Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Classroom Issues/Discipline

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How do we discipline?

Working with students for the past several years has raised many questions when it comes to discipline. Now only a year away from becoming a licensed teacher and with classroom experience in hand I begin to wonder what my main concern will be. Is it actually the discipline or how the classroom is run that brings on the issues of discipline? Discipline as defined in Webster’s Dictionary is "field of learning, training, and conditioning to produce obedience and self-control, as a result of punishment...” We are teaching and training our students and yes, we expect that our rules and codes of conduct produce obedience and self-control. But are the punishments that go with discipline really effective. Therefore, the question that I must determine as a teacher is what techniques and skills must I research and need to know in order to keep my classroom under control?

What Makes Discipline Difficult[edit]

The two most important issues are the lack of support from the school administration and parents. Jim Garbarino, a Cornell University Professor and author of Raising Children in a Socially Toxic Environment states2, that there’s a feeling among educators that “erosion of adult authority” in today’s society makes it much more difficult for teachers and other educators to do their job. It seems that teachers have to make and establish their own rule of authority because parents and adult figures are not teaching the traditional cultural foundations for the students to build on. When parents depend on the teacher and the administration to handle discipline with no backing from them, the students are more likely to continue bad behavior and challenge the teachers. We all know that students should know the basic concepts of respect and self-control, but when it is not taught or modeled in their home environment, then the training of good behavior becomes the teachers’ responsibility on top of the teaching process.

The National Education Association is a great link to for reviewing discipline issues and many other topics. The greatest thing about reading this is that you begin to find out good teachers, think alike. When you read you will see that you have probably already been using many of the techniques.[1]

A non-supportive school administration will make it very hard to establish a strong and effective classroom management plan. It really is pointless to send a disruptive student to the office, to only have them back in your classroom ten minutes later. As a teacher you should make your classroom management plan very clear to your principal and other school officials that would handle discipline issues. Let them know what you expect from your students and help them to understand your technique of running the classroom. Be sure they are willing to support your beliefs and know that they will follow through should they be needed.

What Works[edit]

Classroom management is important. If you have your classroom strategies down in writing, are consistent in following them and make sure you always have more planned than not enough, then your students will be less likely to find time to cause disruptions. From the start of the first day of school and for the entire school year, you must take control of your classroom. Students, parents, and your administration should know right from the start where you stand on running your classroom.

There are many styles and techniques used in classroom management and each individual teacher must set their own procedures, routines, goals and values. Strong techniques that are win-win situations and based on simple principles of organization and cooperative learning include:

Always have Lesson Plans Ready[edit]

By being prepared and having things ready the night before gives the teacher a stronger hand on being able to be available to the students and parents as soon as they walk in the door every morning. Why could this work?

  • Students can be greeted every day the same way.
  • The teacher will beware of which student is in a good mood or bad mood. This will mentally prepare the teacher for the situations to come.
  • Students are on task with the classroom objectives for the day and everyday.

Develop Monthly Learning Groups[edit]

Each group developed for the month, work each assignment as a team. They are responsible to complete the daily objectives and projects as a group. Each group has a rubric to follow that is based on points that covers cooperation, behavior and objectives. A group cooperative certificate is issued for the most successful group of the month and a teacher luncheon is earned. This way of classroom management could work because:

  • Students learn to work together as a team.
  • Students get to learn different cultural styles and beliefs.
  • Having a group focus channels excess energy into productive learning as a group because of the responsibly level of each team member.
  • Different levels of strengths and weaknesses help them learn to work new strategies to get the work done.
  • Positive peer pressure to accomplish the group goals by following the rubric is very strong.
  • Student’s work harder to earn the end of the month reward.

This style of learning is discussed in-depth through the “Kagan Style of Cooperative Learning”3 but the key to group learning would be the sense of accomplishments and responsibility that each student shares by helping others in areas they are not strong in. And lastly, it would give the teacher a stronger handle on the sure of harder to handle students. Regrouping the students on a monthly basis will also build stronger control for designing groups that will help different students at different levels.

Parent Communication[edit]

Just as students and administration need to know your classroom management techniques, so do parents. If you want parents to support you and any possible discipline issues that may arise then they need to know what your expectations are. You can do this by:

  • Going over and sharing expectations, procedures, routines and style during open house.
  • Develop a parent, student, teacher contract that will be given out the first day of school. This needs to be signed by all parties.
  • Develop a classroom newsletter that keeps parents informed of what is happening.
  • Design a website so parents can contact you.
  • Offer a monthly family night get together but fun and educational.
  • Offer a parent tutoring night – teach the parents what students are learning.
  • Be available to the parents.

