I received a warning recently. A non-teaching employee was on a learning walk and saw that a student had headphones while working. I was called by the department head and said that it could never happen again. I said they should follow our school policy closely.
I admit that I may be more flexible than some teachers when it comes to rules. Instead of spending sanctions on every phone I see, every swear word I hear, and every student who is not in his place, I tend to give verbal exhortations and leave it at that.
My school has strict rules and penalties for these things and more – listening to music, wearing a coat at school or, for example, having ties too short. But these problems do not make the difference how well my students learn. I rarely send students out of the classroom because many of these things are so small. In fact, easing some of the rules has helped me triple the issue of a class since the beginning of last year.
At first, I was afraid of the days when I taught these students. They were out of control – impossible to keep silent, to throw things and refuse to work. I had students who hurt or threatened each other. One day I came in to find everything on the ceiling.
But I managed to turn it around. This was done in part by trying out different teaching methods – marking in class, clearing up school time and limiting the time I spent in front of the class – but also because I decided to focus on the bigger picture and not on the little problems of the school.
It made a real difference. Now the students enjoy my topic and trust me. They know that if they go too far, I'll send them out, send them home, or sit them down – but that's not the rule. They are making progress. You ask questions. They know what is expected of them. Parents and management are happy with how far they have come.
I understand the need for rules, but we need flexibility. It has become almost too easy to take a student from a class to the hallway or to the management. Many of my colleagues follow this approach. Students miss large amounts of school due to internal suspensions or isolation from other teachers and fall further behind. They often play more to cover up what they do not know. We should try to build self-confidence, increase classroom time, and help students one to one.
The people who make these decisions do so from their offices rather than from the classroom. Having non-teachers working in a school can be an advantage: for those students who need social care, emotional support, medical care, or military discipline. But they should not make any rules about how we manage our classes. Teachers who have worked their hand up and learn how their students work best should have the last word on this front. Let's take a look at what really matters.
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