On Discipline

A wise man once told me that we can only discipline to the extent that we love.  The beauty of this statement is that it challenges the one who is disciplining to love the one being disciplined. Discipline, when done effectively, is a crucial part of shaping a child into a well adjusted adult. What is effective discipline in the classroom and how does one recognize it? Effective discipline in the classroom is consistent, logical, brings about an awareness of how one’s actions affect others, and is focused on ensuring that the one being disciplined knows what is expected of him or her.

We have all heard the old proverb, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Going back to the idea that we can only discipline to the extent that we love, this places the action of spanking squarely in the hands of the parents because the parents are, generally speaking, the ones who love the child the most. This has been the crux of my changed perspective on discipline. The classroom is a public environment and physical punishment in the form of spanking in the classroom could lead to humiliation of the child. The goal of discipline is to correct rather than to humiliate.

Discipline, as with most ideas, has extremes on either side of the scale. Those who are too lenient in discipline are passive, while those who are too strict with their discipline are authoritarian. Passive authorities allow those who they are responsible for to endanger themselves by failing to intervene and provide proper guidance in situations. Children who are the product of passive environments often break the rules and have little concern for them. Authoritarians are so restrictive and abusive with their power of discipline that they cause a lack of development in those that they are responsible for. Children that are the product of an authoritarian are so stifled that they have trouble interacting socially for fear of breaking the rules.

The best strategy for discipline is the authoritative strategy. This is the balance of both extremes that can be summed up by the statement, “as firm as necessary, but as gentle as possible.” It should be said that a teacher should refrain from enacting any form of discipline out of anger. An authoritative disciplinarian will practice such strategies as removing a child from a negative environment and relocating the child to a different setting thus eliminating some factors causing the problem. Consistency is such a key with small children. They thrive when they know what to expect and what is expected from them. Not only should children be familiar with the rules but also with the consequences of breaking those rules. Children should be taught logically how actions affect others so that they will think about being considerate. Another important concern is that children should be conscious of their safety and the safety of others.

A good analogy comes to mind when thinking about how a classroom teacher should discipline. Imagine a traffic cop, standing in the intersection, the place where all the accidents happen, signaling the drivers through. Drivers that do not respond properly to the signals cause accidents that can hurt themselves and others. It is the job of the officer to first prevent such accidents, and then to respond to the accidents if they occur, separate the wreckage, find out what happened, and treat the victims while removing them from any impending danger.

In summary, the best discipline is enacted out of the motivation of love for those involved. Teachers are not parents so their role in discipline is different. Extremes should be avoided, rules and consequences made clear, consideration of others kept in mind, while also making safety paramount.

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