Saturday, January 16, 2010

Using learning as a punishment

Is it unprofessional to withhold learning as a punishment to gain compliance from a student?


And yet, have you ever heard of a teacher who uses fun learning activities such as field trips, games or hands on activities such as experiments as a punishment?

I have.

And it makes me cringe.

Here are but a few examples I have seen in my teaching career:

  • a teacher withheld gym class from his students for two weeks because of their misbehavior

  • a teacher did not allow a student to attend a science field trip because of their misbehavior

  • a parent would not take their child to the book store because of their misbehavior

  • a teacher made their students who did not change for gym class write an essay on why they should change

  • a teacher made their student do push ups for speaking out of turn

If I am prepared to withold learning from a student in order to get them to comply, doesn't that prove that I place compliance or behavior as an even higher priority than learning.

Honestly, should anything be placed as a higher priority than learning?

Teachers have a professional obligation to provide learning opportunities unconditionally for their students.


  1. I agree with what you are saying here. I have been guilty of this from time to time. Not everyone is interested in completing work or following routines and so we search for something they value and hold it over their heads. It is a mistake to trade on this with students. For one thing it tends to diminish some learning objectives. Art and gym are subservient to math and language when we keep a child back to complete work. I think it is too simple to say we have an obligation to provide learning opportunities unconditionally for students. Learning does not always trump compliance because sometimes compliance is a prerequisite of learning.

    I would never take a student on a field trip if I felt I did not have their cooperation. I would withdraw a student from a physical activity if I felt the student's behaviour was unsafe or disruptive. I have learned not to judge a student's behaviour in gym or on a field trip based on their level of compliance in classroom situations. Some of the most disruptive, alienated students in the classroom blossom in authentic learning situations.

  2. Your examples are extreme and I would agree that they are mostly inappropriate. I have never not taken a student on a field trip because of poor behavior before. However, I would not take a student on a field trip if there were safety concerns that would result from a students' inability to function on the trip. The goal leading up the field trip though would be to train the student and the day of the field trip I would see if I could provide additional supervision for that student.

    Removing students from an activity for a short (10-20 minute) period of time, however, I do believe is completely appropriate punishment.

  3. At my school if you're a few minutes late for class - unless it was some kind of emergency I'm guessing - they make you go to the cafeteria and sit there until the end of the period. What does this serve? It doesn't help the teacher, nor the student, and all it really does is encourage the kid to continue to be late for class, after all, if they're late they don't have to go. In fact if they're late why not just skip the class, you're going to be sent out anyway, but then I suppose they'd get in trouble because they were not told yet to do so.


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