"I often wonder how many potentially good teachers would be happy to teach the youth of tomorrow if discipline were taken entirely out of their hands. My advice for improving public education is to hire a 'bouncer' for every classroom. I’d go back tomorrow."
-former teacher Caelin Graber, writing in response to Susan Engel's op-ed on teacher preparation
I don't know about the "bouncer" idea, but I will tell you that discipline was, far and away, the biggest problem in my school . . . and the main reason I left teaching.
I read Graber's letter to the editor and I say, "Hear, hear!" As a former teacher, I'm continually amazed that few, if any, of the ed reformers target student discipline as a reform goal. My easiest (and generally most enjoyable) teaching assignments were those where discipline was a neglible issue. In those situations, I was able to focus on lesson prep, evaluating student work, communicating with parents, etc. Much more learning, and much more enjoyable for the students and teacher.
As a practical matter, discipline was easier in the following types of situations: (1) Military-type boarding school (students who misbehaved spent their afternoons in the care of an ex-Marine who made them pick up trash, etc.); (2) Private school (students who misbehaved could be explicitly or implicitly threatened with expulsion - and parents didn't want to pay good money for their kids to waste an education); (3)Honors and elective classes (students who chose these classes did not want to misbehave); or (4) Using coaches to instill discipline in student athletes (e.g., student isn't allowed to play in Friday night game if does not follow rules in English class).
The "bouncer" idea certainly has appeal. I could have used one many years ago when I was trying to teach in junior high and high school. I was not totally inept in discipline. Indeed I felt I was pretty good in some ways. I learned to effectively, even skillfully, use the tools available to me. But it was never easy. It always took a psychological toll that I eventually decided was too much. Having discipline taken entirely out of the teacher's hands has a great appeal, and potentially huge benefits to everyone involved. But how can that be done?
I can't fully answer that, but in recent months the "wrecker" idea has come to mind. The "wrecker" I'm talking about here comes from the following chain of thought. A car should go under its own power. That's what the engine is for. It's not much of a car if it doesn't have an engine capable of moving it. So cars are designed with engines, which normally do the job. But occasionally an engine fails, or occasionally we end up in a ditch. A wrecker is called in. The wrecker provides a source of external power when needed, power in abundance, but only on those occasional times when the car cannot rescue itself. A bar may need a bouncer on duty every hour that it is open, but a wrecker is a very occasional presence in the life of a car.
So applied to classroom discipline, a wrecker would be some way to bring in an excess of control from an external source to impose very tight control of a class once in a while when needed. This is not to say that we should take discipline entirely out of the hands of the teacher. Rather it is to say that sometimes a teacher needs help, a temporary external source power or control considerably in excess of what is routinely available. That’s what a wrecker provides when a car is somehow stuck.
So picture this. A class that has become totally out of control (or just a little bit too much out of control) arrives one morning to find four or five adults sitting in the back of the room. The teacher begins teaching, but within minutes a disruptive student crosses some line of expected behavior. At a nod from the teacher to one of the adults (bouncers if you will), the student is immediately and firmly escorted out of the room. Then the teacher continues, with plenty of bouncers left to use as needed.
(continuing) Administrators try to help teachers with discipline problems. One thing an administrator will occasionally do is to come to the classroom. Students do indeed respond with their best behavior while the administrator is present. But the effect is soon lost when the administrator leaves, and the administrator will not stay long. He or she has many other things to do. One administrator once in a while acting as a bouncer can only do so much.
My thought is that a small group of adults, ideally parent volunteers, but whatever it takes, is the force needed to make a dramatic change in an out-of-control classroom. It has to be more than one adult, and it has to be more than one day. Nothing less will do the job. Nothing less will get the car out of the ditch and into the shop, so to speak. But it doesn't have to be every day long term. I don't know how long it would take, but I would think even three or four days in which the teacher is free to teach and the students are free to learn might be enough to set the class on a new course. Then, of course the teacher must somehow learn to effectively use the tools given to him or her by the school. Are those tools available? Does the school know what tools are necessary? That is another question.
This may be an expensive solution. Well, a wrecker is expensive. If I decide I'll budget thirty cents a mile and no more for each and every mile I go, then how will I ever get out of the ditch? A wrecker is many, many times the usual cost per mile for transportation, but when it's needed, we pay it. The car is worth it. We don't leave the car in the ditch or beside the road just because a wrecker is expensive. If a school must pay ten times the normal cost of a teacher for a few days once in a while to get a class back on track, is that worth it?
The "tools to do the job" of classroom discipline can include a lot of things. I would think an incredibly valuable tool would be a rock solid certainty in every student's mind that whenever needed the bouncers will be back.
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