When I meet someone and they ask, "What do you do?" I usually say I'm a middle school teacher. That usually draws some interesting looks. When they ask what subjects and I say "math, science, and reading" that draws even more looks.
- Wow. you must have the patience of a saint.
- I could never do that. Those kids are so rude!
- Really? Kids that age are so bratty/spoiled/undisciplined/etc.
I understand that most people don't choose to spend their time with a couple dozen early-teenage adolescents on a daily basis. They don't see their passion to want to know why, their questioning nature, the beauty of their squirrel-like attention. Each day each student can have one of five different personalities show up, and I love that.
Discipline seems to be the one thing on most people's minds when I mention my profession. People also ask, "how do you control so many kids in such a small space?" This quote guides many of my philosophies regarding discipline:
Students do not come to school looking to get in trouble. They don't wake up, get dressed, then think about, "hmmm, how will I get myself in trouble today? Maybe I'll just shout some curse words during math class. That sounds good!"
Students come to school and are asked to do things that are extremely uncomfortable and not intrinsic to them. Each day they are asked to sit through multiple subjects of content, most of which they have never seen or heard about before. They are asked to learn facts, do homework, and take tests in subjects they may not enjoy... And they are asked to do it by someone who may think that their class is the MOST IMPORTANT CLASS EVER.
It is so important to remember perspective. The student that just called out or yelled at you or grumbled under her voice or threw a pencil across a room did it for a reason. It is important that teachers look at that situation as "this student is struggling now... how can I help?" and stay away from, "that student is misbehaving, how can I punish her into submission? MUHAHAHA!"
My discipline style is similar to the steps of CPR. The first part of CPR is making sure "the scene safe." With discipline I ask a similar question - are any students (including the one in question) in any immediate physical or emotional danger? Can I handle this in the classroom or should we step outside? Once that is taken care of, I can move to give the student individual care (CPR: are you ok?)
I like starting off conversations with, "Are you angry at something I did today?" or "Are you upset at me?" This does a number of things right off the bat. First, it establishes that I'm not upset at the student. I am looking to get information. Second, it helps me figure out why the student is having some difficulty. Many times discipline problems are a result of something that happened minutes, hours, or days earlier. By asking this one question I also am able to (usually) calm the student down both physically and emotionally. This calms down the amygdala and opens up some more rational thinking. With the neural pathways more open, I can ask more mindful questions instead of rhetorical ones with negative connotation (why did you do that?) and get more insightful answers from the student.
Coming from a perspective of a coach looking to improve a student, not a cop looking to write a ticket (detention slip), allows students to express their feelings and lets me offer solutions to help the student be more successful in similar situations in the future.