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One of the greatest impediments to the hiring of blind teachers is the concern that they will not be able to deal with classroom discipline. This is, of course, an issue for all teachers, but it is especially relevant for the visually impaired candidate. Carla Hayes, an experienced elementary and middle-school blind teacher shares the strategies for confronting this problem with younger students.

Carla Hayes

It has been a long time since I have written a column about classroom discipline. Since discipline is such an important issue for educators and one of the biggest challenges for teachers who happen to be blind, I thought that it is high time that we deal with this topic. So, I present to you the ten commandments of effective classroom discipline.

1. Devise no more than four or five classroom rules which will govern your classroom. These rules should be clear, concise and easy to enforce. The first day of school, explain your rules to the class along with the consequences for violating them and allow students time to ask questions about them. The rules should be posted permanently in a prominent place in your classroom and reviewed periodically until students are familiar with them.

2. Enforce your classroom rules consistently and judiciously. Inevitably, students will break your rules from time to time. When this happens, you cannot play favorites or discipline one student more severely than another. You must always be fair and consistent with the way you enforce your rules and the consequences for breaking them should be predictable to students. This way, students will always know what to expect and you will maintain better control of your classroom.

3. Devise fair and appropriate penalties and consequences for violating classroom rules and other classroom misbehavior, and communicate these to your students at the beginning of the academic year. Ideally, the consequences should be the natural results of a student's misbehavior. For example, if students fail to complete homework assignments, they will lose the points they would have received for the assignments; they will not be as prepared for class as they could have been; they will not learn the material as well; and chances are, they will not perform as well on quizzes and tests. As a result of these consequences, they will receive lower grades in your class. The penalties for student misbehavior that you design should be purely punitive in nature and never related to the subject that you teach. For instance, never punish students by assigning extra classwork because this will only make them hate your class. Instead, have them write a sentence 100 times, such as, "I will never bully other students again," or have them copy a page out of a phone book. A student who talks constantly during class can be moved and isolated from other students.

4. Arrange your classroom in such a way that you can move around in it freely, and there is as much room for students to spread out as possible. Classrooms that are crowded and cluttered with furniture invite discipline problems. Students who are sitting too close to one another are more likely to cause disturbances. Arrange desks and tables in such a way that students will have plenty of room to spread out and work. If your classroom is arranged in the traditional configuration of rows of desks, allow as much room between the desks as possible and make the aisles as wide as you can. If your students sit at long tables, space the tables as far apart as possible. With smaller classes, another possibility might be arranging desks or tables around the perimeter of the classroom with a large open space in the middle. This would enable you to get to any student's seat quickly and easily.

5. Take special care with where you seat your students. When assigning seats, try not to let friends sit beside each other because they may be more likely to chat with each other during class. It's also not a good idea to let students who clearly don't get along sit near one another because this could allow for more conflicts and resulting behavior problems during class. It's also important that students who have difficulty seeing, those who will require more of your attention, and students who are more likely to act out sit as close to the front of the classroom as possible. I usually allow students to choose where they will sit the first day of class with the warning that if they misbehave, or the seating arrangement doesn't work out for any reason, I will move students. Wherever students sit, they should always sit in the same places. This will make it easier for you to learn your studentsí names and to figure out who may be causing discipline problems if they should arise.

6. Donít sit at your desk or stand in the front of the class for the entire period. Instead, try moving around the room as you teach. This will help you to stay in constant touch with your students and maintain better control of your classroom. If you hear a disturbance taking place, quickly move to that part of the classroom and stand there for a few minutes. Sometimes just the mere proximity of the teacher can discourage student disruptions.

7. Divide each class period into two or three shorter learning activities rather than one long one when possible. One of the chief causes of many classroom discipline problems is student boredom. Once students stop paying attention to you, they start paying more attention to their classmates and other things in the classroom. To complicate matters even more, students' attention spans are shrinking due to their constant interaction with electronic devices. It's very difficult to hold the attention of most of your students for an entire class period which typically lasts 42 to 50 minutes, especially if you are engaged in a single activity such as a classroom lecture during that time. However, if you divide your class period into two or three 10 to 15-minute different learning activities, students will not have time to become bored and they will be more likely to stay on task and less likely to cause discipline problems.

