Building community and becoming bonded to the teacher helps immensely in managing the classroom.  In the first days we have the opportunity to convince the students of our good will toward them and to get them to associate positive feelings with Spanish class.  It is not as if we were trying to be anyone’s best buddy in the first week or two, but we ARE trying to convince them that we like and respect them. We want them to grow attached to us and we want them to become accustomed to doing what we ask.  We enforce discipline consistently, but we must make it a point to bond with the students at the outset.

This is a very different classroom management idea than the classic, “Don’t smile until Christmas” line we were fed in our university classroom management class.  It echoes the style of the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu’s advice on developing disciplined soldiers:

 “If soldiers are punished before they have grown attached to you, they will not prove submissive; and unless submissive, they will be practically useless. 

 “If, when soldiers have become attached to you, punishments are not enforced, they will still be useless. 

 “Therefore soldiers must be treated in the first instance with humanity, but kept under control by means of iron discipline.”

Sun Tzu, Ancient Chinese military strategist (~400 B.C.)  The Art of War, ch. IX

General Tzu goes on to describe how the soldiers of another general who used the same philosophy would gladly follow him into battle under any circumstance.

The comparison to war may seem a bit harsh. This metaphor, like all metaphors, breaks down if pushed too far. Our students are not little soldiers and we teachers are neither generals nor drill sergeants. We are not fighting against our students and we do not want to control their every thought, but we do want students to willingly do what we ask them to do in class. As Susan Gross always says, “Discipline precedes instruction.” To instill this discipline, I, like General Tzu, would rather have students obeying me because they have good feelings toward me than because they feel like they have to. I imagine that Sun Tzu’s advice is not easily taken by actual soldiers either–probably seems too soft.

Also, by I do not take “iron discipline” to signify that the teacher should be cruel or overbearing, just consistent. When I am at my best, the most common disciplinary phrases I utter in my classes are “Bummer!” and “Wow, that stinks!”  Students all know the rules and the consequences, so it is a bit of a downer when they get have to get a consequence. If we have developed a Sun Tzu-like  attachment with the student, usually just showing a bit of disappointment will work to curb their behavior because they know the expectations and they know they can do better.

But we must be consistent with it all the time. That is “iron discipline” to me.  Either you are consistent or you aren’t.  When we are not consistent we create monsters that will never give up on their mischief.  This is a good example of operant conditioning from Psychology 101.  Random intermittent reinforcement entices a rat push a lever thousands of times for a food pellet and it lures a Las Vegas gambler spend his entire retirement on the slot machines. We set up a gambler’s paradise in our classrooms when we enforce our rules one day and not the next.  This trains students to always test the rules and never give up because we just might crack.  I have created situations like this far too often in my classroom and it is exhausting.

I follow up with the consequences that both the students and I know from our class rules and procedures. I have to follow them too or the whole classroom management system becomes arbitrary and will fail.

Bonding with students like Sun Tzu bonded with his soldiers is particularly important in a TPRS classroom where we all are letting our guard down and allowing glimpses of our true selves. When we teach with compelling, heart-felt comprehensible input day after day