Strict is not a bad word.
This post was written by a college student who interned (and occasionally student taught) at my school for the summer. I asked her to write about one of the lessons she took with her from the experience.
If you don’t believe me, watch a video of students at her school. Note the pin-drop silence at the end of the chants. Note the folded hands. Most importantly, note the absolute glee. That’s not an act. I watched it happen every day.
If my teacher had ever told me to put down my pencil and pay attention I would have been reduced to tears of shame. So I was way outside of my comfort zone when the task of correcting students fell on me.
On the second day of school, when I held two students after class for my first hallway conversation, my heart had seldom beat so fast. To my delight, no tantrum erupted. We reviewed the rules and discussed strategies for next time. I worried I had just sacrificed my relationship with these students for the sake of maintaining high disciplinary expectations. But on the contrary, one of them gave me a hug the next morning.
It turns out that teacher-nice and real-world-nice are vastly different. In fact, failing to be strict is, in its own way, teacher-mean. It’s not fair if a student is allowed to sit in your classroom and behave in a way that impedes his peers’ or even his own learning. It’s not fair to you, to his peers or to him. There’s a lot riding on the amount of knowledge that wandering eyes and pencil tapping will take from your classroom, and it’s possible a student doesn’t even realize it.
When expectations are maintained to challenge students to be better, and not to harp on weaknesses, teacher-strict is teacher-nice. Students want to succeed. A strict teacher demands that they behave in a way that will allow them to succeed. If done right, students don’t resent this. Most of them actually appreciate it.
I’m infinitely grateful to have learned this so early in my teaching career. I sincerely hope that all teachers have the chance to observe this sort of kind strictness in practice. You’ll know it when you see it. It’s breathtaking. Furthermore, I’m proof that if you watch closely enough, you can bring it to your own classroom.