Surveys done by the OECD find that teachers around the world are losing significant teaching time due to discipline problems. The UK is giving teachers more freedom to use force to ensure good behaviour, but is this the answer?
In many countries, the proverbial paper airplane has been replaced by more ominous student disruption including physical violence, drugs, and verbal abuse. According to the OECD’s Teacher and Learning International Survey (TALIS), a survey of teachers in more than 20 countries, one in four teachers loses at least 30% of lesson time to disruptive student behavior or administrative tasks. More than 2 teachers in five in Iceland, Norway, Portugal and Spain agreed that a significant amount of time was lost because of students interrupting lessons. Nearly half of teachers in Malta and Hungary, and two in five teachers in Belgium are in schools whose principal reports that intimidation or verbal abuse of other students hindered learning. In Mexico, this number was more than 60%.
With all of the education time lost due to lack of discipline in the classroom, policymakers should take note. The issue of discipline is a serious one. Even with the newest technology, the highest quality curriculum, and the best infrastructure, student outcomes will not be improved if students are spending their time waiting for the classroom to be managed.
Britain recently announced a change in legislation that will give teachers more freedom to discipline students, including force if necessary. The government wants teachers to “feel confident in exercising their authority.” With the new legislation, teachers will have more power to search students and fewer restrictions on the use of force.
While it might be easier to address the immediate problem by giving teachers more tools to ensure good behavior, it is much harder to change the root of the problem: misbehaving students. Even the most well-funded schools will still have disruptive students (anyone who has seen an episode of Gossip Girl can attest), but many persistent discipline problems are due to lack of teacher training or too many students in classes. Findings from TALIS indicate that student discipline and behaviour problems are among the top three areas for which teachers identify a high level of need for professional development. TALIS results also indicate that smaller class sizes are associated with better classroom disciplinary climate in most countries. But with many education systems increasing class size and reducing resources towards professional development in the wake of the economic crisis, how do teachers deal with the discipline problem?