The part of my job I enjoy the least is discipline. By nature, I am highly relational. I like people in general, desire connection with them, and tend to be optimistic even when my first impressions are not favorable. I’ll dig a little deeper, I think, believing there’s more to that human being than first met my eye. I inherited this nature from my father, who doesn’t meet a stranger and believes when it comes to friends, “The more the merrier.” It is often said of him, “If Pete’s there, it’s a party.” Sometimes this exhausted my more introverted mom who was behind the scenes cooking and washing the dishes. This way of being has served me well for most of my life, and only on a few occasions have I found people that I simply had to pull away from because I couldn’t find a way to have an emotionally healthy relationship.
In the classroom, though, this way of being is both virtue and flaw. Like a good Shakespearean hero, my best quality is also my worst, my virtue can become my tragic flaw. I want to enjoy my students and them to enjoy me. I desire conversation with them about the literature we study or the papers they write. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt when their work is late or they don’t get it right the first time. I want to give grace and to have them leave my classroom every day in love with learning.
The problem is that they are fourteen and fifteen years old. Many of them, when in a group setting, still cannot hold a conversation without interrupting each other. Class discussion quickly becomes several individual conversations. I hate the idea of making them raise their hands like fifth graders, and yet I sometimes must resort to that. Some of them can’t sit still in a desk for fifteen minutes, or pay attention to a reading for more than five. I want to believe every story about why an assignment was not turned in on time, and yet I can usually see it in their eyes when they are trying to con me. I know that some excuses are just that—excuses! When I read a paper that is, frankly, “a mess”; I want to assume they just don’t understand yet; but wiser teachers and tutors, who know that student better than I, tell me, “He just didn’t try. He is capable of more than that.” I know these things are true because I, myself, sometimes didn’t give my best, offered excuses, and didn’t wait my turn to speak. Yet I resist the confrontation with them for as long as I can, sometimes longer than I should.
A good friend who reared two boys to successful adulthood told me once, “ When my boys don’t have self-discipline, I loan them some of mine.” Wisely put. I said this to my students recently. I don’t enjoy correction, calling them out, or writing demerits, but I have to remember that discipline is training, not punishment. I have to train them to be self-motivated, self-guided students, even when I don’t enjoy it and they don’t either. Their college professors are going to expect self-discipline. Until they develop their own, I am going to have to loan them some of mine.