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Post taken from our Discipline Help membership website.

There are three variables in every discipline situation: The misbehaving student, the class, and the teacher.  Unless a teacher can control his or her own behavior, all three factors remain variables—and chaos is the predictable result.

If we could somehow remove the discipline problem from the school scene, our contentment, satisfaction, and happiness in teaching might rise appreciably in an instant.  Certainly, much of the frustration and despair we experience as teachers would disappear.  The resulting state of mind would probably make us all better teachers immediately.  But discipline problems will always exist.  However, they can be minimized.  They can be managed quickly and effectively.  That’s why it’s important and necessary that we continually upgrade and improve our ability to cope with them in a professional and successful way.

Understanding Affects Our Strategic Approach

In discipline situations, teacher approach and attitude are paramount.  Many teachers think a misbehaving student should admit wrongdoing immediately, apologize, and never demonstrate that particular behavior again.

Even if this is not what we think, our behavior and action in discipline situations would tend to make one believe it to be.  Too often our thinking is totally in terms of student adjustment.  Seldom do we think predominantly in terms of teacher adjustment.  We should, because failing to do so is our first mistake in handling discipline problems. Tweet this

To be an effective disciplinarian, the teacher must become the primary adjustor.  That’s a fact.  A teacher can be successful in getting students to adjust their behavior only by first adjusting his or her own.  It’s through teacher adjustment that we are enabled to employ various methods, techniques, and skills necessary to get students to change their behavior—and manage a class in the process.

We all know teachers who never make any adjustments.  Rather, they look to the student to be the sole adjustor.  In addition, many think only of handling discipline problems with a three-step approach.  First, they try to be nice.  Second, if they don’t find success in being nice, they think in terms of being mean.  Finally, if being nice or being mean doesn’t work, they think in terms of asking their administrator to get the student out of the classroom.  A teacher’s repertoire of human relations skills needs to be greater than three techniques if he or she is to be effective in handling discipline problems.  That’s why it’s absolutely imperative that we understand the variables which exist in all discipline situations.

The Three Variables And You

Every classroom discipline problem has at least three variables: The teacher, the problem student, and the rest of the class.  All these variables are interrelated and affect each other—in both the present and future senses.  Equally important, each remains a variable until teacher adjustment makes it controllable.  Teachers would be wise to ponder this simple but profound fact for it is vital to their effectiveness. Tweet this

If you will think about it for a moment, common sense will reveal that there is only one of the three variables that a teacher can always control immediately; that variable is himself or herself.  If a teacher cannot control his or her own behavior in a discipline situation he or she will only increase the probability of more trouble with the other two variables—not just the misbehaving student.  In truth, herein lies a basic problem of most teachers who fail in discipline situations.  Their response to misbehavior is personal rather than professional.  Worse, they think in terms of student adjustment rather than teacher adjustment.

For example, if a doctor told me to lose twenty pounds and, when I returned for an examination, found that I had not lost weight, what should the doctor do?  Should he or she rant, rave, threaten, issue ultimatums, or kick me out of the office?  Should he or she tell me I don’t deserve medical advice?  Absolutely not.  His or her reaction must be professional.  He or she must think in terms of professional doctor adjustment.  The problem is mine—not the doctor’s.  I did not fail to lose weight to spite him or her.  If I had, my problem would be magnified.  Regardless, only by relating to me professionally, and adjusting methods and techniques in procedure, can the doctor hope to help me solve my problem.  That’s the difference between reacting personally and reacting professionally.  The same is true in the classroom.

If a problem arises—even if it’s the umpteenth time—and the teacher explodes, what is the result?  The problem has been made worse.  All three variables remain, and the one which should be controlled first, the professional teacher, appears to be the one most out of control.  Then should the problem student or classmates be the ones who should be expected to balance the situation?  Remember, if the teacher reacts as a controlled variable, then chances are the rest of the class will automatically become a controlled variable too.  That leaves only the discipline problem to deal with rather than an entire class.  That’s why the teacher must be the first and primary adjustor with a discipline problem.  It all begins with the teacher.  No matter what the classroom incident, nothing can happen and nothing will happen in a positive way until the teacher has control of self.  The vast majority of teachers who fail in discipline situations do so because they were never taught this one simple foundation principle.  Even after years in the classroom, they still think it is the student, not they, who should do the adjusting.

Remember, there are three variables present in every discipline situation.  The first controllable variable is you.

Those teachers with the most unsolvable discipline problems are usually those who cannot control themselves.  As a result, they make every situation worse—for themselves, the problem student, and the rest of the class.  Nine times out of ten their problems begin because they take every classroom incident personally and react to it in a personal way.  They can magnify the dropping of a book on the floor into a major event resulting in total confusion for all.  They will punish an entire class for the actions of one, stop and lecture all if one is not listening, or create a new rule with every isolated incident.

If it’s obvious that a doctor must react professionally, certainly one can easily see that it’s an absolute necessity for a teacher to do so.  While the doctor has but one patient at a time, the teacher has a roomful of students.  And the doctor seldom has witnesses.  He or she serves most patients behind closed doors.  Relationships with other patients may be impaired by rumor but seldom by observed fact.  This is not true for the teacher.  The whole class watches and is affected by our every action.  If we cannot control ourselves, then certainly there is little we can do to control the other two variables—the problem student and the class.


Never forget, there are three variables in every discipline situation: The teacher, the student, and the class.  And of the three variables, there is only one that you can control immediately—you.  If you cannot control yourself, it’s very unlikely that you can control either the misbehaving student or the rest of the class.  That’s why you, as a teacher, must be the primary adjustor in every discipline situation.  And in the process, you must act professionally rather than react personally.  If you take misbehavior personally and react personally, you will become part of the problem.  In time, you may become the primary problem insofar as correcting misbehavior is concerned in your classroom—or in the halls, auditorium, or cafeteria.

View a PDF version of the accompanying study guide.

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