Some call it tough love.
“I feel like the big bad witch of the cloakroom!” I fume in stage whisper to my co-teacher. In establishing a new, fast-growing school, we have needed to find traditions and rules that are worth making and keeping. With half the school out at recess while the other half is in class, it is necessary to maintain quiet inside the school building. Hence, the rule: “No talking in the cloakroom.” Some students are as inclined to be quiet in the cloakroom, as a duck is inclined to stay out of water.
As a first grade teacher, my presence is often needed in the cloakroom to zip coats, tug on the second mitt, tie skates, and pull snow pants over boots. This has made me very present as other classes come and go. I have found myself constantly shushing students of all ages. I finally got frustrated enough to ask if this is a rule that we plan to keep, because if so, I need help. Of course, everybody thinks this a good rule, but no one offers a real solution.
And then cometh the witch! I firmly tell my students that if they are talking in the cloakroom, I will get their skates and they will spend their next coveted rink time watching. No, they will not be playing on the snow pile. They are supposed to be bored.
My co-teachers like the idea too. We are Canadians: we like winter, ice skating and hockey. We are sure this will hurt. The question is will it hurt enough to make them want to be quiet.
A day later, I am pulling off my skates when I hear the dreaded sound. She is talking. In the cloakroom. And she doesn’t even look guilty. I stand by the entrance and watch for a bit, but it isn’t until I say her name that she looks at me. I beckon with my finger and quietly say, “Bring me your skates.” She complies.
The next recess, she is on boots watching while all her friends skate gleeful loops on the ice. When we get inside, I give back her skates and say, “Tomorrow, see if you can keep your skates for both skatings.”
“I will,” she states emphatically. “Now, I know why you don’t talk in the cloakroom!” For her, it’s beginning to work.
The next afternoon, after finishing something in my classroom, I arrive in the cloakroom to see if they are ready to have their skates tied. The skates are on. The chat is too. I catch a couple red-handed. Then, I ask anybody else who was talking to admit it and bring me their skates. One guilty little Adam tattles on his friend. The blamed one, in his typical get-er-done fashion already has the boots on his legs. They both bring me their skates. I confiscate five pairs altogether.
Will it work? Tomorrow will tell. I hope it does. This big, bad witch doesn’t like to be so mean. I am not about the letter of the law. It’s not the rule that matters most.
The truth is that I love them. I want them to learn respect for the authority of the school. Life requires giving respect to parents, employers, civil authorities and more. Ultimately, all respect must go to God.
Some days my motives are not all that pure. I want them to behave and make me look like a good leader. How dare they question MY authority?! God, forgive me for those days.
This cannot be the reason for discipline. Discipline without love is like skates without ice. I love my students and will continue to say, “I love you” by letting them bootleg it, an investment in their character.