Rules Of Decorum

Aug 23, 2016

This is the code of conduct my students will copy out in their notebooks and recite month by month over the coming school year. I have been using a few of these rules (especially the ones concerning yawning and clock watching) for years, though this code of conduct is adjusted and refined year by year. Use as much or as little of this as is fitting; the particulars of this code of conduct emerge somewhat naturally within their geographical, local and ecumenical context. I imagine Catholic schools in New England or Baptist schools in the deep South would necessarily need something a bit different, even as a Dominican rule and a Benedictine rule have different emphases.  

1. If you are tired when you come to class, there is no need for you to announce this to your peers. If you have stayed up late studying, do not boast of how hard you have worked. Do not demand sympathy from others, or from your teachers, just because you are tired. Your friends are tired, too, as are your teachers, many of whom have children to care for. Loudly announcing that you are tired as you come into class is often a way of suggesting to the teacher, "Don't bother me today," and a way of suggesting to your peers, "You will have to carry the conversation today. "As Christ instructs those who fast, if you are tired when it is time for class, splash a little water on your face and put on a cheerful expression “so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting (from sleep), but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” 

2. A school is a place for learning. A book is a thing for learning. A student is a person for learning. Additionally, there are attitudes for learning and postures for learning. While in class, sit up straight and keep your feet on the floor. Do not put your head on the table or prop your feet up on the chairs. Treat your body as the outward, physical manifestation of your soul. If you conduct your body with dignity and respect, your soul will likely follow soon enough. 

3. If you cannot remember what you read for homework just two nights ago, you have not done your homework. You should be able to answer simple questions about what you’ve read. If you are asked about an assigned text, the reply, “I read it really late last night and I don’t remember it” is not an acceptable excuse. It is an indication you have not done your work. Read slowly and patiently so that you are able to discuss assigned reading in class whenever the time comes.

4. The humanities are not graded the way math and science are graded. For example, if you take a math examination composed of ten problems and you answer seven correctly, you would expect a 70%. However, if you are assigned a 1000 word essay and only write 700 words, you should not expect a 70%. You have failed to complete the minimum requirements and may receive a 0% grade; you may or may not be invited to resubmit the paper. Think of it like this, though. If you went to a restaurant and ordered a 10 oz steak which cost $10, and then received a 2 oz steak, you would send it back. You would not pay $2, eat it and leave.

5. Likewise, if you write a 1000 word essay which is uniformly terrible (endlessly redundant information, not proofread, few citations, etc), you may receive a 0%. If a 1000 word essay is assigned, not just any 1000 word essay which is submitted will warrant a passing grade. It is even possible for an essay which receives a 0% to have some merit. Think of like it like this, if you went to a restaurant and ordered a 10 oz medium rare steak and then received a raw 10 oz steak, you would send it back. In sending the raw steak back, you would not be indicating the meat had no value, but simply that it was unacceptable in its present condition.  

6. If you are assigned reading for homework and do not do that reading, you need to inform your teacher of that fact before class begins. The same goes for homework. If I am collecting homework and you do not have any to turn in, tell me; if you do not tell me at the time I am collecting homework, I will not accept it later.

7. Speak of this school with respect. If you have a grievance with any decision made by a teacher, the staff or the board, those grievances should be addressed privately to a teacher or to the principal, who will be glad to sit down with you and hear out your complaint.  Speaking critically of the school to your peers, especially on school grounds, is inappropriate and disrespectful. This means that all complaints about the dress code, assemblies, homework load, grades, teachers and so forth must be directed to a teacher or the administration. Ours is a God who takes complaints seriously, but you must direct your complaints to someone who can do something about them. Your peers can do nothing about the dress code. The principal can, though. 

8. Learning to be a good student in high school is preparation for being a good student in college, and being a good employee when you are older. Having good manners is essential for being a good student. As such, you should not be seen yawning in class, or turning your head to look at the clock. If you must yawn, cover your mouth and do it discreetly. If you are fastidious about knowing what time it is, wear a watch and check it covertly. Yawning and looking at the clocks are signs of boredom, even if you are not bored. While I will be understanding if I see you yawn or check the clock, your employers and college profs might not be.

9. If you talk in class, you must contribute to a group conversation. Private conversations with people beside you and across the table are not polite. “Private conversations” are not limited to spoken words. Silently mouthed conversations and hand gestures back and forth are just as distracting to your classmates as spoken conversations.

10. I host an after school detention on Mondays. It runs from 3:10 until 4:00. A scheduled sports practice is not a viable excuse for not coming to detention. If you are given detention, we will listen to a Johnny Cash record together and talk about how to become better people.

11. If you believe a grade you have received is unfair, please come and speak with me after class. Present your case. I am a reasonable person, but from time to time I will misunderstand your essays. When this happens, come and explain yourself and I will reconsider your grade. When you present your case, your case should stand on the merits of your own work; do not compare your work with the work of a classmate who scored better and allege your work and your classmate’s work are essentially identical.

12. When you struggle with the material, talk with me. Do not wait until the end of the trimester (when report cards are about to come out and you are unhappy with your grade) and say, “Well, I’ve had a very hard time understanding this class.” You are obligated to bring such concerns to me as they occur, not merely when you are getting nervous about your grade.

13. Do not begin packing up your things until you have been dismissed. There should be no rustling of papers and backpacks in the final moments of class while a lecture is going on, or reading is going on, or discussion is going on. Students who begin getting ready to go before class is over will stay for an extra minute or two after class.

14. If you are not present for a test or quiz, you will receive a 0 for that test or quiz until you make it up. It is not the teacher’s responsibility to track you down to take a test or quiz. Rather, it is your responsibility to track the teacher down and arrange a time you can take the test or quiz you missed. You will need to be vigilant to track the teacher down to take tests or quizzes.

15. Enter class silently. Once you are in the classroom, class has begun. Silence helps prepare the mind to yield, to receive, to concentrate.

16. As a general rule, homework (reading and writing) will only be assigned on fasting days, meaning Tuesday and Thursday evenings, as well as every night of the Advent fast and every night of the Lenten fast. As a general rule, no homework will be given during festal periods.

17. Respect must be shown to the task and work of education. Conduct yourself with dignity and speak of learning as a worthy goal. Do not disrespect the work of education by parading your disinterest in learning before your peers. If you waste your entire weekend playing video games, do not make light of this on Monday morning. Do not make sport of God by speaking of shameful, vicious, and slothful things as though they are enviable and good.

18. Do not ask, “How can I get a better grade in your class?” The answer to this question will always be, “Do better.” Ask instead, “How can I do better in your class?” In like fashion, do not say, “I am worried about my grade in your class.” Say instead, “I am worried that I am not learning enough in this class.”

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs teaches great books to high school students at Veritas School in Richmond, Virginia. He is the editor of FilmFisher and has two daughters, both of whom have seven names. You can find him on Twitter @joshgibbs.