I used to yell students’ names across the classroom, making sure that everyone knew who was now in trouble. I had the teacher voice down coupled with the stern glance.
I used to have students write their names on the board when they messed up. That name served as a public reminder of their poor decisions all day and showed them that I meant business. It was a wonderful display of who could not figure out how to behave well.
I used to have students call their parents in the middle of class to tell them when they were having a bad day. Three strikes you are out was the way we worked. I figured it didn’t matter that the rest of the class could hear their call, after all, that would probably just act as a deterrent for the rest of them.
I did not think I was shaming children, after all, children thrive on rules and routines. Therefore, these rules were definitely helping them become better citizens of our school.
After a year, the names on the board did not seem to work so well, so I switched to sticks in a cup. Everyone started in the green cup, your poor decisions moved you to yellow or red. The sticks never moved backwards and we reset at the end of the day. The names were no longer on the board, but the stick moving, that happened in front of the class. That walk of shame where all eyes were on a child as they were told to “Move their stick” was a daily occurrence. In our classroom everyone knew who the “bad kids” were, and so did their parents, after all, students love to share stories about how so and so got in trouble that day.
Then my firstborn got a little older. She got a little more energy. She wasn’t that good at sitting still or even paying attention at times. She had so much to do and so many things to see. And in her, I quickly saw the future. If she got a teacher that used these systems of public shaming, she would be the kid that would move her stick. She would be the kid whose name would be on the board. And I would be that parent, wondering why my child was being publicly shamed for behaviors she was trying so hard to control. For things that she did not do to intentionally harm the instruction, but simply needed support to work through.
So I stopped. I threw it all out. It turns out that you can have classrooms that thrive without the shaming from public punishment. That you can have well-functioning classrooms without the public behavior charts. That students will try to correct behavior and set goals with you when you remove the element of shame and try to problem solve instead. That they will see you as an ally, rather than just a punisher, and that will get you much further when you try to help them become better human beings.
There are only a few things I am willing to fall on the sword for on this blog. Previous experiences have shown me that most ideas in education are not black and white. There are always more than 2 sides to every story, and every teacher teaches differently, and that does not mean they are not good teachers, it just means they are different. But today, I will make an exception.
The public shaming that happens to students in our schools has to stop. The reliance on public displays of punishement as a way to control behavior has to stop. And the first place we stop it is by getting rid of public behavior charts. Those clip systems that tell the whole world something that should be a private conversation between a teacher, a student, and the parents.
Whether it is a clip-system, the move-your-stick, the flip-your-card, or the put-your-name-on-the-board, and yes I used most of them myself, we have to find a better way. We have to try because we are creating schools where children hate coming. Where parents worry that their child will be singled out for having energy, for being excited, for not being able to sit still all day. Where teachers are forced into roles as enforcers rather than nurturers. I know that there needs to be consequences. I know that we have to help students navigate behavior in our classrooms, but there are better ways then asking a child to create a permanent reminder and public display of how they are having a very bad day.
I am not proud of the mistakes I have made as a teacher. I am not proud of the things I have tried that have hurt children rather than helped them. But I am willing to write about it in the hopes that it will start a dialogue. That perhaps someone, somewhere, will take a moment to rethink something that seems to be so ingrained in our classrooms. That perhaps this post will help someone wonder what they can do instead. Because there is so much that can be done instead, there are so many ways to build community, to build better relationships, to still have consequences, and create classrooms where kids have a chance at thriving. All kids, not just the ones that know how to behave. But we have to take the first step. We have to take down the charts, remove the cups, erase the names. We have to create classrooms that do not run on shame, but run on community. I speak not just from my teacher heart, but from that of a parent. Our children deserve better than this. And it starts with us. Even if it makes us nervous. Even if we are not sure of what to do instead. I will help. Just ask.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) just came out!