Teaching with Detention


Far too often, students and educators struggle to see eye to eye. Teachers regularly disagree on methods of disciplining their students. Controversy arises, even, with the question of whether or not teachers should apply any discipline to their students, or leave it up to the parents. One of the most common practices in dealing with misbehaving students is holding after school detention. But by keeping students after school hours, are teachers exercising their rights, or going too far? Is detention an effective solution to class disruptions, or would it spur future problems?


Free resources across the internet allow for teachers to weigh detention and all of its possible alternatives.

  • Lesson Plan
  1.  Behavior Worksheets: Here, Worksheet Place provides dozens of worksheets for students that assist them in assessing their behavior and emotions. The worksheets include behavior contracts, bullying analyses, conflict resolutions, goal setting, and more. The page also includes resources for teachers, including classroom management checklists, and class rules that teachers can display on their walls. These tasks can be used as opportunities for reflection in place of punishment or can serve as activities to be completed during detention. These worksheets are mostly intended for younger students and can be completed inside or outside of regular class time.
  2. Reflection Document: Pivotal Education provides this reflection worksheet to give to detention-serving students. The document is meant to outline an activity more productive than what is normally presented for students, and to prevent further behavior issues in the future. The questions on the worksheet force the student to identify and reflect on the people affected by their actions and ideas for preventing future issues. The open-ended questions within the document allow for flexibility for the worksheet to be used with virtually any age range.
  3. Discipline Packet: This online packet from Teacher Beacon provides worksheets and for responding to misbehavior. The packet includes printable warning slips, a behavior contract, and a sample letter to parents. Also included are writing assignments to be completed by students who break classroom ground rules. Most of these assignments serve as consequences for minor infringements such as gum-chewing, tardiness, and disruptive behavior. The writing assignments can serve as lesser consequences to stop the behavior before further action becomes necessary. Teachers can utilize items within this packet to establish ground rules and to keep track of recurring offenses.
  • Articles
  1. Do Detentions and Suspensions Work?: Here. Education World interviewed Annemarie Hillman, a policy fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children, to analyze whether detentions and suspensions prove themselves effective in schools. She classifies suspensions as ineffective since students tend to view them like vacations. Detentions, however, can work “if done right.” They can serve as an incentive to keep students from repeating misbehavior. When students serve detention during lunch, they miss out on a social opportunity and in turn will be less likely to act up in the future. 
  2. New Direction: James Paterson from District Administration Media examines ways that adults are trying to implement disciplinary action into their schools. The article establishes that African American and special needs students face disproportionate rates of exclusionary punishment. According to a number of cited studies, students who receive detentions are more likely to drop out of school altogether. This article highlights alternatives that teachers have found to the standard sit-silently style of confinement. Allowing students to reflect on their actions and for teachers to coach struggling students proves much more productive. Teachers can read this article to determine improvements for the established practice.
  3. Student-Run Courts: This article from The Guardian acknowledges the disproportionality of detentions in school systems and outlines a recent alternative to the custom: mock court systems. Rather than serve detention for certain offenses, students are to stand before a committee of their peers, make their case, and ultimately face fair consequences for their actions. The article praises this new approach, arguing that it prevents student-teacher discrimination in disciplinary systems and consequently fights the impelling school-to-prison pipeline.
  • Informational Sites
  1. Defining Detention: Queensland Government provides a foundational understanding of detention and the common practices associated with it. The site outlines parameters for responsible behavior in a linked study, titled “Safe, Supportive and Disciplined School Environment Procedure.” This page can serve helpful for those who may desire a better understanding of what detention is, or for educators unfamiliar with how to lead a session.
  2. Responding to Bad Behavior: University of Florida’s College of Education lists possible ways in which educators can respond to bad behavior. The items on this list can serve as alternatives to detention, a practice which may be the first thing that comes to mind. The actions can be applied to students of most ages. The approaches range from keeping a behavior log, to requiring a writing assignment, to revoking parking privileges for older students. While detention is one of the listed consequences, teachers can choose from any item on the list to enforce in their own classrooms.
  3. Task Ideas: Study.com provides this list of tips and ideas for teachers choosing to hold students after school. The goal of the article and the tradition is to provide students with tasks that will prevent future mishaps and improve classroom behavior. The site lists tactics that teachers can employ, such as dialogue journals and reflection sheets, and links supporting articles for each strategy. The site lists four strategies for teachers, all of which can be stretched to fit students of almost any age range.


Young people often rave about how educational institutions take up so much of their time and teach them no real-life skills. They are, after all, full-time students by the age of six. Perhaps by making the time spent with students, detention included, more productive, teachers can allow students to further appreciate their education and apply themselves more in the future. Educators should make sure that any disciplinary measures they take have the students’ best interests in mind. Schools should weigh circumstances to decide what method of discipline would be most fair for the students’ and teacher’s time.

Additional Resources

  1. Middle-School: This neaToday article criticizes forms of discipline for middle-school-aged children. Author Sabrina Holcomb references the school-to-prison pipeline, a theory that correlates higher rates of suspensions and expulsions with a higher likelihood of those same students becoming unemployed and going to prison. When a student’s learning is interrupted by such punitive measures, they are more likely to drop out of school and rely mainly on government-provided welfare programs. Holcomb acknowledges that the issue is not the fault of the teachers, but rather that of the broader school disciplinary system.
  2.  Detention Is Not The Answer: This literature review by Stephanie McCann from Northwestern College examines practices of institutional discipline, especially detention, and attempts to determine the most productive method for everyone involved. In the past, the practice has discriminated harshly against certain students. The author gathers that students for whom detention becomes a pattern experience major social and emotional consequences that affect them “for the rest of their life.” She acknowledges alternatives for the penalty and suggests that schools find a consensus for what works for their students. 

Example Guidelines: This site lists the guidelines for after-school detention at Lakewood Junior High School in California. The page delineates the school’s specific regulations, including commonly broken rules, expectations for those serving detention, and principles of conduct for future reference. Teachers can utilize this site to gain a better understanding of how one school approaches its academic disciplinary system. Should they choose to administer detentions, educators can look to these clear-cut guidelines when crafting their own system.