How to Handle Disruptive Students


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Lesson number one on how to handle your classroom:     Show the kids some respect, connect with them, be a human.  This will earn you some degree of respect which is the only real authority that you will ever have.

Lesson number two:  Understand that you can never make a person do what you want him to do.   Accept the fact that your classroom is not your kingdom. You are not the supreme ruler.  Until you understand that the classroom is a community of people with a shared goal, you will never have control.

Lesson number three: You will be defied.  You will be questioned.  Weren’t you ever an angry adolescent, even for a minute?  The hallmark of adolescence (and in fact of childhood itself) is to test the limits, to question the rules, to challenge authority.  Work with all that passion, for God’s sake. You are a teacher because (theoretically) you want to have a hand in shaping the future. If you wanted to be a tyrant, you probably should have picked another career.

Lesson number four: Keep you eye on your goal.  You are here to teach this material to ALL of those students in front of you. ALL of them.  So if one student is disrupting the lesson, your goal is to return to the teaching. It is not to assert your superiority, your strength, your power over that student.

Final Lesson: If the situation deteriorates, and you simply cannot teach your lesson to ALL of those kids in the room, then remember that your goal is to calm things down.  Your job is to deescalate the confrontation.  If you need help, call for help from an educational expert.  Maybe your principal.  Maybe the school psychologist or counselor.

For the love of god, do NOT call the police just because some little girl defied you in front of the group.

It is not a crime to say ‘no’ to an adult. It is not a crime to be angry. It is not a crime to be an unhappy teenager.  You don’t call the cops to move a girl out of a public school classroom.

And if you do, and if that big, strong, uniformed officer STILL doesn’t have enough authority to control that child, then the school had better take a good long look at itself, and its culture and how well it is reaching its goal of educating all students.

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I was a public school teacher for a LONG time. I have taught kids with Oppositional/Defiant Disorder, ADD, Schizophrenia, Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Bipolar Disorder, Learning Disabilities and unnamed behavioral challenges. I have had kids swear at me, threaten me, throw chairs at me, refuse to write or do math or look at me or leave the room.    Never once, not ever, did it even occur to me that it would the right thing to do to use my superior physical size and strength to overpower that child. Never once have a laid hands on a child in anger.

The video from S. Carolina is absolutely disgusting and truly appalling.  I fault the teacher who has been completely unable to create a respectful environment in his class. I fault the school for its lack of planning for how to respond to a defiant teen. I blame the administrator for calling in a police officer, a person trained in crime control, not in developmental psychology or best educational practice.  And I fault that bully of an officer who let his ego and his biceps bring violence into a classroom.  As a “School Resource Officer”, it was his job to do the absolute opposite, and to prevent just that kind of violence from happening.

And don’t bother telling me that the girl hit him first.  Just don’t even go there.

Have a Happy New Year, Friends!


My old self......

My old self……

Today is the last day of summer vacation for my friends and colleagues in the district where I used to teach.  I know exactly and precisely how they feel.

They feel like today is the longest of days, as each second ticks-ticks-ticks away. They feel like today is the shortest of days, as each hour speeds by.

I’m sure that they are anxious.  I can imagine the thoughts that are racing around in their heads. “Did I label all of the cubbies?”  “Did I copy the classroom scavenger hunts?”  I bet that they are double checking their work bags on and off all day, making sure that the popsicle sticks have been labelled with all of the names. Reorganizing the folders into alphabetical order.

If they are like me, they are also mentally planning what they’ll wear all week, what they will bring for lunch, maybe what easy and quick dinners they can whip up .  If they are like me at all, they are also wishing that the next two days, the days of sitting in endless meetings, would fly by so that they could get to the day when the kids arrive.

I am willing to bet that a lot of them are very sad to see the restful days of summer ending.  My colleagues with children are thinking about the fact that they will miss their time together.  They will look at their sleeping babies just a little bit longer tonight, sighing a bit and thinking forward to the next vacation.

I know that they are all a bit excited, too.  They know that every year is a new start. They have new books this year, new materials to use, new lessons to teach.  They will have some kids who will be a challenge, and some kids who will be a dream. They are determined to do their best for both.

Today is the last day of summer vacation for my friends and former colleagues.  I won’t be with them this time around.  For the first time in 21 years, I won’t be there to swap vacation stories, to hug them hello, to hand out the agendas for the staff meeting.

I won’t be there. But I’ll be thinking of them.  Wishing them all a Happy New Year!

I’ll miss them.

Reinventing Myself. Again.


So I have been retired for all of four days now.

