolve the issue according to a procedure of Restorative Justice. Long story short, two students were jailed, one for a misdemeanor and the other (a female) for a felony of attacking a police officer (although no one knew that the undercover adult was a policeman).

Here is how a person using Discipline Without Stress (DWS) would have handled each situation.

Situation 1 – Not taking a hat off according to classroom discipline rules:

The most effective approach to break down personal barriers is to ask for a favor. The DWS person would have said something like, “Please do me a favor and remove your hat.”

The adult would then say something like, “If you choose not to, we’ll deal with it later.” The adult would then have immediately walked away from the student in order to preserve the student’s dignity. If the teacher were to keep standing near the student, the student would have felt coercion—a mistake many teachers make. Coercion simply is not successful with today’s youth.

The idea behind the student’s not knowing what will happen is more powerful than knowing what will happen. (As an aside, teachers reduce their authority when the inform students AHEAD of time what the action will be.)

Situation 2 – Not hanging the coat:

The teacher made a fatal error in removing the student’s possession. Without realizing it, the teacher prompted counterwill, the natural human resistance to coercion. The teacher’s act was coercive; it used authority to take the student’s coat without the student’s permission.

A DWS practitioner would not have taken instructional time to handle this defiance but instead would have taken the same approach as in the former example at the outset when the student would not hang up his coat. (“Please do me a favor…. We’ll talk about this later.”)

Situation 3 – Subway incident:

Confrontation should be avoided. When the student suggested to the man to apologize–and the undercover policeman responded in a confrontational way–the mindset of the student should have been, “This man has a problem; it’s his; don’t let his problem become mine.” When the students wanted to practice Restorative Justice at that time, they did not realize that they were prompting COUNTERWILL–THE NATURAL HUMAN INSTINCT TO RESIST BEING CONTROLLED OR COERCED. It was inevitable that the adult would react negatively.

The PBS program clearly showed that schools have no effective classroom discipline approach. Schools of education do not teach teachers what they need to do when they first enter the classroom. Most teachers have never been taught that they are in the motivation and relationship occupation. Teachers market information; rarely do people buy from  someone they dislike. Even the slowest salesperson know not to alienate the customer, but unforutely teachers alienate students too often. Negativity only prompts negative reactions. If a student has negative feelings toward a teacher, the relationship only prompts apathy toward learning and/or reluctance, resistance, rudeness, and sometimes rebellion or defiance.

Learning how to handle classroom discipline should be one of the last techniques new teachers learn BEFORE they step into a classroom.

As William Glasser so eloquently stated, “The ultimate issue of power should be to empower others” (WILLIAM GLASSER: Champion of Choice, by Jim Roy, 2014, p.239)This is what successful teachers do—but never by using negativity, force, or imposed punishments. Glasser also said, “Not teaching students how we function is like asking them to play a game without teaching them the rules” (Ibid, p. 253). “The Discipline Without Stress Teachers model shows how to use accomplish this using authority but without coercion, threats, or  imposed punishments.

1 Comment
  1. Great post. I’d welcome more “real life” examples that show how the DWS system would apply. I think they are very helpful.