Katie Mann
August 21, 2013

Following in the vein of last weekʼs blog of adjusted success, Iʼd now like to embark on “adjusted discipline.”

We, at 4th Wall, train many new people. For one, our staff is growing in leaps and bounds. Secondly, (and probably more of a contributing factor) college aged people like to volunteer with us to get experience hours within their field of study. And with all these “newbies” to the field of special education I have noticed one thing: They do not like to discipline our students. Allow me to climb onto my soap box and announce to all new hires everywhere, “Please, please, please discipline your students!”

Why new employees and interns new to 4th Wall do not feel comfortable discipling our students seems to stem from one of two reasons:

“But I want them to like me/What if I hurt their feelings?”

disciplineYou will hurt their feelings, but they will still like you. In most cases the wrongdoer already knew what they were doing was against the rules. Children are surprisingly apt at knowing where boundaries are and then pushing beyond it just a little. Besides, most of the time you are correcting them to keep them or another student safe. And as to them liking or not liking you, it isnʼt your job to be friends. It is your job to be a teacher. Ironically, I have found that if you are reasonably strict at enforcing rules, students will still like you anyway. They are used to having authority figures be, well, authoritative. You will earn their respect and trust. All children want adults to be in charge (even if they behave differently).

“But my students have special needs. They wonʼt understand.”

This is the excuse that grinds my gears the most. There are very, very few exceptions where right and wrong are not always comprehended. On the whole when dealing with students with autism, Down syndrome, cognitive impairments, etc they will understand. And they know better.

My most recent example was a young lady who was not at all pleased with her part she was cast in for the play. When inquiring she responded, “But why do I have to sing with everyone? I think everyone else should sit down and watch me sing [solo].” Now as adorable as her point of view is, our teachers werenʼt about to let that happen. The student in question then showed her displeasure and would not participate. Thatʼs fine. We just had her sit out and her originally cast part (with a lot of lines) was passed to someone else. If she got her attitude together she would get a new part.

Which brings us full circle–the discipline should be adjusted to the misdemeanor and often it is a case by case judgement call. I think this should be the situation for all forms of justice, but in terms of working with students with special needs it may seem odd to an onlooker. Discipline may be– taking away the string of beads they enjoy, going on a walk until they feel better, swinging on a swing, etc. And thatʼs why discipline, I think, tends to be difficult for people new to the field; it has to be adjusted to the severity of the infraction, as well as the studentʼs reasoning abilities. But keep your eyes on what the experienced employees are doing, and I know youʼll catch on fine.