School administrations and indiscipline
The Editor, Sir:
In recent letters and articles here, the problems of school indiscipline were discussed, as they all so often are, in all-too-many simple generalities. So, I beg the question: Where do the feel-good speeches and the oversimplistic, politically pandering explanations end and when does the real change begin for each troubled school?
For several decades now, I have watched such issues as they were lamely addressed and as conditions worsened, and I was amazed at the lack of insight and specificity offered by so many so-called experts who all too often worried more about making money or a name for themselves than the long term 'disciplinary health' of any given school.
Today, I believe there are a few basic facts about schools, administrators, teachers, classroom- management techniques and indiscipline in general, facts that experienced teachers cannot deny and school administrators cannot diminish in importance, most significant facts which must be explored as they pertain directly to this issue. Moreover, I believe that these most basic of facts must be addressed in a most concrete and realistic fashion in order to even begin to solve the problem of school indiscipline in general. Let me list the three I see as most significant herein with a brief explanation:
Most problems of indiscipline occur in overcrowded classes.
The fact is that most teachers simply cannot teach any complex, pre-planned, synopsis-guided curriculum and simultaneously spend any significant time disciplining students in a classroom.
Teachers as a group are as generally inconsistent in their approaches to managing classroom student behaviour. This inconsistency is both damaging to the progress of the individual classroom, but also to the collective management of discipline in the school, schoolwide.
In all, too many schools, classroom discipline is made to be the sole responsibility of the teachers and their performance of duties expected to be associated with that responsibility is unfortunately judged as part of their overall teaching performance. In reality, it more often than not has very little connection to it. In fact, such an imposition historically has added more than most other factors to the high turnover rate of teachers and to the poor performance of recruitment of those who would otherwise be good teachers if they didn't have to spend so much of their time trying to control, motivate and inspire students, who instead, should be bringing that motivation to the school rather than expecting it to be born there.
As well, not only are the management needs of any given curricula different for student behaviours, as well as the required teaching style of a given classroom, the learning activities involved and so on, but the ability of any given group of teachers to guide the progress of their classroom instruction will always vary as widely as their ability to manage student behaviours that either support or conflict with that instruction.
In other words, we have passed by the era when leaving student discipline to teachers is an effective strategy both within the classroom and the school alike.
Sadly, today's school administrators, in particular, are generally no better at administering discipline, counselling students and managing their personal behaviours than even the best teachers, nor are administrators significantly involved or well motivated, especially given their myriad, modern duties, to do so.
Now, given these three, most obvious of realities about school indiscipline, it may well become a little easier to form a working summary and understanding of the problems involved. The facts here suggest that classes need to remain small; teachers need to be able to teach and not waste time managing student misbehaviour in their classrooms, and school administrators need to support the first two needs with a far greater and more insightful plan of admissions, classroom structure, and student behavioural expectations, not to mention a greater sense of responsibility and level of commitment of additional personnel trained to deal with indiscipline outside the classroom.
I am, etc.,