Walking Down Memory Lane

Yesterday, I met a former student … and the memories came flooding back.

 

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by The Wandering Angel

Three years ago, I was a student teacher on my final teaching placement. I was teaching a troubled, angry, and violent 8 year-old student … whom my cooperating teacher simply couldn’t stand.

“Roy” was (and remains) one of my most memorable “little characters’ … I’ve written about him before (September 2010). Back then, he was “liable to throw things at the teacher, run away from the class, and draw the teacher into power struggles”.

 

Yet, over those eight weeks, I forged a positive connection.


I made a difference … even if only for a short time
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“He made an effort to moderate his behaviour, and he never “exploded” into his aggressive chair-throwing & escape act while I was teaching him.

Working with him again last year, I believe I was one of very few, perhaps the only teacher Roy ever came to respect and trust.”  (September 2010)

Anecdotally, I know that Roy returned to his old ways when I left his classroom. Sad, but not particularly surprising given his life and school experiences.



Roy was a life-changing experience

My experiences with Roy had a defining impact on my teaching and classroom management approach. He taught me so much … and I still carry “his lessons” with me today. In fact, there is “a little bit of Roy” in most of my blogged classroom management reflections, which continue to bring so many visitors to A Relief Teacher’s Journey.


Yet, when Roy moved schools, I feared we’d never meet again.



Today, I went for a walk down memory lane …

“While out on duty today, I was approached by a student, and to my amazement, Roy walked into my life again. We went for a walk together … I shook his hand, and thanked him.”

“I finally had the chance to tell him that I’d never forgotten him … the chance to tell him that he taught me so much about teaching and about life.”

I know, from my conversations with his classroom teacher that “Roy” hasn’t changed much over the years; and perhaps has become slightly worse.


Yet, years ago, I once told Roy that I believed in him. I felt, deep down, behind the facade, he was a ‘good kid’. Angry, yes. But not bad.
I still do. I have hope. I care.


I still believe that my most memorable “little character” can make it. And one day, I hope he will read this and understand.

Every Student Has a Story


As a new teacher, it is so easy to get all-consumed with the teaching.

Yet, it is important to remember that we are teaching students … we are teaching children.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Pink Sherbet Photography


Some of my students, my “little characters”, are not easy to teach.

Some make me laugh, some make me cry. Yet, I enjoy working with, and teaching every one of them.

 

I believe in building bridges with my most alienated, challenging students. I invest significant time and effort in building trust and mutual respect. I try to find that connection, that one little thing we have in common … and I’ve learnt “that from little things, big things grow”.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m preoccupied with my own teaching and learning, but today I received a powerful reminder about the foundation of my teaching practice.

A student told me her story.

It wasn’t an easy story to tell, and not an easy story to listen to. Yet, it was a first step, a little breakthrough …  from which, I believe we can move forward.

Every student, every child has a story …

But as teachers, do we take the time to listen?

‘The Class That Never Was’

On the first day of my school year, I was appointed to my ‘first class’.

Yet, as I explored in A Teacher’s Story, this position was destined to last a mere six days.

In this post, I share my memories of Room 11, and the lessons I learnt in those six hectic, stressful, yet wonderful days.

It is a tribute to my students, and the class that never was.

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My apologies – this is a rather long post.


Getting Started

Being appointed on the first day of school is no way to start a class. This was an intensely stressful time, as I worked to translate my ideas about classroom organisation, curriculum planning, and behaviour management into reality. I sincerely hope and pray I’m never called upon a job on an hour’s notice ever again.

Nevertheless, I was able to learn a great deal about establishing a new class.

 



Determining my Classroom Organisation

My classroom was a small physical teaching space; and unfortunately, this limited the extent to which I could arrange it to my liking.

When arranging my space, I needed to consider the location of my desk, students’ desks, and storage tubs. When I arrived, the desks were positioned in rows facing the front; an arrangement which a) I dislike and b) I found extremely difficult to navigate (walking around the class). 

I wanted to establish a central floor teaching space where students could sit, and rearranged students’ desks accordingly. This arrangement was changed three times in response to classroom dynamics, as I had to separate several conflicting personalities. These photos show my final, workable arrangement.

 

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I was also able to create and laminate a class visual timetable (schedule), as well as my students’ personalised nametags for their desks and supply tubs. Sadly, I never got a chance to use these labels for real – they became my parting gift to my students as we went our different ways.


