Aug 20 2009

Why managment ‘systems’ don’t work in middle or high school

Why managment ‘systems’ don’t work in middle or high school.

By management ‘system,’ I mean some kind of incremental consequence ladder that you keep track of on a chart or with a clothespin that you, or the students, move to keep track of where each student is.

When you were in middle or high school, do you ever recall any of your teachers having such a system? The fact is that this is an idea which might work in elementary school with all-day self-contained classes, but it breaks down when you move to a set up where you get new students every fifty minutes.

Here’s are some reasons why:
When you use these consequence trackers, generally everyone gets a ‘fresh start’ each day. What this means is that everyone is entitled to get one warning. Whatever your first consequence is, it’s probably something like a warning. So if nearly every one of your 34 kids gets this first consequence, you’ve wasted a lot of time, and nobody has really gotten into any trouble. Getting your clothespin moved to the second level becomes some kind of club that everyone wants to be in since there’s no real consequence there.

Often these complicated systems require posters and string and clothespins. You’d have to make five of these if you have five classes and maybe even be carrying them around the different rooms you teach in.

I’m not telling you this to scare you. I say it since I’m worried that you might think that this consequence system is some kind of safety net that will help you when kids misbehave. It won’t. This doesn’t mean that you’re doomed, however. What it means is that you’ve got to focus on PREVENTING discipline problems. If you fail to prevent most problems, any management system will be stretched beyond it’s capability. And if you prevent problems, you don’t need a complicated system. In other words, the complicated system does nothing except make you feel like you’ve got a safety net, which you don’t. That feeling of having a safety net means that down in your subconscious you feel like it’s OK to make a bunch of typical new-teacher mistakes. It’s not. If you make too many, you will have a very tough year. Your complicated management system will eventually become a joke which you will abandon.

You can read the rest of my old blog entries to see what some of the mistakes you want to avoid are.

6 Responses

  1. Mary

    Agree clothespins work better in elem school. What can work in upper grades is to write a student’s name on the board with subsequent check marks. Your system should be easy enough for a swift, consistent, redirection of the behavior, without having to disturb your lesson. Kids are very concerned about “what’s fair” and so it is essential to think about setting clear expectations and a system that will work for you, every time!

  2. garyrubinstein

    Name on the board never worked for me. It’s still a free pass for everyone who chooses to take it. If you’ve got general control then it will work, I guess, but I wouldn’t want to send anyone into the classroom thinking that this will save them.

  3. Corey, at Thoughts on Education Policy, has a very interesting post on discipline. I took the opportunity to send in a comment about having the “tools” to maintain discipline. Those “tools” must come both from the school and from within the teacher. In some schools you have to have much more powerful tools than in others. Sometimes teachers just don’t have the tools they need to maintain discipline. In such cases failure is either inevitable, or success is seriously compromised and comes at a very high psychological cost.

    Throughout my lifetime I have felt that discipline has always been the most important issue in education, but it is almost always neglected. It sounds harsh, but I conclude that most educational leaders have a very superficial understanding classroom discipline and how to maintain it.

    Keep writing, Gary. You have a lot to offer

  4. Laura

    I do agree with you that prevention is best.
    What we do is as soon as we have our kids name and parents name is to phone the parents the first week. Involving parents is key.

  5. Judith Olszewski

    I was ruined by the public school system and its “teachers.” Young imbeciles who wanted to be teachers – more like submorons who want to control a class of young people. I welcome Teach For America and its efforts to recruit a more diverse group of adults to teach young people. Certainly education majors have been an abysmal failure.

    Some things I learned in public school:
    *the correct pronunciation of “literature” and “miniature” is with a hard T or you can go to the principal’s office.
    *”I told you kids that ‘mater’ is spelled t-o-m-a-t-o (I kid you not)
    *how can you score so well on those standardized tests and do so poorly in my class; you have a problem, kiddo.
    *I don’t want you in my drama club because you’re new around here.
    *I could not possibly help you get a scholarship; I don’t know your family.
    *You think you’re smart don’t you? I’ll cut you down to size.

    In sumary, where ever these teachers come from, who in the hell is screening them? Certainly not the state departments of education.

  6. Marie

    I’ve read your book Reluctant Disciplinarian and feel like I’m in the middle of a similarly tough year. I’ve also felt that stepped consequences don’t work – I don’t have clothespins, but I have a chart where I keep track of the kids “warnings” and time owed after class and it becomes a visual joke on my clipboard. I know you’ve talked a lot about how to avoid the problems you had during your first year, but I’m more curious to know what, if anything, you were able to change during your first year so it wasn’t a complete failure.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

Region
Houston
Grade
High School
Subject
Math

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