I remember the first time I started teaching. I would have those disruptive learners interrupting my lessons and I would send them to the office so that the school principal deals with them for misbehaviour. I came to understand that as I send these learners to the office I was actually trying to be confident in my ability to control my class and using the principal as a weapon to discipline.
Confidence is an important trait in a teacher, but so is humility. Although I don’t subscribe to the belief that a teacher never truly arrives or can never reach a high level of excellence, I do believe in the continual need to be self-aware of one’s mistakes and open to new ideas.
A dose of humility keeps us flexible and willing to try a different approach when the current one isn’t working. Having said that, I must be very careful with what I’m going to say next. I don’t want to appear as though I’m singing my own praises because this couldn’t be further from truth. Doing so would be bad. What I’m about to say is important for discussion so forgive me if I sound like I’m bragging.
The first time I sent a learner to the principal’s office was my first and the last time. I have never again sent a learner to the principal’s office for misbehaviour.
This is not something that I’m proud of nor is it something that I’m promoting. This is simply what I personally believe that every time you send a learner to someone else (i.e. the principal’s office) for a behaviour issue, you weaken your authority and consequently, your ability to handle future problems.
The only exception to this would be an incident involving dangerous or grossly insubordinate behaviour, which would need to be documented. Still, you would want to be the point person when deciding upon a consequence, in collaboration with your principal, and delivering the resulting verdict to the learner and his or her parent(s).
When you are witnessing a fight, being challenged and cursed at, and knowing that a learner has brought a weapon to school are all examples of behaviour that must be overseen by a school principal. All other behaviour related issues should be dealt with solely by the class teacher. Every time you send a learner to the office, you are actually communicating to your learners that you don’t have full command of your classroom.
In fact you are saying, “I can’t handle this problem myself, so I need to find someone with greater authority who can”. Do this enough, and you’ll begin to question your ability to control your classroom. Sending your learners to the principal’s office will hurt your teaching confidence.
To make matters worse, by allowing someone else to handle a behaviour issue far from your classroom, you give up your control by passing on the opportunity to teach an important life lesson. And that someone else, presumably the principal, often has his or her hands tied.
School principals always have their hands full. They are too busy monitoring learners in detention, those who are late, and even those who are also sent to the office by other teachers. They mostly rely on strong lectures and assurance from learners that their behaviour will change.
This becomes a weak behaviour management method because the learner may not even see the school principal for several days. We need to understand that being a school principal doesn’t necessarily make a person better to be able to handle behaviour problems.
This idea of sending learners to the principal’s office is probably as old as time. I also remember when I was young in primary school I would see my classmates being sent to the office by the teacher to get a hiding from the principal. We were terrified of him.
This idea of a single person having enough influence (i.e. fear) to affect the behaviour of learners in every classroom is all gone. Sure, principals may be able to provide a temporary fix, but the class teacher has a much greater potential to influence learners and their behaviour choices.
And again, as I have mentioned before, when you send a learner to the principal’s office, your learners (probably the whole class) will no longer see you as the final decision maker. The result will be a loss of a certain level of respect, especially from those learners who have a tendency to misbehave. Your learners need to see you as the ultimate authority in the classroom.
It’s important to remember that it is authority that produces respect (i.e. an authoritative style), not resentment, which is often produced from an authoritarian style of classroom management. Sending learners to the office doesn’t work. In the long run, it contributes nothing towards making lasting positive behavioural changes in your learners.
Now its your turn. Do you think sending your learners to the principal’s office weakens your ability to control your class? Let me know in the comments below.