Critical Analysis 2.0

Teacher Credibility and School Discipline

by Jerri Coutts

The issue I have chosen to examine for analysis is the loss of a teacher's credibility in the eyes of their Principals when sending disruptive students to the office for discipline. I had never really considered this topic until a recent discussion with a good friend. In her school, there is no school-wide discipline plan. She had elaborated on how her principal negatively views the credibility of his/her teachers that send students to the front office for discipline.
I find this topic rather timely with the increasing inclusion of Special needs students into the classroom, testing demands and strictly regimented school days which have created a chronic temporal constraint in classrooms. As a result, educators have little time to effectively deal with disruptive students. The aforementioned factors increase the tendency for an educator to send disruptive students to their principal's office rather than allocating precious classroom time to resolve the problem.

The cultural frame a principal has created at their school can have a dramatic impact on how teachers are viewed. I'll examine two potential scenarios. In the first scenario is a principal who has not established a school-wide discipline plan. Principals such as this are unlikely to suffer frequent disciplinary visits to their office without the specter of negative repercussions for the offending teacher. This particular scenario creates a double bind situation for the teacher. Keeping the disruptive student in the classroom eats away time that could be spent teaching. Sending the student to the front office irritates this principal who is likely to impart negative consequences onto the teacher. This is typical of a dominant-submissive hierarchical principal-teacher relationship. The negative consequences will likely impact the teacher's future classroom choice, student selections, committee participation and professional standing among peers. In my friend's case, her principal is known to return the offending student to the teacher's room with instructions for her to handle it herself. The negative message this sends to the teacher is devastatingly loud and clear. Secondary consequences from this action now only complicate the situation further. Offending students realize they can get out of class by merely acting up. The other students in the class realize the teacher has no support and quickly "zone-out" as the teacher is forced to deal with the student. Under this type of negative environment, the principal /teacher relationship tends to self destruct over time.

In a second and contrasting scenario, a principal with an established school-wide discipline plan may routinely handle disciplinary visits to their office in stride. The cultural frame of this particular principal is much different and is indicative of a reciprocal or give and take teacher/principal hierarchical relationship. Principals such as this one foster a nurturing school environment. In this scenario, there is no double bind for the teacher. The disruptive student is expeditiously removed from the classroom and the lesson may resume for the remaining students. The offending student gets the corrective action needed and the teacher is able to carry on with the day's lesson. The remaining students in the classroom can remain focused and resume their classroom activities. The teacher's decision to send the student to the front office is supported by this principal. The teacher can focus on her class and the fulfillment of her curriculum. Most teachers want to work in this type of nurturing school environment.

Effective Principals are respectful and communicate well with their staff. Principals that are disliked and are unapproachable typically create environments that are not conducive to learning. New teachers, especially those with little experience in classroom management would benefit greatly in having a written detailed discipline plan supported by the Principal and the front office staff. A proactive approach would involve allowing teachers to have input as to what level of misbehavior justifies sending a student to the office. An agreed upon plan in the beginning of the year would give teachers time to communicate with families the expected classroom conduct and its significance to academic achievement.

Fortunately, I find myself in the second scenario for the time being. As no situation is static forever, it does tend to make me appreciate the principal I currently work for more than ever. I find myself contemplating the type of principal I may find myself working for in the distant future and will be mindful of how I will administer my classroom management.

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