DISCIPLINE: Fill Your Toolbox

I had taken a year off from teaching, relocated to Mobile, Alabama, and tried my hand at selling insurance. Throughout that year, the realization grew in my own heart and mind that I needed to be in the classroom teaching. On the Sunday evening before school started, I received a phone call hiring me to teach an inner-city classroom, middle school, 100% Afro-American. I was about to cross three cultural barriers—with a briefcase full of ignorance. I found out on the first day. The next six months were warlike: me against them. They resisted; I punished. I was losing; so were they. Lose/lose situation.  Many times I would drive home in the afternoon, tears running down my face, pouring my heart out to God.

One particular day, a seventh grader Yvonne was being particularly disrespectful. Seeing red, I walked to her desk, knelt down and stuck my finger in her face, saying, “If you ever do that again, I will . . .” I stopped, not knowing what to say next. I never finished that sentence, got up and walked away. She laughed.

Then I attended a workshop on discipline that gave me another tool. This question was asked: Why should they obey? What benefit do the students get in your classroom? I changed. I gave them a promise of reward. If any individual obeyed me five days in a row, he would earn one day off. On that day off, he could choose to go to PE or to the library. His choice. The difference in my classroom was miraculous. We began to like each other, most of my students and I. On my next evaluation, my supervisor asked, “What did you do to get your classroom so disciplined?”

“Disciplined?” Did she say “disciplined?” I began to realize that discipline was more than punishment. Since that time, I have come to see that discipline is more like discipling or training. Punishment is only one tool of the training process. Yes, it is an important tool, but only one tool. A reward can also be a tool.

A good parent has a toolbox with many tools much like a good carpenter. Can you imagine a carpenter with only a hammer? His partner asks, “How long is that board?” Since he has no tape measure, the hammer-only carpenter lays his hammer down end-over-end eleven times. “Eleven hammers long,” he answers. Imagine that: using a hammer to measure! I would not hire that crazy carpenter to build my house.

Sometimes as parents, we get in a rut by using only one tool—whether it is the right tool or not. We spank them, or we ground them, or we take things away, or we send them to their room, or we verbally rebuke them. Any of these things can have a rightful place but using only one tool is CRAZY. We have to fill our toolboxes with several different tools to be effective family-builders.

Choosing the right tool for the right situation is an important part of being a wise parent.

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