Thursday, May 26, 2011

One of my biggest pet peeves (If you read regularly, you know I have a LONG list....) is teachers giving students more work as punishment. Usually, this is a busy work assignment... some contrived worksheet to complete, some additional reading assignment, or whatever lame excuse for 'schoolwork' the teacher can think of off the cuff.

  • Teaching is about imparting not just content to students, but a love for the subject matter, a genuine interest to quest for more knowledge once the classroom door has been closed. In theory, teachers became teachers because they loved their subject matter so much they wanted to share that love with students. True teachers yearn to help mold new scientists, mathematicians, sociologists, writers... They want to see the learning process as it unfolds and awakens in young minds as they discover the excitement of new things. By giving the topic as a punishment the wrong message is sent to students. Now, writing, or reading, or whatever, becomes negative in their minds, something to hate and dread instead of something to yearn and quest for.

  • Punishment rarely accomplishes its goal. When possible, being proactive and keeping problems from occurring is much more effective, in all situations, but in particular in the classroom, than any after-the-fact punitive action. If your classroom is so out of control, giving additional busy work to keep the students 'occupied' is your only option for control, the problem is bigger than any punishment will solve. First off, many of your 'worst offenders' likely won't complete the additional busy work anyway, leaving it more of a burden for the 'good kids' who feel obligated to do anything and everything, while those you wish to punish will sit back and coast along, causing even more grief to the peace and tranquility the teacher is searching for.

  • Students know when the assignment is contrived and even the good students do not give these assignments their due attention. Any educational benefit you might have gained from the work, is lost to all. It is simply one more task to complete, one more mountain to climb. Likewise, teachers seldom even look at this work, making it even less meaninful.

  • Busy work assignments often aren't as 'punitive' as you think they are. Speaking as someone who did more than their share of writing "I will not talk in class" growing up, I quickly learned the fast way to completion. Write a column of "I", follow with a column of "will" and so on. If the process of writing "I will not talk in class" was supposed to make that statement stick in my head, the process was lost. Instead, I remembered, I-I-I-I-I-I, will-will-will-will-will, and so on, NOT "I will not talk in class." Students will find shortcuts to assignment completion, even the good kids. It really will be nothing more than busy work.

  • Fill your classtime with real learning, real engagement, real excitement. Then, your classroom management issues will dissolve, busy work won't be needed, students will be excited to come to class, and you will love sharing your enthusiasm and love of your subject with students and they will likewise love your class.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I suppose at one time or another, most teachers consider making the move from classroom teacher to adminstrator. In the teaching profession, there are not many options for advancement and this is the logical next step. At one time, I thought I might want to be principal, and actually started working on my masters in adminstration. However, soon, I decided I really wasn't that dedicated to pursuing that option and stopped taking classes.

The classroom is where I belong, where I enjoy being, where my heart lies. Today, that was reinforced in my mind, easily. My principal was gone for the day. Usually the special education coordinator steps in his shoes when he is out of the building but with her gone today as well, he asked a few of the staff to cover various responsibilities for him. I was to be the go-to in the middle school if discipline or other issues arose. Sure, I told him, no problem.

I jokingly popped into the office when I came upstairs after first hour and asked the secretary how it was going. She promptly pointed me to student #1 who needed to be dealt with for something trivial. OK. Off to second hour. Soon, she was knocking, beckoning me to the office, where now 4 miscreants were in need of a tough hand. All stupid petty little things... out of seat without permission, sharpening a pencil, etc... then, the biggies -boys punching each other. Dealt with, check, dealt with, check... made a girl cry... YIKES!

Then lunchtime, boy crying because someone hit him and knocked off glasses. Track down all involved, get varying stories, try again.. closer and closer to truth and you circle around.

5th hour - young man knocks on door, telling me his misdeeds. I deal with his problems.

Between 5th and 6th hour, this one shoves that one, who falls into another one calling her a name. But who said what? and to who? and really, seriously????

What does it all mean?? We have issues. We have MANY issues.

Adminstrators have to walk a fine line, trying to find the middle ground of truth, punishment, fixing the problems behind what happened to keep it from happening again... what is the bottom line? We need behaviors to change. We need a safe school, and place where students feel comfortable and confident. Most of the 'stuff' that goes on is little piddly incidents that mean little in the entire scheme of life and school. Inevitable happenings when a bunch of hormone enraged adolescents are caged together, as spring crests on the horizon. Other incidents indicate bigger issues with classroom management problems by individual teachers that create no win situations for students.

Me, I just want to chew some butt, see some remorse and have a genuine "I won't do it again". *sigh* Sometimes, it is that easy. Other times, not so much. Why can't we all just get along???

I think all teachers should be required to do a stint as principal. Seeing the school from the other side really opens your eyes to the goings on:

  • Students wandering the halls for no reason.

  • Students sitting outside classroom doors.

  • Students sent to make copies of busy work assignments.

  • Students sent out of class to the office for minor issues instead of being taught.

Maybe if they/all teachers sat at the principal's desk once in a while, they might, just maybe, realize the big picture here. School is for educating, not for looking for ways to get kids in trouble or ways to keep them busy or quiet. We need to work to make our classrooms places of two way respect and honesty, our halls places of safe travel, and the school a place where learning prevails and the overwhelming mood is of happiness and contentment.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Middle schoolers get a bad rap. Just today, a former student came back to sub for the day. I was excited to hear teaching was his 'backup plan' for law school, thinking if we could get this kid in a classroom, he'd be the kind to make a real difference in the lives of middle school kids. When he was in middle school, he wasn't a bad kid, just a kind of average kid - funny, smart, but not outstanding, just one of those you remember fondly but without a lot of horror stories to go along with the memory. He would understand their goofiness, their jokes and pranks, but take it all in stride. He'd be the kind to find the perfect balance between academics and fun.

