Appropriate Consequences for Student Misbehavior

Logical Responses for Student Behavior Problems

Schoolboy (11-13) sitting on chair in corridor, side view
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Students will misbehave in class. Teachers may not be able to stop all forms of misbehavior before they start. However, educators do have control over their reactions to student behavioral issues. Therefore, teachers should choose their responses wisely, making sure that they are appropriate and logical. The old adage, "the punishment must fit the crime," is especially true in a classroom setting. If a teacher enforces an illogical response, students will learn less than if the response directly relates to the situation, or they might miss out on important information being taught in class that day.

Following are a series of situations that illustrate appropriate classroom responses to help establish behavior management. These are not the only appropriate responses, but they do show the difference between appropriate and inappropriate consequences.

A Student Uses a Cellphone During Class

  • Appropriate: Tell the student to put the phone away.
  • Inappropriate: Ignore the phone use or continue to ask the student to put the phone away during the class period or throughout the day.

A cellphone policy should be clearly stated in the student handbook and reviewed with students whenever there is an infraction. Teachers should report to the office and/or parents that the student is a repeat offender.

Some districts have specific rules regarding cellphone use, such as a warning on the first occurrence of cellphone use during class time, confiscation of the phone until the end of class or day on the second offense (at which point the student can retrieve the phone), and confiscation with a call to parents to pick up the phone after a third offense. Some districts even forbid the student from bringing the phone to school after a third offense. In other districts, teachers are allowed to choose how to deal with cellphone misuse. For example, some teachers have a hanging pocket chart to hold cellphones or even a cellphone "jail" (bucket or container), where students who misuse their cellphones deposit the distracting objects until the end of class or school day.

Rosalind Wiseman, writing on the website of Common Sense Education, an education advocacy group, says that teachers and schools need to plan for device use that considers digital citizenship and student safety. Regardless, digital devices like cellphones should only be used in class when there are specific goals in mind, such as critical thinking exercises or collaboration.

A Student Comes Late to Class

  • Appropriate: A warning for the first offense, with increasing consequences for further tardies
  • Inappropriate: The teacher ignores the situation, and the student has no consequences for the tardiness.

Tardiness is a big deal, especially if left unchecked. Students who come late to class "can disrupt the flow of a lecture or discussion, distract other students, impede learning, and generally erode class morale," says the Eberly Center at Carnegie Melon University. Indeed, left unchecked, tardiness can become a classwide problem, says the center, which focuses on improving teaching practices.

Teachers should have a tardy policy in place to deal with problem tardies. Hero, a firm that helps schools and districts manage tardies and attendance digitally, says a good tardy policy should include a structured series of consequences, such as the following:

  • First tardy: warning
  • Second tardy: more urgent warning
  • Third tardy: detention, such as a half-hour to an hour after school
  • Fourth tardy: a longer detention or two detention sessions
  • Fifth tardy: Saturday school

Having a daily warmup exercise is one way to give students an immediate benefit for coming to class on time. One note of caution: A student who is frequently tardy could build up a large number of zeros for not completing the warmup activity. In this case, the activity could be used for extra credit points. There is a difference between grading for ability and grading for behavior.

A Student Does Not Bring Their Homework

  • Appropriate: Depending on the school policy, the student could lose points off their homework assignment. The student could also receive a lower rating in academic behavior.
  • Inappropriate: A lack of homework results in the student failing the class.

By definition, students do homework outside of the control of the classroom. For this reason, many schools do not penalize missing homework. If teachers grade only in-class or summative assessments (an assessment that measures what the student has learned), then the grade accurately reflects what students know. However, keeping track of homework for completion can be valuable information to share with parents. The National Education Association suggests that all stakeholders—teachers, parents, and students—work together to set homework policies, stating:

"Policies should address the purposes of homework; amount and frequency; school and teacher responsibilities; student responsibilities; and, the role of parents or others who assist students with homework."

A Student Does Not Have Materials Needed for Class

  • Appropriate: The teacher provides the student with a pen or pencil in exchange for collateral. For example, the teacher might hold on to one of the student's shoes to ensure that the pen or pencil is returned at the end of the class.
  • Inappropriate: The student does not have materials and cannot participate.

Students cannot finish any classwork without materials. Extra equipment (such as paper, a pencil, or a calculator) or other basic supplies should be available in class.

A Student Does Not have Their Book in Class

  • Appropriate: The student does not have a textbook during the lesson for the day.
  • Inappropriate: The teacher gives the student a textbook to use without comment.

If textbooks are required in the day-to-day classroom, it is important for students to remember to bring them. Textbooks present a different issue than basic supplies like pencils, paper, or calculators, which are generally inexpensive, often provided as part of classroom budget, and easy to lend or give to students who may have forgotten them. By contrast, it is a rare situation where a teacher will have more than a couple of extra textbooks in the class. If students accidentally take an extra text with them, the teacher will most likely have lost that text forever.

A Student Blurts Out Answers

  • Appropriate: The teacher does not respond to students who call out without raising their hands and does not call on them.
  • Inappropriate: The teacher allows individuals to answer without having to raise their hands.

Requiring students to raise their hands is an important part of wait time and effective questioning techniques. Having students wait three to five seconds before calling on one of them to answer can actually help increase thinking time—the time a student spends actually thinking about an answer instead of just giving an offhand response. If a teacher does not continuously uphold this rule—making students raise their hands and wait to be called on—then they will no longer raise their hands in class. Chaos will result.

A Student Uses a Curse Word in Class

  • Appropriate: The teacher reprimands the student saying, "Do not use that language."
  • Inappropriate: The teacher ignores the curse word.

Profanity should have no place in the classroom. If a teacher ignores its use, students will take note and continue to use curse words in class. Realize that if the profanity was used against someone else in the class, a form of bullying or harassment, the consequences should be greater than if a curse word just slips out. Record the event.

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