Trying to avoid discipline problems

Just three weeks ago in my graduate teaching course, one of the class presentations was on Discipline Problems in the Classroom. The members in the class were most interested in the topic, as all had either been a teacher or a student in a class when a discipline problem occured. 

The almost-a-discipline-incident in my last lecture is a reminder that discipline problems can happen even to an exprienced teacher, and those discipline problems often are prompted by something outside of the class itself.

When I was teaching high school, I would realize that a classroom problem may have started on the bus that morning or in a previous class or over a romantic conflict of class members. 

That outside-of-class situation was the case in my 140-student lecture when a student wanted to get into a discussion about the campus newspaper’s coverage of a fraternity incident. [I described the situation in the previous entry. You can read the story by clicking on the article.]

Let me comment on three factors that helped keep that situation from progressing and are strategies in classroom management for whatever grade level.

First — take action. Once you realize that a discussion or situation is heading the wrong direction, take action yourself to redirect or cut off the discussion or situation.

Second — humor. I’ve found that the best way to defuse a tense situation can be humor. I was firm in the fact that I wasn’t going to pursue his question. But I tried to take a more humorous (and not threatened) approach in gesturing to him to stop and with my tone of voice. He didn’t feel confronted and was more willing not to continue. If you challenge a student with an audience of his peers, that student often would rather get in trouble with you than lose face with his peers by backing down.

Third — knowing the student. In a class of 140, I don’t know most students’ names and don’t even know some by sight. But I did know this student. He and I have had positive exchanges in lecture discussions, and I’ve talked with him before and after class. We did have a positive rapport. That helps, too. 

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