Perhaps as many as eight out of every ten teachers who do not return after their first year of teaching drop out because they are unable to control their pupils in the classroom. Discipline ranked as the number one problem in the public schools in 1972 according to a recent Gallup poll. Yet very little has been written concerning this pressing problem. There is much available on curriculum, methodology, teacher training and related topics, but discipline is a neglected subject. Is it because modern man has lost the Biblical perspective concerning discipline? Learning cannot take place in an atmosphere of chaos. Why is classroom discipline an increasing problem? The classroom at best is still an unnatural and artificial setting for a learning experience, therefore the tendency to draw out mischief in children. Today we are reaping the fruits of permissiveness found in Spockian psychology and John Dewey progressivism. The higher incidence of divorce, one in three marriages; the abdication of parental authority; the pursuit of materialism as a dominant value; and the breakdown of moral absolutes have all contributed to the problem.
Some definitions of discipline in the classroom:
Discipline is defined by Webster as “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.” The etymology of discipline suggests a learner ofr follower who is being trained or “pulled along”. Proverbs expresses the importance of discipline thus: “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6)
There are other exhortations to diligence in discipline, sparing not the rod, insisting on obedience, and disciplining with compassion and a cool spirit. Proverbs is must reading for the Christian teacher.
Three essentials for discipline in the classroom:
The starting point in a child’s training is the authority of the teacher. Many children come to school having learned little from their parents about responding to authority. The teacher’s task is thus compounded. Nevertheless the one who stands before the class must be under Jesus’ authority. Here is where the Power is. Our authority over others is in direct proportion to God’s authority over us. This does not mean rigidity and overstrictness. Authority is not a pose. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus taught with authority because He was filled with the Spirit (Luke 4:14, 31). So it must be with the Christian teacher. He walks close to Jesus Christ. He knows how to use the means of grace for himself and for every member of the class. He stands before his class as “one who knows the Truth instead of merely quoting the opinions of others as his authority.” It means that from the first day of the class the teacher asserts his leadership, sets us clear guidelines and goals, and proceeds to follow through compassionately and patiently without forfeiting firm authority.
Especially for the beginning teacher it is a case of “don’t smile until Christmas.” It takes time for the class to understand that you are indeed in charge. Once the class recognizes the authority of the teacher, a sense of security sets in. Children basically appreciate authority because it eliminates a disruptive, chaotic, and threatening atmosphere. They are more free to concentrate on learning.
Authoritative leadership does not mean there will be no discipline problems. It does mean introducing preventive maintenance. Discipline will be exercised more effectively and serious problems will be minimized. Authoritative leadership will mean faithfully interceding for each member of the class and for each problem that threatens learning. It is well to remember that we wrestle in the classroom as in other places not with flesh and blood issues but with principalities and powers bent on thwarting genuine Christian education.
Let us agree that the emphasis on authority does not mean teachers must be morbid disciplinarians. Along with a quiet, firm sense of authority. Along with quiet, firm sense of authority, there must be a warm, nurturing climate in the classroom. Hilda Taba reminds us that “the behavior of the teacher more than that of any other individual sets the climate of the classroom.” The resistance and disinterest of pupils evaporate in a climate of happy friendly, and cooperative relationships between pupil and teacher. Children learn form models. This truth cannot be over stressed. What the teacher is as well as what the teacher says sets the model. We reproduce in the classroom essentially what we are.
Steve was a goalie on the soccer team. During one of the skirmishes in front of the goal mouth, a finger was cleated, severely injuring the knuckle. He was rushed to the hospital by on of his teachers. Another player, Don, jumped in the car to accompany the two to the hospital. The doctor was detained for over an hour getting to the emergency room. Meanwhile the teacher inquired of Steve how he was bearing up. His reply was, “It really works! Mr. P. taught us in Bible class the meaning of Isaiah 26:3 – “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee…’” Mr. P., who was not in good health, was always cheerful and demonstrated the grace of God very vividly. Don, who had come along, watched this tableau and overheard Steve’s comments. What he saw and heard impressed him and challenged his rebellious heart, for he was not a Christian and had resisted all appeals.
A few weeks later Steve led Don to the Lord and started a chain reaction of blessing in the school. All of the had started in the excellent modeling of the faithful teacher.
So often immature youngsters tend to see only the “don’ts” of the Christian life. It is imperative that they get a true picture by seeing the winsomeness of Christ, the sweet personification of the Lord in the classroom teacher.
Climate in the classroom speaks to us of memory, of warm associations. Children should enjoy what goes on in the learning experience. They should look forward to coming to your class.
