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School Management - Discipline

( Originally Published 1897 )

The Aim of Discipline.-The essential feature of discipline is training. The good teacher is the good disciplinarian. No system of government is to be commended that is not effective in character building (Chapter VI.). The object of the school should be to stimulate and foster all right and valuable instincts. When children are trained to subjugate their impulses, to recognize the supremacy of law, and to form habits of usefulness, they -we receiving a good education. All true discipline forms in pupils such moral judgments and such habitual modes of action as will make it easy for them to do right when they leave school.

It is often assumed that good discipline is identical with order and obedience. If such quietness reigns that one can "hear a pin drop," if pupils study hard, and if disobedience is not shown in the class, the school is presumed to be well governed. It should be known, however, that order, attention to study, and submission to the will of the teacher, are at best only signs that good discipline may exist. They may be found where something like military discipline prevails. Children should not be treated like machines. The heavy-handed drillmaster may quell a mob by force. It requires the teacher's qualifications (Chapter VII.) to train pupils to govern themselves. An able-bodied man of strong will may crush a school into silence, compel children to learn their lessons, and make his word become law, but the ends of discipline are no more secured when obedience results from intimidating, than from bribing or coaxing. No government is effective that has not for is object self-government. Authority should be felt and respected, but not paraded or talked about. If the pupil is continually directed, he fails to acquire the power of independent intellectual effort. As he advances, periods of effort entirely independent of supervision should be permitted. The centre of control should be gradually transferred from the teacher to each of his pupils. What they are becoming is to be kept in view rather than what they are doing.

Characteristics of Good Discipline.-In a properly disciplined school pupils are attentive. Attention forms the avenue to the higher intellectual processes. With young children voluntary attention is not to be expected ; but, as they pass from the elementary stages, it is necessary that they should acquire the power of fixing their thoughts. Those habits (Chapter VI.) which constitute character-such as industry, order, neatness, obedience, truthfulness, etc.-become prominent features of well-trained pupils. In a school that is characterized by good discipline there is a high moral tone.

Good government requires that the discipline should be regular. Uniformity, firmness, and discretion are observed in the enforcement of rules. The natural instincts are followed and utilized in securing obedience. Submission to authority is maintained without any apparent effort. The discipline is unobtrusive. It is kind. Love is supreme. Fear is not a controlling force. Justice reigns. Anger, vacillation, carelessness, and unreasonable demands are unknown. Courtesy and self-control are shown by the teacher, and the pupils catch his spirit and follow his example.

Good order is an essential characteristic of good discipline. Without it good teaching is impossible, progress is not to be expected, and the school is defective in the formation of good habits. An orderly school is marked by the thorough and systematic manner in which the lessons are taken up, by the taste exhibited in the arrangement of books, furniture, apparatus, etc., and by the promptness and regularity that attend the performance of duty by the pupils. Incentives to right action and penalties for wrong-doing are judiciously employed. There is no elaborate code of rules. Where order prevails, children are led to control themselves by their intelligence and conscience. The careless and irregular are readily brought to attention. The teacher is orderly himself, and never goes on with work until disorder, if it arises, ceases. In an orderly school attention is not secured by blustering, striking the desk, stamping the foot, threatening the idle or scolding the dull. Haste, fickleness, whispering and idleness are absent.

Conditions of Discipline.-1. Proper environments, if not absolutely indispensable, tend at least to facilitate and promote discipline. Children are more easily managed in a building that is spacious, beautiful, well-planned and well furnished. It is difficult to preserve order when physical comfort is not secured. A badly heated, poorly lighted, and ill-ventilated room imposes additional strain on the teacher's governing power. Attractive surroundings help to make children love school, and lessen the task of securing attention.

2. Authority is essential to good government. The rights, powers and duties of the teacher should be defined by the laws of the State (See Appendix). If each municipality or district enjoys complete freedom in school legislation, the authority of the teacher is liable to be unduly restricted or hastily modified. An efficient system of education demands a fair measure of centralization. It follows that the teacher in a private school has not the aid to discipline that is necessary to good government. On this account character is more easily formed in institutions subject to public control.

3. Easy control needs the support of trustees. In the faithful discharge of their difficult duties teachers are entitled to all the assistance that School Boards can give. There should be no interference in those matters of organization and management which, by law, pertain to the teacher or the inspector. Meddlesome trustees are an injury to discipline. Harshness, doubtless, should not be allowed in controlling pupils, but the trustee who is ever ready to have the complaints of any busybody publicly investigated is no friend of teachers, pupils, or parents. Every good teacher should be anxious to take necessary counsel from his trustees and his inspector. The best discipline is not found where the support of the Board is wanting.