Lessons Learnt

  • Consider student dynamics when creating seating plans – and don’t be afraid to change plans if they aren’t working
  • If space permits, I’d use a horseshoe seating arrangement with my next class.
  • An empty classroom & bare walls can be quite confronting! It is important to establish student work-displays as soon as possible.
  • My laminated visual timetable & student desk labels were an excellent idea. The students loved the personalised nametags, and I think they helped give them some ownership of the classroom space.
  • In time, I’d like to bring in cushions or an old couch for silent reading. Realistically, there was no space for these here.
  • I also realised the need to develop a recording system to keep track of students’ contributions of classroom consumables – those tissues are worth their weight in gold!



Developing our Classroom Rules & Expectations

 

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Faced with a wide range of ability levels, personalities and challenging behaviours; classroom management in Room 11 was always going to be a challenge.

It took me some time to learn how to manage the ‘dominant personalities’; and to conform to school expectations regarding the use of extrinsic rewards (sticker charts and prizes) and classroom management forms.

I’m no fan of extrinsic rewards, as I prefer group reward systems. I had contemplated the idea of establishing a whole-class reward time on Friday afternoons (jokingly called the “Friday Free-for-All”), for students demonstrating good behaviour during the week. I would like to try this with my next class; for based on my relief observations, 30 mins reward time can make a huge difference to class morale and behaviour.

In these early days, I spent a great deal of my time learning about my students; building positive relationships and sharing a little bit of myself (including my horrendous sense of humour). I put a few photos and funny cartoons up alongside my desk (to cheer myself up), and made a point of learning students’ names (no easy feat!). This would later prove “time well spent”.

 

Lessons learnt

  • This experience was a valuable opportunity to implement my management approach, which I have blogged extensively about in the past (see The 3R’s of Effective Learning Environments and My Jigsaw Approach to Classroom Management)
  • I realised that I have sound classroom management skills (and an ironic sense of humour) which stood me in good stead as I worked to establish my classroom community.
  • This was the first time I’ve ever negotiated classroom rules, taught routines, and established my behavioural expectations – and the process worked well. I was surprised at how quickly students began to settle and bond as a group. 
  • I also realised the importance of adhering to whole-school classroom management plans – whether I particularly like them or not!

 

Looking Back

Teaching Room 11 for those 6 days was a transformative learning experience. It was one I had to undertake, and I know I am now much better equipped to establish a new class in the future.

Yet, so many good things came out of what was, at the time, a deeply traumatic event. So many opportunities to learn, grow, and connect. I have no regrets, no ill-feelings. But I will never forget my Room 11, the “class that never was”.

Today, I Lost A Bet

Today, I had a reason to smile.

I’ve spent the last four weeks teaching a Year 6 class at my old school. I’m a relief teacher, but I’m part of the furniture. In these few weeks, I’ve helped run a global project, and learnt a lot about myself and my students. I’ve loved the opportunity to treat a class as my own, even for such a short time.

Now, I have several students, mostly Indigenous, for whom school attendance is a significant issue. One charming young lady usually turns up about 1-2 hours late every day, … let’s call her Ann.


Yesterday, I made a bet.

Ann was literally jumping ‘up and down’ wanting to be the official ‘school bell ringer’ for the day, a responsibility recently delegated to our class. I had to point out that turning up each day between 9.30AM-10.30AM wasn’t a good start.

So I made a bet that if Ann “could actually, just possibly, turn up to school before 8.40AM” [i.e. on time], she would be our bell ringer. If she didn’t turn up, I’d give the job to someone else.


I lost.

I walked into school at 8.15AM, a little bit wet and keen to see the outcome of my little wager … and who was the first person I saw as I entered our undercover area?

A triumphant, wet and beaming student, beside herself with anticipation.

I fell over. Not literally, but close enough. This was quite an achievement.

While I made a big deal of “moaning” about losing my bet, I will never forget this moment. I’ll never forget that triumphant smile .. my little victory.

I’ve had some sad, stressful times as a teacher. But these are the little  moments which make my job special.

These “little victories” are what teaching is all about.

Guest Post: Classroom Management – Donald Trump Style

guest post succ

 

In today’s guest post, Sam Rangel (@samrangelSITC) from SuccessintheClassroom.com explores some of the key elements of an effective classroom management approach, sharing the benefits of his 20+ years middle school (Yrs 6-8) teaching experience in California, USA. 

As a new teacher, I’ve found the SuccessintheClassroom blog to be an extremely relevant & practical professional learning resource. Sam’s grasp of the everyday realities and challenges faced by new teachers around the world is second to none, and I hope he continues to share his expertise for many years to come.

