Saturday, November 14, 2009

Whole Class Punishment

Something I was guilty of quite a lot last year was punishing an entire classroom of students for the behavior of a few crazy students. When nearly an entire class is in an uproar and you're battling a group of thirty-plus students day in and day out it's hard not to get frustrated, accuse an entire class of being out of line and dish out a group punishment. If you think about it though, it is pretty unfair to punish the students, however few they may be, who are sitting through class always trying to do the right thing, but who are stuck in a room with way too many other students, many of whom are not in the right setting to be academically productive and who tend to act out each and every day in class.

Last year I found myself saying a lot of things like "you all need to understand that there are people out there that will ruin things and you need to learn to hold them accountable." This seems a bit misdirected. In a setting where keeping others accountable is not dreamed of, let alone embraced, punishing the students doing the right thing may only lead to them to acting out with the rest of the class in the future. The students doing their jobs depend on you to manage the class. Whether you do or not is not the issue. You are punishing those students because you are having difficulty managing the class. That's how they see it.

During the day I had an explosion last week I also had difficulty in another class, which was also on the verge of rebelling against silent reading. After trying to have another discussion on why it's important to learn to read non-fiction, a couple students starting goofing off and calling out to the class, ridiculing reading and the teaching methods in my classroom. As I was already irritable, I acted rashly. Instead of doing some role-playing to show what good interview skills are, I made them get quiet and write down PowerPoint slides instead- hardly sound teaching. The kicker was that a student pointed out that it was because of two students that twenty-eight were now having to write a ton of notes instead of doing what I'd planned for them.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't do what you can to help your classes realize their actions affect other students. Keeping a whole class a couple minutes into lunch until they are quiet so that they don't storm out into the hallway and the rest of the school being obnoxious is not a bad idea. I do that on a regular basis and the students then keep one another in check. There might also be instances when in order to preserve order and even safety in the classroom you'll have to shut everyone down as best you can and have them do something that is not very academic. In the case of the SSR near-rebellion, I didn't have much else planned to pull out of my hat to teach interview skills, so I made them write down what those skills are in hopes that some of it would be used. Had I been more calm and collected I would probably would have been able to gain control of the class and move forward with the lesson, but I made the decision to punish the class and then had to stick with it.

Be very careful about punishing a whole group of people. If you're pissed off and not thinking clearly, you may want to hold off on delving out large swaths of detention times and extra work. There are still times that I feel the whole class deserves some kind of punishment, but I'm doing my best not to act on it when I'm angry in the classroom.

Today's Wine: Kaiken Malbec. This one is out of Argentina. I need to pay more attention to the qualities of the wines I'm drinking. I got lazy with this one and simply thought "pretty good!" Perhaps that kind of review is enough though.


  1. When I was in high school, some of the students in a Spanish class made humming sounds every day and convinced our first year teacher that it was the heater. She reported it to maintenance and eventually realized that the kids were making the noise. She was so angry and punished the whole class with mounds of homework for several weeks. I never made the noise and lived in fear of the kids that did. I think you are wise to realize that punishing the whole class is wrong. Of course, to be honest, I'm sure I did it a few times myself. Have you tried Franciscan cabernet? It is one of my favorites.

  2. It may be one of the things we all do from time to time, unfortunately. I have a class this year with about seven young men who like to make a loud, high-pitched noise whenever I'm not looking at them. It's really tough not to punish the half of the class it's coming from sometimes. I've even talked to some of them who say they have nothing against me and that they even have a lot of respect for me, but they think it's absolutely hilarious whenever anyone makes the noise and don't really see the problem with it.

    Thanks for the wine recommendation!