The Efficacy of Punishment
Corporal punishment is legal under federal law. The Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that the Eighth Amendment only protects convicted criminals from cruel and unusual punishment. School students are not protected.* Of course, as used in the schools, and it still is in many, it’s a heavily regulated practice. Students aren’t immediately slapped by the teacher. Rather they are turned over to an administrator who applies the punishment as stipulated in the school rules. It is the ultimate punishment.
Is it a good idea? NO it isn’t. When a teacher has to resort to the highest level of punishment available, especially when it has to be administered by someone else, it’s an admission of the teacher’s failure to control the student by virtue of his leadership. The obstreperous student has won.
Good behavior control in the classroom is based first on a mutual understanding that what is going on during the class is just too important to be disrupted by inappropriate behavior. Of course the first step in conveying that message is for the teacher to maintain an academic, purpose-driven lesson plan. In such a setting there will be considerable social pressure from other kids that discourages outbursts. There is certainly room for occasional humor and friendly banter, but wasting time or endlessly yukking it up with the kids will surely encourage them to do the same. And who could blame them?
Mild misbehavior or inattentiveness should be handled with a disapproving look or polite request to get back on task. These techniques are described in length elsewhere on this website. Indeed, any form of punishment is counterproductive as it indicates a failure of leadership. Your job is to teach. Anyone who interferes with that, and won’t stop, should be quietly removed. You could have them sit in the back of the room, or the hall, or even in the principal’s office. Of course you will welcome them back when they’ve convinced you they have settled down.
Beyond making the teacher look weak, corporal punishment teaches students that physical force and pain are an accepted way to control others. Also, it may have a depressing effect on learning. One study which compared improvements in ACT scores from 1994 to 2008 found that states where paddling was forbidden had improvement rates three times higher than those which didn’t.
Punishment of any sort drives a wedge between you and your students. So, what should you do? Certainly you’ll have times when you’ll have to correct misbehavior. Rather than punishing, you might say, “Josh, please stop doing that. You’re distracting others and wasting class time. It’s just not fair for you to interfere with the education of all the other students. If you don’t stop I’ll just have to remove you until you promise to stop.” Of course, this conversation should be done as quietly and as privately as possible – not something you shout across the room. While others might inevitably overhear it, your demeanor should indicate that you aren’t trying to embarrass him by making him a public spectacle. You aren’t acting out of anger, although you are, perhaps, a bit disappointed in him. He’s is forcing you to remove him to protect the learning environment that your other students deserve.
*Currently (2012) these states still allow corporal punishment: Alabama Arizona Arkansas Colorado Florida Georgia Idaho Indiana Kansas Kentucky Louisiana Mississippi Missouri North Carolina Oklahoma South Carolina Tennessee Texas Wyoming