I don’t feel any different.  I still see books about teaching and think, “Oooh, next year…..”

I still watch the weather report, thinking, “I have to get to the beach!  Summer is so short! I have to get to the beach!”

I still feel like a teacher.

I still talk to the young lady at the grocery store register, swapping stories about how wintergreen mints make sparks in your mouth on a dark night.  I still tell her, “I’m a fifth grade teacher!”

I still smile at the kids in the mall, wondering which ones are fifth grade age.

I haven’t yet shed my teacher skin.

But slowly, oh, so very slowly, I am coming to the dawning realization that my summer vacation will not end on August 31st.  I am gradually, painstakingly grasping the concept of Fall as simply another season in an ongoing flow of seasons.  “September” no longer means “Lack of sleep”.  “September” now means more days of glorious sunshine, and maybe some quiet days on those beaches that I love so much.

I remember so clearly when my children were very young.  The summer would speed by in a rush of doctors visits, dental check ups, shopping for new clothes and the occasional day at the beach.  All too soon, I would find myself faced with the sad reality of trying to manage a household of five people with different demanding schedules.  I remember laying out the “first day of school clothes”, setting up the coffee, packing my own work bag and pulling out the crock pot.

I remember looking at Paul and saying, “There goes Swifty”, a reference to the mechanical rabbit that took off in an endless loop to lure the greyhounds at the dog track into a pointless chase.

I remember how much I felt like one of those greyhounds on that last day of summer, about to begin my own never ending race to get myself around the track, knowing that I would never even come close to that pretend rabbit.

I remember it so well.

But now I need to look beyond that race, beyond the idea of life as a series of school years.  September will no longer be my beginning.  June will no longer be my end.

For the first time in so many years, maybe I can begin to see my life as an unfolding road, rather than a circle running around and around in the same narrow track.  Maybe this year I can learn to love the warm golden days of October, and to embrace the coming of winter.

Maybe I can focus on the harvest, instead of the classroom assessments.

Slowly, carefully, hopefully, perhaps I can reinvent myself yet again, and find myself a spectator, rather than a racer on that endless repeating track of school days and holidays and school vacations.  Maybe I can detach myself just a bit from that world, and find myself at home in a slower paced walk along the path that meanders from year to year.

Maybe I will be able to reinvent myself once again.

I hope so.

Builders


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Dianthus. In bloom.

Some people in this life help us to bloom.  They help us to burst into the best life that we can achieve.

Some people reflect our very best selves.  They show us the beauty that we hold inside of us, even when we are not aware of that beauty.  Even when the doubters have made us question whether that beauty truly exists.

Some people see us as we wish ourselves to be seen.  They shine a light on that hidden self that we all want to highlight.

These people are the “Builders” in our lives.  They see and recognize the hidden strengths that lie within us; they hold those strengths up to the light, so that we become aware of how special they are.

These people, these Builders, allow us to find that hidden jewel that lies within each of us, so that we can use it as the foundation of the very best self that we can create.  We recognize that jewel, that special gift, because those “Builders” have pointed it out for us.  They have celebrated us in ways that we would never have achieved without them.

“Look!”, they cry, “This is YOU!”  They hold up our strength, our humor, our compassion, our love, our honesty.  They force us to recognize the unique part of ourselves that makes us stand out from the crowd.  “This is you”, our Builders say, “This is why I look up to you, why I admire you, why I am so happy to have met you.”

We all need Builders in our lives.

We all need to become Builders for those around us who are struggling to find their own inner light.

I’m writing this tonight to thank my Builders.  My sweet, thoughtful, brave, strong colleagues, who refuse to let me think of myself as a failure.  You are my heroes!

My students, my kids, who surround me every day with trust and love; my wonderful students who show me the truth of myself, for good or ill, and who love me anyway.

Thank you, Builders.

Thank you for stopping me from believing the ghouls.  Thank you for helping me to hold on to what I hope and pray is my real, true, honest-to-goodness teaching self.

Read Aloud


Every day, no matter what else has gone on, I read aloud to my class.

They are fifth graders, growing tall, beginning to mature, just entering the terrible miracle of puberty.

You would think that they’d be too old to have an adult reading them stories, wouldn’t you?

They aren’t.

They love “Read Aloud”.  I love it even more.  In a time when so much of education is focused on gathering data, on scoring rubrics, on force feeding those Common Core State Standards, it is both a relief and a joy to settle into my chair after lunch, a good book in my hands, the children draped on the rug at my feet.

I love to watch them as I read to them; I love to see them as they react to the action.

