Confidence is an important trait in a teacher, but so is humility. Although I don’t subscribe to the belief that a teacher never truly arrives or can never reach a high level of excellence, I do believe in the continual need to be self-aware of one’s mistakes and open to new ideas. A dose of humility keeps us flexible and willing to try a different approach when the current one isn’t working.
Having written that, I must be especially careful with my upcoming statement. I don’t want to appear as though I’m singing my own praises because this couldn’t be further from true. Doing so would be off-putting. Few things offend me as much as a braggart. This next statement, however, is important to the discussion, so please forgive me if it sounds boastful. It’s not intended to be. Here it goes:
In nearly 20 years of teaching, I’ve never sent one of my students to the office because of a behavior issue.
This isn’t something I’m especially proud of, nor is it a streak I’m purposely trying to extend. It is simply a byproduct of my strong belief that every time you send a student to someone else for a behavior issue (i.e., the principal, vice-principal, or counselor), you weaken your authority and, consequently, your ability to handle future problems.
The only exception to this would be an incident involving dangerous or grossly insubordinate behavior, which would need to be documented. Still, you would want to be the point person when deciding upon a consequence, in collaboration with your principal, and delivering the resulting verdict to the student and his or her parent(s).
Witnessing a fight, being challenged and cursed at, and learning a student has brought a weapon to school are all examples of behavior that must be overseen by an administrator. All other behavior related issues should be dealt with solely by the classroom teacher.
Every time you send a student to the office, you’re communicating to your students that you don’t have full command of your classroom. In effect, you’re saying, “I can’t handle the problem myself, so I need to find someone with greater authority who can.”
Do this enough, and you’ll begin to question your ability to control your classroom. Sending students to the office will hurt your teaching confidence.
Furthermore, by allowing someone else to handle a behavior issue from afar, you cede control by taking a pass on the opportunity to teach an important life lesson. And that someone else, presumably the principal, often has his or her hands tied.
Principals are too busy to monitor students placed in time-out around the office, so they must rely on stern lectures and assurance from the student that the behavior will change. Both are weak methods of behavior management-made weaker because the student may not even see the principal for several days or weeks.
Being a principal doesn’t make a person better able to handle behavior problems. This idea of sending students to the principal probably stems from our childhood. I know I’m showing my age and mid-western upbringing, but I can remember seeing kindergarten classmates sent to the office by the teacher to get a swat from the paddle-wielding principal. We were terrified of him.
This notion of a single person having enough influence (i.e., fear) to affect the behavior of students in every classroom is long gone. Sure, principals may be able to provide a temporary fix, but the classroom teacher has a much greater potential to influence students and their behavior choices.
Moreover, as I mentioned before, when you send a student to the principal, your students will no longer see you as the final decision-maker. The result is a loss of a certain level of respect, especially from those who have a proclivity for behavior problems.
Your students need to see you as the ultimate authority in the classroom.
It’s important to note, however, that it is an authority that engenders respect (i.e., an authoritative style), not resentment, which is often produced from an authoritarian style of classroom management.
If you’ve read my book Dream Class or noticed the hints revealed in some of the other posts, you know that I reject such domineering methods. There is no need for them. Like sending students to the office, they don’t work in the long run and contribute nothing toward making lasting behavioral changes in your students.
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