Archive for September, 2008

I Have Lost Control!

lost controlIt is October! By now you know if you are in control. What do you do if you lost control? Regaining control is not easy but here’s a few suggestions for you try. It wouldn’t be easy and it wouldn’t be quick. After all you taught them to be the way they are in a month’s time. Be patient and remember they don’t hate you. You are just the enemy right now.

Regaining control requires a plan. Go home tonight with the idea that instead of nursing your headache and complaining about “these kids today,” pour yourself a good stiff drink. The choice is yours- wine, beer, whiskey, rum, tea, soda! Tell yourself you can do this! No more feeling sorry for yourself. You need confidence.

Make a quick analysis of problem areas. (You can’t just say everything and burst into tears)! Carefully consider each aspect of your overall classroom management program. It is not just the “discipline” concerns. Start with your routines. For example, how do you pupils enter the classroom and what is expected of them when they arrive? Do you have a bell ringer? A motivation activity? A series of instructions to follow to prepare for class? A surprise quiz announced with some clues to help prepare. If pupils are noisy from the start, most probably you have lost them from the beginning. Check all your routines. How can you improve them? What routines are working (Some are!)? Routine is necessary for classroom control.

The discipline plan is the overall conduct expectations. It is the rules and consequences in your classroom. If you have already made a set of rules and consequences, review them. I suggest no more than five rules to govern the classroom. There needs to be a hierarchal system of five consequences. And there needs to be individual and class rewards. Finally there needs to be system to keep track of pupils and their consequences. This discipline plan must be filled with expectation. It provides a plan that guarantees every child has an opportunity to learn without the disruption caused by a few. Most kids, hard to believe, really do want to learn. The discipline plan provides for that opportunity and you have to enforce that plan.

It is important to have a means of keeping track of the consequences for each pupil. Look around at different classrooms, you will see a range of schemes. Some have little trees for each kid with their name on it and three or four leaves on each. Leaves fall as a consequence is noted. Traffic signals with each child’s name with a marker moves from green to yellow to red! Easiest is a book card holder with kids name on it and index cards with the kids names on it. Three color cards, like the traffic signal, are markers of consequence level. Use a clip board with a class list and put a check mark next to the name each time a consequence is tagged. Use your imagination. Just be sure to diligently keep track. It is time consuming and a pain but with the effort you will discover it gets easier and easier. It also provides a basis for how you should start next year so that you wouldn’t have this problem again!

You have to be committed to your plan and you must follow through. If your consequence is a phone call home, you had better make that call! Do not make any threat unless you follow through with it. Be sure your consequences are sequential more punitive. Start with a warning and then a conference after class. (You can make it short but it clearly appears ominous to the class). The next level could be a note home or a call home. The finally consequence is a parent conference. Phone calls and conferences have definite impact on pupils. Parents, as much as they want communication, usually do not like phone calls and conferences. You need on emergency consequence. A student who is fighting, carrying a weapon, threatening another person, acting out of control must be removed- sent to the principal’s office.

Remember you must stick with your plan. What you say is the law. You can be as nice as you like outside the classroom but during class, you have a job to do. You are responsible to design a lesson plan, provide an opportunity for all pupils to learn, and to assess the work of your pupils.

A few reminders:

  • Never, ever raise your voice
  • Know each kids name! You should know them by now! You should able to look a kid in the eye and say their name.
  • Follow through with any consequence (it is also a learning experience: cause/effect)
  • Avoid confrontation in front of class. Ask pupil to come to the door or stand outside door while you stand at threshold. Now you have the advantage. He or she has lost her audience.
  • Try not to rely on the principal’s office except in emergencies. (THINK: This is my classroom and not the principal’s. I must establish control not the principal).
  • Be fair. What you expect of one expect of the other. (goose-gander).
  • Expect the very best behavior from everyone.
  • Avoid sarcasm! Kids just don’t get it.
  • Don’t be cruel. Do not mock or make fun of someone. Do not join in a laugh that berates a pupil or another teacher.
  • Be positive.
  • No one said it was easy but once you are in control, it is a very satisfying job.

Kids do not hate you. They look to you for stability and order. Provide that for them.

