Jul 07 2008

Why you should never post your consequences

Why you should never post your consequences.

Do you remember any of your teachers ever posting their consequences? No. Why? Is it because they were lazy non-TFA ‘traditionally certified’ teachers? No. It is because posting consequences is a very bad idea. Unfortunately this bad idea is advocated by TFA.

Even though some veteran teachers may have their consequences posted, don’t be fooled into thinking that the consequence list, in any way, is the reason that teacher has good classroom management. That teacher might be even better without the consequence list.

The consequence poster is intended to serve two purposes. 1) To deter misbehavior as students are aware that there will be consequences for it, and 2) To promote fairness and consistency as students see that all of them will get the same treatment. These are worthy goals, but you will see that posting the consequences causes more problems than it prevents.

Here’s why:

1. The purpose of the consequence poster
Your consequences are supposed to serve as some kind of deterrent. Without a consequence poster, how will the students know that there even are consequences for misbehavior? How will they have the information to guide them to make good decisions? There’s an easy answer to that question: BECAUSE IT’S SCHOOL. Except for very young children, who doesn’t know that if you break the rules in school, you’ll get in some kind of trouble?

2. By posting your consequences, you waive your right to be inconsistent.
That consequence poster you were planning to make, most likely, does not have any ‘fine print’ on the bottom with a disclaimer like “Consequences subject to change without notice.” Eventually a student is going to do something that is bad enough that it warrants skipping some stages of the posted consequences. At that point, you are going to get accused of being unfair. By having written evidence, the student has a pretty good case.
As a teacher, you have the right to use your professional judgment to dole out punishment as you see fit and which you’ll consider on a case-by-case basis. The poster that you made interferes with this right.
It’s difficult to change your posted consequences.

3. It’s hard to change them
What if your consequences aren’t working? Imagine you’ve got the famous ‘verbal warning’ as your first consequence. As you teach, you begin to realize that the majority of the class is taking advantage of this ‘free pass.’ You begin to realize that you’re going to have to choose between sticking with your consequence list or getting through your lesson. As long as the poster is there, you have to stick with what you have.
You could, of course, wait a day and replace your consequence poster with an updated one. This is pretty humiliating, however, and reveals signs of panic. And what if the consequences on the new poster aren’t working? You might want to put them on a dry erase whiteboard, just in case.

4. New teachers don’t have the experience to devise a good list
What is a good consequence list? First let’s see what they are not: If your first posted consequence is ‘verbal warning,’ you’re in real trouble. Now you’ve committed, in writing, to give everyone one free pass. If they take you up on that offer, and they will, you’re going to have to stop class to issue a warning about once a minute.

5. Posting your consequences removes the element of surprise
What is a good consequence list? First let’s see what they are not: If your first posted consequence is ‘verbal warning,’ you’re in real trouble. Now you’ve committed, in writing, to give everyone one free pass. If they take you up on that offer, and they will, you’re going to have to stop class to issue a warning about once a minute.

By posting your consequences you remove the motivating factor of fear of the unknown. Saying “If you break the rules, there will be consequences,” is scarier than giving them a list of the actual consequences. Keep it a mystery.
Discipline is like a strategy game and your opponent is the kid who is thinking about misbehaving. What advantage is it to you if your opponent knows your entire plan?
If you were a boxer, what would be a better pre-fight conversation with your opponent: “I’m gonna bust you up,” or “I’m going to start with three left jabs. Them I’m going to move to the left and block with my right hand. Then I’m going to throw a big right hook”?
Rather than deterring misbehavior, a poorly constructed incremental consequence list, especially one that is posted, can actually promote misbehavior. When you drive on the highway, there’s a sign that says ‘Speed Limit 70.’ There’s no list of consequences so we don’t speed because we don’t know what might happen. You might get a warning, you might get arrested. It’s not worth the risk. But if the sign said ‘Speed Limit 70. Consequence for first offense: Warning. Consequence for second offense: $50 fine. Consequence for third offense: $100 fine. Consequence for fourth offense: Jail.” There would definitely be more speeding if these incremental consequences were posted.
The only consequence list that won’t backfire in that way would be one that would be so vague that it would be unnecessary due to it’s obviousness. Something like “If you choose to misbehave any or all of the following things could happen (in alphabetical order) calling parents, detention, letter of apology to the class, office referral, time out.”
Rather than the standard list of consequences that is recommended by a lot of experts, you’d be much better off with something like:
1. Go ahead. Make my day.
2. You’ll wish you were never born
3. Don’t ask
The problem with even these vague lists is that it does not accurately reflect how an actual experienced teacher reacts to misbehavior. My actual consequences would look silly posted on the wall. It would say, “1. Teacher will pretend to ignore misbehavior while actually making a mental note so that later, if you break another rule, he can bust you on two offenses. 2. Teacher will make a ‘Teacher Look,’ which will simultaneously convey a modest amount disappointment, a bit of surprise, a touch of anger, and a dash of vengeance, but no fear whatsoever. 3. Teacher will attempt to call home later, but it will be a complete surprise so you won’t have to opportunity to plead your case with your parent before the call happens. 4. Student will be sent to one of the teacher’s friend’s room, assuming that it’s a day that that teacher is doing something pretty boring. 5. You may have won the battle, but the teacher will win the war. 6. If it gets this far, teacher will have to make up some new stuff.

