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Monday, April 13, 2015

SCHOOL DISCIPLINE - a cranky re-run

This cranky re-run is from April 2013 

In talking to teachers today, I wonder how they are able to control their students.  It seems they are unable to get students attention the way they did when I was in school.  Yelling or “Losing one’s temper” is subject to the teacher being disciplined.  Sending a letter home might bring a visit from an enraged parent more often than it would enlist the discipline assistance from the parent.

I hear stories of students laughing in the face of today’s teachers.  Kids dress inappropriately, and use inappropriate language.  They text during class, smoke during breaks, and drink or do drugs at lunch.  Teachers don’t even have a smoking lounge for themselves anymore.

When I was in school, teachers had the power to make our life miserable and as a result we (usually) behaved.  A letter to your parents would result in massive punishment.  Parents assumed the teacher was never wrong. 

If you wore inappropriate clothes (inappropriate was what they said was inappropriate, “You know very well what’s wrong with that shirt young man!”) you would be sent home.  If you swore you would stay after school.  If you talked back to the teacher you would face suspension.  Any of these punishments today is liable to bring a lawsuit against the teacher, the school district and the town.

Teachers found several ways to discourage talking in class.  Mrs. Brown, the music teacher would start to cry.  Miss Gromlick was a light switch switcher; on off, on off, until you shut up or got a headache. 

The male teachers were the scariest.

Mr. Khoury, the Physiography (rocks) teacher and football coach had a stare that nobody dared challenge.  He would grab the podium with both hands, glare at the entire class for three seconds and then in a stern, clipped, but calm voice, simply say, “Stop talking.” 

You could hear crickets in the winter.

Mr. Dunham was a thrower.  If there was talking while he was working on the blackboard, back to the class he would whirl around and fling a piece of chalk on a rope six inches above the head of the offender.  The chalk would smack against the wall and explode and the room would fall silent…end of problem. 

His chalk accuracy was legendary.

Mr. Frank also spoke no words to get the classes attention.  Mr. Frank a mild mannered man would go red in the face, grab an empty desk from the front row, and lift/slam it to the floor three times.  Quiet ensued.

Mr. Hopkins my English teacher would barely break stride in quelling a problem.  In mid lecture he would calmly and quietly tell a student to leave.

“And so if you are qualifying an action...Mr. Higgins please leave the is an adverb.”

“Yo, where do you want me to go?”  

“I do not care where you go Mr. Higgins, you are interrupting my classroom, please leave.”

There was nowhere a student could go during class hours without getting in big trouble.  Going to the principal’s office was the only choice and that was not good.

“Ah can I stay, I’ll be quiet?”

“Class, should we let Mr. Higgins stay just this once?”

In unison, “Yes Mr. Hopkins.”

“And if a word describes a person or an object it is called an… Mr. Higgins?”

When teachers did not fear lawsuits, when teachers had real punishment options that they could hand out, when teachers had the backing of their supervisors and the parents, they had the respect of their students.  You cannot teach without students respect.

Somehow today’s teachers manage, I have no idea how.
   Special note for today:
Scott Park aka lowandslow who blogs at Flight Plan @ is getting a pacemaker today, keep him in your thoughts...I don't want to miss out on his funny comments! Maybe you could stop by and wish him well.


  1. Mr Timmis used to throw a blackboard rubber at the back of your head if you talked when he was talking - he had a great aim but seldom needed to use it!

  2. Back in my day, in my school, corporal punishment was still allowed, so there was a set of male teachers who kept a wooden paddle in their file drawer for, uh, disciplinary occasions. (A female teacher who wanted a student swatted could simply knock on the door of one of the male teachers, who would do the deed for her.)

    Funny thing was, the guys who were most likely to get swatted would make paddles for their teachers in shop class, complete with sculpted finger-notches and drilled holes to reduce drag and allow the paddle to gather more speed on its way to their hind parts. And they would make a great show of presenting their paddles to the teachers, and expressing their fervent hope that this paddle would, if the occasion arose, be used on themselves. . .


    Years ago, I heard a story, probably apocryphal, about an old gentleman who taught in an urban high school in the years just after discipline had broken down. One of his students had wandered from his seat and was playing for the attentions of a young lady in the class. "Young man, sit down," the old teacher told him (in telling the story, it is helpful is you can affect a Polish or vaguely German-ish accent). The young man ignored him and continued chatting up the young lady. The old man crossed the room, and prodding the young man on the shoulder, repeated, "Young man, I said, sit down." The young miscreant stood up to his full height and turned to face the elderly gentleman. "Make me," he said. The sequence of events immediately following is unclear, but it ended with the young man on his back, the old teacher's shoe across his throat. "Young man," he said, "When I was your age, I was beheading storm-troopers with piano wire. Now, sit down!" The young man returned to his seat, and the class proceeded without further incident.

    As I said, probably apocryphal, but a great story. . .

  3. Ok, the smoking lounge for the teachers...hilarious.

  4. Growing up in Manhattan there were some behavioral issues that were dealt with by the removal of the disruptive student. Back then, you could get kicked out of school for misbehavior. Not so true nowadays.