4. The cooperation of the principal is essential to efficient control. If the head-teacher is weak in management and discipline, the difficulty of each assistant is increased. The successful chief supports his subordinates without destroying their individuality. The spirit of order, precision and governing power which the principal exhibits should be such as may be followed by the entire staff. An inexperienced teacher should feel that in the headmaster he has one competent to give advice, ready to sustain his authority, and one who is a rampart to check disobedience or rebellion. When an assistant blunders, care should be taken to have matters righted without lessening his influence. The principal will often find troubles arising that never would have occurred had good judgment on the part of some assistant been exercised. Too much should not, however, be expected of beginners. The one who has the main qualifications of a successful teacher may eventually become an acquisition to the school. One who is sure to fail may be quietly requested to resign. A weak disciplinarian makes it harder for the other teachers to govern.

5. Harmony among the staff must be preserved in a school having two or more teachers. A divided house cannot stand. Good discipline requires unity of action. The will of the principal should be law in all matters pertaining to management. Though vested with power somewhat autocratic in its nature, every wise headmaster constantly consults the members of his staff. An assistant who goes out of his way to weaken the influence of the principal, deserves to be dismissed. The best managed schools are those where appointments on the staff are made by the Boards on the recommendation of the principal or inspector. An efficient executive officer will preserve harmony, receive the cheerful support of his assistants, give good counsel to trustees, and prevent by his tact any serious troubles from making headway.

6. The confidence of parents is necessary in order that the government may be effective. Fitness and merit are unfortunately not always duly considered in making appointments. The candidate who has "influence" is often selected in preference to one of higher qualifications. False economy has more than once placed an inferior teacher in charge of a school. It frequently happens that some persons in a section are annoyed because their relative or favorite did not receive the appointment. Greater care is needed in selecting teachers. It should be recollected, however, that not only fairness to the candidate chosen, but the important interests of their children as well, should prompt parents to aid the teacher in his arduous duties. To discredit a teacher in advance is neither wise nor honest. Easy control is out of the question when parents are so forgetful of the welfare of their children as to make before them disparaging remarks of the teacher's scholarship or professional attainments.

Devices of Discipline.-There are many devices of the school-room which, though not calling for high governing powers, may be employed to render control easy. Methods of this nature serve, like the conditions of discipline already described, to aid the weak disciplinarian and to lessen the strain that is inseparable from the work of even the best teachers. Their chief advantages are the removal of temptations to misconduct, and the prevention of disorder by surrounding children with what will induce them to do right. If utilized they greatly help the teacher ; if disregarded, good government is impossible. Some of the most important devices are the following :

1. The school-house and the school ground should be improved in every way that may add to their attractive ness. Doubtless these are matters for the trustees, but in the matter of aesthetics much may be done by the teacher who enlists the aid of the pupils. Some teachers have cultivated in their pupils a taste for what is refining and ennobling. Order is more easily preserved, and attention to duty more readily secured, when beauty and cleanliness are recognized as valuable aids to discipline.

2. Physical comfort is inseparable from good order. It is impossible to secure attention if no relief is given to children suffering from a close atmosphere, bad temperature or glaring light. To see that the fires are well looked after, and that the room is flushed with pure air at suitable times, is as important as imparting knowledge.

3. The seating of the pupils has much to do with discipline. Provision should be made for periods of sitting and standing. Frequent intermissions are necessary for young children (Chapter XII.).

Pupils should be so arranged that the eye of the teacher may be upon them. In an ungraded school the elementary classes should be so placed that hints and short lessons may be given them if necessary, while the older pupils are taught writing, arithmetic, composition and other subjects. It is not always best to put the junior pupils by them-selves. A suitable place for classes to sit or stand during recitations should also be provided.

It is important to seat pupils in such a way that those who are weak in one ahother's presence may be separated. A troublesome boy may be managed if placed near those who are industrious. It is not well to give pupils their permanent seats till they are fairly well known. After seats have been assigned for the term, it is best to make as few changes as possible.

