As teachers, the way we approach our classrooms can make a world of difference in the amount and the kinds of discipline we need to apply. The wise teacher will implement as many preventive measures as possible as a way to stop discipline problems before they start. This is what we mean by training kids, discipling them, rather than simply handing out punishment when they don’t act the way we think they should. Preventive discipline techniques provide a safe, comfortable, fair place for kids to learn about God. And these techniques also make your classroom a fun place to be.
Do involve kids in making rules for your classroom. One the first day of class, work with students to come up with three to five basic rules for the class. In one form or another, all the rules have to do with respecting God, the teacher, each other, and property. Involving students in this process makes them more aware of the rules, and because they’ve invested themselves in creating the rules, kids are much more likely to comply with them.
Do keep the rules simple and few. Classes can operate effectively with just these three simple rules.
1. If you want to talk, you may raise your hand and wait to be called on.
2. When someone else is talking, you may be quiet.
3. Keep your hands to yourself.
Do review the rules frequently. Every week start out by asking, “Now what are the rules for our classroom?” All the auditory students will blurt out: “I know! I know!” When that happens, say: “I want to hear you, but my ears only work when a hand is raised and I call on that person. I just have these silly ears. When a child talks out of turn, my ears don’t work. Isn’t that strange?”
Do create a loving atmosphere where kids feel accepted “just the way they are”. As adults, we’ll do almost anything for someone who consistently shows us love and respect. The same holds true with children. The better the teacher-child relationship, the more likely it is that teachers will receive cooperation and respect when they direct children toward certain behaviors and tasks.
Do memorize the names of your students and use them frequently. We identify so completely with our names (of affectionate nicknames) that we feel a very warm, personal response when others call us by name or use our names in a positive way. Even though you may have children rotating in and out of your class, it’s worth it to put in a little extra effort to learn each child’s name.
If you’re as forgetful as some of us are, you might want to have kids--or at least visitors--wear colorful name tags. Or let kids write their names in large letters on full sheets of paper. Take a photo of each child holding his or her name. Create a class “lineup” on a bulletin board, or use the photos as flashcards. Keep a second set of prints in an envelope to share with substitute teachers and other class helpers.
Do remember that you’re discipling children through discipline. That means that whatever we do as authorities in the child’s life, we are serving as “dim copies” of Jesus himself. A good saying to remember is “God loves me just the way I am, and he loves me too much to let me stay that way.” That’s the same attitude children need to pick up from us—that we truly accept each child even as we challenge him or her to behave in a way that shows respect for God and for others.
Do be fair and consistent in dealing out consequences. There’s no quicker way to start a confrontation than to give a child the feeling that you are being unfair. Children quickly lose heart if they feel that because the teacher doesn’t like them, they are being treated differently than other kids. They also get confused when teachers say that the consequence for breaking a rule will be one thing but then assign a completely different consequence.
Do find something to praise in each child. One teacher said, “The only thing I could praise was that he didn’t go home with me.” That doesn’t count! Kids who are constantly reprimanded (and some are!) feel eaten up. We don’t ever want children to leave feeling defeated. Make an effort to praise every child at some point during every class. Verbal praise, a gentle touch, or a knowing wink of the eye can all be affirming to a child. When we affirm and cherish our students, we are modeling for them the kind and loving behavior that we’re trying to help them develop.
Why would I create problems for myself, you ask? Well you wouldn’t—at least not on purpose. But occasionally we teachers unwittingly trip ourselves up. After all, teaching God’s children is a complex business, and there is an enemy who would like to see us fail.
Check yourself against some of the “Don’ts”. If you don’t see yourself on the list, congratulations! If you do, welcome to the human race. It never hurts to do a little self-evaluation. If nothing else, it can affirm all the things you’re doing right!
Don’t use threats you can’t or won’t carry out! Promising dire consequences that never materialize will only cause you to lose credibility with your students. An empty threat might be, “if you don’t quiet down, we’ll just sit here the rest of the morning.” Resorting to threats lets kids know that they’ve pushed your buttons and that you’re feeling powerless; otherwise, you wouldn’t be making empty threats. Believe it or not, even preschoolers can figure this stuff out.
A teacher once told twenty two-year old children, “If we can’t be quiet for prayer, then no one will get a snack.” Not only was this demand unrealistic (and unnecessary) for a classroom full of twos, but anyone watching knew immediately that, contrary to her threat, she was not going to punish the nineteen quiet children by taking away the snacks that were sitting right in front of them. If you start to make a threat like this, take a voluntary two-minute trip to the time-out chair to regroup. The kids will respect you for it!
When a teacher speaks in a threatening tone, kids will be quick to tune out the important things he or she has to say.
Don’t be late to class. There’s an old adage about teaching: “Whoever gets to the classroom first is in charge for the whole morning”. It’s best that you, the teacher, are in charge of the classroom, so make it a point to get to the room first! Somehow children simply behave better when they are greeted by a calm, prepared teacher.
When children act out, don’t ask “why” they did it. Most will have no clue as to how to answer the “why” question. It is a good idea, though, to ask the child what he or she did and what led up to his or her actions. These are questions that a child can answer; the questions will help you and the child reach an understanding about what needs to happen next in order for the child to get back on track.
Don’t shame or blame a child. Shaming is easier to recognize than it is to define. Basically, any time a sense of scorn or scolding or a lack of forgiveness comes from an adults, a child feels devalued. What the adult needs to do is discuss the inappropriate behavior but make it clear that it’s the behavior that’s undesirable, not the child. After you’ve helped the child understand what was wrong with his or her behavior, it’s important to give the child forgiveness and hope. Help the child understand and verbalize how to choose the right behavior next time, and express your confidence that he or she will do just that.
Don’t label kids. At a recent teachers’ meeting, one teacher brought up a family of brothers who have been a handful in their church’s Sunday school classes over the years. This particular teacher was having problems with the middle child and wondered what to do. Another teacher quickly offered this advice: “You just need to sit on him, because all of those boys are ‘that way’”. We need to guard ourselves against this kind of talk. It will setup negative expectations for every teacher down the line.
Each new class with a new teacher is an opportunity for a child to experience grace and to start fresh. We need to give kids chances to grow up. Some children do build reputations over the years, but who knows? The next teacher might be the very one who can help a child turn around. Instead of expecting the worse, let’s stubbornly expect the best and realize that when we tap into the power of prayer, wonderful things can happen in a child’s life.
(an excerpt from "The Discipline Guide For Children's Ministry" by Jody Capehart, Gordon West & Becki West)