One on One Discipline Techniques[edit]

Although, classroom management might one key to running a well-organized class, there will be discipline issues that need to be addressed. How to handle different situations are challenged everyday for example, Thomas Gordon, creator of Teacher Effectiveness Training did not agree with Canter’s Assertive Discipline Concept. But, both techniques have been effective in different ways because no two students are alike and each student needed to be handled in a different manner.

Many techniques will be learned strategies that you as a teacher will develop as you become more versed at teaching. But I also believe that based on your values and ethics in the classroom and possibly your parenting skills all of these will play a key role on how certain discipline situations will be handled. Here is a list of some positive discipline techniques, some learned from my readings and some developed through experience.

Remind, Don't Scold
Redirect, with a reminder to what is at task. This can be done as a whole class or on the individual level.
Group example: “Class the bell has rung, you should be in your groups working on your journal entry.”
Individual example: "Mary, please redirect your attention to the front of the room."
Tattle Tale Can
This is the most annoying issue in the classroom. Use redirection.
Example: First, ask the student if the person involved is actually injured or needs assistance, if no, then direct the student to write down the problem and put it into a can. At the end of the day ask anyone if they have any issues. Most of the time the issue has been forgotten.
Just in case it has not - Tell the students involved you would like to have a conference. Set it up during recess for no more than 5 minutes. Let the students involved discuss the problem and only offer suggestions that are considered right choices for both of them.
Hand Signals
Make the student aware that you know that a wrong choice is being made through a specific hand gesture.
Example: Mark is sitting sideways in his chair playing with Maria’s paper on Maria’s desk. You quietly look at him and touch your nose so that he knows you need him back on task.
Don't Threaten or Argue
Be firm on what is expected. Ask them what the right choice is based on the classroom policy.
Praise, Praise, Praise
Make sure that this very important technique is positively incorporated into your classroom.
Praise is every student’s ultimate goal — make the teacher happy!
Plan, Plan, Plan
Over planning will keep the students busy.
If you do find yourself in a downtime. Turn it into a quick regrouping game: (this example is based on that the class knows "Regroup Time" and what the reward is for participating.)
Example: Have a group of boxes with different subjects available--they can have basic SOL Questions in them. Call out "Regroup", each group leader will run to the boxes and grab one. Once back at their table the teacher will ask one group to ask another group a question from the box. The group asked will have 10 seconds to answer the question. If correct they win a group point.

Again, There are so many wonderful techniques that can be used and discussed but the most important thing to remember is do they work for you, is it right for the student, and will it work in the classroom. Trial and error makes for a some day-harmonized classroom.


There will always be students and situations that need to be corrected but I do believe that if we run a well managed classroom that is supported by the school administration, and parents, then the classroom will cooperate and run more smoothly. Most importantly by building your curriculum and classroom structure based on goals, routines, procedures and the cooperative learning concept the discipline issues will be minimal and your classroom will be an enjoyable environment where the students want to learn and have fun learning.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

What is an example of a well managed classroom?
A. Students are all standing outside the door because you are late for class.
B. Students are running around the classroom while you are sorting papers for the lesson.
C. You are greeting the students as they come in the room to start the day.
D. You are chatting with another teacher as the students come in the classroom.

C. You are greeting the students as they come in the room to start the day.

Mary is yelling at another student. You would...
A. Stop class to find out what the issue is.
B. Stop class and tell Mary that you are disappointed that she is disrupting the class and go into a long speech about learning.
C. Yell back at Mary to stop disrupting the class.
D. Redirect Mary to the classroom rules.

D. Redirect Mary to the classroom rules.

Why is it important to discuss your classroom management plans with the principal?
A. It's not--you can handle your own classroom without interference.
B. To keep him/her informed of your policies so that you know that he/she supports your efforts.
C. To show him/her how smart you are.
D. All of the above.

B. To keep him/her informed of your policies so that you know that he/she supports your efforts.

You know your classroom is running smoothly when...
A. You can give the students lots of free time to play.
B. Your students are working well together both individually and as a team.
C. You can sit on the computer and do other work.
D. Your students are continuously interrupting the class.

B. Your students are working well together both individually and as a team.

What is a good way to communicate with parents?
A. Utilize a classroom newsletter.
B. Build a website with classroom information.
C. Reserve a specific day once a month so parents know you are there to talk.
D. All of the above.

