Recently in my interactions with some fellow teachers, I’ve been shocked and saddened to hear how many teachers have their hands tied with this restriction: No negative consequences.

And as I search my brain for suggestions or encouragement, I often come up empty. I can’t imagine running my classroom without consequences.

Why Classrooms Need Consequences

In fact, when I shared in my post How to Calm a Disruptive Class: The Quick & Easy Method that Saved My Sanity how effective it is to write students’ names on the board, I received quite a few comments about how this type of method is not allowed in their schools. A few even raised concerns that such an approach can be dangerous, as it can harm students’ self-esteem.

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe in positive reinforcement, and I would argue that you certainly should not publicly humiliate a student. But consequences…..or reprimanding a student….or singling out someone who is misbehaving? These should not be taboo!

What About Self-Esteem?

Yeah, yeah, I know that the reason for these “no consequences” policies is to avoid hurting kids self-esteem. But there’s one big problem with that.

I don’t buy it.

I just don’t.

This probably warrants a whole separate post, but we are way too concerned with self-esteem in our society. Yes, children and teens need to understand their self-worth in Christ. But they also need to be confronted with their sin and mistakes. Never addressing the problems is not helping them – it’s crippling them. Young people who have been coddled their whole life and have never had to face their own flaws will not be prepared to be successful and influential adults.

Plus, does it really help to build self-esteem if you never face difficulty and overcome it? Learning from your mistakes is an important part of growing up, and often it takes negative consequences to motivate someone to change.

Why Consequences Are Important

I believe consequences are valuable and need to be a part of our classrooms. Here’s why:

  1. Consequences are part of life. If one of our main goals of education is to prepare students for life, then we do them a disservice to shield them from consequences. If they consistently decide to blow off work in their job, do you think their boss will simply withhold positive reinforcement? I doubt it…..well, technically maybe they will. In the form of “you will no longer receive a paycheck from this company.”

  2. Consequences promote personal responsibility. One of the most important traits we need to teach our students is personal responsibility, and when coupled with positive motivation, consequences are extremely effective at doing this. You were well-behaved today? Great job! Keep it up and you’ll earn (whatever reward is appropriate). You disrupted class? Here are your consequences.

    And I’m going to have to write a whole separate post on letting students fail….

  3. Consequences motivate students. Some students need no outside motivation – they would want to behave and do their best even if no one ever noticed. Other students are motivated by rewards. But there are many students who lack intrinsic motivation and to whom the desire for a reward is not strong enough to overcome their lack of interest. These students often need consequences to motivate them to succeed. [Once again, please don't misunderstand. There's a lot more they need - interesting teaching, love, motivation, etc. But often kids simply need to know that there are consequences if they don't do what they should.]

  4. Consequences help keep order. There is just no doubt about it – a classroom with consequences will be more orderly and productive than a classroom without them. It’s just a fact. While kids will work towards rewards, and rewards a great incentive, they are not enough. There are some kids who need consequences to stay on task. And a teacher who cannot give consequences (even as a last resort) has a very unfair disadvantage.

What if Consequences Have Been Banned from Your Classroom?

If you’re a teacher in a school where consequences are taboo, I’d love to hear from you. What challenges has it created? How have you overcome them?

My biggest encouragement to you is to not just sit idly by and let this trend continue. Talk about it with your administration and fellow teachers. Be respectful, of course, but argue the points. Don’t be intimidated. Be bold and advocate for what our students really need, even if it’s not what they want.

Do you agree that consequences are an important part of the classroom? If not, why not? Share your thoughts and experiences with a comment below.

Photo by Natesh Ramasamy

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One Thought on “Why Classrooms Need Consequences

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. We automatically associate consequences with negativity. How about the POSITIVE result of having kids understand what that their actions have consequences in the real world? Consequences must be thoughtful, not arbitrary (of course), but are necessary in teaching the “whole” student.

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