Meanderings in Classroom “Management”

I am not a fan of the common terminology for discussing student behavior in the classroom in the same manner as I would describe new cars moving through the assembly line. I have always believed that we behave the way we talk. If we speak of managing our students, we have demoted them to the assembly line. And concurrent with that concern is the corollary that if we manage them, we will miss our goal of instilling habits in them and simply “move them on down the line” having been able to deal with their managed behavior enough to add our piece of knowledge to them. All that negative carping out the way, allow me a few minutes to simply think my way along what I hope will be biblical reasoning about the habits I wish to help develop in my students.

What is the basis for all Christian behavior? The holiness of God is my standard, and should be my standard for my students. What is a working definition of holiness? Holiness is doing what I ought and not doing what I ought not to do. If I am going to model and train my students in right living, which of the aforementioned should I focus upon? Obviously it should be the good, the “ought” rather than that which is evil or the “ought not.”

So having determined that I ought to teach my students by word and deed what they ought to be doing, what specifics make up this general idea of holiness in the positive? Holiness is godly virtue lived in the daily life, so the main virtues of the holy student would be Courage, Temperance, Liberality, Faith, Hope, Charity, Meekness, Truthfulness, Wittiness, Modesty, Righteous Indignation, and Justice. I have gathered these from Aristotle’s famous list of virtues. I have changed his bothersome or lacking triad of Friendliness, Pride, and Ambition to more Christian notions of Charity, Faith, and Hope. I believe the classroom that has student and teacher seeking these virtues in a biblical fashion will be one that develops young Christians into mature ones.

I believe that if these “ideas” are in place, the methods or techniques must be equal to the goals. Modern concepts of behavior modification or “carrot and stick” (as much as I still catch myself using that very phrase), tend to be very manipulative and aimed at making the student someone the teacher can “handle” rather than speaking to the habits of virtue in the heart of that student. Hence, if we are seeking to instill virtue in some similar manner to our pains at imparting wisdom, we should look to similar methods of instruction.

What then are the proper methods of imparting these virtues? I would offer but two very general ideas that have a thousand specifics in their midst. The artful teacher uses didactic teaching (the use of models and experiences outside the student) and dialectic teaching (the use of questions to bring out what the student already knows) to cause advances in the student’s knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Hence, the use of literally innumerable models of virtue in literature, art, history, narrative, myth, etc. become the basis for demonstrating to the student’s mind the notion of virtue. And the wise teacher loves those didactic experiences as they affect his own life and makes sure that his love for them is displayed openly in front of his student.

As these positive experiences are piled up in the classroom, it is incumbent that dialectic occurs in the student’s life as well. The wise teacher is one who questions the student endlessly, causing him to consider his assumptions about his own life and behavior in light of the didactic models surrounding him. I think this is the heart of proper training in virtue. For our dialectic considerations, do I as a teacher tend to want to change behavior or simply prevent undesirable acts? I am not dismissing the negative necessities of virtue training, but rather seeking to understand if the unwanted behavior is unwanted because of an agreed upon goal for the culture of our classroom or just because it’s annoying to me as the teacher.

It seems that as we seek holiness in the classroom we naturally find the virtues of Justice and Order rising to the zenith of our thinking. Justice certainly includes the notion of fairness, but seeks a full balance of action relating to all aspects of classroom culture. And inherent in the notion of Order is the necessity of consistency, clarity, and the like which are often the bugaboos of “classroom management” even when it is lowered to behavioral modification models. Another way to looking at these ramblings would be to state that while many of the issues brought up under the typical heading of “classroom management” are significant and important, the manner of answering those questions is much deeper than most of those offered in the modern classroom. There is a Truth, a Goodness, and a Beauty that is attainable in all of our lives, including the biblically ordered and just classroom. A major part of our ongoing conversation in education is how we pursue those ideas.


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