Silence…not something that happens in a room full of 27 students.
Then one hand cautiously rises, then another, but still mostly silence…
A minute ago I had asked my students, “What do we do in this classroom when you don’t behave well?”
This was now the reaction I faced; confused looks and silence. 4 years ago, my students would have prattled off a list: we write our name on the boards, you give us a checkmark, we lose recess, we lose free time, we call home, we go to the principal’s office. All very common consequences in classrooms. But now, 4 years later, I have unintentionally stumped my students.
One student finally says, “Well, you expect us to not act like idiots, so we don’t.”
Another student jumps in, “Yeah, and if we do something stupid then you tell us to fix it.”
And a third, “So we just talk about it and figure it out.”
Aha! We discuss their behavior and then we fix it in whichever way it needs to be fixed.
I threw away punishment because I always punished the same students. It also never solved the problem but just added a grudge between the student and myself. Today, some question whether students can truly act well when you don’t punish. When they don’t know the consequences of their behavior. Some think that no punishment equals no rules, no perimeters, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.
No punishment means no public shaming, no loss of privileges, no loss of recess unless we need private time to talk. It doesn’t mean no structure, no expectations, or a free for all of student chosen behavior. It means I expect my students to make the classroom rules. I expect them to behave well. I expect them to make good choices. I don’t have a perfect classroom, but I have kids that try. I have kids that know what the expectation is. I have kids that make a choice everyday, whether to be active participants in our learning journey, or whether to act like idiots. They don’t always make the right choice, but if they don’t, then we deal with it on a situational basis.
So no, I don’t need to punish my students into behaving, and not because they are all angels (ha, far from it) but because as a classroom we have decided to learn, to share, to behave like a typical 5th grader.
Don’t act like idiots, in true 5th grade language, and represent. Those are some of the rules for our classroom. I din’t make them but I do give them to grow and become part of our culture. Most kids know how to act in school, it is time we gave them our trust and a chance to prove it.
Edit: As you can see from a comment, the word idiot can be taken to something much deeper than is its intention here. When my students and I use the word “idiot” it is meant to convey a 5th grader that deliberately chooses to do something they shouldn’t, not someone with an intellectual disability. I never mean to offend but here I chose to let the word stand since it portrays the conversation we had.