When is a discipline problem not a discipline problem? When it's a miscall! Howard Seeman explains why prevention and knowing when to discipline can be more important than knowing how. Seeman shares his thoughts about preventive discipline, effective classroom management, the state of teacher education, and more.
Howard Seeman, Ph.D., a former public school teacher in New York City and professor of education at Lehman College, City University of New York, has supervised student teachers for more than 30 years. A national consultant on classroom management, Seeman has published more than two dozen articles in education, psychology, and philosophy and has been a keynote speaker at many national education conferences. His book, Preventing Classroom Discipline Problems: A Classroom Management Handbook, is in its third edition. The handbook is used in more than 300 U.S. school districts and more than 30 additional schools around the world. Seeman also teaches an online course, Preventing Classroom Discipline Problems. You can learn more about that course at Classroom Management Online.
Education World has a detailed review of the latest edition of Seeman's book. Click here to read that review.
Howard Seeman shared with Education World his thoughts about preventive discipline, effective classroom management, the state of teacher education, and more.
Education World: Your book, Preventing Classroom Discipline Problems: A Classroom Management Handbook, is designed to help teachers prevent discipline problems that interfere with student learning. How do you define a discipline problem?
Howard Seeman: A smart question! This crucial question is seldom asked or answered in most texts on classroom discipline, which rush to provide solutions before making a distinction between a discipline problem and what I have come to call, after 30 years in the field, a "miscall." A miscall occurs when a teacher treats a situation or an incident as a discipline problem when it is not. That misidentification often creates anger among students, thus causing a real discipline problem. Knowing when to discipline kids and when to let the behavior slide is the first skill needed by effective teachers. I've devoted an entire chapter of my book to that subject.
EW: What is the most common classroom discipline problem in middle and high school? in elementary school?
Seeman: In elementary grades, the most common problem is inattention -- often caused by teachers who do not know how to distribute rewards and attention during a lesson -- that leads to disruptive behavior. In the middle and high schools, calling out is a frequent, if minor, problem, followed by inattention leading to note passing and neighbor talking and fears and behaviors associated with drug abuse and weapon possession. The solutions to those and many other problems lie in training teachers to develop motivating lessons, to implement prevention techniques, to handle student participation, and to provide clear rules with backup rewards and punishments.
EW: What kinds of discipline problems do high school teachers seem to be most concerned about?
Seeman: High school teachers seem to be most concerned about fighting and drug and weapon possession
EW: What common mistakes do teachers make in disciplining students?
Seeman: Miscalls and a failure to learn prevention strategies for real discipline problems are the most common mistakes teachers make. Preventing discipline problems is vital. It's better to learn why the barn door opened than to keep working on how to get the horse back in. We can learn from the fact that Johnny is often a brat in period 3 but usually an angel in period 4. His personality does not change when the bell rings!
EW: What can schools of education do to better prepare teachers to deal with classroom discipline problems?
Seeman: So much! This is the most important -- and the most neglected -- area of teacher education. It's also the area that education professors know least about. No matter how well a teacher knows the subject matter or how well he or she can teach it, a teacher who cannot manage a class is finished!
EW: What resources can school systems provide to help teachers deal with discipline problems?
Seeman: Administrators need to develop policies on rewards, punishments, and the definition of behavior problems with their teachers and then back up the teachers as they implement those policies. Parental backup is important as well.
EW: Do you find that incidents of violence in U.S. schools have made teachers afraid to discipline students?
Seeman: Yes! That's why they need administrative and parental backup.
EW: This is the third edition of your book. Have discipline problems changed since the first edition was published in 1980?
Seeman: Yes. There's more violent behavior, more drug abuse, and more concern about students' carrying weapons. For the most part, however, only the content of the culture of children has changed. The challenge -- managing students who are surrounded by peers, who are trying to grow up, learn, and feel more confident amid the turmoil of adolescence -- is the same.
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