Courtesy is one grand antidote to poor discipline

Each year a Gallup poll is taken of a sample set of United States citizens. They are asked, among other questions, to rate how much of a problem discipline is in the schools.

Respondents who do not have children in school generally rate discipline lower than those who are current parents, but both sets of people polled signify that discipline problems are among the worst.

One clear antidote to a lack of discipline is an abundance of courtesy. Or, as Webster's Collegiate Dictionary has it - ''gracious politeness.''

Polite behavior is essential to a good school atmosphere.

Who sets the tone for a school building?

Answer: the head teacher or principal.

Who sets the tone in each classroom? The teacher or teachers.

When children arrive at school each morning, it's a good idea for at least one administrator to be out on the sidewalk or at the top of the steps greeting each one by name. Holding a polite and courteous discussion.

The headmaster of a large independent school used to sit in the middle of a main school hall between classes, making sure that by day's end he'd personally greeted every student.

Before each day's courteous greetings, he'd review each pupil's folder, and knew which ones needed a bit of encouragement, which needed to be reminded of their responsibilities, which needed sympathy, and which needed a stern (but polite) rebuke.

In another school, a sixth-grade teacher would shake hands with each pupil at the end of every school day, having a word in private - a word of encouragement based on praise for some worthy enterprise during that day.

Ask any schoolchild what quality they most want in a teacher, and you get the same answer. It's one word. It implies that the teacher so characterized is naturally courteous.

The word is ''fair.''

One definition of ''fair'' is: ''consistent with rules, logic, or ethics.'' And, of course, ''courteous'' is a synonym.

Yes, pupils dearly want their teachers, counselors, deans, and principals to be fair, without bias, and consistent. They don't seem to mind if one is strict about one thing and another strict about something else.

They can handle those differences. But they want equitable treatment; and there is every evidence that even the most troubled pupils respond to courteousness.

Shouldn't, then, every teacher find some time in each school day to have a polite conversation with each of his students?

Shouldn't there be ways for the school authorities to recognize gracious politeness when it is exemplified by one or more students?

And shouldn't all visitors to a given school come away noting, with pleasure, how courteous the whole atmosphere was?

Next week: Now it's your turn

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