The Anatomy of Rules

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Managing a classroom is like a microcosm of running a city or a state or even a country. Every school has rules regarding behavior, grading policies, attendance, illness and so forth. Many of the mandates derive from the school district to which they belong or even from state level education agencies. Within the confines of a particular campus there may be additional directives regarding issues like walking in the hallways during passing periods or behavior in the cafeteria during lunch. At the most intimate level each teacher is able to create regulations outlining expectations for various objectives related directly to the delivery of lessons. 

All rules must be clearly stated and posted so that both students and parents are aware of the requirements. In most cases there are also listings of potential consequences for failure to follow the directives. The important thing to consider when designing such demands is to be as certain as possible that they are fair and enforceable. Once a rule is made public it has to apply to everyone, not just a select few. 

As a beginning teacher I had to learn the importance of creating rules for my classroom that would be understandable and truly important for the smooth operation of my efforts to teach and the students’ ability to learn. My initial descriptions of crimes and punishments in the early days of being an educator ended up being too complex. As a result I was expending more time as a “cop” than an educator. Fortunately my principal was a gifted administrator who helped me to understand that simplicity was a better way to keep my students in tow without alienating them and their parents while also making my job easier. 

In the ensuing years I came to believe that a measure of a rule’s worth could be found in my own willingness to consistently enforce it. For example, I once demanded that students raise their hands and wait to be called on before speaking in every situation. Before long I saw that there were indeed times when it was better to tap into the enthusiasm of their responses rather than discouraging them with a directive that I often failed to follow. 

I remember an incident in which I wrote up a student for disrupting one of my lessons. Even after warning him to get quiet and pay attention he continued his bad behavior. I finally gave him a detention slip and sent a copy to the assistant principal. Later that evening the young man’s mother called me crying and insisting that she needed her son to come home each afternoon to watch his siblings while she worked. She begged me to reconsider the punishment while assuring me that she would instruct her son to apologize and change his ways. I felt for her situation and sent a note to the assistant principal asking him to rescind the detention ruling. Instead the wise administrator called me to his office.

When I arrived he explained that the student’s mother had a reputation of begging for clemency for her son. He also noted that it was not a good idea to go back on punishment because it would send a message to all of my students that I was inconsistent and might be manipulated to let some off the hook while coming down on others. He told me to think before making demands or setting punishments. He showed me how important it was for the students to know that everyone was equal in my sphere of classroom management. 

Which gets me to all of the rules floating around the world regarding the pandemic. If a country has strict rules for its citizens regarding vaccines and masks, then there should be no question that an unvaccinated tennis player from another nation should be banned from playing in a tournament there. A rule may not be deemed appropriate by everyone, but if it is in place then it must be enforced in the same way for every single person or it must be changed or eliminated for all. There has been a tendency to look the other way for athletes in particular during the pandemic simply because they attract fans and fill coffers. Meanwhile the average person has to follow rules or possibly find themselves being fired. Whenever we begin making exceptions and bending the regulations we created confusion and anger. 

Frankly, I understand how difficult it is to know what to do in the face of Covid. I would hate to be the person in charge of anything. This virus has mutated and changed how we react to it for two years and counting. In our quest to just be normal again we want clear answers when they probably do not even exist. All we can do is work with the tools and knowledge that we have and hope that we can make our communities as safe as possible. We know that vaccines are not a preventive but they are most surely a mitigator of the worst aspects of the virus. Of course every individual reacts differently to both the vaccine and Covid so the best bet is to be honest that there are no ironclad guarantees, but there is indeed evidence that vaccines, masks and other measures generally result in less severe sickness. 

We are battling a coronavirus that is a force of nature. It may evolve into an almost benign disease or it may get worse. Meanwhile those tasked with our safety will attempt to set up regulations that they believe to be in our best interests. We may find ourselves disagreeing such as I do with those who suggest that there should never be any kind of mandates to vaccinate or wear masks. I am one who has learned that we should never say never. Instead we have to be ready to quickly adjust to the realities of the ever changing situation and we must be certain that everyone understands what the rules are. 

It’s time we stopped quibbling and bending, but we must also know that we have to react to change as quickly as the virus. If the rule works to prevent the worst case scenarios then keep it and enforce it. If it seems to have little or no effect, get rid of it. As long as we are arguing amongst ourselves Covid 19 will stalk us. It’s time that we figured that out and quit wagging our fingers at each other. Let’s set some rules that provide us with a semblance of normalcy while also mitigating the worst aspects of the virus. That might require some sacrifices, but if we all share the responsibility we may finally defeat the plague.