Now, on that note, we proudly bring you:

Classroom Management – Donald Trump Style.

When I tell people that I teach middle school, I always get thewow-you-deserve-a-medal look or the sorry-you’re-stuck-with-that-job look or the and-you-haven’t-gone-crazy-yet look.

When I tell them that I’ve been teaching 12 and 13-year-olds for over 20 years now, and I’m still loving it, they can’t believe it.

Why is that? Why did my college dean tell the other teacher prospects that I was going straight to heaven when I died, because I wanted to teach middle school?

It’s because we all know 12 and 13-year-olds. We know how they behave. We know how they think they know more than anyone. We know how they want to push the limits. We know how they don’t like rules.

Of course, not all 12 and 13-year-olds act like this, but we know enough who do, and having 35-40 of them in a room together for close to an hour at a time can be scary.

That’s why you will find very few teachers who actually want to be middle school teachers. Most of them want to be elementary or high school teachers, which I totally understand.

When I first started teaching, I looked too young to be a high school teacher, and I didn’t have the patience for elementary kids. They require you to smile too much, and you have to dance and sing and decorate your room in a bright pastel colors, and that’s just not me.

When I got a long term substitute position in middle school, however, I knew I had found my place.

To teach middle school, you have to be an expert in classroom management or else you’ll be eaten alive by these hormone-driven, drama-seeking, argumentative, push-your-buttons, trying-to-find-out-who-they-are students.

So in this post, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned over the years about classroom management, and hopefully I’ll be able to help newer teachers find a little more success in the classroom.

I truly enjoy what I do, and middle school kids are amazing. I know, however, if I didn’t have my classroom management skills, I probably wouldn’t be teaching anymore, and I probably wouldn’t still have all my hair.

 


Here we go:

1. Make Great Lesson Plans

The best way to keep students from misbehaving is to keep them engaged. This will only happen when you have a great lesson. The times when I’ve had the most problems with my classroom management were those days when I just winged it. For some reason, I came to class with no plan. It’s a rarity, but it served to remind me of the dangers of not being prepared. With 8th graders, five minutes of nothing to do will turn into 10 minutes of redirection.

Lesson plan preparation is the most important element in great classroom management. I always plan for more than the time allows. If I have a 40 minute period, I plan for 50 minutes. I also always have a mini lesson, like a vocabulary activity, in my back pocket just in case I have too much period left after the lesson.


2. Remember That They’re Just Kids

I often hear teachers talk about how a certain student made them so mad that they wanted to kick that student out of the classroom, call their parents, place them on the terrorist watch list, etc. You have to remember that these are kids. They are going to do things that we adults know better not to do.

Once we remind ourselves that these are just kids, then we won’t get so upset. We won’t get into a shouting match with a 12-year-old. Do we excuse the behavior? No, of course not. We hand out a consequence and make that a teachable moment. Some kids just don’t know why what they did was wrong.

 

3. Show Them You Care About Them

For a lot of teachers, this is an easy one. You probably wouldn’t get into teaching if you didn’t have a heart for kids. There are times, however, when we lose focus on this, especially when the students are acting out or when we have other more personal issues occupying our thoughts or when  the administration is pressuring us to improve test scores, etc.

Many times the student who is acting out the most is doing so out of a need for attention that he/she is not receiving elsewhere. It would be a good idea to take a look at the student’s records to see if there are any home issues that would help explain his/her behavior.

This takes time. You’ll have to spend that valuable prep period or time before or after school to do the research, but if you can conceptualize a day when that one student is not causing problems in your class, it may be worth the investment of time.

I’ve had many students who are terrors in every other class except mine, not because I’m a better teacher, but  because I’ve made a connection with this students, and he/she doesn’t want to break that connection by making me mad.

Taking time to show some sincere concern to this student will make so much of a difference in how he/she behaves in your class. What I like to do is bombard that student with positive comments. “You’re so smart.” “That was amazing.” “Nice job.” A lot of times, these students have only heard negative words coming from the adults in their lives. They’ll behave better in your class, because they know they’ll get some verbal pats on the back for a change.


4. Act Like Donald Trump

One thing I’ve noticed about Mr. Trump is that he is in charge everywhere he goes. Even when he’s not the person in charge, he acts like he’s the person in charge. It’s all about his presence.

That is what I notice about teachers who have problems with classroom management. They don’t have the in-charge presence. It’s almost like they’re afraid of the kids. The kids will ask them a question like, “Why do we have to do this?”, and they’ll go into a long and confusing explanation describing the reasons why the lesson that they are about to begin is important or they’ll get offended and kick the student out of the class.

