A few days ago I was at a local deli and a worker at the restaurant came up to me and handed me an un-requested glass of ice water. I could tell that he knew me but I was unable to place his face. If you are a teacher this is not an uncommon problem. Some faces blur in your memory when you have had 30 to 150 students a year over 40 years and they now range in age from 7 to 55. Others are just as firmly permanently etched in your memory for various reasons. As he handed me the water he asked if I, ” used to teach at Amos,” (the middle school I taught at was actually Amos Hiatt but long time local residents often called it, usually with some affection, by its familiar first name). I replied that, “yes I used to teach at Hiatt.” He then explained the unrequested glass of water. “You were the only teacher who trusted me to go get a drink of water in the hall when I needed one and come back without asking.” And now he had brought me a drink of water, “without asking.”
He had remembered me not because of what I had taught(mixed feelings here) but because I had “trusted.” I believe that if you are to be successful with your students, particularly middle school students, you have set up areas of mutual trust and carefully grow responsibility from that fertile ground.
For many years my room featured a dollar bill pinned to the bulletin board with the word TRUST in block letters above it. It only disappeared once in 13 years. I realized while I was discussing the fragility of trust with my class that most of the students in my classroom knew who had it and couldn’t tell me in words but their eyes did. The word that my dollar had finally disappeared spread around school as it was sort of an institutional tradition in my class and for some of my fellow teachers ongoing proof that I was more than a little loony. And because, by then, I had learned not to attack students without good evidence I let gut feelings pass about who had taken it. Later my suspicions were confirmed when the student who took it wasn’t smart enough or didn’t realize that the lunch lady might notice that a dollar bill had pinholes in all 4 corners.
I feel my classes took pride in that dollar and what it represented and they seemed relieved when the culprit was caught and the dollar returned. In the case of this particular student he indeed may not have had any money to spend on lunch that day and too much family pride to beg or borrow. This is something that I feel must always be considered before, not after, discipline is administered. His family situation made him more than qualified for assistance with lunch but his family, “didn’t take no handouts.” He and I worked out a deal where he could always earn his lunch if he needed it(politically in-correct now but not then). Be aware that there are students in your class who are in the same situation today. They qualify for but don’t use assistance and are often the same ones who will look you in the eye after a fight and tell you that their dad(or mom) says if “I get hit I have to hit back.”
Discipline and trust are not synonyms although for either to be effective the other must exist. Discipline must be enforced or it is meaningless while trust must be freely given for the same reason.