Level two consequences, as with volume, is where most people live their entire career. Don’t be offended when I describe you, a veteran teacher of twenty years, in an unappealing light.
If I were to describe level two: "React Appropriately" consequence teachers in one word it would be: react. In a level-two teacher’s classroom, the students do a thing that is bad, and then the teacher reacts.
Student throws a paper: teacher reacts. Student doesn’t turn in homework: teacher reacts. Student stares at wall: teacher reacts.
This is a terrible, albeit common way to run a classroom because it is the students’ behavior that drives the culture of the classroom, and not the teacher. My students will forever be eighth graders. I would hope that most teachers can make more grounded decisions than most eighth graders.
While this advice is terrible to the expert educator, it does reveal how to progress from level one “obvious” rules and expectations and onto level two “react appropriately” level of reactionary consequences. The misbehaviors students will exhibit in your classroom are infinite and variable.
Level two is when you start moving away from the “big infraction: big consequence” and onto a single, smaller reaction appropriate to smaller infractions. There is only one smaller reaction to use at level two: moving a problem students’ seat. At this point in your classroom management life, your classroom rules gain another level, and you need to add “continuing, distracting behavior after moved seat,” to your “obviously bad” list.
At this point, your classroom management structure has two tiers:
The name of the game is: repetition. Ineffective teachers repeat themselves all the time. Adequate teachers repeat themselves once. I never repeat myself. Repeating yourself means that students don’t have to listen the first time. If students don’t have to listen the first time, students won’t listen the first time. When students don’t listen the first time, you’ll repeat your directions for each student when they’re confused. While you’re repeating your directions for each student individually, other students will disengage from your lesson and figure out some awesome, hilarious ways to destroy your lesson. Then the screaming begins. The end.
Ineffective teachers love to give warnings. This time is a warning, and then, blah, blah, blah. “Cool, so after ignoring your rules, I still get to sit next to, and lean my shoulder against the shoulder of, the cutest cheerleader?” said every student who ignored your rules ever. Warnings have never worked. Ever. Ever. Instead of warnings, at the "react appropriately" level of classroom management, move past them, and continue ascending to the next level of classroom management.
If you tell a student to fix a behavior once, and then they do not fix that behavior, move their seat to a less desirable location. I don’t care about the time that transpires between the “tell” and the “fix.”
Level 1: Obvious, Bad Behavior = Single, Consistent Consequence
With volume, as with consequences, you have to start somewhere, and tragically, the bottom is the only place to start. No matter what your college professors say, engaging lessons and relationships cannot run a classroom. When beginning in your application of consequences, you will practice your first steps in the art of consistency. Step one is easy: identify 5-10 behaviors that are obviously inappropriate for a classroom. Depending on your school, and the corresponding demographics, obvious misbehavior lists may sound like either of the following:
Obviously inappropriate behavior:
Obviously inappropriate behavior:
Doubtless, there is some crossover between the two lists, but everyone, in every school culture needs to start somewhere. On one of my co-workers third day of teaching ever, one of her students started screaming and throwing text books out the window while verbally harassing the teacher’s aide in the room. There were some threats of violence as well. That student refused to be moved by anyone until he was restrained and taken away by the police. At my school, those types of behaviors are the ones to start with as “obviously wrong.” Your starting point might be much more commonplace, but regardless of the culture of your school, the steps towards consequential progression are the same.
Once you have decided what is obviously wrong, you must decide on one consequence to respond to each of those obviously wrong behaviors every single time those obviously wrong behaviors are perpetrated. At this point in the game, your consequences will probably use the school structure as a crutch. Better yet, your consequences will use better teachers than you as a crutch. Write students up using whatever discipline referral policy is in place in your school. Give every such infraction ten minutes of detention after school. Whatever discipline you decide on, make sure you do it every time, whether it’s the kid you hate because he reminds you of the dude that stole your homecoming date away, or your favorite student who visits your grandmother in the nursing home most weekends. The whole point of the obvious level of consequences is to instill in your teaching complete and unerring consistency.
At this point, your classroom management structure has one tier, and it is as follows
If you’re beginning in the realm of giving consequences, using the school’s existing structure is important. Chances are, in the classroom, your head's still spinning, you’re screaming occasionally, and by and large just talking about everything that needs to happen. Picking an obvious, simple consequence has several advantages for teachers at this stage in their career.
In years one through three of my career, I looked to punish BIG behaviors with BIG consequences. It was a very “Level 1: Screamer” view of classroom management. The idea was that most small, bad behaviors were pretty much ok, and then when something major wasn’t ok, you let loose with everything you had at your disposal, screaming, removal, write ups, calls home to parents, and ideally prison forever. Decapitation? If it’s on the menu. You can see why the above “pound of flesh” theory is stupid and useless. It’s used by teachers early in their careers, and terrible teachers late in their careers who have never learned the finer points of manipulating classroom management. The goal, of course, is never to become the teacher who proudly says “I’ve been doing this for twenty years and [insert huge consequence here] is the only thing that these kids understand!”
You might recognize the comments made by middling classroom managers. “My fifth period is terrible, but no one is bad enough for a consequence.” “My homeroom doesn’t listen but there’s nothing to do to control a homeroom.” “I know that my second period is bullying Adriana but there is no way to tell who is doing it.” Students are experts at misbehaving in ways that are not quite middling. They are subtle and clever, despite being largely idiots, and so you must be exacting and precise enough to squash their subtlety and prove that you are cleverer on a microscopic level while they’re measuring using the inadequate rulers with which you provide them.
I don’t bother with middling anything anymore. I realized that it’s best to manage micro-behaviors that no one else bothers with (or pays enough attention) to notice. It is with the careful management of micro-behaviors and micro-consequences that I have moved myself towards the higher levels of classroom management. It is very important to note that if you are a lecture and notes kinda teacher, you will never have time to rise above level two of consequence ascension. You’re also doing far too much of the work. It’s much better to have your students do the work, and the learning, while you just watch for pinprick-sized micro infractions, and get pricking with that silent, but precisely-sharpened pin.
So much of the writing published about education is published by people who don't teach. I figured it was time for a teacher to write about teaching.