    Once we moved to Florida, the situation was much improved and there weren't many incidents of dangerous misbehavior, but mostly kid stuff. Our high school principal liked to roam the hallways and interact with the students. One fateful day, she was talking to me in the school lobby and she had her hand on my shoulder giving me some scholarly advice when there was a commotion and we both turned to see a student, wearing only sneakers, run past us. (Yes, a streaker... and yes, I'm dating myself) .
    The principal still had her hand on my shoulder when she asked, "Did I just see what I thought I saw?" I replied, "Yes, m'am," and she tore ass after the boy.

    Where you go to school matters, but teachers should never relinquish control of the classroom. It does a disservice to the kids when the teachers feel as though they'll get prosecuted for keeping the peace. I think most stems from bad parenting coupled with our litigious society.

  5. where has the respect gone? we need it returned.

    good luck to your friend!

  6. You've nailed the issue that needs fixing. If kids don't have any respect they sure won't when they are adults. It's a shame and I've seen some of this ugly behavior firsthand.

    Have a fabulous day Cranky. :)

  7. Mr. Wheeler of Thrasher Elementary was said to have a wooden paddle with dried glue bumps on them.

    Luckily I was a good girl back then.

  8. There's a program called "Manners of the Heart" that is meant to be taught in schools, beginning in pre-K. It teaches all these things to kids when it's part of the regular curriculum. In schools where it's used, disciplinary incidents are down 60% or more. It's working, and i wish i could see it in more schools. Teachers who use it love it, it makes teaching possible again, instead of just babysitting kids who won't behave.

  9. Personally, I'd love to revisit the days when nuns ruled my academic world. They'd greet students at the door, relieving them of their guns, knives, drugs, obscene t-shirts, cell phones, cheat sheets and condoms with a hearty, "God bless you, young man!" - all without a care in the world for the "violation" of anyone's "rights!"

  10. All too true. The last 30 years have seen increasing class size, teacher's wages decreasing in porportion to the economy and other wages, changing social norms and sensibilities have made needed changes like removing physical punishment, but also have brought to the fore the differing wants and needs from the parents. It's difficult to imagine what would make one go into the profession now except actual altruism.
    It's easy to say 'oh these kids today, with their hair and clothes and music', but I'm not sure I'm any better for the surly nuns that whacked my knuckles in the 2nd grade.

    1. I don't think class size should make any difference. When I went to school in the 50s and 60s classes were easily 35-40 kids and teachers maintained control. Kids those days learned manners and respect at home, that's the big difference.

  11. Teachers once had the respect of the community. No longer. I stopped teaching years ag because the administration i worked for didn't support it's teachers and ran scared from the parents, who always believed what their kids told them, no matter what.

    I learned about Scott yesterday and left a note on his Facebook page. I hope he's well soon.

  12. My brother was fired from a teaching job for inflicting corporal punishment on a student. He never got another one.

  13. How do we manage? First of all, you have to actually like kids. Not in a creepy way, but in a stern kind of way that is not buddy-buddy, but lets them know you mean business, but that you care what happens to them. Then you have to have a sense of humor, and be able to get a laugh or give a laugh every day. You may rant about them every spare moment out of earshot, to your colleagues, but if you don't actually like kids, you're not going to succeed.

  14. Corporal punishment was still allowed when I was in elementary school, though only one teacher used it. She was the only one I didn't respect (though I never showed it).

    I've been thinking of Scott all day - off to his blog and to check his Facebook page!

  15. I truly admire teachers; they have a tough job and get paid a fraction of what they are worth. I would not want to be in their shoes. I think the saddest thing would be if a parent didn't back up with the teacher said about their son's/daughter's behavior in the classroom. I always sided with the teachers and knew my kids had done what they were accused of. And they were disciplined accordingly, though for the most part they were relatively polite students, except sometimes with substitute teachers, which also get my respect!


  16. Our Math/Science teacher would just quietly say "anyone who continues talking (or whatever) will get double homework assignments"
    We rarely misbehaved in his class.
    Our English teacher would send talkers out to run around the oval. It was visible through the class windows, so you had to run, no slacking off allowed.

  17. Got to admire anyone even wanting to be a teacher today. Respect is gone and having a lawyer's phone number on their parents speed dial is the norm. Loved your teacher's methods. Quite effective then but today they would probably be unemployed.

  18. Twenty-five years ago a new teacher came into my classroom. He was dumbfounded. He said, "We are toothless tigers in a zoo of wild animals!" I thought that was right on.

  19. I don't envy teachers their jobs today either. Many parents are too quick to side with their kids, and those kids know how to play Mom and Dad. There are bad teachers, yes; there are people in every profession who ought not to be there. But most teachers come to the job with a true liking for kids and a wish to help them learn. But parents need to teach their kids respect and they need to back up teachers. It used to be that if kids got in trouble at school, they got in trouble again when they got home - motivation to be on good behavior!

  20. Well said. Well said. (Just went back to teaching this year.)