«Behavioral Dissonance and Contested Classroom Spaces: Teachers’ and Students’ Negotiations of Classroom Disciplinary Moments by Rebecca Neal A ...»
The school’s disciplinary procedures included “the consequences of inappropriate behavior: (a) warning issued to student; (b) completion of discipline form, talk with student, after school detention; (c) notify parent; (d) meet with parent in person, lunch or after school detention with principal; and (e) lunch or after school detention with principal, parent re-notification. Severe rule infractions such as defiance of authority, fighting, assault, possession or use of drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, gambling, theft of any kind, weaponry, or intentionally damaging school property could result in immediate suspensions or expulsion.” Note teachers’ and students’ preconceived notions of what was misbehavior did not align with policy definitions in either the school handbook or parent’s compact.
Reported by teachers and students, consequences (e.g., reprimands and punishments) consisted of students being removed from the classroom, denial of recess or physical education, loss of a privilege such as participating in a fieldtrip, afterschool detention, and cleaning up the cafeteria. Tending not to punish a student by the denial of a privilege, Ms. Esther would confront students, issue a whole class warning or redirection, attempt to call a student’s home, send a letter home with a student, threaten to call a student’s home, or remove the student from the classroom. Below is an example of her publically confronting Cookie by calling out his name in class. Cookie recalls a time
he got into trouble while in Ms. Esther’s classroom:
On this particular Thursday, Ms. Esther sent Cookie to the vice principal’s office at 10:30 am for not having his paper, pencil and being out of his area. He ate lunch in Ms.
Nichél’s office and remained there for the duration of the day. The next day, on his own, Cookie began his day working in Ms. Nichél’s office and asked if he could also eat lunch with her. She obliged.
Table 15 Punishments and Consequences (Sanction): Symbols and Significations
When asked what prompted him to do this, Cookie responded: “I won’t get in trouble because there was whole bunch of noise and people in the cafeteria. When there’s a lot of noise, we don’t get to go outside.” Eventually, Cookie was ready to return to class; however, unbeknownst to him, as a consequence of his behavior the day before, Ms. Esther forbids his to return on Friday. Once again, Cookie found himself spending a quiet afternoon with Ms. Nichél in her office. The following Monday Cookie’s sanction was lifted; however, Ms. Nichél invited him to work in her office again. Cookie obliged and Ms. Esther provided work for him to do in Ms. Nichél’s office. Finally, Cookie returned to Ms. Esther’s class on Tuesday, three days after being asked to leave the classroom for not having his work done and being out of his area without permission.
Unique to Cookie was his response to the classroom environment. During interviews, Cookie shared,
Ms. Nichél was aware of Cookie’s environmental triggers and felt she was offering him a more comfortable learning environment. During class with Mr. Abrahm and Ms. Esther, Cookie would walk around the room at will throwing items in the trash, make basketball shots in the garbage can with wads of paper, or talk to the student sitting next to him;
however, although isolated from his peers, when Cookie worked in Ms. Nichél’s office he physically appeared calm, focused, and productive.
Ms. Nichél’s office was used for multiple purposed and it was unclear how teachers determined when students would go to the office; or what would take place when they arrived. Even when talking to school administrators, teachers, and students, it was undistinguished if students were going to the office to work, speak to an administrator, to eat, or sit. Regularly, Ms. Nichél’s office was used as a place of safe retreat and [or?] punishment. Notably, Cookie did not seem to mind this indistinction.
Through his remarks during an interview, Cookie shared, “I like working in her office. It is quiet and I don’t get in trouble.” Notwithstanding the lack of communication between the vice principal, Ms. Esther and Cookie, equally troublesome was the amount of time Cookie was out of the classroom and remained isolated from his peers. In speaking with
Ms. Nichél, she indicated:
Profound, is the power of environmental influences on behavior. Considering context, Ms. Nichél’s comments are another example of competence being defined by context. It is troubling that Cookie must be excluded from his peers, isolated and removed from classroom instruction to have productive interactions at school. In addition, in Ms.
Nichél’s office, Cookie is regarded as a competent student, capable of appropriate social interactions and having the ability to complete school work; however, when students’ social abilities were in question (i.e., not following directions or established classroom routines and norms), teachers generally issued a consequence.
Keeping in mind the role of context in relation to competence, using her own set of mental parameters for organizing behavior, Ms. Esther understood misbehavior in yet a different manner. Ms. Esther’s teaching style allowed movement and provided opportunities for students to act enthusiastically in class. On a regular basis, she played melodic background music in her room while students were working. Byron sat near the front of the classroom and could be seen bopping his head and gently swaying his torso and head from left to right as he listened to the music playing while he worked at his desk. I asked Byron why he swayed his body back and forth even when no music played.
He replied, “I listen to my own music in my head.” Although the expectation in Ms. Esther’s room was for students to stay at their desk during her instruction, students would randomly leave their area without consequence or redirection. This teaching style boded well for Byron and Cookie who seemed to have the need to either move about the classroom or be physically active while being seated. In Ms. Esther’s classroom, classification of certain externalized behaviors (i.e., not sitting still) was generally interpreted as unproblematic. It is through Mr.
Abrahm and Ms. Esther mental parameters; and organization and classification of distinct behavioral properties that I am able to recognize how compliance or disruption between teachers and students is co-constructed within classrooms.
Consequences (i.e., punishments) for rule infractions varied and were randomly imposed by teachers. There was no discernable pattern other than certain students were more likely to receive sanctions than others. Regularly, a student’s sanction started out as one day, but as time continued, the length and severity of punishments were extended. On several occasions a one day denial of recess evolved into multiple days on denied recess.
