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    Keeping Discipline in the Classroom


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    Keeping Discipline in the Classroom

    Post by Admin on Fri May 15, 2009 5:21 pm

    Keeping Discipline in the Classroom

    Magdalena Sulich (Poland)
    In the past, keeping discipline in the classroom was as important as teaching. Teachers were allowed to use corporal punishment, and some used it often. Of course, students didn’t like it very much! British and American research done before 1960 shows that children don’t like teachers who (among other things) are sarcastic and dominating, show favouritism, and punish students to keep discipline (Janowski 1995). However, that same research shows that teachers should not only be nice, patient, honest, and friendly but should also be able to keep order in class.
    One of the main problems for every teacher, especially those just starting their careers, is being able to keep peace and order in class. We all have heard of well-meaning new teachers who wanted to be very friendly with their students but encountered chaos when students paid no attention to them. When this problem occurs, the teacher ends up wasting class time silencing students and calling for order, and sometimes doesn’t realize what went wrong. Only afterward will that teacher realise he or she should have started by being strict with clearly defined rules and then later could have given students more independence.
    For me and my colleagues, discipline in the classroom is very important. We all know that there is no single ideal way to address the issue, so I decided to collect and summarise information on the subject. In this article, I will try to define discipline, then give some reasons why it is often difficult to keep discipline, and finally discuss some ideas for improving a bad situation in class.
    Defining discipline

    The word discipline is understood today to mean conforming to rules, to supervisors’ orders, and to demands of the community or an institution. Even its derivation is inseparably connected with education; it comes from the Latin word discipulus, which means student. Latin disciplina refers to the way of treating students.
    For the needs of pedagogy, Oko (1975, 296–97) speaks of “conscious discipline,” that is, obedience to rules and values that are un-questionably recognised by an individual or by society: “At school, conscious discipline occurs where there aren’t any big discrepancies between the systems of values represented by teachers and students.” He goes on to say that the basis for introducing conscious discipline at school in the educational process is in treating children and youth as partners who are shown respect by others but also are given appropriate responsibilities.
    Many of the assumptions accepted by teachers, including those about discipline, have not been confirmed in the actual classroom. We can still hear from some teachers that students learn only when they are quiet, silence being regarded as a sign of intensive learning. This is connected to another belief that the only one who can and should teach is the teacher. Problems with discipline in the classroom usually start from this type of belief by the teacher. Teachers usually begin to have problems with discipline when they can’t motivate students or keep their concentration and attention, or when they don’t understand students’ reasons for misbehaving.
    For me, discipline in the classroom is based on mutual respect of rights and duties of the teacher and students so that the aims of the lesson can be attained. Discipline includes creating and keeping rules based on reciprocal understanding and tolerance and requires establishing limits that must not be transgressed. Where is the line between good and bad behaviour? Probably there is no definition satisfactory to all.
    According to McManus (1995), sometimes we hope that when we give a thing a name, we will get some power over it. It is impossible to create a definition of discipline that would be both useful and acceptable to all teachers, not to mention useful and acceptable to parents and others outside the classroom. McManus goes on to say that school behaviour is too complicated to put it into a single definition.
    Most contemporary educators and methodologists avoid definitions of the word discipline because of its pejorative tone and frequent associations with corporal punishment. In spite of the difficulty of finding a suitable definition, I hope that I have outlined enough of the topic to allow us to take a closer look at students’ expectations about keeping order in the classroom.
    Students’ expectations about discipline

    Even young children going to school for the first time have their own expectations of the institution of school and of the people working there. These expectations reflect the specific culture of the country. Also, teachers, even those with little classroom experience, have expectations of students and of themselves. Expectations and perceptions influence classroom interaction from the beginning.
    Research done by Nash amongst 12-yearold children led to the conclusion that they see the teacher in six dimensions, based on their expectations and perceptions at school (cited in Janowski 1995). The dimensions are:

    1. Keeps order vs. Can’t keep order Children think that keeping discipline is a teacher’s basic duty, even more important than teaching. A teacher who is too soft arouses dislike, contempt, and disdain.
    2. Teaches vs. Doesn’t teach To teach is to educate and give assignments, not to amuse with stories and jokes. According to young students, teaching consists of giving facts and other concrete data, not simply expressing opinions.
    3. Explains difficult concepts vs. Doesn’t explain well For most students, it is the teacher who should make new and difficult material easier to understand. Incentives to do independent work can be perceived as not fulfilling a teacher’s duty.
    4. Interesting lessons vs. Boring lessons This is a very important dimension for children, although they can’t always articulate what interesting teaching is. Generally speaking, an interesting and engaging lesson provides learners with new knowledge and has a consistent plan without any unnecessary interruptions.
    5. Fair vs. Unfair For some students, a fair teacher is one who isn’t too strict. For others, however, fairness is more complex. For example, punishment may be considered fair only under certain conditions, such as after the teacher’s warnings and threats have been disregarded. Blaming students who are not responsible for the problem is clearly unfair. Teachers can and should be strict and determined in punishing, but the punishment has to be viable; for example, the teacher can’t demand complete silence during an entire lesson.
    6. Friendly vs. Unfriendly Inexperienced teachers may consider this dimension more important than students actually do. For some students, friendliness of the teacher is optional, and other dimensions, such as fairness, are more important.

    On some occasions, all teachers have problems with keeping discipline. Some teachers have a natural gift for arousing respect from their students, while others must work very hard to get it. With or without this natural talent, a teacher has to learn a lot about sociology, psychology, and pedagogy and also learn a lot from his or her experience with students.
    The problem of keeping discipline in the classroom is too widespread and complex to provide an ideal solution for all circumstances in an article of this length. In my opinion, too little is said and written about this critical aspect of teaching. I hope that these ideas and suggestions will help teachers find practical solutions to discipline problems they encounter in their classrooms.

    Janowski, A. 1995. Uczen w teatrze zycia szkolnego [A student in the theatre of school life]. Warsaw: WSiP.
    Komorowska, H. 2002. Metodyka nauczania jezyków obcych [Methods of foreign language teaching]. Warsaw: Fraszka Edukacyjna.
    McManus, M. 1995. Troublesome behaviour in the classroom: Meeting individual needs. London: Routledge.
    Okon, W. 1975. Slownik pedagogiczny [Dictionary of pedagogy]. Warsaw: Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe.
    Magdalena Sulich teaches English at a middle school in Jasienica and at a primary school and middle school in Stryjki.

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