Wow! I bet you are at your third or fourth drink! I hope its Friday! Now that you have a plan, how are you going to put it into action. The following are purely opinion. They may or may not work . You kind of have to decide what best fits your personality and how deeply committed you are to surviving for the year. Adapt what I say to fit your plan. No one can solve your problem. At least it will you a framework upon which to build.

If it were me:

  1. Tomorrow I would write a lengthy assignment on the board . An assignment that they are expected to begin on it immediately and without talking. (Don’t worry about trying to teach. Survival requires that establish control). Stroll about reminding pupils to work on assignment. Have a checklist. Make notes. Kids will, of course, wonder what you are writing. NO SMILES NOW! Quietly say “I am calling home to offer a personal report to each parent.” Do raise your voice! I assure you word will get around. After five minutes or so, the class will be engrossed in their assignment. Now you can take the nitty-gritty: Take attendance, collect notes or lunch money or permission slips or whatever. Do not hide! Keep in the middle of your pupils. Walk around. Do not yell or scream or rant or rave- make it on you checklist and give them “the look.”
  2. As the assignment is finished, you need another assignment to start on. Maybe math? Write a page number and the problems to be done. Collect the assignment as they finish. Give a time limit. “You have five minutes!” Call an end when the five minutes are up.
  3. Teach the pupils how to quietly form a group of four or five. You assign the pupils. After explaining, ask them to move into their group. Tell them that the assignment is on the board (see below) and they should begin immediately. A grade will be given on how well the group works together based on completing the assignment in the time allowed. Again walk around. Compliment groups that working together. Help groups who are working very well with positive suggestions. Watch the time. Remind groups, not the whole class, that there are only five minutes left. Offer a reward (you could include that with the assignment on board). Candy, sucker, gum, sticker, homework pass, sit anywhere pass, “I can take a class period off to sit in back and read” pass, be the teacher for fifteen minutes pass make good rewards.
  4. As the time nears, stand at front of class and watch to see what group and who cooperates in return to their seats. Remember your clip board- make notes!
  5. Try to find a compliment to give. Joe’s group was the first to be in place followed by Mary’s group. Bobbie’s team seemed to work well exchanging ideas. Try to find something to be positive about. Even it’s the best dressed group was.
  6. With the class, use a large poster to list your rules and consequences. One rule should be a catch all- Do what you are told the first time. Your first consequence should be a warning. Listen to suggestions. Remind them that any comments should be done by raising your hand. If they shout out, mark down and quietly remind them to raise their hands. Don’t go one too long. The outcome should be your five rules and consequences. Allow the pupils to think they belong to their thinking. Teacher’s can manipulate wording to fit the desired outcome. List several rewards. After 15-20 minutes, try to have your rules and consequences established. Inform the class that they made the rules and now you expect they will live by them.
  7. It is time to move on. Proceed with your lesson plan. If you departmentalized or secondary school, its time for the next group. Be sure to keep track of rules and consequences.
  8. Make the phone calls home as soon as possible. Start that day. The call can be quite simple. “Hello. I am so-and-so, your son’s teacher. We have been in school for a month and I just wanted to touch base with you and let you know that I am available Monday through Friday. If I am in class or a meeting, please leave a message and I will get back to you.” Important, you need something positive to say. “Billy is usually very polite and he has a charming smile. However, I have a concern about his shouting out in class. He is becoming a disruptive influence. I know if we work together, we can help Billy be the excellent student that he has the ability to be. I would appreciate if you could talk to Billy about the importance of classroom behavior and I will do the same on this end. Thanks so much for your help and I will contact you in a few weeks with an update.”
  9. Once you start the phone calls, word will spread quickly! Start with the biggest pains! Make sure you call the cute kid who is a joy in class and compliment the parents. It will do you good as well as the parents. It also let’s the class know that a positive reward call can be made. I would try to make several phone calls a day. You can call during your prep period, after school or in the evening.

If you remember to keep track of behavior over a period of time, it will give you a better handle on kids and it will help maintain control. Remember that none of the records, checklists, index card comments, etc, are permanent. They are temporary and destroyed at the end of the school year. Legal stuff!!

Good luck and hang in there. If you need help or a pep talk, feel free to email me at:


chalkboard w activity

September 30, 2008 at 12:03 am 1 comment

Routine! Routine! Routine!

