Posts Tagged ‘Consequences’

Does Getting Students to Apologise Really Achieve Anything?

November 18, 2011

Last week I wrote about the difficulties teachers face in finding punishments that work. Probably the most popular consequence for breaking a school law is the “apology”.  Teachers have traditionally required students to apologise to them or a classmate before that child can reclaim their privileges.

My problem with this, is it’s very rarely an honest, authentic apology.  Usually it is said under duress and the child has no alternative but give the teacher what they want to hear.

It’s just like the fight we used to have with our siblings when growing up:

“Go on!  Apologise to your sister!”

How many times did we actually mean it when we said sorry?

And that’s what teachers face on a daily basis.  It’s like pulling teeth!

“Sorry …”

“What are you sorry for?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well you can’t say you’re sorry and not know what you’re sorry about.”

For even worse infringements the apology is ramped up to a public apology.  This is when the student is made a spectacle over so as to show the others that there is a penalty to be paid for overstepping the mark.  Again, is it really worthwhile if the student’s apology isn’t genuine?

Sometimes I feel like we impose the apology so we can close the chapter and get on with life. The chid has made the apology, I dealt with it and now we can move on. It’s more about seeming to do something rather than actually doing something.

The problem with this is that mistakes that haven’t been learnt from get repeated. Chances are, the apology will not mean much weeks later when the child breaks the same rule again.

Whilst I understand the “apology method” and have personally subscribed to it more times than I feel comfortable admitting to, perhaps it should be the last step in a more extensive response.

For example, in the case of an argument between two students, perhaps we should spend more time mediating the kids and letting them exchange view and clearing the air. Some do this already, others are reluctant to use the time (and go for a quick apology instead).  Only when it seems that both sides can appreciate the other’s point of view, should we request the apology.  That way it will be genuine and longer lasting.

Elton John once sang that “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.”

It’s only hard when the person saying it, actually means it.

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Teachers Stripped of the Ability to Give Punishments That Work

November 11, 2011

We are currently living in the age of “the hamstrung teacher’. Never has it been so hard for teachers to gain control, receive respect and maintain some semblance of authority.

Blogs and staff rooms are replete with dispirited and powerless teachers struggling with unruly and defiant students. It wasn’t long ago that teachers were able to meter out tough and effective consequences for bad behaviour. Unfortunately, it is so much harder now than it ever was to find the right penalty for inappropriate and insubordinate behaviour.

Why not send them to the Principal?

The Principal used to be an imposing figure. – someone you didn’t want to meet, even to get a certificate or compliment. Students used to avoid the Principal like a plague. Principal’s used to concern themselves with discipline issues and take charge when students overstepped the mark.  But nowadays a visit to the Principal’s office is not all that dissimilar to a trip to the fun park. A Principal’s job now is to keep parents and students happy and leave the real disciplining to the teachers.

“Next time try not calling the teacher those names.”

What about suspending them?

Nine hundred students are suspended every day in England. In Australia it is 100 per day. Being suspended used to be a humiliation. It would involve notifying the students’ parents, who would be none too happy to receive the phone call. Now suspensions presents just another opportunity to get back to the Playstation or X-Box. Parents often reassure their kids and allow them to go home and vegetate. Hardly a real punishment!

What about taking away their recess?

Don’t tell the civil libertarians about this mode of punishment! According to law, students can only be kept in for some of recess, not the entire playtime. And anyway, why should the teacher be punished? Teachers rely on their lunch breaks to recharge and re-energize. Monitoring detention just isn’t fair.

What about ringing the parents?

Parents used to be on the side of the teacher. When a teacher called a parent, that parent would take stock of what the teacher was saying and become partners in helping manage the problem. Nowadays, parents are likely to become defensive, make excuses and become unwitting enablers for their children’s poor behaviour.

Please note, that I am not tainting all parents. On the contrary, the parents I work with have been incredibly open and supportive. I am merely pointing out that trends are changing and punishments that used to make students squirm and think twice before acting, are now no longer a deterrent.

It is also important to note that most teachers are not trigger happy when it comes to punishments. We don’t like punishing students. We try to command respect rather than demand it. But there are times when all semblance of control is lost and students are purposely trying to sabotage the class and undermine their teacher.

In those cases, the teacher is often left to raise their arms skyward and ponder what it is they can do to remedy the situation.


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