The most important thing in a school, more important than the students, the teachers, the admin, or the building is the structure. The most important part of structure is discipline. The counter point to this, or the alternative view, is that relationships are most important. But, that errant belief neglects to acknowledge that the point of school is learning. Education needs to be for the whole child, in an environment structured to help the child succeed. There is a place for many things; academics of course, but also sports, field trips, enrichment opportunities, and discipline. Without discipline, entire schools fail.
School is the formation of a large basis of the worldview of our nation's youth. The good schools use the school years to shape character, ethics, and interest. The bad ones ignore those same things, focusing on some abstract 'content' over character and self-control. By doing so, they don't deal with discipline, and are unknowingly also teaching students a lesson. When a kid acts up and doesn't get in trouble for it, they start to think their actions are no big deal. They learn that behaving on emotion is acceptable, and should be tolerated instead of controlled. So they do worse and worse things. This isn't unique to students.
Let's take this situation: A student wants to go to the bathroom, so interrupts instruction to get permission. The teacher tells the student to wait for a moment or two, so he or she can finish the instruction, and proceeds to do just that. The student gets mad and says, "You're fucking annoying" and walks out of the room and slams the door. Getting cussed out by students is something that happens to every (at least almost) single teacher of low income students. It's a part of the deal. How the school responds, changes.
What happens next - in how both the other students and the principal reacts - lets you know how a school does academically.
Here are two real life examples of how different schools respond to this situation.
At Union High School, in Grand Rapids, MI. The student would run up to the principal, say that the teacher doesn't allow students to go to the bathroom, and was then kicked out of class. The principal will side with the student, walk the student back to class, and tell the teacher to be more sensitive. When the teacher says, "Did you know that the student interrupted the class to say 'you're fucking annoying' and then walked out without permission and slammed the door?" The principal will say that teachers need to be more sensitive in how they respond to students. The principal will tell the teacher, in front of the student, to allow the student to go to the bathroom. The next time, the student will simply walk out of class, and when her friend says, "You can't do that", will respond, "The principal lets me." Problem neglected, students realize there are no consequences. Academics suffer.
At Global Visions Academy in Chicago, IL. The student will walk up to the principal, and complain about the teacher. The principal will ask "What did you say?" The student will respond, "I cussed him out." The principal will say, "What did you say?" The kid will respond, "I said he was fucking annoying." The principal will suspend the kid for the minimum of a day. When the student comes back to class, he or she must apologize. The next time the student needs to go to the bathroom, the student waits for permission. Problem solved, student and class learn a lesson. Academics improve.
When the student walks out, the reaction of the students in the classroom will also let you know how the school performs. If the students are like, "That's a suspension", you know that there are standards of behavior that permeate throughout the school. You know that there is a threshold. If, however, the students turn to the teacher and say, "You're going to get in trouble" or "the principal is going to yell at you" you know the place does not value academics.
Rocket science, this is not.
If discipline problems happen only in one teachers room, that teacher is often thought of as bad. Bad teachers are often the ones that cannot control a classroom. The kids run all over the teacher, and in turn, the students don't learn. If that's the case, it's on the teacher. But, if a school doesn't have a structure in place to deal with the discipline, the whole school suffers.
I've argued in the last few posts that the principal is responsible for how the school is run. One of the easiest ways you can tell the difference between a good and a bad principal is how the school deals with discipline. If the students receive no discipline, then the school has an incompetent administrator that will fuck up virtually all areas of the school, especially academics.
I've been in a lot of schools, and this is true in every single one. No boundaries ='s No academics. But think about it a little bit and it's obvious. Learning something new is hard, and can be frustrating. You need to be engaged, be challenged, and even make mistakes. When these things happen, they trigger certain types of emotions that can lead to lashing out and doing something you shouldn't. Which is fine. When this happens, students must be accountable for how they act.
School is one of the easiest - and safest - places to make mistakes, because the stakes are the lowest. Cussing out a teacher, getting in a fight, walking out of a class: these are all pretty low stakes in the scheme of things. If someone makes a bunch of them, suspension is better than getting fired, getting sued, or going to jail. So, if you learn from them: all good. When they don't, the ramifications are huge in the real world. Not teaching discipline is a major part of the school-to-prison pipeline (but more on that in a later post).
That's why the discipline matters so much.
Discipline must be a pillar in a school. Must be consistent and fair. It must be given quickly, and used as a lesson. And, it must affirm the importance of academics.