3 Lessons about Love and Discipline

Two years ago, I spoke to three classes at an elementary school; classes of eighth, seventh and sixth graders. I was assigned the responsibility of giving motivational messages about my career. The program was designed to give hope, inspire students to excellence and emphasize the value of good grades and planning for the future. The students varied in their desire to be in school and in their aptitude for their studies, appreciation of their teachers and acceptance of the lessons from the guest speakers. I learned 3 lessons about love and discipline. 

The first teacher was not aware of my arrival and purpose, so I introduced myself and the organization I represented. I was there to tell the students about my background and to motivate them to achieve better grades in preparation for their academic and vocational futures. She seemed nervous by my presence. This was her second week on the job, transferring from another school. She was intense, focused, impatient and stern with the students. She was intimidating in voice and mannerisms as she raised her voice in a threatening manner, when some students were slow to hang their coats.

She yelled at one of the students and asked “Are you stupid or something?” This surprised me. The young man did not look defiant. He lowered his head and walked to his seat. I wondered, what is the right response to such a multiple choice question? Admitting you are stupid is not a good thing, especially in front of the entire class. To answer the question with the word “something” is really not a good idea, may be perceived as a smart remark and really doesn’t tell you anything. A young lady was slow to remove her coat and the teacher sent her out of the room. I did not know the history with this student, but she returned with tears in her eyes. The teacher played the role of the disciplinarian.

Additionally, she did not appear to be happy and I stood there wondering how the kids felt. She was demanding obedience and respect with heavy doses of discipline, but no love.  At one point stating, “You are not going to embarrass me with your behavior.” She did not turn the class over to me until you could hear a pin drop. I started the segment 20 minutes late, but there was order in the classroom.

The second teacher was very delightful. She was professional and eloquent when she introduced me to her students. The session was very animated. There was audience participation built into my discussion. I was very pleased with the level of engagement. However, 20 minutes later the students became restless. One by one, a number of side conversations sprang up. I escalated in my request for order and asked them to pay attention to me, as to the person who had the floor. The students would have none of that. They started side conversations. They had friendly expressions on their faces, as they were compelled to follow their agenda.  Their expressions seemed to apologize for their actions, as if to say, “Sir, please forgive us, but you don’t understand. We have to talk.” I tried numerous techniques to rein them in. The teacher would repeatedly ask for their attention without results. The teacher, exasperated, stood behind some of the offending students, but they continued to talk. I was successful in making the key points and had the interest of most of the students, but I could not get over those who continued to talk and pass notes in front of me. The teacher told the class how disappointed she was in their actions. She was a loving teacher with a lack of discipline.

The third class was a model classroom. I waited outside as a student thanked the prior speaker for taking time from his schedule to tell them about his job. After a brief introduction I began my presentation. The room was electric. The students were responsive, as in the other rooms, but there was something different. There were no side conversations and the quality of their responses was excellent. The time passed quickly. At one point the teacher left the room and I hardly noticed, because the children were still well-behaved. Before she left the classroom, she indicated her expectations about their performance in her absence. She was confident they would behave themselves. When I completed my talk, the teacher asked for a volunteer to thank me. One of the students gave a refreshing show of appreciation for the time I spent to help them prepare for their careers. The teacher in this room had discipline and love for the students and it showed in her interactions and their behavior. 

When I reflected on the day, I was thankful for the opportunity to talk to the leaders of tomorrow. Most were open to the questions and freely challenged and gave their input. Whereas, I was confident many of the children will succeed against some tremendous odds, I could not help but wonder about the leadership styles of the three teachers. These leadership styles are also present in the work place. 

The first teacher exhibited discipline without love. I am sure she cared for the students, but could they tell by the way she spoke to them. She did not provide a context for her discipline. By saying “you are not going to make me look bad” gave the impression that it was all about her. This technique reminded me of some managers I’ve seen. There were no benefits ascribed to the students for behaving appropriately, short or long-term. The intimidating nature of the teacher did not allow her to recognize one young lady who reentered the classroom had been crying. I wondered was there something going on in her life that caused her to reluctantly remove her coat, which angered the teacher? Would awareness of the total student enable the teacher to be more understanding and therefore, more effective? The disciplinary style got results, but there was no context and compassion to support her disciplinary actions. 

The second teacher may have had their attention on most days, but not during my 40 minutes. The teacher wanted to be liked by her students and this desire for friendship was not working on that particular day. They did not seem to be any consequences for ignoring her frequent pleas to be quiet. The loving and delicate manner, although well-intentioned could have been more effective to gain order if there were stated consequences, for failing to comply with her requests. Maybe the discipline came later. Some people do not like to discipline in front of strangers. 

The third teacher had the discipline and the love. I did not hear her state the consequences for being disrespectful, because they never did. This was the kind of learning environment that would optimally get the most out of students and prepare them for the real world. They received the nurture and obviously the discipline they needed to succeed. When the students became aggressive, she would look at them, state a few words to indicate she was not playing games and they settled down quickly. She spoke in a very supportive, encouraging, but stern tone of voice. The climate in this room was high energy and focused on learning. It enabled us to cover a lot of material in 40 minutes. In the other rooms, I lost time, either by starting 20 minutes late or having to slow down and wait for silence to cover the information. 

I would imagine that in the long run, a great environment for learning and productivity requires a combination of love and discipline. There are instances in school and in the workplace where providing discipline alone without the context of love and reward, will make students and workers more resentful and rebellious and fail to learn and produce as much. If you love and pamper employees and students without discipline and consequences, is that too soft? Will they become entitled and disrespectful, without manners and a potential problem for future teachers, customers and employers? The blend of love and discipline seems to be the right combination to build character in avid learners, strong leaders and the productive citizens we need today and tomorrow. 

Copyright © 2009 Orlando Ceaser

2 thoughts on “3 Lessons about Love and Discipline

  1. Ruth, I always appreciate your remarks. I am glad that my recent experiences have been better than that fateful days two years ago. However, there is still a lot of work to be done and many dedicated servants working on it.


  2. Thank you for this thoughtful, loving look-back at the time you spent with children that need everything you are there to provide, but some lost that opportunity because their leadership was ‘less than’…..


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