One writer reminds us that in the story of the prodigal it was the thought of homemade bread that turned his feet homeward. “And when he came to himself he said, how many hired servants of my father have bread enough to spare and I perish in hunger.” Out in the pig sty his remembrance of homemade bread turned his thoughts toward his father’s house.
Well prepared interesting lessons help create the kind of positive atmosphere. Children appreciate the teacher who has done his homework and who makes learning a pleasant experience. The use of well thought-out media aids, to involve more than the hearing sense, tends to absorb the interest of students, facilitates learning, and minimizes disciplinary problems.
A conscientious teacher will consider it the fault of his teaching methods or approach if he fails to gain the attention of the class. He will not blame the class until he has done all he possibly can to improve his methods, to be more interesting, and to be better prepared.
An attractive, well-lighted, and amply ventilated room will also contribute to a climate conducive to learning. Research indicates that certain colors on the classroom walls encourage meditation and creativity. Good classroom climate involves good communication. Are you a good listener? To discourage feedback is to stifle vital communication. Backtalk must be dealt with, but students should know that they have the opportunity to explain a viewpoint. Jay Adams suggests that there be an agreed upon statement that would represent a legitimate plea for a hearing. Perhaps something like: “Now hear this.” Whenever a pupil uses this statement – it means teacher listens. It places the responsibility on the pupil to mean business and not abuse the privilege of keeping the communication alive.
Order is not necessarily silence nor lack of motion. The teacher should rather strive to keep the class sessions filled with informal and pleasant , but well-directed activity. From such a class will come a child who has gained a pleasant memory and developed a right attitude toward God, the Bible, and his teachers.
3. Discipline in Love
As noted earlier in this chapter, by discipline we mean training and nurture that leads children to Christlikeness. To discipline in love does not mean cloying sentimentality. “But speaking the Truth in love, may grow up unto Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ”: (Eph. 4:15) expresses it well. The Christian teacher stands in loco parentis and responsible to Jesus Christ for spiritual growth of the young people entrusted to him. We help them grow in Christ by presenting the truth in Christian love.
Dealing with the cause and not the effects
“Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart” (I Sam. 16:7). It is Important in discipline to get beyond the outer signals to heart of the matter.
Bob gave his teachers constant trouble. Teachers shook their heads about this boy, who seemed to begetting nowhere. Mr. M. took the challenge and began to cultivate Bob’s friendship. After a few weeks Bob began to open up. He was ashamed of the fact his reading was so poor for a freshman in high school. He was “covering up” his despair and humiliation with disruptive behavior, feeling that no one really cared for him anyway. Mr. M. began to work with this boy on his reading. Prayerfully he labored with the freshman until some weeks later — Bob began to improve and gain confidence. He recognized the teacher’s loving concern and he tried harder to master his weakness. A bridge had been built. By God’s grace Bob came through. Today is a leader in his church.
How many Bobs are their in your classroom the cause of whose problems go unnoticed while we deal with effects? We can get so absorbed with the symptoms that we miss the crying need. The basic need in our schools today, if not in our society, is for a warm personal relationship. To gain the confidence of children, to get to their hearts, to lead them to Christ for their need – it is imperative that we know our pupils and their needs. The teacher must gain their confidence and this takes time and effort. Children should receive approval for successful accomplishment but do not scold a backward or slow child.
Youngsters are quick to sense a superficial attitude that exudes petulance and impatience. Threats and anger and ridicule have no place, but merely quench the Spirit. Try to get the confidence and love of a difficult student by demonstrating your love and trust.
(2) Hasty discipline is usually over discipline
A teacher in a Christian boarding school became angry when he saw Tom’s sloppy room. He punished Tom by restricting him from Thanksgiving dinner the next day. It wasn’t fair discipline. In refusing to reconsider the heavy punishment, he lost the confidence of many students. In the days following he sought to ease up on discipline by under-disciplining, by lettering students get by with infractions. This glaring inconsistency scored no points. It only fostered more contempt. When a teacher is wrong, the only answer is humble admission. Students expect us to be fallible, but they respect honesty and humility.
Explain the limits you are setting
Children need to know what is appropriate behavior in your class. Let the pupils know clearly what limits you have set. Knowing the reasons why for regulations, wherever practical, helps students respond. However, an teacher must discern between an inquiring spirit and a questioning one. Not agreeing with a rule does not absolve a student’s cooperation.
To discipline in love doe3s not mean we never say “no.” Overgratification does not generate love. At times it seems children practically beg for teachers to act like adults, to step into a situation and to say, “No — that’s it; no more discussion.”
