Discipline in School: What Works and What Doesn't
By Sherry H. Bowen
It doesn't take a lot of research to tell us that discipline in school is different today than it was in the 1950s. But it does take some investigation to find out why. Various studies have shown that students who act up in school express a variety of reasons for doing so:
- Some think that teachers don't care about them.
- Others don't want to be in school at all.
- They don't consider goal setting and success in school important anymore.
- Students are unaware that their adolescent behaviors will result in punishment they won't like.
- Discipline enforcers have to go through long procedures of due process: hearings, specific charges, witnesses, and appeals.
Despite these hurdles, students agree that discipline is needed in schools. One high school student stated: "If there were no discipline, the school would not be distinguished from the street."
So if everyone agrees that discipline is key to safety in school, why do we still have a problem?
In many schools, teachers are intimidated by their students. Out of fear of retaliation, they fail to report problems or ignore them hoping that the students responsible will quit the bad behavior by themselves.
State and Federal laws require that some special needs students receive special attention. Many adults and school systems believe that "troubled students" are not responsible for their actions, thus they're not punished as severely as other students.
Because of the raised awareness of the civil rights of children, the law requires adults to go through expensive, time-consuming and confusing procedures in regards to school discipline. These legal procedures do protect the rights of children, but make it very difficult to stop school discipline problems.
Very simply, too many adults fail to model the behaviors they want from students. Modeling the rules that students are to follow should be required of all adults. All adults in a community, especially parents and teachers, need to model integrity, honesty, respect and self-control.
Because of internal administrative problems or lack of procedures, many school officials fail to enforce the rules or punish students for infractions. Some fear lawsuits from parents; others just don't care, or they're "burned out."
Time-out and Detention
In-school suspensions, time-out and detention have been age-old solutions for troubled students. Yet today, many students don't mind detention, preferring it to going home to an empty or abusive household. Many consider time-out a quiet place to work. Detention lets them socialize after school. And both time-out and detention get them attention from caring adults.
Studies have shown that many rules are not strictly enforced. Lots of school and classroom rules don't make sense to students. Some discipline codes are "fuzzy" and not clear on expectations and punishments. Some disruptive students are labeled with codes like ADHD (Attention Defecit/Hyperactivity Disorder) or Emotional Impairment. This leads some school staff to mistakenly assume that they cannot enforce positive behavior and instead must resort to asking parents to "medicate" them.
Many schools have emphasized self-esteem over and above everything else. Some teachers are afraid to discipline or demand good behavior because it will hurt the child's self esteem. The result? Now we have ill-behaved, rude kids-but they feel good about themselves.
Discipline Trends that Show Promise
Some schools are taking control of and finding ways to confront the problems of discipline and school violence. Here are a few programs that seem to be working:
- Reaching Success through Involvement: This process has been used in 17 schools across the nation. It involves students in improving their schools, requires adult school members and student leaders to form a community of learners and leaders for improvement. This process alters school contracts, roles and responsibilities of students, teachers and administrators. The students work with the adults to help other students develop a sense of ownership and control. This new feeling of control makes students more motivated to learn. It has been a success in the 17 schools and is being introduced in more schools around the nation.
- Parental involvement: In Paterson, New Jersey, parents of truant students are not fined or jailed, they are required to come to school by the court. This punishment leads to a decrease in truancy. Also, in both Maryland and South Carolina, the punishment for some school discipline problems is to require the parents to attend school with their children. Once the parents see that education is important for their children, their children have not been repeat offenders.
- Alternative schools: Many school systems have found that by permanently removing chronically disruptive students from the classroom to an alternative school situation, the school discipline problems from the first school decrease drastically.
- School scheduling: Many schools have found that a simple solution of rescheduling school lunches has dramatically decreased discipline problems. By spreading lunches out for a longer period, there are fewer frustrations, temper flare ups, and other problems resulting from the stress of having to put up with a crowded lunch period.
- School I.D.s: Many schools are also requiring their students to display a picture I.D to cut down on unauthorized persons coming into a school to promote disruptions. This also eases the impersonal atmosphere of larger schools by letting students and teachers learn one another's names.
- Recognition that school is a learning place: Repeatedly, school systems are stressing that schools are a place for learning, not a recreation/social center for students. Once this "learning atmosphere" is established and enforced, schools have a lower percentage of discipline problems.
Basically, school discipline has become lax over the years as our relationships have weakened. Consolidated school systems and mega schools have made the separation between family and school wider than ever. These mega schools have largely ignored the local community. Also, some parents have lost touch with their children for many different reasons.
For school discipline to be successful, we need to restore those relationships. Parents and schools need to work together to instill the importance of education into children of all ages. Finding discipline procedures that work is a job for students, parents, and teachers to explore together. In today's society, working together within the school and community will help teach children that working as a team can effectively solve the problem.
Sherry H. Bowen is a school media specialist and freelance writer in Buford, Georgia.