The Danger in Anger and “Disciplining” Students

Originally published by Curtis Madigan on October 4th, 2019 on LinkedIn

I usually am a deep sleeper and don’t dream, but this morning I had a vivid dream about getting upset at a student that was misbehaving right before a concert with the school band. A concert is indeed a serious situation where you have a lot of pressure and thus in the dream I got upset at the misbehaving student and decided to “make an example” by being very firm and telling him to come here so I could “talk to him” which really meant disciplining him from my frustrated state.

This student was one of those perpetually trouble-causing kids that was always in their own world and didn’t listen well or respond to prompts. Thus, getting upset seemed entirely justified especially given the stressful situation of directing a very large group of band students moments before a concert and having this particular student that wasn’t listening.

Well, next thing in my dream I was watching as this student was drove into an extreme homicidal state of action and in this case I was able to stop him before anyone was hurt with the simultaneous stinging realization which I spoke to him in anguish,

“I failed you in my anger.”
When I was recalling my dream this morning I suddenly remembered that another band teacher I know was there at that very moment to witness my realization which led me to believe this message needs to be heard by more than just me.

The word discipline is fascinating to me because the etymological root is the Latin disciplina which actually means “knowledge” and is related to the word disciple. Anyone training a student is essentially working with their disciple or student that is trying to wax in knowledge. In Sound Formation classes our teachers are trained to balance discipline with playfulness and that the two go together, never to be separated. Too much playfulness becomes zaniness in which class gets wild or off point and away from the knowledge to be learned; too much “discipline” and class becomes uncomfortably stern to the point of all liveliness being vacuumed out of class and students becoming fearful and hurt; therefore unmotivated towards knowledge. Thus, there is a wonderful and delicate balance that needs to be held between getting things done and having fun.

There are a number of classroom management skills needed to maintain this balance especially with trying groups of youngsters. Classroom management may be the #1 skill every teacher needs to cultivate and it’s certainly a vast subject. Then, they’ll hopefully never need to become upset as they’re always in control and have the tools needed to handle any situation.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Have you ever regretted getting upset at a student? Do you think it’s helpful to discipline with anger to accomplish your target or does it tend to backfire? Do you feel better or worse after becoming angry at a student and how do the other kids then feel? Is it possible to be firm AND maintain a sense of joy or fun?

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