Jesse was a great kid. He played soccer. He did most of his work, most of the time. He was polite to teachers and students alike. One day in November, the bell for 8th period rang, and he walked into class thirty seconds later with a huge smile on his face. His teacher had established, first by talking, and then by whispering, a saying to enforce the consequence for late arrival to class. The teacher would say “I don’t hate you, but you’re late, and that’s five minutes after school.” In the beginning, the teacher announced this consequence in a speaking voice. Once everyone knew the consequence, late arrivals were simply whispered the sentence when it was convenient during the class period.
By November, the expectations, and the attached consequences, had been internalized. Jesse walked into the classroom late. The rest of his classmates had started their warm up exercise. He tiptoed over to his teacher and whispered “I know I have detention, but it was totally worth it! I got the new girl from Florida’s phone number!” His teacher responded with no words, but a simple thumbs up, a silent high-five, and a gesture to the front table and the board which held the materials and directions for the warm-up activity.
When I was in college, there was this feeling among my peers that enforcing rules made teachers mean. Nice teachers would teach nice students and everything would run nicely. The above anecdote, a 98% true story, seems to prove the opposite. The only way students are nice is when teachers enforce rules with an iron fist, and enforce rules using consequences greater than reminders.
When students can explain their way out of a consequence, you will deal with students explaining. When students can persuade their way out of a consequence, you’ll deal with students persuading. When students can remorse their way out of a consequence, they will show remorse. In all of these situations, the students will demonstrate the necessary acquiescence, get out of the consequence, and continue misbehaving until next time when the consequence will finally happen. Except next time the student will have a reason to avoid the consequence, and next time will never actually be this time. Having clear expectations allowed Jesse to self-regulate his behavior. His teacher didn’t have to intervene. Jesse didn’t look at his teacher as the bad guy who was enforcing rules. The rules were the rules, and they were designed to help students succeed in the real world (punctuality never goes out of style on the job market and students know it without yelled or spoken reminders.)
Jesse was on time 175 days of the school year. The other five days, he was late, but he was only late when he knew that the benefit (like a pretty girl’s phone number) outweighed the consequence (five minutes after school). He was never late on game day. Soccer was too important to him to risk. By establishing a management style based on silence, it’s possible to train students to regulate their own behavior, so that they recognize the correlation between action and consequence.
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. I've been proud to teach 8th-grade ELA in Dunkirk City Schools since 2007, and to serve at Fredonia State University as an adjunct professor, teaching educational technology since 2017.