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Do Your Students Really Know What You Want?

"Johnny, I don't ever want to catch you lying to me again." Is that really what you meant to say? I suspect not. I hope not! Although you are telling Johnny not to lie to you, a child might rationalize, "It's okay to lie if I don't get caught."!

It doesn't take much time or research to arrive at the same conclusion that many veteran teachers have: Teachers are facing more behavior problems from children in our schools today than ever before. Yet, more than 2,000 years ago Socrates wrote:

The children now love luxury; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are tyrants, not servants of the households. They no longer rise when their elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize over their teachers.

Children, it seems, have not really changed; however, statistics seem to indicate that the number of students creating problems has. Is it possible that we are encouraging students to be disobedient by the way we handle disciplinary procedures?

Often students are not being told exactly what is expected of them, and then, compounding the problem, schools are making rules and not enforcing them. Being vague concerning what is expected or having a book full of regulations does not teach a young person the self-discipline necessary to be successful in life.

Our Lord was a master teacher. Of course He was much more, but notice the reference in regard to his teaching ability in Matthew 7:29. "He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." His teaching, unlike that of the scribes, was clear and straightforward. The result was that they were astonished (v. 28). Astonish your students! Tell them exactly what you want them to do and be prepared to back up what you say.

One teacher I observed several years ago made the following response to a student who was talking during the teacher's lecture. "Susan, you are talking while I am talking. What's wrong with you? Why do you do that all the time?" In all this verbiage the teacher never once clearly told Susan what she wanted her to do. Susan may have asked herself a lot of questions. She may have developed a feeling of insecurity, but in this case she didn't stop talking. The frustrated teacher concluded afterwards, "Nothing works with that girl." Contrast the more effective response: "Susan, stop talking."

A look at many student handbooks does not prove to be much different. "The tardy bell rings at 8:05." Rules that are vague like this produce anxiety in many students. Questions arise like, "Where am I to be when the tardy bell rings? What should I be doing? Am I tardy when it starts ringing or when it stops ringing?"

On the other hand, when we tell students clearly and specifically what we want them to do, and then do not back up our words with action, we teach them to be disobedient. A rule may state clearly that a student is tardy when he is not seated quietly at his desk by the time the tardy bell stops ringing, but if there is a violation and no consequence results, the student may conclude, "It is all right to break the rule as long as I don't go too far." The student's anxiety level begins to rise, and he feels insecure because he does not know for sure where the boundary is. Now the game begins. The inquisitive mind of a child wants to know, "How far can I go before I `get nailed'?" He knows the written rule, but now he wants to know what the enforced rule is. He experiments until he finds out, and he considers the enforced rule to be the "acceptable" rule.

About the time the student has been effectively "taught" to experiment with school rules and has "learned" to do so effectively, he has reached the age of the young automobile operator. "It worked at school," he reasons, "so what about on the highway?" The speed limit is posted at 55, so he begins testing. And, lo and behold, it works! The posted limit is 55, but the enforced limit is 60 (or whatever he perceives it to be). So now he drives at the perceived rate without a sense of guilt, because in his mind he is driving at the rate that is "acceptable." The trench has been dug deeper. In many other cases, people push and test the written law, but when caught and brought to trial, they feel bitter because they have conditioned their minds that they were living within the "acceptable" law.

Unfortunately, we may have taught some people to "experiment" with God's Word the same way. Many people have the mistaken concept that God has the same attitude toward His Word. Men and women rationalize, "As long as we don't go too far, God won't mind." They have learned well from our instruction, but they have learned wrong. What an awesome responsibility falls on the shoulders of the Christian teacher! Everything we do, everything we say in that classroom teaches our students something about God's and His Word.

Perhaps we would do well to consider the words of Hebrews 12, the classic passage that describes God's discipline of His children. The passage concludes with the "wherefore" of verse 12, and the verbs that follow in the next few verses teach concepts that would be well for us to learn as teachers and administrators: "lift up," "make straight," "follow peace," and "looking diligently." Those who weave these concepts into their disciplinary structure will help students avoid the pitfalls of an undisciplined life as given in verses 15 and 16: "bitterness" and eventually the end product, the "profane person."

by Richard Seeley. Updated October 21, 2015.