Discipline For The High School Classroom

Discipline techniques that work for high school students.

When you are in the classroom teaching students who are often physically larger than yourself, in groups of thirty or more, it is easy to become intimidated by disciplinary issues. If a student acts out in class, you may be wondering, "If I ask him to go to the office, will he go? What if he doesn't? What if he gets angry with me? What will he do?" These are common questions and concerns. Let's look at ways to address discipline in a manner where things need rarely, if ever, escalate to this point.

First of all, it is important to build relationships with your students. Find out what their interests are. If they are interested in sports, find out what their favorite team is, or if they won the game that they played last weekend. If they are interested in low-riders, find out what rims are. Your students will be pleasantly surprised when you take an active interest in their lives.

Establish classroom rules and stick to them. I have always had one rule for my classroom, and that rule has been "Respect." At the beginning of the year, the class discusses what that rule means in regard to their peers, the teacher, their work and personal and school property.

This rule means nothing unless you follow it as well. This means that if a student is disrespectful to you, you do not respond in kind. You, as the teacher, must model the expectations that you set for your students at all times. For example, perhaps a student is not working in class, and you must address it. First imagine that you are a teenager in front of 30 watchful peers. How would you respond in a conflict, if your reputation depended on your responses to the teacher?

Approach the student unobtrusively, and in a sincere manner ask him quietly if there is anything that you can help him with. You may find that he does not understand the material, or simply that he has stayed up the entire night talking on the phone and is tired, in which case you might want to ask him if he needs to stretch.

If a student responds to a directive in an angry manner, or is aggressively picking on his peers, ask him as privately as possible if you may speak with him for a moment at the back of the room or directly outside the door. Do not make an announcement. The student may feel he has to put on a "show" of noncompliance. Even if this occurs, simply ignore it until you can speak to the student in a relatively private place about the behavior. When you are speaking to the student, you can use phrases such as:

"I am concerned that you called Mark that name. What is going on between you two? Do you need to sit apart from him?"

"Today you seem to be having a really difficult time sitting still and participating appropriately in our discussion. Why do you think that is?"

If the student is not responsive to your respectful attempts at problem solving, you can say something like this:

"I really enjoy your participation in class. I hope that you decide to stay and participate in a positive way. If you choose not to, then you know the consequences, right? I'd hate to see you make that choice, but it is yours to make. I cannot make you be a positive participant if you choose not to be."

Putting the burden of responsibility on the student is a powerful thing. This way, it is not you, the teacher, who is sending the student to the office, but it is the student who is possibly making the choice to go to the office as opposed to staying in class and behaving appropriately. It is difficult for him to be mad at you if he sees a choice in the matter, and his role in making that choice.

Of course, if possible, you are not having this conversation where it serves as entertainment for the entire class. Always keep your voice calm, low, and respectful, and you will rarely see a situation escalate.

Sometimes, situations do escalate. Often, when this happens, it is due to an emotional disturbance on the part of the student, or a peer interaction that you cannot influence at that time. Be certain to know your school's safety procedures and implement them if necessary. For example, if you can tell a fight is about to happen, calmly call the campus security guard and let them know what is happening. Don't lose control yourself. If two students are fighting, your first responsibility is the safety of the other students, who can be moved out of the classroom. Fortunately, this scenario rarely happens, and with the right expectations in place, you will create a safer environment for all students.

Don't forget about motivators as a disciplinary tool. Many of us would not do much work if we did not receive a paycheck for it. Motivation is an important factor in smooth classroom management. Help your students to see the reason behind the work that they are doing, and do your best to make it fun. Imagine that you are the one who is compelled to sit in seven classes every day listening to lectures on different topics, some of which you are not interested in, and try to liven it up a bit, so that your students do not feel apathetic.

Even in workshops and classes oriented towards adults, warm-up games are played, certificates are given out, and public acknowledgment of good work is given. In addition to keeping students fully engaged, which cuts down on behavioral problems, try giving positive feedback to each student every day. In other words, catch them doing something right. Examples of this are:

"Way to go remembering PEMDAS Jeremy!"

"Sheila, you always amaze me with how quick you are to get the underlying meaning of what we are reading."

"Marcus, thank you for helping Adam with his work. You made this class a better place for him today. I appreciate that."

With secondary students, be sensitive and understand that some students do not like to be publicly acknowledged. They may feel embarrassed in front of their peers. However, if you give this positive feedback subtly or privately, you will get amazing results.

Continue to build a safe, fun classroom environment by always modeling an upbeat, positive attitude and respect. Your classroom is a microcosm of the world. You have the control over how nice of a place that world is to spend time in, for both you and your students. You will find that by implementing these strategies that many discipline problems either don't arise at all, or are resolved easily.

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