Students and DetentionsMarch 1, 2009
I have explained before about how detentions can be badly organised to the point of being worthless. I was once in a position to rectify this within the department where I worked. I put a lot of time into increasing the rate of attendance at department detentions from about 50% to 90%.
It led to conversations like this with students:
“Sir, how can I have a detention today? I did it on Monday.”
“No, the detention you did on Monday was for not doing your homework. Today’s detention is for sulking and refusing to work in the lesson where you were given the detention for not doing the homework.”
“But I’ve done a detention.”
“Yes, I just said that.”
“So I don’t have to do it today?”
“Yes, you do.”
“But I’ve done it.”
“No, that was a different detention.”
“As I said, you have two detentions. One for homework. One for behaviour.”
“And I’ve got to do both of them?”
“That’s not fair”
Or even worse, for students who dared to get two detentions for the same thing:
“Sir, I’ve got a detention for not doing the homework but I did it last week.”
“That was a different detention.”
“But it says it’s for not doing the homework.”
“But I did the detention for not doing homework last week.”
“Yes, but you have two detentions for not doing homework.”
“Was there homework this week?”
“Not yet. Your detention is for not doing last week’s homework.”
“But I did that detention last week.”
“No, last week’s detention was for not doing the previous week’s homework.”
“There were two homeworks?”
“I don’t remember having two homeworks.”
“You did. They were both on worksheets that have been stapled into your book.”
“And I had to do both of them?”
“Yes. One last week, one the week before.”
“So, do I have to do the detention today?”
It became abundantly clear that where teachers had been left to organise their own detentions then they had struggled to follow up students who owed more than one detention. To the students it had long been established that once you owed one detention you couldn’t possibly be expected to do any more. The effect on discipline was noticeable, any child given a detention would behave badly for the rest of the lesson, and often lessons afterwards, simply because they thought they were immune to further punishment and wanted to object to the punishment they had already received. It made detentions for things like homework very inadvisable and any child who had a detention became a ticking timebomb, just waiting to explode into a further display of poor behaviour.
While I was at the Metropolitan School I was given an opportunity to research how students felt about detentions. As I have no doubt mentioned before the school operated a system of warnings. The first two warnings were written on the board and rubbed off at the end of the lesson. The third warning resulted in a detention, and the fourth resulted in the students being sent out of the classroom. My research showed that most students accepted that they deserved their first warning. Fewer students accepted that they deserved their second warning. No students at all ever accepted that they deserved their detention. Warnings were given on the same grounds whether they were first, second or third and so a third warning should have been no more controversial than a first. However, the fact was that despite a clear system that was meant to be in operation across the school students lacked the maturity to ever accept that they could have brought a detention on themselves.
What both of these examples illustrate is the extent to which students do not see punishments as something necessary or deserved, no matter how clear-cut the individual case is. My opinion is that this is because we have simply lost any meaningful concept of desert in our schools. After all, if it is normal for difficult children to be spoilt, sent on trips, and allowed to dominate classrooms, why would any child connect their own lapses in behaviour to a deserved punishment?