Whether you’re a pushover, a
control freak, a scaredy-cat, or just plain clueless about
discipline — you can become a better classroom
One recent Sunday I was on my usual rounds checking on our Sunday
school rooms. I noticed an entire room of fifth-grade boys sitting
with their heads down on the tables while the teacher and assistant
stood at the front of the room with their backs turned, writing on
the whiteboard. I casually stepped in and glanced around. The room
was silent and full of tension. There wasn’t a single wiggle or
giggle — highly unusual for a group of preteen boys. I figured
something really big must’ve just happened, so I decided to break
the silence. “Mrs. Smith,” I asked, “is there something I can help
with?”Mrs. Smith turned to me and said with a huge smile,
“Everything’s fine, Pastor. We’re running five minutes ahead of our
next scheduled activity, so I told the boys just to put their heads
Her response stunned me. I couldn’t believe it. Back when I was a
kid we only got the heads-down treatment when someone did something
really bad — running in the hall with a pair of safety scissors or
correcting the teacher on a Scripture reference. But being ahead of
schedule? The lesson wasn’t even on patience that day. (I
So I got to thinking…How many times had these kids sat with
their heads down because their teacher wasn’t flexible enough to
handle minor variations from schedule — or willing to let go of
regimented control? I mean, five minutes? We’re not launching the
space shuttle here. We’re telling kids about Jesus. I knew Mrs.
Smith was a new teacher. But during our interview process she
hadn’t shown up in combat gear. So naturally I had no idea she was
really an undercover drill sergeant.
Admittedly, classroom management can be the toughest part of a
teacher’s job. It’s a constant struggle for some, and even those
who seem to have figured out how to best manage their kids see that
doing so is a continual proc-ess rather than one easy fix. Teachers
everywhere seem to struggle with discipline in some way — usually
because they fall into one of four categories: The Pushover, The
Control Freak, The Scaredy Cat, or Just Plain Clueless. So before
you get out your knuckle-snapping ruler or let the kids run over
you on their way out the door, read on. Discover which discipline
style is your default — and how you can strengthen your classroom
You may be a Pushover if you…
• Can’t say no — even when you know you need to.
• Grin and bear bad behavior because you don’t see other
• Can’t (or won’t) set or enforce limits.
• Notice the kids are taking over and you’re not sure you should
• Must repeat yourself constantly to be heard over the general
roar in your classroom.
Rules are healthy. Saying no is a foundational
development stage in all children. In fact, no is one of the first
words most children learn to say. And if a child is old enough to
tell you no, then the child is old enough to hear it in return for
inappropriate behavior. Ministry to children isn’t only about
spir-itual principles; we’re here to help give them a productive,
healthy approach to life.
When kids take over, no one wins. If kids are
calling the shots, everyone will walk away feeling unfulfilled. If
you allow children to write the rules, you give them a false
impression of what real life is all about.
Testing is normal; your job is to define the boundaries. You can
rest assured that your kids will test the limits. It’s a normal
aspect of childhood. But it’s important to understand that while
this testing is natural, children feel comfort and security when
they know where the boundaries are. They want to know you love them
enough to tell them no.
Post a few simple rules. Then — and this is key — hold
kids to them. At first it’ll seem like you’re mean if you haven’t
been enforcing rules up until now. You may get some initial push
back from your kids, but this is normal. Keep steady and hold your
Help kids self-regulate. A marble jar is a great
way to encourage collective self-monitoring from your kids, and it
produces positive peer pressure. Put the jar of marbles in front of
your class, and add marbles when kids are attentive and on-task.
You’ll find kids self-regulating if they know that marbles could
get taken away. You’ll be surprised the first time you hear someone
say, “Zach, stop! We’ll get a marble taken away!”
Help yourself. If you still need an extra push to
establish and enforce rules, consider asking someone you know who
has great classroom management skills to join you in your classroom
for a few weeks to help you build your discipline muscles.
You may be a Control Freak if you…
• Can’t say yes — even when doing so would have absolutely no
negative impact in your classroom.
• Tightly control every aspect of kids’ interactions and
• Are terrified of what might happen if kids “take over.”
• Hear kids tell their parents, “Church has too many rules.”
• Constantly use no, don’t, can’t, and stop when you talk