Sometimes, when the book is familiar, I can glance at the text and then look out at the kids, knowing the words that are coming next.  I can really look at them in those moments, because they do not see me looking.  They are seeing the characters in the book, watching the action unfold.  They are unaware of the classroom around them, or the teacher who is looking at them tenderly as she reads.

I love to read the words, “She narrowed her eyes”, because I see those beautiful children trying it out, narrowing their own bright eyes.  I love to read, “He shook his head”, because so many of them shake theirs.

After lunch on a bright spring day, I love to read aloud to my class.  I see the unconscious smiles on the lips of the girls, watching as they twirl a bit of their hair around a finger.  I love to read aloud as those quickly growing boys sit, so uncharacteristically quiet, their gleaming eyes unseeing, the sweat in their hair drying, a smudge of dirt on their cheeks. I love to come to a moment of action, hearing their indrawn breath, catching the glances they throw at each other.

Most of all, I love to come to the end of a chapter, hearing them groan and complain as I place my bookmark in the pages that I am closing.

I love “Read Aloud”.

I hope that it is never subjected to a rubric, or lost to a misguided desire to teach them to read “at their own level.”

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A Day in the Life


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It’s pretty hard to be a public school teacher in the US right now.

We are in the middle of administering the annual state tests here in Massachusetts.  You know, the ones that are supposed to assess a fifth grader’s ability to read, but really assess his ability to read ninth grade level materials and then write a pithy, on point analysis in one sitting.

Yep.  Those awesome tests.

The ones that are beginning to count more and more toward our teacher evaluations. The ones that help to decide which schools are successful and which aren’t.

The tests that use words like “spectrometry” and “minutiae” and “chirring cicadas”.   For ten year olds to decipher.

I don’t feel very good about myself during these tests.   You know why?

Because I have to make kids sit still for 5 hours in a row.

Because I have to tell them that I can’t explain what the word means.

Because I have to hope that they will remember to “include evidence from the text” when they compare the article on scientific discoveries in a far distant part of the world to a poem about nature.

I don’t feel good about myself on test days.

This year, I don’t feel particularly good about myself as a teacher at all.  I am aware of my age.  I am acutely aware of my obsolescence.   My outdated pedagogy.   I feel a little bit useless.

I am sad.

At the end of these long, tiring days, when my back aches and my legs feel weak, I walk slowly to my car, wondering if I have done a decent job today.  I think about the kids, so young and fresh, so eager for the energy and life of youth.  I worry.  Am I failing them because I am too old to connect with their lives?  Am I failing them because I don’t know the latest research on reading comprehension?  Am I too cranky? Too worn down?  Is the constant struggle to meet the standards taking away the soul of my classroom?  Do they wake up in the early mornings wishing that they could stay home and avoid me and my lessons?

I don’t know.

I am sad.

Then I get to my classroom, in the early morning light.  I turn on the Smartboard, move the trash barrels into place. I gather yesterday’s worksheets from the “hand in” bin.  I boot up my computer, make a morning message that pokes fun at the testing. “MCAS”, I write. “Mango Chocolate Awesome Sauce”.  I put out the morning work, file corrected work, turn the compost.

I’m still sad.

This isn’t why I became a teacher.  To make children fill in bubble sheets.  To make them “restate the prompt” and “find evidence from the text.”   I am not here because I love data or because I think its a good idea to measure each child’s ability to copy the writing style of a so called “educational expert”.

Still.  I am a professional.  I do what is expected of me.  I greet the kids, make sure that each has a freshly sharpened number 2 pencil.  I remind them to bring in snack, to have a book on hand.  I chat with the nervous ones, hug the tearful ones.  Two are clearly sick; I hand them tissues, remind them that they can get water when they need it.  I run a short, quiet “morning meeting”, then get them all into their seats.  I remind them that I believe in them.  I remind them that we will have some “math fun” when all of this is over.

I hand out the answer booklets.  And the test booklets.  And the erasers and highlighters.  I read the directions. “Cheating in any form is forbidden.  You may not use dictionaries.  Or cell phones.”  I take a breath.  I remind them to “Make a dark mark” and to “erase completely any mark that you wish you change”.

I am sad.

As the kids settle in to take the test, lollipops or Jolly Ranchers arranged in neat rows on their desks, I click on my email.

