The Transylvania Times -

Discipline Discreetly


September 26, 2016

Last Monday night at the school board meeting a parent expressed her deep concerns about the disciplinary approach implemented in the county’s elementary schools. The system, which has been and is employed in numerous school systems throughout the state and country, includes moving clothesline pins to indicate good and bad behavior. There are variations of this approach, but the constant is that a student’s misbehavior is acknowledged for everyone in the class to see.

The parent claimed this approach is a form of public shaming and that students who are not prepared socially, emotionally or academically for school are often those who have difficulty following class rules and are much more likely to have their pins moved. Not only does this have a negative impact on that student’s self-esteem, but other students in the class begin to focus on who is being disciplined. (This, unfortunately, is part of human nature. In the news business, crime stories sell the best. The more sensational the crime, the greater interest people have.)

The parent has a point worthy of consideration. It’s questionable if this is a form of public shaming. The vast majority of teachers are compassionate individuals who want their students to succeed. They want all of their students to have good self-esteem and live happy, productive lives. However, many educational programs or techniques, whether they involve discipline or grading, are not the best for students. There has been a push toward standardization across the United States and in North Carolina. For example, all high school juniors, even if they have no plans or desire to attend college, are required to take the ACT. The third grade reading tests administered across this state are highly unfair to students whose native language is not English. Individual teachers often have to implement programs or techniques with which they do not agree.

There is, however, an educational precedent for keeping information about students private. Students’ grades are a private matter. They cannot be publicly posted for all to see. When teachers return tests, they do not holler out each student’s grades as they return the paper. So what is the difference between publicly acknowledging a student’s poor academic performance and public acknowledging a student’s poor discipline? From a privacy standpoint and having empathy for a student, particularly for those in the earliest grades, there seems to be little difference.

Certainly there are times when a teacher must discipline a student immediately – cases in which the student is either harming himself or another student physically or emotionally or when the student is disrupting class so that others cannot learn. And students do figure out who are smart ones in their classes just as they figure out those who struggle following the rules. But the latter is outside the control of teachers and the educational system. That does not mean those in the system itself have to reiterate this information publicly.

We all like to be praised, but some people become embarrassed when praised publicly. No one, however, likes to be criticized, and when we are criticized, we would prefer that criticism be done privately, regardless of our age. But as we grow older, we know that some criticisms will be public. Students who participate in sports hear public criticism from coaches and parents. Teenagers and adults realize that is part of life.

But it is different when it comes to elementary school students, particularly those in kindergarten and first grade. Many come from homes in which they were never taught conventional rules, such as waiting in line, not pushing or shoving, waiting to be asked before speaking, staying in their seat for an extended period of time, or having what teachers refer to as “an inside voice.” They may be completely unaware when they commit a rules infraction that they are actually breaking a rule.

It has been said that students “do not care how much their teacher knows” until they “know how much their teacher cares.” Good teachers, and we have many in this school system, care deeply about their students, and their students know it. They also may be discreet when it comes to discipline, using a lower tone of voice, a quick but intense glance, a tap on the desk or a quiet request to have the student stay after class for a minute. When it comes to students, particularly the very young, the best discipline is also the most discreet.


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