Discipline in the Classroom Discipline is a complex issue to handle

Discipline is a complex issue to handle in the classroom--occasions will always arise when it is necessary, and a teacher who is unfamiliar or unskilled in discipline does a disservice not only to himself, and to the students, but to the parents, the school administrators, and, in a far distant future, society in general. Discipline is not just intended to put a stop to a currently occurring behaviour, but to teach the misbehaver why it was wrong and to show him to prevent its repeat himself. Several different methods of discipline exist, from the strictest to the most lenient, and there is a delicate balance in being an authority figure who is capable of holding discipline and having the rapport with the class that is so useful for teaching: authority must be joined to students´ welfare in such a way that they are "drawn to knowledge, not forced to swallow it" (Banner, 24). Discipline can also be defined simply as "teaching students to behave responsibly" (Wuest). Some authors have drawn a distinction between authority and power: "while power may be used for good or ill, authority does not connote coercion. Authority has the unusual quality of being dual, or reciprocal" (Banner, 21). The most important quality of discipline seems to be evoking the students´ cooperation in the process in some way. A teacher with a good rapport in the classroom is most likely to hold the students´ respect and therefore be able to discipline effectively. Unfortunately, an overly casual or forgiving teacher can quickly lose authority, as it does require "some formal distance between teachers and students" (Banner, 27). The better disciplinarian, however, is not more likely to be feared or disliked. It is important to find the right balance of friendly and firm qualities; many teachers will find that they naturally fall together. For example, the American Federation of Teachers emphasizes in their guidelines the importance of greeting students, which has the double purpose of creating rapport and indicating early signs of problems (AFT) .

The ideal approach to discipline can be called Democratic: without being adversarial, the teacher must present the students with "clear limits, acceptable choices, and instructive consequences" (MacKenzie, 47). Most sources emphasize the necessity of including students in their own disciplinary process; this can be done by presenting a misbehaver with a clear set of choices (i.e., "Either you stop talking in class, or you will spend the rest of the period in time-out") and stopping the situation as quickly and painlessly as possible. Bailey warns that some children will use structured choices offered as a chance to interject a third choice (111), but the teacher must not forget his place as the highest authority, the one who is in charge of deciding and presenting the appropriate choices in that situation. Democratic teaching assumes that children are capable of making the choice to solve the problem but should have "only as much power and control as they can handle responsibly" (MacKenzie, 50).

In order to involve children positively in discipline, the teacher must provide them with clear and precise rules; only when students understand the rules and expectations can they decide on their own behaviour. Imposing structure on your classroom can prevent "many conflicts and behaviour problems ... because children know what is expected" (MacKenzie, 1). Teachers often falsely assume that students will know the basic rules of interaction already, having been taught by parents or other sources how one should behave with an authority figure, in a classroom environment, and so on (MacKenzie, 5). Some permissive teachers assume that making "any rules or expectations explicit is ... to limit the freedom and autonomy of those subjected" (Delpit, 26). This is not actually helpful, as it is only when someone knows the exact regulations that they can choose to behave appropriately or not. Teachers also commonly make the mistake of assuming students will know the rules after only one repetition, whereas they "need to be taught, practiced, reviewed, retaught, and practiced some more" (MacKenzie, 6). Excessively numerous and complicated rules are less helpful than a few precise, clearly stated ones. This is particularly relevant to multicultural situations, which are of course often confronted by TEFL teachers. Disciplinarians encounter particular problems when cross-cultural issues arise. Delpit theorizes that students´ successful progress through a disciplinary environment is "predicated upon acquisition of the culture of those who are in power" (25); in other words, a teacher should not assume that students from one culture would know rules that are more common to another. Even in English-speaking countries, a teacher should not make assumptions about the information with which students enter class; in one practical example, American researchers "discovered that many young students really don’t understand the meaning of words in the rules, such as ´courteous´"(AFT). Additionally, Wuest suggests that rather than posting rules in negative terms, "emphasizing the don´ts," teachers should list a few all- encompassing rules telling students how to behave (i.e., "Be on time!").

The presentation of clear consequences for when rules are broken is another vital part of a good disciplinary system. MacKenzie describes the most effective consequences as immediate, consistent from situation to situation, relevant to each individual situation, of an appropriate duration, respectful rather than humiliating, and carried out with no grudges borne (MacKenzie, 168-173). The best consequences are those that take away an opportunity for positive reinforcement rather than punish negatively: for example, "time-out" (MacKenzie, 207). Many sources and researchers have shown that "punitive consequences are not the solution to dangerous and disruptive student behaviors" (Skiba). Rather than simply punishing misbehavers, the disciplinarian should use rules to prevent and consequences to stop disruptive behaviours. "The use of positive reinforcement, modeling, supportive teacher-student relations, [and] family support" are also helpful in altering a disruptive environment (Skiba).

Since discipline and the behaviours that warrant it can cause emotional struggles and anger, there are many mistakes a teacher can lapse into. MacKenzie cautions that "permissive teachers believe children will stop misbehaving when children realize that stopping is the right thing to do," a conviction that is the teacher´s responsibility (35). Not all children, however, are willing to cooperate, and external factors in their environment, such as their home life, cannot be ignored. Punitive teachers believe that punishment is the only way to direct a student; "when power struggles develop, [these teachers] assume the problem is the student, not their methods" (MacKenzie, 43). The teacher must avoid this temptation to fall into blame games, as attributing negative motives to a misbehaver creates an impractical emotional struggle between two individuals (Bailey, 150 ). Teachers who become emotionally involved often provide ineffective role-modelling, because one cannot gain students´ respect and resolve an issue while exhibiting bad behaviour often similar to that being punished in the students, like yelling, being agressive, etc. (MacKenzie, 106). MacKenzie further warns that a teacher should not get pulled into bargaining or discussion with the misbehaver: the most effective discipline is always the most efficient (119-120). As much as possible, teachers should avoid disciplining in front of the misbehaver´s peers; as this can lead to more aggression as the misbehaver feels a need to uphold his reputation or show off (AFT). Each aspect of an effective disciplinary system, such as presenting and repeating clear and precise rules, establishing direct and relevant consequences (praise as much as correction), and being sensitive to cultural differences, requires the teacher to have a cool head, confidence in his own authority, and respect for the students.

Works Cited

American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Washington DC. (

Bailey, Becky A. Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline: The Seven Basic Skills for Turning Conflict into Cooperation. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 2000.

Banner, James M., Jr., and Harold C. Cannon. The Elements of Teaching. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997.

Delpit, Lisa. Other People´s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. New York: The New Press, 1995.

MacKenzie, Robert J. Setting Limits in the Classroom: How to Move Beyond the Classroom Dance of Discipline. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1996.

Skiba, Russell, et al. Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists, 2002. (

Wuest, Deb. "Disciplining Students by Promoting Responsibility." Blacksburg, VA: PE Central, 1999. (