Rules and Consequences


  • Dave Cash Temple University Press



“Every teacher should have a clear set of rules and consequences in their classroom.” “Teachers need to maintain control of their classrooms at all times.” “Students may not show it, but deep down, they all crave structure and order.” In the abstract, it seemed pretty doable. After all, rules and consequences made me feel safe. Why wouldn’t they make my students feel the same way? 

I soon learned that lots of people really don’t feel the same way about rules and consequences as I had learned to feel when I was young. And, as I have discovered, their resentments are often very well justified.

Today, I live in a predominantly Black neighborhood of a predominantly Black city and I teach in a predominantly—and historically—Black school. I belong to a predominantly Black labor union. The culture of New Orleans is rooted in Blackness. I’ve done a lot of work in recent years to understand what my whiteness means in this context. Peers, elders, and students have helped me learn not only what it means to be Black in a racist society but also what it means to be white in a culture built to oppress people of color. As a result, I am increasingly aware of the delicate danger of giving a white teacher authority over Black students. My affinity for rules and consequences weaponizes me in this context. If I am not careful, I have the power to do some real, lasting damage.