Hroutinesow do you, the teacher, survive the classroom and make it a positive experience for the teacher and the pupils. It is called routine. The first two weeks are the “honeymoon” time. The pupils are quiet and usually attentive. Although I have noticed that this has changed over the past few years. I have been teaching for 40 years and the last ten have been the most challenging if we forget the first year! I learned the hard way just like so many of my colleagues. A class of caged children can be every bit as harrowing as being locked up with lions and tigers and bears- Oh My! After that first year, the good teacher has learned the “trick.” It is routine and it is established in the first two weeks. Although, today’s teacher must advance that schedule and get the routine in place within the week and in some cases, some routines must be in place today! The veteran teacher has discovered that teaching and learning are possible when a structure (routine) exists. This article will help the teacher old and new to be reminded of a few ideas of establishing structure, I mean, routine!

The veteran teacher has a planned structure in mind already. It has been branded into him by the same experience that the rookie teacher is now experiencing: trial and error and terror. The terror leads to discovering a routine that works or leads to the principals office with a trail of tears and a letter of resignation. Frustration is the outgrowth of no routine. The rookie learns. The only place that the experience pays off is in the classroom on your own with just you and the pupils over time. This is the purpose of student teaching experiences. Sad to say, many school systems require the cooperating teacher to remain in the classroom while the student teacher is teaching. I appreciate the concerns legally but… Having the veteran teacher glaring at the backs of his pupils heads does little for the student teacher to learn those techniques that work or not. As a result, the rookie teacher thinks everything is rosy and heads off to their first assignment with a distorted idea of how it works. Student teaching provides the experience of standing in front of the class and teaching but little of creating an environment of learning. Routines are either established or maintained by the cooperating teacher.

First, let’s consider routine. What is it? It is how the teacher wants the body of students or individuals within the body to react to certain needs within the classroom. For example, the most common routine that all teachers are reminded of each year: FIRE DRILL! Teachers are reminded to explain where to the pupils go and how they behave during a fire drill and often indicate a consequence if the routine is not met. A routine then involves a trigger, that is, an event or action that leads to an established course of events, the reaction. In the case of the fire drill, the loud, obnoxious, irritating alarm creates an adrenaline rush. This is the trigger or action. The routine, developed by the teacher, is to stand and quietly move out of the classroom following a prescribed path to an exterior door. After exiting the door, pupils are to gather in a predetermined location where attendance is taken. Various pupils are assigned tasks, such as, close classroom door making sure everyone has exited and another pupil holds exterior door for class to exit building. A third pupil acts as a flagpole for class to gather about. (My experience has been to lead the class out. Some schools mandate that the teacher follow the class. You must do as the school policy dictates but, if given the option, lead the class. That way if a real fire or danger should confront the class, the teacher should be able to make a decision quickly and lead the class to alternate route). I always find it a good idea to explain to the class both for the need of fire drills and the reason for the various expectations during a fire drill. At this time I also propose a consequence for failure to follow the fire drill instructions. Therefore, a routine involves an action that leads to a set of reactions that result in a “good thing.” Associated with failure to live up to the routine comes a consequence.

Second, establish routines immediately or they will be established by your pupils. During the first few weeks, the teacher has to establish the routines desired. Pencils need to be sharpened. Should they be sharpened at the start of the day or anytime the pupil wants. Can a pupil who needs to sharpen a pencil just get up during a activity and go to the pencil sharpener? How many can go at a time? What happens when 15 pupils get up and move to the pencil sharpener? This is a petty little non-teaching task that must be addressed. Suggestion: Pencils are to be sharpened before the class begins. A monitor (in grade school) will call rolls or tables to go to sharpener. If a pencil needs to be sharpened after class begins then the teacher might have a pencil jar for pupils to borrow from with the understanding that a consequence follows. Sounds good! So what do you, the teacher, do when a student gets out of their seat and moves to the pencil sharpener? You have laid out a routine and this pupil is not following the routine. (This is the “test!” Pupils will always test the teacher especially in the first few weeks. The teacher must be alert for this “test” and be prepared to react. Even if its a gentle reminder). The teacher must respond or the routine means nothing. “Sarah. We sharpen our pencils at the start of class. If you need to use a pencil, I will loan you one.” You want to do this as quietly and least intrusively as possible. All the other pupils are watching. If you don’t say something, the routine means nothing. If you overreact, the lesson is disrupted and you have created a means for the pupil who seeks attention to find it in the future. This is the need for practice to discover what works and what don’t! The teacher needs to be watchful in the first few weeks to get those routines established.