And I read this, coming from a colleague whose son was in my class a couple of years ago:

Hi there,
I tried to find you this morning to let you know that you will be reviewed by the MCAS scorers this summer.
The 7th grade long comp prompt was:
write about a teacher/coach who has made an impact on your life…..my son wrote about you:)
He was bragging that he wrote 10 paragraphs…..
Thought this would make your day.
xo
Wow.
This didn’t make my day, my friend. This made my week. My month.
This made me stand up taller as I walked around my classroom.
This reminded me that sometimes it is enough to love the kids and love my job. That sometimes I am doing a really good job just because I am able to make a connection to a struggling learner who isn’t sure that he has what it takes.
I am no longer sad.
I am so incredibly happy that this wonderful young man remembers me as someone who helped him to grow.
This is why I teach.
Thank you, my friend! You’ve given me the courage to keep it up for a little bit longer!

Shifting dreams


Its funny, how your dreams change and evolve over time.

It seems like it was only a few sunsets ago that I was dreaming and yearning for motherhood.  More than anything, all I wanted from life was to have my own babies to hold and cherish.  My entire focus was on making that dream come true.  Diapers and stuffed bears and powder and blankies. That seemed like “the good life” to me.

And then for a while, my dreams were about having all five of us take a vacation together. Somewhere new and special.  Somewhere that seemed a little adventurous. That would be “the good life”, wouldn’t it? Taking the kids to Europe? Camping in the Canadian maritimes? We did those things, and they were fabulous.  The good life dreams still seemed elusive.

Along the way, “the good life” started to seem like it would be out there when we finally had enough money to relax a bit. Maybe we’d hit that point when the kids were grown up and our salaries had increased some. Maybe it would come when we finally paid off the mortgage.  I started to dream and wish for “new”.  A new couch, a new dishwasher, one of those new fridges with the automatic ice maker.  I still don’t have everything all shiny and new, but I definitely have enough. I have finally reached the point where an unexpected car repair doesn’t lead me to panic.

This morning I woke up in the pitch dark again.  To the sound of pouring, driving rain. Again.  The room was chilly, and damp. Even the dogs were sound asleep. I rolled to my side, pulling the blankets around my neck. “Just five more minutes,” my brain begged. “Just five.”  I didn’t want to get up in darkness again. I didn’t want to gulp down my coffee while checking my email. I didn’t want to drive for an hour through the flooded highways yet again, dragging my weary bones to work.

Retirement.  Ah, yes.  Won’t that be “the good life”?  To sleep through the darkness, and only get up when the sun is high?  To pull on flannel pants, and keep them on for the whole wet day? That’s my new “good life.”  A cold, driving rain, and me inside with the dogs and a blanket and a good book.

I guess its good to have dreams, right? Its good to be looking forward, to embrace the future with joy.  But I am trying to be careful about it at the same time.

Today I will slog through the traffic, endure the wet leaves and dark highway, strive for patience as the whole world tries to get to work at the same time.  I’ll feel my aching back and neck, and wish for my soft flannel pants.

Then I’ll get to my classroom, flip on the lights, feed the fish and get ready to greet the gang of giggling children who will rush in the door to chat with me.

Maybe this is actually “the good life” right now, and I’m right smack in the middle of it.

I love the first day of school.


photoI love the first day of the school year. I do! I love being back in the place where I feel competent and useful.

I love the first day because I get to see all of my friends again.  After a long summer of time to myself, it feels both comforting and empowering to be a part of a team once again.  I get to spend my day with people who are smart, caring, familiar and supportive.  I am a small cog in a fine, efficient machine. I have a place.

I love the first day because last year’s kids are so deliriously happy to see me.  They haven’t yet met and connected with this year’s teacher and class, so they hold onto the memories of our time together.  They greet me with grins, and hugs and a rush of words.  “How was your summer? How are your dogs?  Do you remember when we…..?”   They want to know that I miss them, that I remember them, that they made a lasting impression.

I do, and they did, so the first day is filled with joyful and loving reunions.

I love the first day because I get to meet my new kids.  They come into the classroom with hesitation and hope.  They come with bright eyes and sweaty palms. They want to know one thing, and one thing only: will I be “nice” and will I love them?  They don’t come right out and ask, but their every move tells me that they need that reassurance.

I know myself well enough to know that I am pretty “nice”, and that I will absolutely without-a-doubt love them.  I love watching as the first day unfolds, and they slowly come to realize that they are in a safe place.

I love the first day of school because it is simply and purely a new beginning.  It is a chance to start fresh, to make things right, to undo the mistakes of the past.

I love the first day of school because the bright and beautiful faces before me show me that life is full of hope and the future is ours to grasp.

Happy first day of school to every teacher and student out there.