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While discipline is one of the less agreeable aspects of teaching, it is, nonetheless, necessary. There is no one size fits all approach. Guidelines will vary depending on the size of the class, level at which you are teaching, the type of school, etc. The following article, written by an experienced foreign language teacher focuses on her experience with elementary and middle-school students.

Carla Hayes

Probably one of the most frequently asked questions when a teacher who is blind or visually impaired has a job interview is, "How will you handle discipline in the classroom?" How would you answer this question? If you haven't worked out an effective discipline policy, you will not be a successful teacher.

Let's start by defining discipline. As a noun, it means so much more than punishment. Some of the additional dictionary definitions include, "Training that corrects, molds, or perfects," "Control gained by obedience or training," "Orderly conduct," and "A system of rules governing conduct." As a verb, discipline does mean to punish, to bring under control, and to impose order upon, but it can also mean to train, or develop by instruction and exercise. In other words, to discipline means to teach. It is also interesting to note that the words discipline and disciple come from the same root.

Now that we've defined our terms, let's discuss the basics of effective classroom discipline. One of the most important elements of a good discipline policy is a set of no more than four or five rules which will govern your classroom; more than five rules will be difficult for your students to remember and for you to enforce. These rules must be simple and enforceable. They should be communicated to your students the first day of class, permanently posted on a chart in a prominent place in your classroom, and enforced consistently. When devising your classroom rules, it would be a good idea to consult with your principal or administrator to make sure that none of them are in conflict with the general rules of the school. Also, your rules will be easier for your students to remember if they are the same as rules that the other teachers in your school have in their classrooms.

Along with the rules, it is necessary to define clear consequences for violating the rules. These consequences must also be communicated to your students on the first day of class and applied consistently. Some examples might include students losing points for not doing homework, deducting points from assignments which are turned in late, changing students' seats if they misbehave, and deducting a letter grade each time a student cuts a predetermined number of classes. It is equally important to build in positive consequences for desirable behavior, such as extra credit for completing extra work and class participation. When possible, both positive and negative consequences should be the natural results of students' behavior. For example, a student whose test answers are constantly marked down because they are not easy to read will eventually learn to write more legibly.

Never reprimand or punish students in anger or in front of the class. Instead, do it in private and be sure to be respectful, fair and consistent with all your students. The best punishment is neutral and truly punitive. For example, assigning extra homework as punishment is not a good idea because it will only make the student hate the subject you teach and will impart the subtle message that homework is a form of punishment rather than a tool to help students practice what is presented in class. A better punishment might be having students write, "I will never … again…" 100 times or copy a page out of a telephone book.

Another element to consider in regards to maintaining discipline is the arrangement of the furniture and students in your classroom. Whether your classroom contains the traditional rows of desks or tables and chairs, arrange the furniture in such a way that you have room to walk around during class. If you have small classes, positioning tables, chairs and desks around the edges of the room with an open space in the middle will make it easier for you to move around when your students are present. Such an arrangement will make it much easier for you to maintain discipline. Instead of always teaching from behind your desk or podium, you can walk around during class presentations and be in almost any part of your classroom instantly. Your mere proximity to students will prevent many potential disruptions from happening.

Also, a majority of discipline problems will be prevented if you take special care when designing seating charts for your classes. It's best to break up cliques and never allow best friends or worst enemies to sit together. Also, make sure that students who have difficulty seeing things from a distance are seated near the front of the room. If students must sit at tables instead of desks, arrange them in such a way that a majority of them are facing the part of the room from where you will be teaching most of the time. Finally, if you have more seats than students, insist that as many students as possible sit as close to the front of the room as possible. This will make it easier for you to supervise them. I often allow students to pick their seats the first day with the understanding that if there is too much talking or disruption, their seats will be changed. Once you establish a seating arrangement that works, make a permanent seating chart, and produce it in print for substitutes and school officials and in an accessible format for yourself. Insist that students sit in the same seats every day. Having a permanent seating chart will help you to know where each student is at all times and assist you in ascertaining which student(s) may be misbehaving. A seating chart will also make it much easier for a substitute who might have to teach your class in your absence.

If you know the common causes of typical discipline problems, there's a lot that you can do to prevent them. For instance, students who are bored are more likely to misbehave. To prevent boredom, plan interesting lessons with activities for students of all learning styles. Vary your routine so that students don't always know what to expect. Also, it is usually better to plan two or three learning activities during a class period rather than a single longer one such as a lecture. If you do these things, students will be more likely to stay on task and less likely to become bored and cause problems. Minimize student frustration by planning activities which are challenging enough to stimulate them but not so difficult that they cannot complete the work. Also, keep in mind that students who cause trouble are often craving attention. Allowing them to help with important classroom tasks such as passing out papers just might give them the attention they need and you will earn their cooperation.

Finally, in the rare instance that you have an entire class of students who misbehave, peer discipline might be the solution. For example, if the whole class behaves perfectly for a certain number of days, they can earn a reward such as a pizza party. In this situation, students are more likely to encourage each other to behave.

In conclusion, maintaining discipline is one of the most difficult yet important aspects of effective teaching. However, with careful planning, perseverance and ingenuity, it can be done.

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