Discipline at times involves rebuke
The Lord rebuked the disciples form time to time in the Gospels to correct their serious failures. Peter was called down for his wrong perspectives and attitudes. We tend to hold back from this type of correcting yet some ailments require strong medicine.
The writer remembers a neophyte teacher who was late to his classes, careless about deadlines, wishy-washy with his classroom control. After a long series of reminders, it was necessary on day for the principal to give this fellow a stern rebuke. That experience turned the tide. There was repentance and gradual improvement. Today that man is a successful missionary overseas who still thanks that principal for caring enough to give him the rebuke he needed so badly.
Discipline takes perseverance
Discipline challenges our laziness. It takes effort and perseverance. Teachers tend to give up too soon. Unless changes come quickly the temptation is to give up . They may stay with a situation for a few days but if the solution doesn’t come, they may give it up as a poor job. It is important to remember that changing patterns of behavior usually take much time. The teacher needs to hold on tenaciously and prayerfully until the changes comes. Love would have it so.
(6) Discipline with Mercy
Over discipline reveals no light at the end of the tunnel and can discourage and defeat. Running too tight a ship may indicate insecurity and lack of faith on the part of the teacher. Grace and hope should be included in a disciplinary action. Restrictions should have limits and incentives. A student with difficulty in math was assigned to study hall week after week without end. It seemed that no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t make it out. An understanding teacher said, “Tim, you have a week of grace. You’re out of study hall to study in your room. I’ll be over to help you with your math .” It is easier to hand out automatic restrictions. It is loving to bring some light to the end of the tunnel.
If it becomes necessary to talk to a pupil concerning his behavior, try to do so in private rather that before the entire class. If the group gets behavior conscious, it is hard to make them Christ-conscious.
Overlook small behavior items. Try to eliminate them without making an issue of them. Never force the “discipline” issue unless it is absolutely necessary. Substitute a good activity for an undesirable one in such a way as to lead the minds of the pupils naturally. Never beg for attention and seldom demand it. Win it because your teaching is so interesting and your presentation so absorbing that the pupils respond spontaneously!
(7) Rules were made for children, not vice versa
Remember that the rules and regulations were made for the pupils and not the pupils for the regulations. The rules are to be stepping stones not millstones around the neck. We need to know our children – their needs, their strengths and weaknesses — and above all to remember that they are immature children.
At times it is wise to give the student a choice rather than an ultimatum. Mrs. B. determined that John was not ill and had no legitimate excuse for not completing his assignment. So she said, “John, in as much as you didn’t finish you assignment, when do you want to do it? After school or tomorrow when the class is in recess?” john without any humiliation solved the problem by choosing the recess hour to complete his work.
Avoid too many rules
Too many rules or rules made on the spur of the moment spell trouble. They represent a state of under discipline. Too many regulations mean either you will become a traffic cop perpetually handing out traffic tickets or you will find it difficult or impossible to keep up with the rules. Some are enforced sometime, some intermittently, and some not at all. This confuses students. Discipline with a few rules properly enforced works better than a bunch of regulations that cannot be followed up.
Be careful of circumstantial evidence
Discipline in love means refusing to make judgments on outward appearances. Circumstantial evidence can be misleading. A distracted child maybe a frightened child; a problem at home can be the cause of poor behavior in the classroom; a child growing rapidly can bring on sleepiness, as will a warm classroom after lunch; a neglected child may be simply making a bid for attention by boisterous behavior; and what I see may be deceiving until I get all the facts. Two classroom experiences will illustrate. The writer is not suggesting a soft, permissive response but rather a more patient, understanding approach dealing with causes and not effects.
Ted refused to get his hair cut and was sent t the principal’s office. The principal began by berating the youngster for disobedience. Tears in Ted’s eyes gave a signal that something deeper was involved. Ted felt a lack of love at home and in his classroom. His long hair was a symbol of “love me for myself,” not conditionally. A conference with the parents helped get to the root of the matter and Ted’s need was met.
On another occasion, a visiting classroom lecturer interrupted his presentation to ask petulantly why a student was reading a book during his lecture. The surprised student exclaimed, “I’m just following your remarks in my Bible!” It had not occurred to the speaker that there were Bibles with hard red backs. He lost the class’s rapport the rest of the way!
Finally in conclusion we can say that the Christian teacher who stands before his class with the authority of Jesus, who has created a climate that reveals the warm winsomeness of our Lord, and who is not afraid or indolent to discipline in love will train children in Christlikeness and will have many children stand up to call him blessed in future days