6. What about my management ‘system’?
Similar to posting consequences, but even more extreme, is the management ‘system’ where every student begins the day with some kind of marker on a behavior spectrum. Sometimes the poster is modeled after a traffic light and everyone starts on ‘green.’ Throughout the day, as students misbehave, they, or the teacher, have to move the marker through the different stages.
Unless you are teaching very early grades, like younger than third grade, any management system like this is too complicated. A rule of thumb is that if your management system takes more than fifteen seconds to explain, it is too complicated. These systems work for veteran teachers because anything would work for those teachers. For new teachers, anything that complicated will backfire.
Don’t even mention consequences

7. What should I do instead?
I hope I’ve thoroughly convinced you that you should not post your consequence list. But doesn’t saying your consequences, without posting them, have some of the same problems? Yes. And that’s why I don’t even mention my consequences. I run my first class with such organization and confidence that my consequences are implied. Of course I’ve got consequences. Why wouldn’t I? And whatever they are, I’m sure they’re fair and consistent since that’s the kind of teacher this seems to be. “These are the rules, and here’s what will happen when you break them,” is far less scary than “These are the rules,” with an implied, “and something bad will happen if you break them, but I don’t expect anyone to break the rules so I’m not going to waste time talking about it right now.”
As far as they’re concerned, they should think that I’ll be shocked if they break my rules. Spending five minutes talking about my consequences would be a waste of valuable time. It would be like spending five minutes talking about what the class procedure is for a hostile alien invasion.

That’s it for now. I know that it seems like I’m playing ‘Devil’s Advocate’ with the TFA suggestions. But I’m not. I really believe this and haven’t ever made a consequence poster in ten years of teaching.

Also, don’t forget to watch my New Teacher Workshop on YouTube. On a later blog entry below, I’ve also posted it so you can watch it. Several second year CMs have commented that they wish they had the opportunity to see it before their first year.

6 Responses

  1. phil

    You need to post these consequences so that you don’t dole out punishment in an arbitrary way. This is a protection for you from parents. Trust me on this…..you will need protection from them.

  2. phil

    Also, this statement is grossly unfair

    Do you remember any of your teachers ever posting their consequences? No. Why? Is it because they were lazy non-TFA ‘traditionally certified’ teachers? No. It is because posting consequences is a very bad idea. Unfortunately this bad idea is advocated

  3. You make some good points above.
    However, I also think that this can be helpful to you:
    Go to: http://www.panix.com/~pro-ed/

    If you get this book and video: PREVENTING Classroom Discipline Problems, [they are in many libraries, so you don't have to buy them] email me and I can refer you to the sections of the book and the video [that demonstrates the effective vs. the ineffective teacher] that can help you.

    [I also teach an online course on these issues that may be helpful to you at:
    http://www.ClassroomManagementOnline.com ]

    If you cannot get the book or video, email me and I will try to help.
    Best regards,

    Howard

    Howard Seeman, Ph.D.
    Professor Emeritus,
    City Univ. of New York

  4. Current CM

    Gary- you make some very good points here. I have one main question though: I am currently at Institute, and the school at which I am teaching REQUIRES a Consequences poster that looks exactly the same to be posted in every classroom. It is important to be clear that this is not a TFA rule- it is the school’s rule and the school has made it clear that we must follow it. Do you mean to imply that one should not follow this school rule? For consistency’s sake, I think it is better to have the poster up than to refuse to put it up.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      If it’s a school rule, then you should put up the poster. You don’t want to be known as a ‘trouble maker.’ The poster, though, will make things more difficult for you since those consequences really limit you in how you can discipline. Even with the poster, most new teachers will eventually abandon whatever consequence system they originally envisioned.

About this Blog

By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

Region
Houston
Grade
High School
Subject
Math

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