4. A good classification aids discipline. It is difficult to maintain interest when the pupils of a class differ widely in their attainments. In graded schools a common hindrance to good order the excessively large size of classes. The only remedy is additional teachers. To expect any one-and especially a beginner-to manage sixty or seventy pupils is cruel to teacher and pupils. In a rural school, where the classes are small, an inexperienced teacher, who would fail in a city school, will often do good work. In ungraded schools, and in some High Schools, the multiplicity of classes is a constant obstacle to easy control.

When pupils are left a great part of the time to themselves, the difficulty of government is increased. Fewer classes, or a doubling up of classes in some subjects, may give partial relief (Chapter XI.). Skill is needed to adopt proper devices of this kind.

5. A good lesson programme is a great advantage in preserving order. A well constructed time-table (Chapter XII.) is necessary to easy control. Short, lively recitations, followed by short recesses, are needed for young pupils. Order is out of the question when pupils are exhausted. To assign certain difficult subjects as the work for the last hour of the day is to hinder good government. In an ungraded school the junior classes should not be left for the last. In High Schools, where the work is divided among the teachers by departments, many devices in arranging the time-table will require consideration. So far as practicable the subjects that exhaust the nervous energy and those that do not call for close reasoning should alternate. A change from one subject to another, if wisely arranged, increases the interest and helps discipline.

6. Good study arrangements are an important feature of the time-table for rural schools. Even in a graded school, it is an absurd practice to have all study done at home. Pupils do not need to be " talked to " for five hours a day. In an ungraded school, if proper arrangements are not made for study, pupils, when not engaged in a recitation, will get into mischief. Every class should be employed. While one class is taught algebra or history another class may prepare grammar or study geometry. Writing or drawing may occupy the attention of some pupils, while others are instructed in arithmetic or physiology. To keep the entire " machinery" in motion demands judgment and experience. Idleness is productive of disorder. Pupils must be kept busy. Their employment must be profitable.

7. A system of signals, constituting what may be termed school tactics, may be used with much advantage in elemenary classes. Mechanical movements secured in this way may save time, impart vigor, give a military appearance to the class, lessen the teacher's requests, promote order and train to habits of obedience. School tactics should be uniform and should cause no confusion. Signals should be few and readily understood. By means of a little bell, or by the notes of a piano, children may be called to attention, assembled in their places, trained to stand or sit, or to be dismissed from their classes with regularity, promptitude, and decorum. For advanced classes fewer tactics are necessary, but order is indispensable. More self-control is to be expected of older pupils. The discipline is defective when " hustling" or "hazing" cannot be checked.

8. Pupils should be trained to assist the teacher in pre-serving order. System is needed in the care, distribution and collection of books, slates, pens, pencils, etc., used in the elementary classes. In matters of this kind children may be assigned little duties which will please them and aid the teacher. Maps and apparatus may be arranged, the blackboard cleaned, and works of reference consulted, in the case of advanced classes, by some of the pupils. A boy will feel some pride if he is required, under the teacher's directions, to see that the room is kept at the proper temperature, the ventilation looked after, or the appliances for physical culture kept in their place. Mischief may often be checked, and better relationships formed between pupils and teacher, when such functions and responsibilities as have been mentioned are assigned to different members of the class.

9. Physical exercises (Chapter II.) promote good discipline. Much of the restlessness of children is due to the need of bodily activity. Pupils who take an interest in games, drill, gymnastics or calisthenics, learn more readily to become orderly and obedient. Children who are constantly on the move should be given a chance to develop their physical powers. Recess, with its fun and frolic, has its place in every well-constructed time-table.

10. Rules of conduct for pupils should be few. Page, that pioneer as a writer in the art of discipline, recognizes a philosophic truth when he regards " Do Right" as a rule sufficiently comprehensive to secure good government. A code of laws has its place in the preservation of order in the State, but not in the school-room. The usages of the school are best learned by practice. The constant exhibition of good conduct is more potent in influencing the effort of individual scholars than the multiplication of rules. Whatever rules are adopted, should not refer so much to matters relating to work and behavior as to matters of attendance, promotions, courses of study, etc. Rules often awaken a desire to do what is forbidden, and give the impression that what is not prohibited may be transgressed with impunity. There should be few rules relating to crimes for which penalties are prescribed. There should be no rules that cannot be enforced. Commands should be given in a firm but quiet tone, in few words, and should not be repeated. Orders should be explained, if necessary, and should not be associated with a warning or threat. The unwritten law of duty and the power of conscience will hold prominence in every well-governed school.

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