How do you handle discipline problems?

A: One of the most important lessons I learned early in my pre-service training was the fact that, when students act out, teachers should always admonish behaviors rather than personalities. In other words, instead of saying, "I've had it with you, Carla. You're always late!" it would be far more appropriate and far more productive to address the behavior. For example, "Carla, your tardiness disrupts the class and makes it difficult for me to begin a lesson." By focusing on the behavior, the student is given the opportunity and responsibility to make a change. When teachers punish the student, rather than the behavior, then that responsibility is taken away. And I definitely want my students to be responsible.

Here's another question that frequently comes up. In responding, as in the previous question, be very precise and direct; don't try to make up an answer. It would also be appropriate to cite an example of when you had to discipline a student and what resulted from that encounter.

How would you involve students in the development of classroom rules?

A: I think it would be very important to take time at the beginning of the school year and invite students to contribute a set of expectations about behavior. During an initial brainstorming session, I would look for groupings or clusters of ideas. I would want to take time to talk with students about how they could combine their ideas and suggestions into very specific categories. These categories would include honoring personal space, respecting property, considering the feelings of others, paying attention, and using appropriate movements. The final list we would create would be a personal one for students simply because they helped create it. They will have that all-important sense of ownership and will be more inclined to follow the rules they helped create.

This question helps the interviewer determine if you will be an autocratic/dictatorial teacher or one who actively engages students in the affairs of the classroom. Be confident in your response and confident in your details.

What have you found to be the toughest aspect of discipline?

A: Consistency! I discovered in all my experiences with children that the key to an effective discipline policy in any classroom is consistency. For me, consistency means three things: 1) If I have a rule, I must enforce that rule. 2) I shouldn't hand out lots of warnings without following through on consequences. Lots of warnings tell students that I won't enforce a rule. And 3) I must be fair and impartial. I must be sure that the rules are there for everyone, and that includes girls as well as boys, tall people and short people, students with freckles and students without freckles, and special- needs students as well as gifted students. Maintaining consistency is, and will continue to be, a challenge. But it's a challenge I'm ready for.

The questions about discipline are many and varied. They can come in a number of ways. You need to be adequately prepared to respond to each of them in a way that demonstrates your knowledge of this all-important topic and the specific ways you plan to address it.

How would you handle a student who is a consistent behavioral problem?

A: One of the most powerful books I read was Thomas Gordon's Teacher Effectiveness Training. In the book, Gordon talks about the importance of "I" messages as a powerful way of humanizing the classroom and ensuring positive discipline. In student teaching I had the opportunity to practice delivering "I" messages. I recalled that every "I" message is composed of three parts: 1) including a description of the student's behavior ("When you talk while I talk..."); 2) relating the effect this behavior has on me, the teacher ("I have to stop my teaching."); and 3) letting the student know the feeling it generates in me (".which frustrates me."). I believe that the use of "I" messages has the potential for helping to change student behavior—not just for the short term, but for the long term as well. For example, when I began using "I" messages with Darren, one of our chronic talkers in class, I began to see some subtle, yet definite changes. By the end of my student teaching experience, Darren was able to control his excessive talking and make positive contributions to the class.

Careful! Don't make the classic mistake of answering this question with lots of negative words or examples. Rather, take the "high road"; relate some research and an experience that helped you to turn a student around. Don't describe the student in negative terms; rather show how you took a positive approach.

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