Problem with classroom discipline


Problem with classroom discipline


your avatar   Robin, 33-year-old man

Hello! I'm a teacher in primary and high school. I teach music from kindergarten to high school.

I have always had difficulty with discipline; my communication is probably not "powerful" enough. Sometimes, in secondary school, when a student is too disturbing, I tell him to leave the classroom and most of the time, he stays in the classroom, tells me that he won't go out, and smiles. I have discipline problems with students that NEVER disturb in any other courses. It is like there is some kind of "chemical reaction", maybe because of a lack in my communication, caused by... I don't know what! I'm much too easy to approach; I noticed several times that students come very near me and talk to me like they've known me all their life... even if we've just met.

I always thought that leadership and authority come at birth; you have it in you or you don't have it. Some people tell me that it is possible to develop authority even when it's not in you. Assuming that you'll tell me the same observation, my question is simply "How"?


    Bob Rich, Ph.D.

Dear Robin,

First, you are not alone. There is a GENERAL problem with self-discipline among young people. The Roman Empire had the same problem not long before its fall. Music and art classes have always been targets for indiscipline by naughty kids. They are seen as soft options; music and art teachers as softies.

As a teacher, you have the right of support from your school: the Principal, the School Counselor. Also, you have the right to communicate with the parents of children who disrupt your class, and to ban those children from future lessons, for a limited time or permanently.

Leadership is NOT a question of the right genes, but of useful past experiences. It CAN be learned.

Let me guess: you find it VERY difficult to confront people. You are a friendly, loving person and you value this trait in yourself. So you should. But standing up for yourself, and mobilzing the help you are entitled to, are compatible with continuing to be the kind of person others like to be close to.

Robin, there are three ways to react to a person who gives you a problem:

  • Bulldozer: 'Get out of my way or I'll punch your nose!'
  • Doormat: 'Walk all over me, what can I do about it?'
  • Assertive: 'When you do that I feel... Therefore please...

The 'assertive' formula doesn't always work, but it has the BEST chance of getting a positive reaction. That is because while you stand up for yourself, you stop short of an attack.

You should seek personal, face-to-face help. If your school has a Counselor, helping you is part of that person's job. If not, your employer is obliged to find you a person and to pay for sessions.

If there is simply no suitable local resource, I'd be happy to work with you via email.

Practice this 'assertive' formula with family or close friends, on small issues. When you are ready, use it on the School Principal, and on the parents of problem children.

It is very unlikely to work on the kids themselves in the school where you now work. A pattern has been established, you have a certain reputation, and this is incredibly hard to reverse. Each cohort of new children learns from the older ones, and part of the gossip is that Robin is a pushover he is easy to bully.

Therefore, if I were in your position I'd stay there while learning new skills, just look at it all as a learning experience. But as your confidence increases, get ready: then move to a different school. There, you can start fresh, make a good impression as someone deserving of respect.

I suspect part of the problem is that it is very important for you to be seen as a good guy by everybody. There is NOTHING WRONG with being disliked by some people. I know and you know that you are a decent person. If some kid or parent can't see this, the problem is theirs, not yours. If you do get counseling, this should be the main problem to work on.

You didn't leave an email address (you can always get an untraceable webmail address and use that). So, if you read this, please email me.

Good luck,


This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.For more information visit:


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