Discipline is a form of love

Ed Mortimer’s recent letter to the editor about student behaviors in the Dec. 13 edition of this paper was spot on. For many years before the pandemic, I worked in the Baraboo and Portage school districts, accompanying students with special needs in regular elementary school classrooms. Several years ago, I noticed a disturbing change in student behaviors.

In many classrooms of 20 to 25 students, although the vast majority of students were well-behaved, about three to four students were disruptive to the point that, several times a day, the other students were often unable to learn and the teachers unable to teach

I sometimes had to take a student I was assisting out of the room because it was impossible for them to hear the teacher. When I asked teachers why they didn’t send those disruptive students to the office, they usually replied, “Because they send them right back.”

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In other words, there were no meaningful consequences for disruptive behaviors. Even after questioning principals, superintendents and school board members, I never received an acceptable reason for that. So I have to assume it’s because administrators are afraid of losing money for their districts if there are fewer students due to expulsions.

I remember when it all started. It was after elementary school administrators and/or the Department of Public Instruction decided that kindergarten and first-grade students did not need a rest time or sufficient time for creative play. Teachers told me they were required to be instructing almost 100% of the time.

Because I was in many of their classrooms, I immediately saw the disastrous results of that policy change. Kindergarten children who were no longer allowed to spend meaningful time playing or resting during the day looked and acted extremely stressed. Their behaviors deteriorated as their stress levels grew. Teachers were just as stressed since their days were full of distractions due to the extremely disruptive behaviors of a few of their students.

One day, the students in a first-grade classroom where I was working were required to take five tests, some of them required by the state. Five tests in one day for 5-year-old children? Whose idea was that?

A few years ago, I wrote to the Department of Public Instruction about the absence of rest and play times in the early grades and how it seemed to affect student behaviors. I received a reply that said schools were not required to eliminate them. Then why didn’t they tell the teachers and administrators?

From first- through eighth-grade I attended Catholic schools and cannot remember one time when a student disrupted a classroom. That’s because we all knew that if we were disruptive, a nun would crack us on the knuckles with a ruler or send us to the office where the principal would call our parents. Then we’d be in real trouble because our parents had their own means of punishment.

But that was when most mothers were home all day because few had full-time jobs. Today, most mothers work outside the home and, I’m assuming, hate to impose much discipline on their children in the few hours they spend with them. Plus, these days, many children never or rarely see their fathers, who used to be the main disciplinarians.

Also today, spanking is considered abuse by many. Yet I remember being spanked, not beaten, when I knew well I deserved it. I’d had a hissy fit when my parents changed their minds about taking me to a carnival. I recall standing in the doorway, yelling my head off. When I didn’t obey my father when he told me to stop, he calmly took me into another room, put me over his knee and spanked my bottom a few times.

It hurts my feelings more than it hurts me physically, but I never repeated that behavior, and I don’t recall being traumatized by it. Of course, I knew without a doubt that my father loved me and did it for my own good.

Today, instead of spanking, many parents choose to take away, for a set time, something their child values ​​like a cell phone, iPad, television time or video games. When I was young we didn’t have any of those things, so our parents’ choices were limited to spanking, sending us to our rooms, or both.

Also, because most parents work today, schools can’t send them home where they’d be unattended. That’s when in-school detention for older students and taking recess time away from younger students are the only choices schools have. But it’s also a parent’s responsibility to impose further discipline for their children’s bad behaviors. Because, as I always believed, appropriate discipline is a form of love.

Nash lives in Baraboo: [email protected]

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