Discipline Before Learning
May 30, 2016 Classroom Management 1713 Views
The most important aspect of teaching is not the topic, the materials, or even the knowledge base of the instructor if classroom discipline is not in place. Students must know, understand, and follow prescribed rules and procedures if learning is to materialize. While some students have the ability to tune out naughtiness and noise, it is not fair that they should have to do so. Kids come to school for academic advancement and that is denied or at least vastly limited when outrageous behavior reigns. I know they come for socialization as well, but a teacher's job is to teach and that should be the focus.
Yesterday ended with an observation in a freshmen algebra class. As a required course, students must pass it to graduate and of course lessons and concepts in the class are tested on exit exams. The class is valuable, important, and pertinent to succeed in if a student plans to receive a diploma. There are a couple of problems with algebra, however, that may lead to discipline issues with students. To begin with, algebraic thinking necessitates complex skills and abstract reasoning. Students have to understand why Y represents 332 in one situation and something quite different in another. Students must think beyond, infer, and "read between the lines and numbers", so to speak, to transfer isolated knowledge bits into cohesive understanding.
If a child has worked hard in math K-8, putting for extra effort to practice and memorize tables and algorithms, algebra can become transparent, useful, and easy to navigate and then apply in diverse situations. If, however, the student has not followed these guideline algebra entails catching up on the basics as s/he wanders into complexity. My eighth grade writers used to tell me that they were "smart" in math until the fourth grade when they suddenly got "stupid". I tried to explain that that is just not how it works while reminding them that most likely they had not memorized addition or subtraction or multiplication tables in previous grades and so the lack of this knowledge base inhibited math success at more complicated levels. This leads to the second difficult with algebra: freshmen.
In most school systems Frosh are Fresh from knowing it all in junior high. Coming from top of the heap, it is difficult to assume humility in the secondary setting. Most behavior issues arise with freshmen that want to be kings and queens but are now back at the bottom of the pecking order. They have much to learn in academics and in life and some are reticent to assume this position. As a result their attitude and misbehavior can derail learning, not only theirs but that of their peers as well. While some are just naughty, others are out of control. This latter group most likely is also failing. Failure is not a pleasant robe to wear and so acting up and out takes the place of learning and advancement. The more they misbehave, the more they disturb others and disrupt learning. And as a result many freshmen will remain freshmen forever as they melt into the back of the room until age 16 or 17 when they can drop out of school and drop in to lousy jobs.
What is a teacher to do? First s/he must have clear rules and procedures. Typically these include respect and being responsible, with movement around the classroom regulated as when to sharpen pencils and where to turn in assignments. These are simple tasks but may require repeated practice. By high school students should know how to behave and what is acceptable and that which is not. Being seated, having materials ready, sitting quietly until called upon, raising hands, asking questions, and completing assignments are reasonable expectations. I am not asking for automatons, but I do expect respect. When rules are broken the teacher must have a plan of action: moving seats, stepping out of the room for a chat, having the student write about the behavior, putting a name on the board, staying after school, or taking a trip to the office. All teachers, well at least most of them, want students to learn and succeed and this is made possible when discipline is in place. Then learning flows in.