Are you a counter? Counters are teachers who give their students a command and then count until they obey. Or maybe you prefer the soccer card approach, giving out red, yellow and green cards based on student behavior. You may even be a little retro and prefer sticker charts to keep track of student misbehavior. While there’s nothing inherently sinful or shocking about any of those systems, I encourage you to rethink your classroom management approach.
The issue with counting, cards and stickers is that they reinforce conditional obedience. As a teacher I once know often said, “Counting teaches kids fractions not obedience.” As a Bible class teacher or a tutor in a faith based program, you want to point your students towards God. Part of pointing them towards God is teaching them the vital importance of obeying God. Now, I realize, God is exceedingly patient and graceful, but even the Bible points out God has his limits.
I have found the best classroom management tool is “first time obedience”. This means when I ask a student to do something, I fully expect they will do what I ask immediately. The only exception is if they appeal with a valid reason (not excuse) why they need a little extra time or are unable to obey. First time disobedience is met with a verbal reminder of the rules and the necessity for immediate obedience or appeal. Consequences for continued disobedience may vary depending upon the circumstances and the class, but they should be given to students consistently. It may take a few class sessions for your students to understand you really do expect first time obedience. Once they realize you are serious, you will be amazed at the improvement in behavior of the many children who are used to inconsistent limits and their enforcement.
Consistency is actually the other problem with counting, cards and consequences in many classrooms. The consistency of expectations for good behavior is often closely related to the mood of the teacher that day. If the teacher is in a good mood, it is not uncommon to hear four, four and a quarter, four and a third, four and a half, etc. Teacher has a migraine? No one has every counted as quickly from one to five. Be aware of your own moods and try to maintain consistent discipline no matter how you feel.
The exception is if you are having one of your worst days ever. I think it is valid to let your students know age appropriate information and ask for their help. “I received very sad news right before class today, so it is hard for me to teach. Will you guys please help me out by being on your best behavior today? I will try not to be sad/mad around you, but please forgive me if I forget.” You will be amazed at how quickly children will rise to the challenge. It teaches them to think of others and help them when they are hurting. It also reminds them sometimes people make questionable choices not because of them, but because of something else that has happened in the other person’s life.
So stop counting. Throw out those cards and stop buying stickers. Introduce your students to the concept of first time obedience. Not only will your classroom be more manageable, but you are teaching your students a life skill that is invaluable at home, school, work and when making spiritual decisions.