Instead of being geeked about middle school, he insisted he wants to teach in upper elementary grades. I realize there is a need for male elementary teachers, but my heart will always defend the middle grades so I asked him, "Why not middle school?" with a hint of teariness in my voice.

He recounted how he'd subbed in 8th grade last week in a different school, and how horrible it was. His day here did not much better when I touched base later.

How can we convey how cool this grade level is to new teachers, hook them into wanting to be a part of the adolescent experience?? Middle schoolers are old enough to carry on 'adult' conversations. They love anything funny and unique. They crave the new, the different and the exciting. They are loving, trusting, and intelligent. Their willingness to be goofy for the sake of being goofy is unmatched by any other grade. They are simply the coolest people on the planet!

I tried to convince him that a well run middle school class does not have to be chaotic and out of control, but the look of terror in his eyes said he didn't believe a word I said. Too bad... he's just the kind of new blood middle level education needs to pump in some new excitement!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The part of teaching that frustrates me the VERY most is student absences. I don't think parents or students sometimes realize the impact being gone from school makes on the potential success of a child. Granted, we all have illnesses or emergencies that keep us home on occasions, but the chronic absences are overwhelming.

We are in the 32 week of our 36 week school year. I have one child who has missed 29 days, another 41, and even one with 56 absences. It seems each year, the problem becomes wider spread, impacting more and more children.

Yet, those students will move onto the next grade, regardless of the fact they have misses 6, 8, or even 11 weeks of school. Their absences represent more than numbers though; they represent missing information that child did not learn. In math classes in particular, this problem compounds itself exponentially, making it IMPOSSIBLE for that child to experience any success.

Today in prealgebra, we were working on balancing equations with variables on both sides of the equal sign. This task in and of itself is complex for many concretely thinking 8th graders. However, with a strong background in balancing simpler equations, operations with integers, and mathematical properties, most students grasp the process fairly easily with practice. For the students who have missed weeks of instruction and practice, stretched out over years of school, the process becomes completely irrelevant and impossible to master. It is like putting together a 1000 piece puzzle with no idea what the final product should look like.

As the teacher, I am at a complete loss. How do I push forward with students who are in attendance with a fairly regular record, but somehow not lose the ones who are years behind, but still get them ready for the next step in their mathematical education process? I don't.... sadly, I don't. The curriculum forces me to move forward, trying to drag them along as best I can, trying to balance 2x + 4 = 3(4x-6) + 6x while they don't even conceptually understand that -7 + 7 = 0.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The best field trip ever?? without a doubt...

The most interesting field trip ever??? without a doubt!

The most things gone wrong on a field trip? I don't even have to count to know THAT one is true!

From the trailer door, where the luggage and snacks were stored, flying open shortly after we left school; to the flat tire which stranded us for 2 hours along I-75 and cost $647 to fix, made us late to our dinner reservation & the Tigers game; to two chaperones getting sick; to an overflowing toilet resulting in a middle of night move for a group of girls; to a steady rain downpour at the zoo.... to all the other little incidents.......

WHAT A GREAT TRIP!! The kids were amazing. I've never heard so little complaining, so many "thank you's" and "I'll do that's" and such an overwhelmingly consistent positive vibe from the masses, no matter what happened, no matter the inconveinence. They smiled, they laughed, they apologized. They were the BEST group I have EVER taken ANYWHERE.

They loved the food, they loved they activities, they did what we ask them to do without questioning or complaining. All the hard work beforehand seems irrelevant now. Even my tired old aching bones and body don't mind now.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Excitement is mounting!! Our annual 8th grade trip to Detroit is THIS week. For many students in my school, this is their first trip to a city. For others, they go places with thier families regularly. Whatever the circumstances, a class field trip, over 6 hours on a school bus, 2 nights in a hotel, a professional sporting event - TIGERS game!, 3 days with friends and teachers is one of those lifetime opportunities.

For me, these kinds of trips are more about the bonding than anything educational that happens on the trip. The stories, the pictures, the amazing-ness of the journey, is powerful in ways teachers who choose not to ever be a part of something like this will never 'get'. As a teacher, you see students in such a different way - the classroom leaders often become wallflowers out of their element, and in contrast, the quiet, non-contributing class member, shines when out in public. I am always amazed how they rise to the occasion and each and every venue we visit.

I remember many years ago, there was this particularly annoying young man in 8th grade. At the time, I taught 7th grade, and to be honest, was quite happy to see him move onto 8th grade. He was not horrible, instead just a persistent thorn in your side kind of kid. The 8th grade teachers didn't want to take him, but he wanted to go, and mom wanted him to go. At some point, I said I would go along on the trip, and take him in my group, and take responsibility for him and his behaviors. Even as I volunteered, I shuddered to think what antics he might find to amuse himself with. One particular part of the trip concerned me - the Holocaust Memorial. We were scheduled to hear a Holocaust survivor speak. I was terrified this young man would do something, even inadvertently, during the presentation - make a rude comment, giggle inappropriately, belch... the possibilities seemed endless in my mind. He and I had a heart to heart chat before the event, with him assuring me he'd be on his best behavior. I believed he believed that, I just wasn't sure that would be good enough. When we took our seats in the large room, he and took front row, center seats, me thinking what a bad idea this was, how seats by an exit would have been a better idea. Once the elderly man began to speak, my kiddo leaned forward in his seat, elbows on his knees, listening raptly, almost not breathing, the entire hour long presentation. I was shocked. I was proud, amazed and impressed.

I've learned to never make assumptions about students and what they will or won't do. You just never know...

As we pull out of town in that big yellow limousine Wednesday morning, and I look at the charges we're taking along, I know this trip will be just another page in my teacher memory book where I will long look back fondly.