D. All of the above.

When would you send a student to the office?
A. When an infraction has jeopardized the safety or learning ability of the other students.
B. When the student gets on your nerves.
C. When student gets out of seat too many times.
D. When the student feels like going for a walk.

A. When an infraction has jeopardized the safety or learning ability of the other students.

What is a strong way to communicate to your parents what you expect in your class?
A. Call them individually and talk to each of them for an hour.
B. Tell your students to discuss the classroom policy with their parents.
C. Develop a classroom contract that is signed by parents, students and teacher.
D. Don't do anything—they should have all ready taught their child good behavior.

C. Develop a classroom contract that is signed by parents, students and teacher.

Who should the teacher inform about classroom management?
A. Parents
B. Principals/School officials
C. Students
D. Other teachers.

B. Principals/School officials

If two students are talking, what can the teacher do to quickly get them on task?'
A. Assign the students more work.
B. Yell at the students.
C. Use a specific hand gesture.
D. Take some time off of recess.

C. Use a specific hand gesture.

A teacher can communicate with parents by doing what?
A. Sharing procedures, expectations, etc., at an open house.
B. Sending out newsletters.
C. Designing a website.
D. All of the above.

D. All of the above.

Discipline can be...
A. A matter of personal preference for the teacher and his/her personality.
B. Determined by a school administration.
C. Adopted on a school-by-school basis.
D. All of the above.

D. All of the above.

Whole-school discipline works best...
A. When addressing homework issues.
B. When addressing tardiness issues.
C. When addressing zero-tolerance issues (discrimination, violence).
D. When addressing tattle-tale issues.

C. When addressing zero-tolerance issues (discrimination, violence).

Discipline theories...
A. Have not changed much in the last 50 years.
B. Have changed to assertively include students and parents in the discipline process.
C. Can be stern, but flexible.
D. Both B and C.

D. Both B and C.

Mrs. Jones always prepares her daily lessons when she arrives at school in the morning. She has trouble keeping her class quiet and has to repeatedly ask them to be quiet after they come in the door each morning. What should Mrs. Jones do to better control her class in the mornings?
A. Do her lesson plans in the teacher lounge instead of the classroom every morning so she can concentrate.
B. Ask her students to sit in the hallway until she is finished with her lesson plans so they won’t distract her.
C. Complete her lesson plans the night before so she is ready to greet the students individually in the mornings as they enter the classroom.
D. Pass out candy to students when they come into the classroom in the morning to keep them busy.

C. Complete her lesson plans the night before so she is ready to greet the students individually in the mornings as they enter the classroom.

Mr. Smith has just learned about cooperative learning from the “Kagan Style of Cooperative Learning”. He has decided to implement monthly learning groups that will change every month. He made this decision after hearing all of the benefits cooperative learning provides the students. What is not one of the benefits of cooperative learning?
A. Students learn to work together as a team.
B. Students learn to manage time wisely by individually completing an assignment.
C. Students get to learn different cultural styles and beliefs.
D. Different levels of strengths and weaknesses help them learn to work new strategies to get the work done.

B. Students learn to manage time wisely by individually completing an assignment.

During a class Jeopardy Game that Ms. Wilson created on PowerPoint, Jeremy was looking at the floor while tapping his fingers on the bottom of his chair. What would be an appropriate to say to Jeremy during the class game?
A. “Jeremy, pay attention now or you’re going to the principal’s office!”
B. “Jeremy, stop tapping your fingers.”
C. Say nothing to him but continue to glare at him from your desk.
D. “Jeremy, please redirect your attention to the game at the front of the room.”

D. “Jeremy, please redirect your attention to the game at the front of the room.”

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal sample responses.

Do you feel that a well organized classroom helps with discipline within the classroom?

Definitely, I strongly believe that if a teacher is well prepared they will have a better handle on their classroom. I know that we all feel that students should already be taught how to behave in the classroom and outside of the classroom, but reality is, a lot of students are not. Society has changed so drastically that home values have changed also. Parents are working two or three jobs and don't have time to deal with their children. "Sad but true." Grandparents are raising many children and they might not have time for them. Children have to become more street smart to get through issues in their life. They might need to figure out how to deal with an issue by themselves, and it might not be what we would consider a good choice. Without a role model to get goals and values on the outside the child will have a hard time inside the classroom. So not only does the teacher have to teach the standards she know has to teach what is right from wrong. And this can only be done if the teacher has laid out a plan that will be followed and maintained with consistency.