Some common routines that will need to be addressed are determined by age group. Preschool, Primary (1-3), Intermediate (4-6), Upper grade (7-8) and High School (9-12). Generally routines that need to addressed are:
1) Entering the classroom
2) Taking a seat
3) Preliminary or Starting Activity
4) Classroom supplies that should be available to the pupil
5) Routines specific to learning activity
*raising hand in discussion
*taking notes in lecture
*remaining with group in team activities
*noise level maintenance
*asking questions of teacher in different activities
6) Following classroom rules
7) Using materials within the classroom
8) Using the washroom
9) Talking with the teacher
10) homework collection
11) homework distribution
12) Taking Attendance
13) Notes to the office
The list goes on from here. Plan ahead and be prepared. Failure to have a plan results in the routine being established outside the teacher’s control. When you hear the administrator’s and other teacher’s talk about “having control,” this is what they mean. Control is having the routines your way. Once a routine is established it runs entirely on its own with only an occasional test. Of course, if the routine is one the teacher does not like it is tough to change it. Once routines are established, it is very, very difficult to change That is one reason that beginning teachers experience so much difficulty. Experience leads to developing routines and controlling the classroom so that a positive learning environment can be established. The control is in the teacher hands and that means the teacher can teach and the pupil can learn.

September 10, 2008 at 11:30 pm 1 comment

Dealing with Secondary School Behavior Problems

Classroom manbookair4agement is a broad category that encompasses a great deal of teacher activities. One of those activities is behavior management. It is perhaps the most difficult for the beginning teacher and seems the easiest for the veteran. It is what is most often the reason that intelligent and dedicated individuals give up and leave the classroom. General management of all issues in the classroom impacts the behavior situation. Therefore managing the classroom solves 20% of the behavior issues, solid lesson planning solves 60% of the problems and effective dealing with behavior issues resolves the rest. Consequently, developing strengths in three areas will provide a teacher with the tools to deal with secondary school students. A fourth factor is necessary to compliment the three strengths of a teacher. Understanding the adolescent is vital to implementing the opportunity to teach.

Management of a classroom involves taking attendance, collecting paperwork (homework or school forms), regulating classroom environment as best as possible (heat, cool, windows, lighting, etc), dealing with administrative interruptions, fire drills, school announcements, entering and leaving the classroom, etc. The rookie teacher usually fails to account for these basic non-teaching tasks. Experience teaches the teacher to expect interruptions and be prepared to deal with them. It is these interruptions that causes the teachers to lose focus with the class and the result can be chaos. Adolescent students who find an opening to escape from the rigors of a classroom activity will take advantage of it. With experience, teachers learn to have a method to deal with interruptions. For example, when the assistant-principal-in-charge-of-teen-interrogation (APICOT) appears at your door and beacons you into the hall, what do you do with the class full of teens? Rookie teachers usually say nothing and step into the hall. That’s fine if the consultation lasts three seconds. After that three seconds the teens realize that the eye, i.e., the teacher, has left the room. No one is watching! Pencils fly, paper floats, girls gab, boys taunt, the chatter is directly proportional to the length of the interruption. After a minute, the APICOT’s eyes shift from the teacher to the classroom where the increasing noise level has captured his attention. The teacher feels embarrassed and assumes that the assistant principal will report the inability to “control the class.” In most cases the interruption is not that important that it couldn’t have waited. Now the class is lost and by the time the teacher regains “control,” the period is over.

