Teaching Opinion

Exceptions to the Rule Against Classroom Rules

By David Ginsburg — September 15, 2010 1 min read

In As a Rule, Forget About Rules, I asserted that most classroom disciplinary rules are unnecessary, which raises the question: What rules are necessary? And the answer, of course, is going to vary from school to school and possibly even teacher to teacher within a school. Still, in my experience working at many schools, most “necessary” disciplinary rules have fallen into three categories:

Unwritten rules. Schools I taught at didn't have a written rule prohibiting students from sleeping in class. Yet everyone--staff and students alike--knew napping was a no-no. So when an administrator popped into my classroom and saw two students snoozing, I learned a lesson the hard way: establish a classroom rule up front for any behavior you're expected to hold students accountable to despite the absence of an official school rule. Personal pet peeves. If something gets under your skin, sooner or later it's going to erupt. And look out when it does, since kids can be merciless once they know what sets you off. It's better, therefore, to proactively establish rules for those one or two common student behaviors that are sure to rattle your cage. (See my recent post Preventing Profanity With Peace and Love for an example.) Student code of conduct. If a rule is already in your school's policy manual, in theory you shouldn't need to establish it as a rule in your classroom. You should just enforce it. And indeed this was my approach with serious offenses such as fighting, which students knew was unacceptable without needing me to remind them. But other infractions may be less implicit to students (or taken less seriously by them), so it's often a good idea to discuss and reinforce them in your classroom. An example from schools I taught at: no earrings for boys.

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