By being proactive prior to and before the students enter your classroom you can grasp a situation at the beginning and head off a disaster. If the parents, students and administration are aware of your values, polices, and procedures from the beginning you have met the first criteria of being organized. Why, because you have explained your guidelines and if you maintain consistency throughout the year and do not fray from them you always have a strong case when an issue does arrive. Following through with your guidelines, consistently, in the same manner will also be head off any issues. You must treat everyone in the same manner.

Being prepared a head of time will always ensure that you have enough planned to keep the class busy and keep them on task. I am not saying that the students need to consistently be working on work, you can add in “Fun Time.” That is also part of being prepared, you want your students to enjoy learning so it never hurts to use humor and play games with the students. There are so many educational ways to have fun and the students don’t even realize they are learning. The most important thing is that you are prepared and have enough for the students to do that will keep them busy and learning.

Effective classroom organization is required for successful teaching. While many students, parents, and those not in the teaching profession might think a teacher’s expertise in content knowledge, presentation skills, or years of experience in the classroom are the only talents of importance, educators know they are not. The ability to develop an organized classroom is detrimental to properly manage student behavior, and thus, classroom discipline.

When developing an organization plan, teachers must take the time to carefully think about and fine-tune it so it compliments their style of management. Since not all teachers are alike, not all organizational plans will be alike. Teachers should organize the classroom so that rules and consequences are clear and understood by all. Like anything else, this plan should reflect the teacher’s own beliefs so that he/she enforces it with confidence. Managing discipline by organization should begin at the elementary level so that students learn early on what is or is not acceptable behavior, and the benefits of following school rules

While an organized classroom will help certainly help curtail disciplinary problems, it will not totally eliminate them. Teachers must still be knowledgeable about types of student behavior and the techniques available to discipline behavior not curtailed by organization skills. —Robyn George

A well organized classroom is very important in order for discipline and growth and development in the classroom. Students need discipline in the classroom, and with organization this is possible. Children do not like surprises, and when their daily routine is all upset, children cannot concentrate as well.

I strongly believe that a well disciplined classroom is important when it comes to disciplining a child. The teacher should have a daily routine, and should also have a plan that allows the student to follow a routine, so they do not feel as if they are stressed. Children love it when they can feel like they have opportunities in the classroom to excel, but they also need boundaries. With having the classroom disciplined it allows the child to feel as if they can accomplish more.

The classroom must also be organized for effective teaching. In order for a student to be able to learn and for the teacher to be able to teach their lesson for the day, there must be discipline.

An organized classroom does not essentially eliminate all behavioral problems; it certainly eliminates some of them. A well organized classroom allows for the students to grow and excel, not only as a student, but a child as well. —Cassie Prater

I do believe that a well organized classroom helps control discipline in the classroom. All classrooms need to be organized because all students need to have a since of being controlled so that they will not try to control the classroom. A classroom that is unorganized causes the students to be unorganized and can cause a lot of confusion in the classroom. A disciplined classroom is great because it minimizes the distractions that will interupt the class and it nips a lot of behavioral issues. A well disciplined classroom is needed in order to have a peaceful learning environment. If there was no discipline in the classrooms then the students would run all over the teacher and they would not learn anything.

A organized classroom means that the teachers have to plan before the students get there and know how they want the classroom to be ran. If the teacher is organized the students will be organized. If all of the rules are understood at the beginning of the school year and all the expectations are understood then there should be no problem with discipline in this classroom. —Sharnell Simpson


  • Ellen Flannery, The D Word, September 2005, NEA Libaray from
  • Linda Starr, Education World© Contract for Responsiblity from
  • Discipline by Design from
  • Prince Georges County, Guide to Cooperative Learning from
  • Johnson, D., Johnson, R.& Holubec, E. (1998). Cooperation in the classroom. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
  • Spencer Kagan, Patricia Kyle & Sally Scott, Win-Win Discipline—Strategies for All Discipline Problems, Kagan Publishing
  • Judith A. Arter and Jay McTighe, (Sept 14, 2000), Scoring Rubrics in the Classroom: Using Performance Criteria for Assessing and Improving Stdent Performance
  • Jane Ed.D. Nelsen, Lynn Lott, and H. Stephen Glenn (Mar 30, 2000), Positive Discipline in the Classroom, Revised 3rd Edition: Developing Mutual Respect, Cooperation, and Responsibility in Your Classroom (Positive Discipline)