Good solid lesson planning is the best defense in maintaining an orderly classroom. (Please do not equate orderly with quiet). The principles of good lesson planning should have been developed in course work in preparation to teach and in the months of student teaching. A good lesson plan involves: (1) A goal to strive for during the lesson (s), (2) an opening activity (bell ringer, the hook, board activity, motivational opening, etc) (3) main class activity with specific tasks and assignments that involve students (4) The close. Time is the essence in secondary schools. The teacher’s day is controlled by the clock. First period starts at 8:30, Second starts at 9:50 and so forth. The class period is 45 minutes. The teacher is a performer on live TV. As soon as the 45 minutes are up the bell rings and the audience charges out. Careful awareness of the clock is vital to a successful plan. Lesson planning is juggling activities to fill the allotted time slot. The teacher is writer, producer, director, and host of the Classroom Show. This audience participation game works only if the teacher is able to motivate and lead the audience through the program.

All this is the preliminary action. Good preparation and careful presentation avoids many behavior problems. It will not avoid all. Understanding the adolescent is a lifetime’s pursuit for the secondary school teacher. Most of the understanding comes from first hand experience. There are certain “rules” that should be followed.

Rule 1: Most behavior issues are not personal. Try to understand the reason for the behavior problem. Adolescents “act out” for a variety of reasons.

  • Hormones create an amazing amount of stress. That often leads to an explosion at the least opportune times.
  • Problems at home are often carried into the classroom.
  • Teens often mimic a behavior observed by another student or a TV character or even a parent.
  • Social awkwardness creates behavior problems.
  • “Showing off” is a reason for some teens to mouth off or “act out.”
  • Anger or fear often get expressed as a behavior problem.

The list goes on and on. The important thing is to try to figure out the cause for the outbreak.

Rule 2: Never, ever, ever confront a student in front of a class. Two things can happen. First, the student will be humiliated and becomes a ticking bomb that could explode at any time. (Of course the teacher can defuse the alarm by talking to the student after class or away from his classmates. This writer has found that starting with an apology followed by an explanation that it was a mistake to disagree in front a group and in the future that needs to avoided. A discussion on the right of a student to disagree is completely acceptable but it might be best to disagree aside from the other issues that are being worked on in class). Second, the teacher will be humiliated and made to look the fool. This is not good! The teacher that loses in front of class in a behavior issue may well spark off more issues in the future. Always try to isolate the student so that a confrontation is avoided in front of an audience. Teens nor teachers want to lose in front of an audience.

Rule 3: The teacher’s task is help the student grow. Behavior issues are opportunities for learning situations. Only experience will help the teacher. Just like the teen, behavior problems and confrontations help the teacher to grow. Trial and error is want makes teachers and teens grow. No two teens are alike but behavior problems are often similar. Rookie teachers get frustrated because they have not yet had the opportunity to grow in helping teens solve their problem. It is a key for the teacher to separate their problem from the teen’s problem. Teacher’s do have problems and sometimes they take them out on the teens.

Rule 4: Do everything in your power to make the teen feel as if he has won. Self-esteem is vital for everyone but especially for the adolescent who is a child in an adult body that he or she has yet to discover how it works. Teens often do not know their own strength. They have parts that suddenly seem to take center stage at the wrong moments. They find that clothes that fit last week do fit this week. Urges and distractions cause the teen to close out the world around them. Fantasy and reverie often corrode concentration and attentiveness. Teens are teens. They are still little kids but they are now in an adult body. Adults expect them to be adults and act like adults. They are not! They want to be adults, they just do not know how to be adults just yet. That’s the secondary school’s job!

Rule 5: “You win some and you lose some!” That’s the golden rule to govern teaching. The day ends and the teacher has a home to go home to that often have a family waiting. Teachers have a life beyond the school. At days end, leave the problems at school and go home. At the start of the day, leave your problems at home and go to school. Remember the teacher is helping the teen move from a child to an adult. It is a critical time in a person’s life. Teens formulate how to act as an adult during the high school years and the reader of this article is helping them achieve that transition.

Finally, life is filled with change. Adolescent is the period of life that experiences the greatest amount of change. There are some teens sad to say that are beyond your assistance. They have too much baggage, have already defined their path in life, have serious socio-emotional issues, or are just beyond this teacher’s abilities. It does not mean that the teacher is failure, it merely means that the teacher is wise enough to identify a need for a specialist. Keep a good sense of humor. It really does help. Be ready to laugh at yourself. Have a good heart. Want to do good. Enjoy your job! It is fun and exciting and worthwhile!

Most of all, remember it is not personal!

September 9, 2008 at 9:21 pm 1 comment

September 2008
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