Classroom dicipline - Feedback

I received flame mail from someone who felt I was in "fantasyland" and that I must have taught in very protected environments, not real schools, to have the views I did. The author had had a terrible experience the previous year teaching during which a student had physically pushed them down and then the student left the room saying he/she couldn't control themselves any longer. The gist of the flame mail was that my "you have all the power" statement was totally incorrect and that they'd need something very powerful (I believe it was an Uzi) just to even the odds with next year's class. I know some of you must feel disempowered too, because so did I once. Here is my response reproduced for those of you who may feel angry and discouraged.

Response to "fantasyland" flame mail

Subj:Re: fantasyland
Date:96-06-13 14:39:37 EDT
Well, my page did warn you that I didn't figure I was the greatest teacher in the world. The roughest class I've ever had was a grade 10 remedial math class in which the students threw paper at me and broke bottles on the front wall whenever my back was turned and the administration and councillors were in denial of the possibility any problem students even existing at the school.

I tried being a super discipline "hard ass" with that class by the way, and it failed miserably because I was so busy playing the enforcement game that I didn't spend any time thinking about how best to teach math to a varied ability class - ie. how to best achieve what I really wanted instead of just reacting emotionally and letting them yank my chain. You sound rather like you're in "fight back" mode with your students - stuck kind of like I was. According to the the master teacher pamphlets, you should strive to stay neutral (hard, I know, students really know how to push all your buttons) rather than get involved emotionally otherwise you won't be effective because everyone will be focused on attacking/defending instead of being focused on resolving problems.

If a student beats you up, there's not much you can do except pull strings later to try get him/her out of your class or expelled so it won't happen again. But you can keep your calm during the incident, and in the future try to keep students from becoming so angry in the first place that hopefully, they won't feel the need to try it. I suggest you get the pamphlet "Tips for talking to students about performance", Volume 26, number 20 of the Master Teacher pamphlet series from address Leadership Lane, P.O. Box 1207, Manhattan, Kansas, 66502-0038 which addresses how to deal with those problem kids effectively while preventing the riled feelings over time that might have caused students to get so riled up.

When I first read this pamphlet, I was shocked and resisted the ideas in it because it didn't fit what I wanted to hear (ie. I was in "got a problem? then you need to attack harder" mode too). But it really works. After reading that pamphlet and doing some thinking, I gained excellent classroom discipline after three years of failing to achieve it with various classes.

The key for me was putting my feelings aside and logically figuring out how best to achieve what I wanted (ie. if you want a well behaved and respectful class, you won't achieve it if they feel threatened, anxious, and rebellious all the time. What you want is the calm acceptance of your authority, and the feeling that you will take action to keep the classroom the way you like it but it won't be personal - kind of like how police are low key, polite, and non-aggressive during arrests on the TV Cops show).

Keep in mind what you want and stay logical and open-minded so you can figure out how best to achieve it. They can swear and misbehave, and you'll enforce and take action, but none of it is personally directed at you or at them - it's just part of the job & going to school.

And here is the mail I got back:

you seem a little evil...why not consider a career change? i like the layout of your web page much more than the content of your teaching philosophies!!!!! good luck

Confession :-)

And, in fact I have changed careers, which is why I can afford to state my teaching views so candidly in this site.