The 6th-grade #PTAmeeting began like any other. The teacher told me how thoughtful and friendly my son is (I agree!) and then hit me with a barrage of complaints; he walks around the classroom, talks to his friends during the lessons, and prefers not to study…. You get the picture.
And then the conversation took a terribly wrong turn. I asked what I thought was a simple and obvious question.
“How do you respond when he follows the classroom rules and chooses to sit and learn nicely which is clearly difficult for him because he would much rather socialize with his friends?”
The principal, guidance counselor, and teacher were speechless.
After a really long, very uncomfortable silence, the #guidanceCounselor tried to address my clearly absurd question. “You see, having an incentive program is way too childish for him, he should follow the rules because he is a responsible person and he WANTS to behave well, not because he is getting rewarded.”
The principal chimed in “I recently explained to your son that I must report to the superintendent, it’s part of my job, and I feel responsible to do it. He should feel the same way, it is his job to behave and learn and be responsible for his behavior too!”
OK, now I was confused. Doesn’t the principal get rewarded monthly for his responsible work by getting a salary? If he stopped being responsible, he would no longer get rewarded, right? Pointing this out was a BIG mistake.
I pressed on, probably another bad mistake ☹
“No problem, you feel uncomfortable with an incentive (salary?) program. What happens when my son walks around the classroom and stops for a chat with his friend across the way? How do you remind him of his #responsibility? Since you have a rule about staying in your seat, is there any response when he #breaksTheRule?”
“Oh, we don’t want to go head-to-head with him! We remind him to sit down (20 times) he
meets with the guidance counselor, we let him go out to get some air…”
So, in other words, #noConsequences?
Here’s a nasty yet very true fact. None of us just does well without a #reward, either financial, academic, social, spiritual, or emotional. We need inspiration and encouragement. When we are making decisions, we always have to balance different competing values and decide which one is more worth our while. My son, along with every student, must decide daily if they should speak to friends or sit quietly and listen. The friend option has a very high reward with a very minor downside (the teacher doesn’t like it) while following the rules of the classroom has nearly no short-term reward and lots of downsides. There are students who highly value good grades and will choose to participate fully in the lessons (none of them are related to me apparently). Isn’t that where proper, healthy discipline comes in? Aren’t we supposed to help a child make better academic choices by teaching relevant and engaging material, rewarding participation, and making it not worthwhile to break the rules through consequences?
Is this suggestion so controversial?
In addition, most people will get away with doing as little as they can if there is no incentive program and unenforced rules. Think about the situation on our roads. In areas where traffic cops never visit, many drivers break all the traffic rules. The same applies in the workplace. #Productivity is lower in workspaces where achievement is not recognized, and no one is checking that employees are succeeding.
Our kids react similarly to us. It may feel better to have heart-to-heart conversations with students and explain responsibility, but if there is no positive or negative enforcement, the student will do what is in his or her best interest.
If abandoning old-school discipline only led to students not learning very well, that would not be so terrible. But the consequence of a school abandoning the basic rules of discipline and using gentle persuasion and conversation instead is actually quite deviating.
Most students, knowing the teacher will continually explain the rules but do nothing to enforce them, will undoubtedly break the rules. No teacher can absorb this total lack of respect and decorum from her students. Since she has no plan to educate the students to make better choices, she will begin to feel desperate and angry at her students. This leads directly to an out-of-control teacher who yells A LOT!
Obviously, yelling is a terrible form of discipline because it is way too disrespectful, and it just doesn’t work. The students quickly get used to the new decibels and carry on doing what works best for them. Schools that choose to go with gentle discipline and have decided that rewards work only for the staff but is way too immature for the students, are inviting chaos and a severe lack of respect for both teacher and student.
Everyone loses when teachers abandon their responsibility to discipline with kindness and respect.
Here’s how this shocking conversation ended. The school agreed to reinforce one or two of their rules (after asking me for suggestions of respectful punishments, which I have listed in chapter 9 of my book HyperHealing https://mybook.to/HyperHealing1) with compliments and consequences and asked me to make a chart. My son, who was invited to join at the end of the meeting looked at me and said “Great Mom, everything was going so well for me! Did you need to help them?” with a huge eyeball roll 😊
Here's my question. Why have most schools become allergic to proper discipline, the kind that makes children feel safe, seen, and respected and gives them a chance to achieve goals that they are proud of? Why have we replaced good old-fashioned compliments and consequences, rules, and incentive programs with pep talks and emotional interventions?
Are our children doing better or worse with this new system?