In the last part of this series, I argued that Discipline Must Come First. This post if a further explanation on that. It might be hard to believe if you're naturally obedient, follow rules, and see a need for order, that there are entire schools where no children pay attention or follow the rules. But, if you've taught in a bad school, you've seen it on a daily basis.
It is my belief that students want to be challenged, and that most students will follow rules if they are fair and consistent. Barring the occasional outlier, students want to feel safe and want to know what to expect. Curriculum 'experts' talk about this in content all the time; daily objectives, and rubrics are all the rage, but this same logic often goes out the door when it comes to discipline.
If you have a good principal that is willing to set and follow codes of behavior, a school can begin taking shape in two weeks. That's about the amount of time it takes for students to fall in line. It's okay to give a warning on some rules, but the second time a student breaks any rule, there must be a consequence.
When there is no system of discipline, as there wasn't in the Grand Rapids Public Schools, normal behavior falls to slightly better than the worst kids. At least I'm not that bad, is the logic of the class. If students are not punished for breaking rules, then more and more students start to break them. This happens for a few reasons:
- Students see that bad behavior is how they get attention, so they mimic what they see for attention.
- When bad behavior is allowed, standards are lowered. Humans tend to either rise or sink to the standards and expectations set for them.
- Ex. If you tell a student they will not understand something, they often will not understand it.
- If you tell a student that they'll probably end up in jail: they'll probably get in some trouble in school.
But what is worse is that when all students act badly, then nothing academic can happen. Like, at Alger Middle School. In theory, they had a 10-minute period of silent reading to start every class period on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In practice, it looked like this: students ran in the room, wouldn't sit down, threw books around, and talked for the entire class 10-minutes. No one could read. Thus, the objective of the lesson was not met. Or, at UPREP if a student cussed out a teacher and was then kicked out of class, this is what would happen. When they were kicked out of class they'd go to a principal; a principal would walk the student back to class, and pull the teacher in the hall. They'd have a long conversation about the incident, ignoring the content and the other students in the class. If the student mentioned what a hard time they were having in life, he or she would be allowed back in class with no consequence. What did the class hear: It's okay to cuss out a teacher. Your situation at home is more important than how you act in class. The result: academics suffer.
How the bulk of students behave is called The School Culture. The two real examples show a culture of bad behavior. At both places, bad behavior was rewarded. When this is the case, academics are not the center, and - in turn - students perform poorly. In districts like GRPS, where administrators are more worried about suspension rates and public relations than student success, they lower the number of suspensions by easing up on the consequences of bad actions. The result is poor academics.
This cannot happen.
Rather, there needs to be clearly established rules that are explicitly and directly explained to students. When the rules are broken, consequences are needed. These consequences need to be timely and fair. When this happens, a culture of respect and responsibility is established, and then, and only then, can academics improve.