Mrs. M, Destiny, and the Very Bad Day
My second grade teacher was an excellent woman by the name of Mrs. M. I absolutely loved being in her class and she was quick to supplement my work with books from her library at home and extra math assignments to help me stay engaged in school. Normally, she was creative in her classroom management and a wonderful example to other teachers on how to manage the chaos of a second grade classroom filled with almost thirty students.
One day, my fellow students were being particularly rowdy and Mrs. M, in what I’m sure was desperation, said “If you don’t want to be in class, you can sit in the hall!” She told me later that the class went silent but then she saw me look up from the book I was reading with a surprised look that said, “Oh! I didn’t know that was an option!” and I stood up and walked out with my book to read in the hall. Mrs. M said she didn’t expect her “star student” (i.e. well-behaved) student to leave; in fact, Mrs. M said she wanted to go out in the hall with me!
Mrs. M and I have laughed many times about this experience over the years. This is a humorous example of an ineffective discipline technique, but one that I believe every teacher has experienced in some form when we are at the end of our ropes and desperate for order in the classroom.
I believe this particular technique was ineffective because it was not built on mutual respect, it did not focus on solutions and it was not “discipline that teaches” (Five Criteria for Positive Discipline, n.d.) Giving students an out was a natural consequence of sorts in that it “happen[ed] as a result of behavior that [was] not planned or controlled” (Pryor & Tollerud, 1999), but it was not a logical consequence. Dr. Jane Nelson defined a logical consequence as one that was related, respectful, and reasonable (Nelson, 1985). These students were noisy, yes, but they were not hurting each other or exhibiting behavior issues that would warrant leaving the classroom en masse.
Another reason why, in my opinion, this consequence was ineffective was because it was a form of collective punishment. While group punishment “appears to be immediately effective in promoting compliance” (Daley, 2019), it is unfair to the majority of the students who are behaving well (but unnoticed in the chaos of louder, misbehaving students). In my research for this forum response, I immediately related to a well-behaved student in Australia who became withdrawn and hated school because, “it didn’t matter if she was good or bad, she would get in trouble” (Cook, 2019) or as another student put it, “Why study for hours to only to be deemed as an “undedicated” student?” (Bartolovic, 2019).
A more effective approach, if sitting in the hall was a natural and logical consequence in the scenario of my second grade classroom, would be to send individuals into the hall for a personal and mutually respectful discussion with the teacher. Or, another individually-based consequence would be to send a student to the principal’s office where the student can (1) identify which behavior was inexcusable and (2) take part in problem-solving ways to improve their behavior. If I were in Mrs. M’s place, I would announce that it was now fifteen minutes of quiet time which would give me time to (1) individually and respectfully discipline the few misbehaving students while (2) giving well-behaved students the opportunity to read so they did not feel punished.
As a second grader who was clearly trying to ignore the behavior of my rambunctious classmates (i.e. reading my book), I did not notice any particularly “bad” behavior in the classroom that day but simply a lot of children who were tired of being still and quiet. As a teacher now, I look back on dear Mrs. M with 30 rowdy children who were pinging off of each other. I recognize the value of perspective on those types of days; when chaos is simply the reality of teaching and a teacher may, in good faith, tell herself that “tomorrow will be better” and chalk up the day as “just one of those days.”
Bartolovic, A. (2019, May 15). Collective punishment in classrooms is toxic to adolescent growth. The Central Trend. https://thecentraltrend.com/65581/opinion/collective-punishment-in-classrooms-is-toxic-to-adolescent-growth/
Cook, H. (2019, July 10). The push to ban 'unfair' group punishment in schools. The Age. https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/the-push-to-ban-unfair-group-punishment-in-schools-20190710-p525xk.html
Daley, B. (2019, July 11). Group punishment doesn’t fix behaviour – it just makes kids hate school. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/group-punishment-doesnt-fix-behaviour-it-just-makes-kids-hate-school-120219
Pryor, D.B. & Tollerud, T.R. (1999). Applications of adlerian principles in school settings. Professional School Counseling, 24, 299-304.
Five Criteria for Positive Discipline (n.d.). https://www.positivediscipline.com/about-positive-discipline
Nelson, J. (1985). The three R’s of logical consequences, the three R’s of punishment, and six steps for winning children over. Individual Psychology, 42, 161-165.