It’s not often I’m surprised by an email.
But a couple years ago I received one from a teacher who wouldn’t hold students accountable unless he had what he described as “proof.”
Unless he had witnesses to back him up, or an outright admission from the offender, then he felt he had to let the misbehavior slide.
He also required every student who admitted wrongdoing to fill out a reflection form.
He didn’t do this because he felt it was beneficial to the student.
He did it because he was fearful that parents might not believe him. He was fearful they would take their child’s word over his own.
So he emailed SCM seeking advice.
At the time, the idea that a teacher needed proof beyond their own eyes and authority was foreign to me. But since then I’ve received a number similar emails—with more and more coming in recent months.
Notably, the writers of these emails assume that this is just the way it is.
They assume that there is nothing you can do about this hole in the system, that you must be able to point to something or someone outside of yourself as evidence a student misbehaved.
So, for example, if a student rolls their eyes at you or flashes an obscene gesture or privately tells you to go jump in a lake—or worse—then you can’t hold them accountable.
They’re afraid that because the student can claim it never happened, that it’s one word against another, then they have no leg to stand on.
They have no proof.
Predictably, they find themselves arguing with students, raising their voice, and trying to get them to admit their bad behavior. They find themselves trying to convince them that they really did see what they saw.
They find themselves carrying deep resentment and outright dislike for their most challenging students.
This is, of course, a frustrating and stressful position to be in, especially if students make a point of exploiting this perceived loophole. Especially if they flaunt misbehavior and disrespect right in front of them.
Which is precisely what was happening to these teachers and the point of their emails. They were upset and tied in knots seeking a solution.
But here’s the thing, and what I communicated to them:
You are the teacher of the classroom. You are the leader tasked with shaping and inspiring your students and preparing them to be vital and contributing members of society.
You are all the proof you need.
Once you know the truth, you have an obligation to the misbehaving student, their parents, and to the rest of your class to hold them accountable. Even if no one and nothing on earth can back you up.
When you become a teacher, you take on the responsibility to do what is right no matter the critics. You take on the responsibility to do what is best come heck or high water.
You take a stand for the benefit of everyone involved, including yourself. You adhere to the truth because it’s the truth.
As for handling complaining parents, or parents claiming you’re making things up or picking on their child . . .
As long as you have the truth on your side, you have nothing to fear.
Because when you have the truth, deep down everyone will know it. Yes, even a parent in the midst of their most vociferous complaining. It will seep from your every pore and fill the aura around you.
When you look them in the eye and confidently and pleasantly give them the facts—and only the facts—whether they like it or not they’ll know it’s true.
And here’s the surprising thing: Teachers who faithfully follow their classroom management plan with every student and in every situation receive far fewer complaints. They receive far fewer accusations or contentious meetings with parents.
In fact, for the most part it’s something they never have to deal with.
To be respected, admired, and trusted by students and parents alike, you must square your shoulders day after day and do what is right and what needs to be done.
Don’t hesitate. Don’t shy away. Don’t pretend the misbehavior didn’t happen or soften the hard truth.
Instead, honor your commitment to protect your classroom from all disruption, disrespect, and the like.
Teach life lessons now so your students don’t have to endure more painful and irreversible lessons later on down the line.
Be a leader worth following.
As for proof?
You are the proof.
PS – If you’re a principal and would like to improve recess behavior, click here.
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