If a school cannot instill discipline, what is the point?
I am veteran teacher in the secondary school system. I have given over thirty years of service to our nation’s children. Ever so often though, I have to protest loudly against the mess that we allow to persist. I write today about the growing prevalence of indiscipline and the apparent enthronement thereof.
The appalling conduct of of many students manifest itself in several ways. Among these are:
- chronic late coming;
- unexcused absences;
- refusal to bring required material to class;
- absconding from classes;
- engaging in violent behaviour;
- wanton acts of vandalism;
- disrespect for each other and those in authority;
- open defiance;
- lewd and despicable behaviour.
Sometimes the situation is so terrible that one gets the distinct impression that students “run things”. Furthermore, the despicable conduct is often supported by parents and even the wider community.
Efforts to effectively address the problems associated with indiscipline are often met with resistance, particularly from misguided parents. At times, the response from the competent authorities can at best be describe as apathetic. They often appear unwilling to or incapable of confronting these issues head on. Hence, principals and teachers are all but helpless in the midst of this growing culture of indiscipline in our schools. But, if a school cannot instill discipline, what is the point?
To be sure, there are many decent students who show up. They are regular and punctual; they complete all assigned tasks in pursuit of their education; and above all, they conduct themselves in an appropriate manner at all times. However, our frustration comes from those who are bent on doing the exact opposite. Indeed, they are the ones in charge!
Is it any wonder then, that across the nation that academic performance is barely mediocre? Should we be surprised at the unacceptable rates of class repetition; dropouts and the high levels of failure on tests of basic competencies in literacy and numeracy?
Left as it is, the problem of indiscipline in schools tend to translate into scores of youths, mainly males, who offend the legal system on a regular basis. Indeed, there could well be a direct link between the decline in discipline and what appears to be a growing crime wave, particularly among the youths.
This is a simple plea for us to arrest the problem before it gets further out of control. The schools, the authorities, the parents and and the wider community must get together and carefully examine the situation. We should then collaboratively craft strategies that are designed to stem the decline in discipline and decorum among our young people.
Every teacher may at one time or the other come into contact with a disagreeable principal. Here are a few suggestions from Max Fischer about how to handle the inevitable disagreement with an administrator
Be straightforward. Backstabbing is never a worthwhile or appropriate tactic. The most constructive means of dealing with any disagreement is to do it directly. When a principal’s determination becomes a point of friction, anything less than a candid discussion will only intensify the heat.
Go Private, not public. For sure, if a principal actively solicits input to a school-wide decision during a staff meeting, that forum is a legitimate venue for a civil rebuttal to his planned course of action. However, any sensitive issue — personnel related or otherwise — should be handled in a private meeting. A staff meeting is no place for a blindsided assault on an administrator.
Be assertive rather than aloof or pushy. By all means, when a live issue is on the table, don’t be a wallflower. If something is bothering you, pretending it will go away or that it doesn’t really matter won’t accomplish anything. Thoughts unspoken are likely to fester and lead to additional frustrations. On the other hand, a combative approach can be just as counterproductive. The body language of aggression — arms crossed, a scowl, a raised voice — will force the principal to be defensive instead of being open to an alternative perspective. The best approach, almost always, is to state the case simply, clearly, and without excess emotion.
Cite bona fide research or school-wide data. Professional journal articles can be an excellent source of support for your point of view; they can lend credence to a specific instructional strategy you want to employ if your principal is unfamiliar with that approach. Data — especially data collected at the school level — can help you make a strong case too. The more your position is grounded in observable realities and concrete information, the less likely it will be viewed as vintage emotional “whine.”
Remember who is captain. If push comes to shove, remember that your principal is the team captain. The best administrators seek consensus wherever possible. But, in those cases where consensus doesn’t, or can’t, exist, the principal must make his best judgment call. Don’t begrudge him. Don’t fight a losing battle. Move on.
I have a six-year old friend who entered grade one last September. This was the beginning of his second year in primary school. I was going through my friend’s book bag (which I thought was quite big and heavy for a six-year old) when I came across a 100 page hard cover note book. I asked my friend what was he doing with this big “note book” in his bag. He responded, “Miss say we have to bring it to write notes”. Write notes? At six?
Here is another situation that plays itself out over and over on a daily basis. Almost every time I enter a classroom, I meet the black board filled with “notes”. Invariably, I have to give the students a few minutes of my period to “write down” the notes that Miss or Sir left for them. And, as you may well appreciate, all 80 square feet of the black board is emblazoned with “notes” from left to right and top to bottom.
It is therefore no wonder that the typical teen-ager finds school to be excruciatingly boring. After all, they are made to sit for hours and copy badly written “notes” from a black board. Alternatively, they must listen and write as Miss or Sir “call notes”. Unfortunately for the children of the 21st century; the children of the education revolution; “notes calling” and “notes writing” still remain as significant instructional strategies for too many teachers.
As a student, I found “notes calling” and “notes writing” to be painfully monotonous. I simply could not keep up. I often waited eagerly for my teacher to pause and offer some “explanation” of his or her “notes”. In fact, I even developed the technique of deliberately asking a slew of questions to delay the resumption of “notes calling” or “notes writing”. It did not always work though! With the urgency of covering the material foremost in their minds, my teachers would stop the questioning and stick to their notes!
As a teacher of history and social studies, two subjects notorious for “notes”, I choose not to “dictate notes”. I never did and I never will. Furthermore, I use the black board sparingly. In fact despite Charles Best’s excellent tutoring at the SVG Teachers College, I never learnt to apply the effective uses of the black board in my classroom!
We are now in the digital age and all that it implies. I prefer to refer to these times as the post black board era. Today, there are countless effective alternatives to “calling” and “copying” notes. Yet, the practice is still so ubiquitous in our school system. That is why I am calling on the SVG Teachers Union to conduct a series PD workshops on the theme: Making the Black Board Obsolete- Interesting Alternatives for Engaging Students with Educational Material.
In the meantime, I feel it for those six-year olds like my young friend who have to lug a bag of hard cover note books to and from school and who must sit and copy copious notes from the black board or as Miss dictates. Perhaps, all of this would be eliminated when every child and every teacher are in posession of the digital tools to make teaching and learning engaging, exciting and enlightening in this the digital age.