Most of my students have serious behavior problems.

Most of my students have serious behavior problems and disorders. Many days I have had desks thrown at me and have had students try to hit me. To be totally honest, I don’t see how I could use a loving internal discipline system that asks students to just THINK about what they are doing. I am, however, open to suggestions. Any thoughts on how to get an internal system such as Discipline without Stress to work in a very harsh environment?

Sometimes people who are new to Discipline without Stress form the mistaken impression that Dr. Marshall is suggesting that young people should have the choice to decide that they can behave in any way they want. This isn’t the case at all. Allowing young people to continue to make poor choices leads to chaos and is simply permissive. Discipline without Stress does not advocate permissiveness. 

Although “Choice” is one of the principles that forms the backdrop for this discipline system and building good relationships with young people is a key element of this approach, as I said, it doesn’t naturally follow that “anything goes”. Students are not given the choice to misbehave. Bothering, bullying or hurting others should never be tolerated or permitted. This certainly wouldn’t be in my definition of “loving”–nor yours either, I suspect. In actuality, this approach doesn’t refer to being “loving” at all. Respectful, yes.

Violence signifies the lowest level of behavior on the Hierarchy (Level A). In this discipline approach, students are taught that the two lowest levels, A and B are always unacceptable. While it is true that an individual always does choose (often non-consciously,) the level of their own behavior, not all choices are acceptable.

Students are taught that operation at the lowest two levels of the Hierarchy is never acceptable and will always result in the use of authority by the teacher. The difference between this system and other discipline approaches is that Dr. Marshall advocates the use of authority without punishment. For many teachers, the use of non-coercive authority is a completely new concept; it might take some people a length of time to understand it and to learn to implement it effectively as Dr. Marshall proposes.

Although I’ve never taught in a classroom situation where most of the students were as you described, my partner and I did have two special needs students this year, one of whom occasionally threw things, shoved desks and on one occasion attempted to hit me.

In a case where a child is completely out of control, as was occasionally the special needs student that I mentioned, we had a plan in place to deal with it. The principal, my teaching partner and I, and our part-time Teaching Assistant were all involved in setting up the plan. We shared the same understandings of how it would be implemented, if it was ever necessary to do so:

1. The student was made aware that if he chose, in a moment of rage to act on Level A, then he would no longer be able to remain in the classroom. A phone call would be made to the principal.

2. The student would be escorted to the school office by the principal, where he would remain, under supervision of the principal, until he had calmed down.

3. If removal from the classroom did not result in calming this student down, a phone call would be made to the foster mother, who would then take the student home.

Safety must always be the first priority. When students act in a violent manner, they need to be isolated immediately to secure safety for everyone else and sometimes even for themselves. I would assume that your school doesn’t tolerate violence and that a similar sort of action plan might be in invoked at your school, when necessary.

People operating at Level A can’t speak rationally. In the heat of the moment it’s not reasonable to think that any kind of rational conversation with them is possible. In cases of unexpected violence, discussion of the Hierarchy has to be part of the plan after the child has calmed down, and sometimes consequences may be necessary. As in any discipline situation though, Dr. Marshall recommends that consequences should be elicited from the student and agreed to by the adult (as opposed to simply being imposed.)

  1. I like your response to this question, but I need other strategies as well. I believe this question may have come from a Teacher of students with Emotional Disturbances.
    Here is my thought: many times administrators do not want these students up in their office where they continue to create chaos. I was told on one occasion by a very frustrated administrator that I need to handle my own discipline problems. I hadn’t even sent the student up to the office, he went on his own accord with his friends in tow, because of a recess incident.
    As Special Educators, we are expected many times, to keep our discipline problems away from the office or the administrator, even if this involves hitting, throwing desks or other unsafe acts. This is due in part to an inability on the part of the administrator to know how to handle the student either. When parents of General Education students come strolling through the office and you have a student who is tearing papers off the office walls or throwing chairs over the administrator is embarrassed. They want the problem to go away,right away.
    Many Special Educators have been trained in Non-Violent Crisis Intervention methods, which are very helpful. But honestly, the unspoken expectation is that you don’t send your discipline problems to the office. If you want confirmation of this, ask some other special educators.
    Thank you for your time and talents,

  2. I work in an urban enviroment where many of the children who are not special ed behave in the manner listed by Liz above. Our administration actually documents every vist made by a student and that number is tallied up at review time and held against the teacher. Naturally this leads to a fear based enviroment where “controlling” the children is the highest priority. My question is this=how do you keep disciplinary issues from taking so much time away from the instructional day? Are there shortcuts to managing poorly behaved kids so that one can actually teach? Thanks for your answers!