The Threat of Detention

Today I threatened to refer talking in class for detention.

At boarding school, I always had a love-hate relationship with the disciplinary system.  It always seemed not to work.  The kids who were genuinely difficult also needed devotion and attention.  I lived with them.  It was hard to stay mad at them for very long.  It was necessary to maintain a relatively gentle relationship with kids in my class, because they also lived on my dormitory and they sat at my dinner table, and they sat at my lunch table, and they sat with me for breakfast, and they sought me out for extra homework help in the evenings, and I coached them in sports every afternoon.  A relationship founded upon detentions and demerits never worked very well for me.

I emphasize that “For Me” because it worked plenty well for some of my colleagues.  Some of them knew how to separate what happened in class from what happened on the sports field, from what happened in the dining hall or in the dormitory.  I never learned that distance — for me, it was always the case that we were in this together.  I was disappointed and confused when a kid decided, for whatever reason, not to be in it with me — but I tried to work with it.

This year, we have a new detention and disciplinary policy, and I’m trying to live up to it.  I don’t see these kids every evening over the dinner table, and I can’t talk to them in the dormitory about what they did wrong in class today.  I can’t address the issues that come up — about talking aloud about something unrelated to our topic in American history, or gossiping, or passing notes — later in the day, in some other context.  It has to be in class, right now, right then and there, in front of all the other students.

I find I’m not liking it very much.  It’s challenging to me, and it is counterintuitive to the way I learned how to be a disciplinarian at my other school.  The shift is doing me some good, though.  It is slowly helping me become a better classroom manager, and more clear about my expectations in class.

At the same time, the shift in me concerns me.  How is it that, just as we begin discussing the American Revolution and the ideas of representative democracy, and just as the Occupy Wall STreet movement picks up steam, that my classroom is becoming LESS democratic and MORE authoritarian?  How did I go from being a friendly leader to being an autocrat?  And what, exactly, IS the role and mask I should wear, here?

They’re interesting philosophical questions I don’t have the time or the spare brainpower to address right now, but I figured I’d let you readers know they were on my mind.  How do you address this balance?

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  1. Ah, but your students earn the right to have a say in your classroom by obeying its rules. Democracy does not equal anarchy. When they break the rules there are consequences, just as there are in our greater democratic society.

    I’m not saying it’s easy but remember that those who misbehave are taking from those who behave. My freedom to swing my arm stops at someone else’s face. A student’s right to speak and express themselves ends at another student’s right to learn.

    • I agree with all that, up to a point. But it’s kind of a reminder that societies obey the rules that they’re aware of and that they’ve had a chance in making. I need to give them more of a chance to buy into these rules.

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