Consequence vs. punishment

Suffering ??

Moral judgment

Strike before the iron is hot

The final step in the escalating series of remedies is the use of consequences. There is a fundamental difference between a consequence and a punishment. A punishment is often imposed in a moment of anger. It is really a form of revenge. “You have made me miserable for 30 minutes, so now I’ll make you suffer.” A consequence, on the other hand, should be seen by the student as a natural and inevitable result of his actions. In order for consequences to be effective, the following steps and considerations should be observed.

1. First, you must be certain that the student understands why his behavior was objectionable and what he needs to do to correct it. You should target specific behaviors that you wish to correct.

2. Privately discuss the consequence with the student even to the point of asking for her input. Once away from their peers, these students can sometimes be quite reasonable.

3. The consequence should be as close to reality as possible. If the student persists in rocking back in his chair, the consequence should be to stand for the rest of the period. This makes more sense than having them write a hundred sentences.

4. Undue suffering should not be a component of the consequence; nor should corporal punishment, even if legal. Legal ramifications aside, a teacher who resorts to corporal punishment has admitted defeat by applying the ultimate penalty.

5. While discussing the consequence, never make moral judgments about the goodness or badness of the student. It is the behavior which is objectionable, never the student. Your thrust must always be that he is a valued member of the class. You only wish all his contributions would be positive.

6. The student must feel that he always has a choice. He can be quiet or sit in the back of the room. He can stop throwing paper wads or go to the principal’s office. Naturally, the consequence should be more unpleasant than refraining from the act. Giving the kid time out in the hall might actually be appealing if there are others in the hall to talk with.

7. If time out is the consequence, as is often appropriate, the student should have the option of returning when he is ready to behave. You might say after the first infraction that he should wait at least ten minutes and then return if he is willing to behave. If it happens again, the minimum time out might be extended to a whole period. Again, you are offering the student some power in the situation by giving him choices. Since he retains some control, he is less likely to feel subjected to what he might feel to be your capricious whims.

8. Don’t protect the student from the consequence. If she is to move to the back if she talks to her neighbor, you must move her immediately on the first occurrence. You must be consistent. If the consequence is applied intermittently, it will encourage kids to try to get away with misbehavior.

9. Once the consequence has been applied, you should find some way to let the student know it’s over. His slate is clean. He shouldn’t be expected to carry the burden of past transgressions.

10. Throughout this process, you should always look for opportunities to praise appropriate behavior as well as let the student know that you still value him as an individual.

Here is a possible exchange between a teacher and two talkative students (the most common form of minor but persistent misbehavior) who have not responded to lesser forms of control. Notice how the teacher goes out of his way to show respect for the students. Also, this conversation is best done in a whisper while standing in front of the two students. You should make it as private as possible, even by kneeling or bending down so as not to appear to be lording over them.

Teacher: “I know you aren’t doing it to bother anyone, but you two are doing too much talking when you should be quiet. It does distract your neighbors.”

Scott: “We talk because we’re helping each other.”

Teacher: “Yes, I know you help each other sometimes. But I have also heard you talking about the weekend or whatever. I don’t want you to stop talking altogether, just when I expect the class to be quiet. What do you think I should do about it?

Larry: “I don’t know.”

Scott: “Just tell us to be quiet.”

Teacher: “Well, Scott, I’ve tried that without success. I don’t want to embarrass you two in front of the class, so let’s do this. If I think you should be quiet, I’ll just give you a dirty look. But if you don’t get quiet, I’ll point to one of you. That will mean that you have to take your books to the back of the room to sit for the rest of the period.”

Obviously, such an exchange could not take place if the teacher is angry and emotions are running high. That is why it’s so important to address inappropriate behavior long before you have been pushed beyond the limits of your patience.

Go to “When to Quit

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