When it comes to discipline, consistency is the name of the game. I can’t stress enough we have to be consistent in all we do. If the students don’t know what is expected of them from one day to the next, they become frustrated. They’ll also be more likely to cause trouble. If they know the consequences, and that they will be held accountable in a fair and predictable manner, behaviors will be less troublesome in the long run.
I used consistency when raising my own children. I used it when I was teaching in the public and the private schools. I have had very good luck with running a consistent, predictable program. There are days when I feel tired and don’t want to be consistent, but it is really important to stick with the plan. I’ve learned the hard way when I get lazy and don’t follow up on consequences, control is eventually lost. If I should allow even two or three men to be late for school without at least a warning, the others become angry and defensive. They watch everything I do and throw it back at me if they even think someone else received preferential treatment. Before long, they accuse me of a lack of fairness and discrimination. Valuable class time is lost and stress levels rise for all concerned.
In all schools where I have taught, consistency amongst teachers could be lacking, too. Students pick up on teachers who are not consistent from one classroom to the next. The more everyone can work as a team, the better the environment for the students and the teachers.
Kindness can coexist with consistency. I believe the steadier and more reliable you are, the more flexible you can be. Students respect consistency and fairness and, as a result, are more likely to accept rules. Little room is left for arguments. So when an occasional accommodation is necessary for another individual, the others are less likely to make a big deal about it, because they know the particular situation is rare. They know that I must have a good reason to do something a little differently.
The specific approach that has always worked well for me is progressive discipline. I start with a verbal warning and I plainly tell the student, “I’m giving you a verbal warning. You know that you’re supposed to be on time but you’re ten minutes late. I’ll cut you some slack this one time and just give you a verbal warning.” Usually, they thank me for not putting anything in writing. And generally, it doesn’t happen again. I document the incident by jotting a little note on the attendance chart next to their name.
The next step would be what we call a corrective notice. This is a written warning. It doesn’t cause them any trouble, and it doesn’t lose them any prison days or any good time. The student signs, indicating he is aware of this rule; he knows he broke it, and additional occurrences could lead to what we call a conduct report, dismissal from school, or both. If he refuses to sign, I simply check the box marked “refused to sign.”
The final step, if rules continue to be broken, is the actual conduct report. This can lead to consequences imposed by the prison. It’s rare to get to this point, but it must be done when necessary. If not, the consistency goes down the drain, and control can be lost.
Document, Document, Document! That’s always been my mantra. It has worked well for me. If they should file a grievance, or if somebody questions why I made a student leave school, I have documentation. If the students know what is expected, and they know the consequence(s) for not complying, it is easier on everybody. I know it’s not a new idea, but I think it merits reviewing, because we tend to fall away from it. And once we fall away from the consistency, we have to re-establish control. In the long run, that’s more work than simply following the progressive discipline plan.
Janice M. Chamberlin, a licensed prison educator in Indiana, is the author of Locked Up With Success. In her book, Ms. Chamberlin shares stories not only of the challenges she has faced, but also the triumphs she has seen in the prison classroom setting. She has successfully developed a system that can unlock potential even in the highest risk students. The full paperback or digital version can be purchased at