Would Donald do that?

When a student asks me that question, I stop and give him/her my I-can’t-believe-you’re-questioning-my-lesson look. Most of the time, the student will say, “never mind”, and I’ll continue as if the question was never raised. It’s all about presence. It’s your class. You are the expert. You know everything, and the students are so fortunate to be spending 40 minutes of their lives learning from you.

This is a change in mindset for many new teachers who are unsure about their abilities and are still learning how to teach. The sooner they get past this and move into the I’m-in-charge phase, the sooner they’ll see a decrease in their discipline problems.

It’s not being mean or tyrannical. It’s being in charge. It’s all about presence. Go ahead and fake it if you have to, but don’t let the students get any idea that you are not the one in charge. By the way, Mr. Trump, if you’re reading this, how about hooking up my students with some new laptops? It’s worth a try.

These are just a few ways to help you with classroom management, and although I’m definitely not the world’s expert in this area, I have been teaching 8th graders for the last 20+ years, so that gives me a little bit of an edge.

I love what I do. I have a great day almost every day, because my students don’t (or can’t) ruin my day. I can see how many teachers leave the profession just after three years. It is an often thankless job with very little pay and little support, and on top of all that, you have a bunch of kids who want to see how far to the edge they can push you.

There are many, many benefits that come with being a teacher, however. You don’t make a lot of money, but you do make a difference. Getting your classroom management skills perfected will help you not only make more of a difference, but you’ll have fun in the process.

I share some more specific tips on my other website: TipsForNewTeachers.com, so feel free to take a look.

I would welcome any comments, questions, criticisms, etc.

Thanks,

Sam

Reflections on Classroom Management (Index)

My Experiences, Philosophy, & Reflections

  1. My Jigsaw Approach to Classroom Management
  2. The Conscious Competence Ladder (Skill Development)
  3. The Four Stages in My Teaching Practice
  4. Classroom Management – Summing Up

The 3 R’s of Effective Learning Environments

  1. Setting the Scene
  2. Overview of the 3 R’s
  3. Transforming a Year 3 class into a learning community
  4. The Third ‘R’ – Shared Responsibility for the Learning Process
  5. My experiences with the Third ‘R’

‘The Theory of Bumps’ (Bennett & Smilanich, 1994)

  1. The Key Principles
  2. Explanation & Suggested Strategies

The 3 Keys to Working with Challenging Students

  1. Introduction
  2. What is a “problem” or challenging behaviour?
  3. Part 1: Building Positive Relationships
  4. Part 2: The Classroom Learning Environment
  5. Part 3: The Teacher’s Attitude, Actions, & Management Approach
  6. Responding to Anger

Building Positive Relationships

  1. Small Talk: “From little things, big things grow”
  2. Relief Teaching – Chalk & Small Talk!
  3. Get Involved with Breakfast / Lunchtime Clubs
  4. The Importance of Active Listening

Top Tips for Teachers – Behaviour Management (Video)

Cracking the Hard Class

Classroom Management: Summing Up

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Reflecting on my classroom management approach for A Relief Teacher’s Journey, I have gained some surprising personal insights into my relief teaching experience and professional development.

I am not an expert classroom manager by any means, but I have become a much more effective and competent relief teacher. I still have a few areas for improvement, and I expect to further develop my professional skills and practice over the coming years. No doubt, you will probably read about it here sometime in 2011!

Now, as I prepare to move on to fresh topics, I will leave you with one of the most insightful teaching cartoons I have ever seen. I’m not sure who the author is, but I suspect they may have had relief / substitute teaching experience!

GroeningCartoon

Cracking the Hard Class

As a relief teacher, I’ve come across many tough and extremely challenging classes, taught by graduate and experienced teachers alike.

Walking into, and taking control of the ‘hard class’ is one of the greatest challenges of my job, and I have learnt that there is no “one size fits all” approach. These classes are hard work, but most can be won over in time.

As I write this penultimate post on my classroom management approach, I thought I would share my experiences in a Year 4 class, in July 2010. Over the course of three days, I managed to take control of one of the most challenging class I have encountered as a relief teacher, marking a personal triumph of my first year.

Extract from my Reflective Journal (July 31, 2010)

This week, I spent my second and third day teaching the class. The first time was hell – students were generally unruly, refused to follow instructions, and I had the Principal dropping in at frequent intervals to ‘keep an eye’ on the situation. As usual in this school, I had not been warned that I would be teaching a really tough class. I left that day with a sore throat, almost losing my voice after raising my voice to excess.