For example, during class, Mr. Abrahm thought Byron was making noises and moving around too much in his desk. Given these improprieties, Mr. Abrahm directed Byron to leave the room and work in Mr. Burrton’s classroom. After class, I asked Mr.
Abrahm when Byron could return and he responded, “Unfortunately, there is no condition on his return. He is just incapable of sitting still in the classroom. He just can’t do it.” Mr. Abrahm could not be specific about Byron’s behaviors and it was equally unclear how Mr. Abrahm arrived at this decision. When asked to discuss this behavioral event further, Mr. Abrahm remarked, “After one day, students would return to class and exhibit the same unwanted behavior. This is how more days were added.” Immediate reactions. Teachers and students alike had immediate personal reactions during a classroom disciplinary moment. Shown in Table 16 are teachers and students ideas of their immediate reactions. Teachers and students alike described each other as “having an attitude.” Mr. Abrahm and Ms. Esther attitudes were shown through their verbal address to students. Ms. Esther would respond with a quip or retort. She also changed her tone by talked louder or softer, and would also grimace or stare at students. Mr. Abrahm tended to maintain his same disposition, show no change in his expression or tone; and address students in a matter of fact manner.
Attitudes can account for given human behavior (Blumer, 1969). Mead (1934) suggests that observable behavior finds expression within the individual, not in the
Farberman (1985) remarked that attitudes are inner parts of a person’s behavior that can lead to certain response tendencies. He also referred to attitudes as inner experiences that influences one’s externalized behavior. In general, attitudes are a summary judgment derived from a recollection of past experiences relative to an object (e.g., symbol) where one acts (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). As such, sense and meaning making are the building blocks for attitudes to develop (Bem, 1970). In this sense, teachers’ and students’ symbolic meanings for attitudes resulted from an interaction with oneself, the environment, and with one another.
Table 16 Students’ Immediate Reactions (Closure): Symbols and Signification
In the case of Mr. Abrahm, Ms. Esther, Byron, Lil P, B.G., Cookie, and Jonathan attitudes were blatantly visible. Upon a deeper probe, students’ attitudes consisted of an appearance, emotion, duration and effect. Students’ attitudes varied in length; lasting all day, an entire class period, an extended period of time that was over before class ended, or momentarily (i.e., less than 3 minutes). Students’ also displayed visible signs of distress in postural changes, facial expression, gestures and having a diminished effort to work. Students’ having an immediate reaction tended to cross their arms, slouch in their desk, put their head down, frown, pout, grimace, or squint. In some cases, students also experienced an emotional component when misbehaving and shared feeling satisfied,
frustrated, angry and acquiescent. For example:
Battey (2013) mentioned that relational interactions between teachers and students are verbal and non-verbal communicative acts that convey meaning beyond the curriculum.
Due to teachers and students personal meaning making processes during their momentto-moment interchanges, contested classroom spaces were sometimes spawned when teachers’ and students’ had differing ideas regarding the signification of classroom symbols (e.g., checkmarks on the board, students’ names of the board, classroom downtime, paper).
Important to note is that the development of classroom disciplinary moments tended to occur in a structured progression. This progression of classroom disciplinary moments moved from phase to phase in their formations however each phase varied in length, frequency, and intensity. Therefore, the co-construction of misbehavior was dynamic, multidimensional, and non-linear. As such, misbehaviors were not routinized or fixed although they did follow a structure that was influenced by the co-creation and formation of classroom disciplinary moments.
An important finding of this study was that what encapsulates a classroom disciplinary moment has been ill-defined in the literature base and in the understandings of teachers and students. The data collected provided defining features of classroom disciplinary moments once analyzed that offer a foundation of shared understanding for future work. The definition of a classroom disciplinary moment emerged from the data as a process that occurred during moments of time that varied in structure and length. What follows is a description of the process as well as the structure and length that formed classroom disciplinary moments.
Classroom disciplinary moments could consist of exchanges between two people, an episode of multiple exchanges, or a discipline event which involves both multiple exchanges but also a sanction for a student. Some classroom disciplinary moments move from a single exchange into more and more interactions or exchanges, thus creating episodes. And sometimes episodes become so heated as to involve sanctions, thus creating an event. Other times, an event is created immediately, without this progression;
however, whichever way the discipline moment happens, all moments involve phases as they progress. What follows is a description of what constitutes an exchange, episode, and event. Later, we return to the conceptualization of phases that are processed through during an episode, exchange, and event. To provide visualization of these coconstructions, Figure 8 shows the various formations of classroom disciplinary moments and their definitions.
Figure 8. Formations of classroom disciplinary moments.
We know that classroom disciplinary moments begin with students exhibiting some kind of observable behavior. In this study, linked relays of behaviors were conceptualized as behavioral echolations, whereby a student’s behavior set forth a chain of reactions (or echo’s) between a teacher and a student. After a student’s initial action, behavioral echolations were considered subsequent teacher and student responses.
The reverberation of behavioral echolations also created various formations of misbehavior. Because of the highly contextualized nature of classroom disciplinary moments, teachers’ and students’ interpretations and concerted negotiations, made the contour of misbehavior malleable. This means that given the situation and circumstances, behavioral echolations varied in number of reverberations. For example, an exchange was short and consisted of a single echolation, or response. An episode had more echolocations and involved teachers and students volleying behaviors back and forth at least three times. When the course of misbehavior progressed in a step-by-step fashion, an event typically consisted of the most behavioral echolations. Generally, an event consisted of at least three teacher and student exchanges and contained at least three behavioral echolations.