Why Kids Like Strict Teachers

Question: I have observed that elementary school and junior high school students, even high schoolers, tend to admire the more strict teachers. Why is this true?

Answer: Yes, the teachers who maintain order are often the most respected members of the faculties, provided they aren't mean and grouchy. A teacher who can control a class without being oppressive is almost always loved by her students. One reason is that there is safety in order. When a class is out of control, particularly at the elementary school level, the children are afraid of each other. If the teacher can't make the class behave, how can she prevent a bully from doing his thing? How can she keep the students from ridiculing one of its less able members? Children are not very fair and understanding with each other, and they feel good about having a strong teacher who is.

Second, children love justice. When someone has violated a rule, they want immediate retribution. They admire the teacher who can enforce an equitable legal system and they find great comfort in reasonable social rules. By contrast, the teacher who does not control her class inevitably allows crime to pay, violating something basic in the value system of children.

Third, children admire strict teachers because chaos is nerve-racking. Screaming and hitting and wiggling are fun for about ten minutes; them the confusion begins to get tiresome and irritating.

I have smiled in amusement many times as second-and third-grade children astutely evaluated the relative disciplinary skills of their teachers. They know how a class should be conducted. I only wish all of their teachers were equally aware of this important attribute.

Question: I am a teacher in junior high school, and there are five separate classes that come to my room to be taught science each day. My biggest problem is getting these students to bring books, paper, and pencils to class with them. I can lend them the equipment they need, but I never get it back. What do you suggest?

Answer: I faced an identical problem the years I taught in junior high school, and finally reached a solution which is based on the certainty that young people will cooperate if it is to their advantage to do so. After begging and pleading and exhorting them unsuccessfully, I announced on morning that I was no longer concerned about whether they brought their pencils and books to class. I had twenty extra books and several boxes of sharpened pencils which they could borrow. If they forgot to bring these materials, all they have to do was ask for a loan. I would not gnash my teeth or get red in the face; they would find me willing to share my resources. However, there was to be one hitch: the borrowing student would have to forfeit his seat for the one-hour class. He would have to stand by his chair while I was teaching, and if any written work was required, he had to lean over his desk from a standing position. As might be imagined, the students were less than ecstatic about this prospect. I smiled to myself and saw them racing around before class, trying to borrow a book or pencil. I did not have to enforce the standing rule very often because the issue had become the pupils' campaign rather than mine. Once a week, or so, a student would have to spend the hour in a vertical position, but that youngster made certain he did not blunder into the same situation twice.

The principle has broader applicability: give children maximum reason to want to comply with your wishes. Your anger is the least effective of all possible reasons.

Dr. Dobson Answers Your Questions

By Dr. James Dobson

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