Q: I have 32 years of teaching experience, mostly in second grade. All of us veterans have noticed that classroom discipline problems have been getting worse with every new year. At our school we have lots of problems with open defiance, disrespect and constant interruptions. The most recent administration, however, considers any sort of punishment inappropriate, even having a child sit out recess. What’s a teacher to do?
The reason classroom behavior has been going downhill for at least 30 years is growing numbers of parents who don’t adequately discipline in the home. These same parents don’t support discipline from their kids’ teachers and even become defensive when anyone suggests that their kids fall short of perfect.
From the point of view of principals and other administrators, the parents in question are impossible to deal with. The standard administrative response, therefore, is to avoid confrontations with them, no matter the cost to teachers. That’s why so many teachers complain to me that their administrators (and even school boards) don’t support their efforts to discipline, that they even go to great lengths to pacify protesting parents.
One way to avoid such confrontations is to prohibit punishment of any sort. This may seem “enlightened,” but the best research indicates that appropriate punishment is associated with not just better behavior, but better overall adjustment as well. If it is just to reward excellence, then it is also just to punish misbehavior.
A disciplinary vacuum is quickly filled by discipline problems. Under these very trying circumstances, many good teachers are leaving the profession early. After all, they didn’t sign on to be abused.
Unfortunately, I have no pat answer to this growing problem. My advice to teachers is fairly pragmatic: Choose your battles carefully. My advice to parents: Wake up! My advice to administrators: Find your backbones.