I remember the poster well, I had spent more than an hour on it, I had really taken my time to make sure each letter was meticulously printed, outlined, and filled in with sharpie. In fact, I had started over several times when the result was not quite as eye catching as I wanted it to be. I remember sending the poster through the laminator holding my breath a bit, after all, sometimes that pesky laminator ate all of my hard work. Not this time though; this poster made it through and now graced the best location on my wall; right above the sink so that every single time a student washed their hands or threw something out, this poster would catch their eye. In fact, it hung in the one spot that you could see all the way from the hallway; any person who walked by the classroom would know what mattered most to us. What was this magical poster that I was so proud of, you may ask? My consequences for breaking the rules.
Yup, my first two years of teaching the one thing I was most proud off was the poster that stated what would happen if you misbehaved in my classroom. I loved it. I thought it sent a clear message to the students about the type of classroom they were in, who held the power, and just what the expectations would be every single day. I loved that it was the first thing people noticed, after all, that must have meant that others knew how serious I was about classroom management. That although I was a new teacher, I knew how to control these 4th graders.
I loved the message it sent because it certainly sent one loud and clear; every day my students knew that they could be punished. That if they screwed up there would be consequences. That the whole class would know if they had done something wrong, because the very first consequence was to write your name on the board. If you broke the rules again a check mark got added, and if you broke the rules one more time then it was an automatic phone call home, in front of the class. Infractions included talking during class, leaving the class without permission, and any kind of rude behavior. If you were a kid who had trouble sitting still, your name was almost always on the board by the end of the day. The poster ruled the day.
After two years, when I changed the way I taught, I pulled down that poster. Terrified of the future and breaking the rules, yet I knew there had to be a better way to handle misbehaviors than what the poster said. That check-marks and names on the board was not a way to build community, but instead splintered it every single day. My students didn’t need the constant reminder, they already knew that there were behavior expectations. They already knew who the teacher was. They already knew how to behave in school. What they needed to know instead was that there was also flexibility. That I saw them as a whole person and not as a person to be controlled or punished into behaving.
When I first hung the consequence poster on my wall, I thought it signaled strength, management, and someone who was on top of their teaching game. What I didn’t realize was all of the other things it signaled as well. That this was my classroom, my rules, and that they didn’t have a say in how situations would be handled because the rules were clear. It told them that every situation, no matter the back-story, would be given the same consequences no matter what. By hanging that poser on the wall, I could never make my students believe that this was our classroom because the poster would always signal otherwise. It made a liar out of me.
Five years without a consequence poster on my wall and I have no regrets. My students have shown me that they know who the teacher is, what the expectations are, and that this is a community of learners. They know if they make poor decisions there will be consequences, but more than likely those consequences will be figured out with them, not thrust upon them without hesitation. They know that the rest of the class no longer needs to know who is in trouble, because it is a private matter. I pulled down a poster so that my students would finally believe that within these four walls, we share the control. Are you able to pull down yours?
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.