On the second day I taught the class, I was surprised to find a number of students were actually excited to have me return. I wasn’t too impressed with having no work left for the two days, but I was much happier with the other (experienced) Deputy Principal, who properly prepped me for the class.

I found the students challenging, but not as bad as that first day. Working with the experienced teacher’s aide, I set out to teach some tried and tested relief activities and games, including Graffiti Walls (spelling) and a comic strip text innovation activity. I took an assertive management approach, insisting on every student’s individual attention, giving explicit instructions, and using the “hands up for quiet” signal.

On several occasions, I took the students outside the classroom for games. When they couldn’t line up without fighting and yelling at each other, I sent them back into class, and bluntly explained that their behaviour was completely unacceptable. They got the message … eventually.

The difference on the third day was amazing. I marvelled how I didn’t have to raise my voice, and at how much faster students responded to the “hands-up” signal. I did have to teach the class how to line up after Recess and Lunch, pulling a group of diehards out of line for a “chat”. Watching the class ‘perform’ for their Health teacher, I came to appreciate just how much better behaved they were for me.

I tried to make the activities interesting, and emphasised students’ sharing of their work with their peers. I also used the Find Someone Whostrategy for the very first time, marking the achievement of a recent learning goal. The students loved it, and even the shyer / more socially isolated students were able to get involved. Recognising that some students couldn’t read, I read through the items first, and encouraged them to ask for help if they weren’t sure. Sure enough, one did.

Marking students’ graffiti walls and comic strips at the end of the day, I was extremely impressed with some students’ efforts. I shared some of the funniest comics with the class, and kept a few for my records.

Drawing Parallels with a Year 7 “Class from Hell”

Leafing through my journal (Volume 1), I was struck with by the parallels with a class that ‘tore me to shreds’ in 2009, one of my worst ever teaching experiences. Comparing the management approach I took into these classes, I can see how much I have grown in this area.

The Keys to my Management Success

1) A confident assertive attitude and stance (body language is important)

2) Insisting on total compliance and attention prior to issuing instructions or explaining a learning activity. I also moved amongst students to ensure this happened.

3) Praising and rewarding the ‘allies’ – refusing to use collective punishment

4) Explicitly teaching (and if necessary) making students practice my expectations for their behaviour.

5) Using interesting learning activities

If you have a “class from hell”, it pays to be proactive, consistent, and persistent.

These classes are really hard work, but most can be conquered.

Responding to Student Anger

Anger is a confronting emotion for classroom teachers and students alike. Early intervention, a sensitive response, and teaching of anger-management strategies are critical to successful interventions.

When a student gets angry, they can become aggressive or violent, and sometimes flee the situation. Each individual’s anger-response is different, and it is imperative that teachers know the warning signs and characteristic behaviours. (Please, please – tell the relief teacher too!). It is also important to remember that a student may feel shamed after losing control of their emotions in front of their peers.

Intervene Early – If You Can

I encourage students to tell me if they aren’t coping with their emotions; explaining that I will give them a chance to get out of class and calm down. This usually involves sending them on an errand, going to the toilet, or getting a drink.

If I recognise the warning signs of an impending outburst, I often quietly tap the student on the shoulder, and offer them an exit strategy. This is an important strategy for teaching students how to cope with and regulate their emotions.

Responding to Anger Crisis Situations

As I discussed in a recent post, the teacher’s first priority in an anger crisis situation is to ensure their personal safety and the safety of the other students. This may necessitate the removal of the student, or the audience.

After the student has calmed down, and accepted the relevant consequences for their actions, it is important to privately discuss their behaviour with them. (You can take the student aside in class, or if possible, take them for a 5 minute walk at Recess break. Sometimes it is more relaxing and beneficial to discuss these matters in informal settings). 

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I often explain to the student that I can’t possibly understand what they are going through, but that it is normal to feel upset /angry. If they have exhibited a violent/aggressive response, I discuss coping strategies, and help the student identify more positive, less harmful responses. As a classroom teacher, this would inform a more formal behaviour management plan.

Anger Management (TeacherTube)

http://www.teachertube.com/embed/player.swf

 

Useful Resources

Anger Management and Conflict Resolution for Middle School Students, a free PPT download from TeachersPayTeachers.com

“Part 3: Coping with crises, conflicts and difficult situations” in Magic Classroom Management. Rob Plevin (2008/9). (Email me for a copy – I have free distribution rights)