Notes from Tools for Teaching Part 5

May 8, 2005

For the troublemaking student who hates school, suspension is a reward not a punishment. Every year, we place our faith in a management system that has never turned things around in the hope that this year it will finally work. One of the hardest realities to accept about social systems is the following: All social systems function exactly as they are designed. They produce what they are built to produce.

There is no such thing as “pretty consistent” or “very consistent” or “consistent most of the time.” Consistency permits only two conditions. You are consistent, or you are inconsistent. There is nothing in between.

The irony of consisency is that the closer you come to being consistent before you fail, the worse off you are. If the parent cracks easily, the child does not need to be a world-class brat in order to succeed. But if the parent does not crack easily, the child must learn to play hardball in order to win.

“Talking to neighbors” is the primary classroom disruption. No other problem even comes close. However you cannot win against student talking by nagging because you are on the wrong end of a cost-benefit ratio. It costs you an arm and a leg to go through this routine, and you end up right back where you started. The students only have to face forward in their seats temporarily in order to be in compliance. It is hard for you and easy for them. Any time that you are working harder at discipline management than the students, you will eventually lose.

Above all else, successful discipline management must be cheap. To help clarify success and failure in discipline management, we need a criterion of success to help us judge the effectiveness of a procedure. Our criterion of success is down-to-earth and practical: If the procedure is working, the problem should go away. Likewise, if the problem does not go away, the procedure is not working.

The criterion for choosing between one management technique and another is very simple: Always use the cheapest remedy. Always use the discipline management technique that takes the least planning, the least effort, the least time, and hopefully, no paperwork. If a technique fails to self-eliminate, then its failure is a clear signal to you to dump that procedure and go to another technique better suited to the job.

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