Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fair and Firm Wins the Race

disciplineI remember when I entered the teaching world and could not imagine teaching anything except the elementary level. I mean, I was taller than them, bigger than them, and smarter than them (I hoped). So, fresh out of college, I taught a self contained class with students who had emotional disabilities which lasted 3 years. Then it was time for a change and I switched to high school. It was the only opening I found and for some reason, it felt right.

I decided immediately that I would go in as a dictator. I was going to set the tone by making it clear that I was the boss and this was how it was going to be. You see, I was terrified! Some of these kids were taller than me, bigger than me, and I’m sure, even smarter than me!

Once I got started though, I realized that these students were not out to “get me” even though that is what I had expected. These students just wanted to learn. They wanted someone who would be fair and firm and treat them with respect and that was something that I could do. In fact, I couldn’t imagine doing anything differently.

Going in with a strict attitude was not a bad thing though. I have always heard that you can start out tough and then lighten up but you can’t go the other way and that is so true! I have seen too many teachers start out trying to be their student’s buddy and end up in tears most of the year. That is not how I planned on my career beginning, ending, or existing. No way. I felt that kids would come and go and I had to find a style that I felt comfortable with but still accomplished what I needed to do in the classroom. Fair and firm summed it all up. When all else failed, fair and firm would win every day.

Once I got behavior expectations established, I was able to teach whatever I wanted. Even the students felt relieved when they realized that the whole year would not focus just on behavior issues like they were experiencing in other classes. Of course, like any student, they would push the limits and test me but hopefully, I proved that I would consistently be fair and firm.

Once the appropriate behavior was established, I began to enjoy my classes and the students. It was okay to tell the class that I enjoyed them and they appreciated it too. In fact, I saw many students sit up taller and some even told me that no one had said that to them before. Why is it so easy to tell my peers and family how much I enjoy them but not share the same feelings with my students? I like when they tell me how much they enjoy my teaching and classes so shouldn’t I share with them when I feel the same way?

The more I praised my classes and saw them in a positive light, the easier it became to teach them things that I valued. Since they began to respect me, they worked hard to please me too. Yet, whenever someone stepped over the line or a new student appeared to test the limits, the students trusted me to step in and be fair and firm.

I think this approach works on whatever level I teach on. Once I got over the fear of discipline (because I saw it as a way to rule) and began to discipline as a sign of respect and trust, my own teaching skills began to improve.

What rule of thumb do you follow in your classroom? Have you changed from when you first started teaching? Please share.

Posted on the Successful Teaching Blog by loonyhiker (successfulteaching at gmail dot com).

Original image: 'Discipline'
http://www.flickr.com/photos/10146937@N02/4780565670 by: Ibai

1 comment:

Anthony Purcell said...

I completely agree with what you have to say here. That is how I enjoy teaching. This year however has been very different at TPLC.

Like you said, too many teachers go in wanting to be friends. You can't be that to these kids, they want authority, just not too much. Students of any age need leadership. I feel that discipline is involved in that. Many kids don't have any form of discipline at home, so we can't be too tough as teachers, but showing a little strict shows them you care.

Thanks for sharing!