How Teachers Can Become the Ultimate Authority Figures in Their Classrooms

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I am an elementary school assistant principal. I need a good referral paper for when kids act up in class and their teachers send them to me so that I know what they did and so that I can talk to them about what they did wrong. It is my job to “put out the fires”, and I hope that a good form will allow me to be more efficient at doing so. –Riki, Iowa


My answer is that no such form exists because referring kids to an administrator for discipline is a bad idea. The moment teachers start sending kids to the principal’s office, you are going the wrong way as a school. You are actually encouraging the negative behaviors that you wish to get rid of and you are locking many of the kids who are repeatedly sent to the principal on a fast track in the school to prison pipeline.

Teachers out there, you are my people, my friends, my army. Before you send me angry emails, before you think “that wouldn’t work with MY students”, I’m just going to ask you to bear with me. Hear me out. I have taught some of the most difficult kids you can imagine. I am neither patient nor smart, but I have not sent a single kid to the principal in the last 12 years.

There are two simple reasons for this. First, when a teacher makes a kid leave the room because of negative behaviors, the teacher is telling the kid and every other kid in the room that they cannot handle negative behaviors. That equates to blood in the water. If there’s a bunch of difficult kids in the class, there’s going to be a feeding frenzy.

Here’s the second reason. Ask yourself, what are the two main functions for negative behaviors in schools? Those two functions are 1) the seeking of attention and 2) work avoidance. What happens when a kid is told to leave the room because of his negative behaviors? He gets attention and he doesn’t have to do work! Think about the massive amount of attention he gets by exhibiting negative behaviors. He gets attention by at least 25 people when he leaves, he gets one on one attention from you, the administrator, then he gets attention from 25 people when he comes back. By the way, what do we know about most really difficult kids? Do they care whether the attention they get is positive or negative? Nope. Also, the longer he stays “upset” and in your office, the more works he avoids! The process that you describe utterly and completely sets you up for failure. As a former tough kid, I would have LOVED your school’s system: the more obnoxious I was, the more attention I would get and the less work I would have to do! Not only does this way of doing things make your job horrible, it conditions kids to exhibit negative behaviors, sometimes for the rest of their lives. These behaviors will lead them to bad relationships, an inability to hold a job, and oftentimes, prison.

So you are probably wondering what the answer is. The answer is that your teachers have to get some skills so they can be the ultimate authority figure in their students’ lives. THERE IS NO OTHER HEALTHY ALTERNATIVE!!!! Do your teachers know how to neutralize student arguing? Do they know how to delay consequences, use choices to prevent power struggles, or use preventive interventions? Have they received systematic and explicit instruction in these and other skills? If not, how are they supposed to teach kids, especially difficult kids? I don’t know either.

-The Kid Whisperer