Get the year off to a good start

Tips adapted from the NEA's New Members CD, "It's All About Kids."

Practices for minimizing discipline problems should begin on the first day of class. Here are some tips for starting the year off right:

Learn School Policies: Before meeting a class for the first time, you need to know what the school expects from both student and teacher in regard to discipline.

Establish Rules: First, establish a set of classroom rules to guide the behavior of students. If "rules" sounds too harsh, use "guidelines." With younger students, rules should be rather general and pertain to behaviors, such as paying attention, showing respect for others, avoiding excessive noise, and securing materials. With older students, rules can be more specific. The rationale for each rule should be presented to students, and the teacher should ensure that they understand and see a need for each rule.

Discuss Expectations: Within the first few days, let students know what you will require them to do in class, what you hope to achieve, and how the class will operate. This helps reduce student tension and confusion.

Overplan Lessons: You will want to impress upon students from the very beginning that you are organized and have "all bases covered." What you do during the first week or two will help establish student expectations of what you value and expect from them.

Learn Names: Devise a seating arrangement that helps you learn names quickly. "John and Harold, stop talking and finish your work" is much more effective for John and Harold than "Let's stop talking and finish our work."

Be Firm and Consistent: Begin the year with confidence in yourself, firmness in dealing with students, and consistency in dealing with disruptive behaviors. Firmness does not mean harshness. A teacher can be firm and still be friendly, supportive, and warm with students.

Deal with Disruptive Behavior: Keep these suggestions in mind when dealing with disruptive behavior: Avoid making the punishment or reprimand personal. Indicate that George is disrupting the class, not that he is bothering you. Avoid using sarcastic remarks. Sarcasm is directed toward the person, not the misbehavior. Avoid making threats that are not followed through. Students soon lose respect for and confidence in the teacher who states, "Stop that or else!" when the "else" never comes. Avoid inexplicit statements or reprimands like "All right, let's knock it off!" In a tense situation, the use of humor might be the best course of action. When a possible challenge is perceived to the teacher's authority, humor can be used to negate the challenge. Don't be ashamed or hesitant to ask for help. Principals, guidance counselors, and school psychologists are there to help teachers -- use them.

Schedule Conferences When Necessary: Many teachers wait too long before conducting a student-teacher or parent-teacher conference to discuss a problem situation. Holding a student-teacher conference provides you an opportunity to get to know the student better, identify possible causes of the problem, and plan with the student possible courses of action to solve the problem.

Become Familiar with Relevant Laws: The federal Gun-Free Schools Act, enacted in 1994, requires states to expel any student who brings a gun to school. All 50 states are in compliance with the law, which extends federal funding to support the purchase of metal detectors, hiring of guards, and other safety measures. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) not only ensures that students with disabilities receive equal access to educational opportunities in our nation's public schools, it also states that students with disabilities who bring guns, weapons, or drugs to school may be suspended for as many as 45 days, from the current 11. In addition, students who pose harm to themselves or others must have their placements reviewed by a hearing officer. Beyond the Gun-Free Schools Act and IDEA, many states have their own laws that govern violent and disruptive behavior.