8. Do everything possible to ensure full participation of every student in classroom activities. This involves planning lessons which will accommodate all the various learning styles, abilities and disabilities of the students in your classroom. The favorite presentation style of many teachers and professors is the traditional classroom lecture where the teacher teaches and students just listen and take notes. However, lectures only accommodate auditory learners and perhaps visual learners if effective visual aids are a part of the presentation. You must also plan activities for students who learn best through movement and hands-on experiences. Similarly, you must consider the abilities of your students. It's important to provide some learning activities that are simple enough for students who struggle with your subject, and more challenging activities for students who are more advanced. You must also make adaptations for students with disabilities so that they can participate as much as possible in your class.

What does all of this have to do with classroom discipline? Remember that students who are bored or frustrated are less likely to participate in learning activities, and idle students are more likely to cause discipline problems. It only stands to reason that students who are more involved in the learning process are less likely to misbehave. Therefore, it will be to your advantage to make sure that all of your students are involved and engaged in the lessons that you plan.

9. Employ peer discipline when appropriate. This involves using peer pressure to encourage students to behave well in class. Most elementary and secondary school students are greatly influenced by their peers. Why not harness this influence to your advantage? Peer discipline involves the entire class working together for a common reward with measurable incentives and disincentives along the way. If the entire class behaves for a predetermined period of time, they earn tokens such as points, stars on a chart, or buttons or marbles in a jar. Tokens can also be taken away for unsatisfactory behavior by anyone in the class. When they have earned a designated number of these tokens, they receive a reward such as a pizza, free time or the opportunity to choose a favorite learning activity. In order for this strategy to work, the tokens must be displayed in a prominent place so that the class can chart its progress towards the reward. The policy must be enforced consistently and the time it takes to earn the reward must be age-appropriate, shorter for younger students. Peer discipline is especially effective when you have a difficult group of students.

Perhaps the best way to explain this strategy is with an example. During my first year of teaching, I had an especially difficult seventh grade French class with several students who misbehaved constantly. One day, I brought in a bag of marbles and a jar. I told the class that for each fifteen minutes of good behavior, I would put five marbles in the jar. When the jar was full, the class would earn a party, complete with French music and refreshments. If any student misbehaved, marbles would be taken out of the jar. I put the jar and the bag of marbles in a shallow box on my desk where everyone could see it. Then, I continued teaching the class as usual, adding or removing marbles without a word according to the behavior of the students. At first, the class "lost their marbles" more frequently. One day, the class was so bad that I didn't say a word, but dumped the whole jar of marbles into the box. You could have heard a pin drop. After that, the class worked hard and eventually earned their party. Then, we continued to work towards larger goals. The class accomplished more than ever, and the students enjoyed the process. Even the principal was amazed at this group's change in behavior. The best thing was that I no longer had to constantly discipline individual students because students kept each other in line so that they would earn the rewards.

ten. Do not reprimand or punish students in front of the class. Doing so is unprofessional, unacceptable and could leave psychological scars for a lifetime. No matter how good your classroom rules are, how well you plan, or how engaged your students are in learning, sooner or later, someone will do something wrong and will need to be reprimanded or punished. When this happens, take the student or students aside and deal with the situation in private. Doing so will accomplish several things. First, you will not be humiliating students in front of their peers.

Second, waiting to deal with the situation in private will give you time to catch your breath and decide what your response should be, and you will be less likely to act in anger.

Third, talking in private will give each student the opportunity to give his or her side of the story, and you will be more likely to learn why the misbehavior took place. Knowing why the incident occurred could help you to take steps which could prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

FINALLY and most importantly, if you take this approach, students are more likely to respect you and cooperate with you in the future.

In conclusion, classroom discipline problems can undo even the best of teachers. The best way to deal with discipline problems is to prevent them from happening in the first place. This can be done by planning and implementing effective classroom management strategies. It's important to note that most of the above ten commandments of effective classroom discipline deal with planning for and preventing behavior problems. When behavior problems do occur, it is your responsibility as a classroom teacher to deal with them fairly and consistently, and maintain control of your classroom so that learning will continue to take place. As a blind teacher, it is essential for you to be aware of what is happening in your classroom at all times and deal with disruptions and other problems before they get out of hand.

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