Martha Sandven raises the issue:
In my current rotation, there appears to be a culturally accepted behavior that troubles me. On a daily basis, without exception, an adult has interrupted the class during during instructional time. Whether it is a classroom teacher, a counselor or another staff member, someone has walked in during the class time and interrupted instruction to talk to the teacher. On two occasions, people walked in during student presentations, leaned down to whisper in the teacher's ear, and asked a question or made a comment. To be clear, the reasons for the interruptions have sometimes been as non-critical as, "What do you think about that extra meeting we have after school this week?"
Obviously, each school has its own culture of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Just last week, I heard many of my fellow MAT's discussing different schools' tolerance levels for students who text, use cell phones, wear ear buds, use iPhones or listen to iPods during school time, and specifically during instructional activities. It sounded like many of you have ideas about what is and isn't acceptable and what should and shouldn't go on in a school.
When we accept a position to teach at any school, we are tacitly accepting a position within that school's culture. However, all of us are doing a lot of work to plan for our "ideal" classroom environments. How are we going to cope with behaviors that are acceptable within a school but unacceptable within our classroom environments? Do we abandon our own expectations and standards because they are not upheld by our colleagues and administration? Do we try to maintain our expectations and standards at the risk of alienating those around us? Is there a happy medium? I expect there is, though I have yet to find it. If we, however gracefully, uphold our ideals, what risk do we pose to our acceptance in a new community of colleagues and potential collaborators?
I have been pondering this a lot and have yet to draw any truly satisfying conclusions. I thought about putting a sign on the door that reads, "Please come back. Class in progress," but that seemed potentially offensive. There are no other teachers I've seen who post such a sign. I thought about having a dialogue with the individuals who interrupted, but didn't like the way I appeared to be holier-than-thou, or ignorant and disrespectful of the existing culture when I played out the scenarios in my mind. Speaking with a principal seemed a particularly poor choice — after all, the administration participates in these behaviors.
As we plan to become integrated in already existing professional communities, how are we going to deal with behaviors, expectations and standards that conflict with our own? What skills can we hone now, in practice, so that we are prepared to deal effectively and positively with the inevitable conflicts that arise when our colleagues do not behave in our classrooms as we would hope they would?
November 16, 2008
An Antidote to 'Senioritis'?
Grace Pendergrass asks the question:
I have just moved from teaching eighth grade to teaching seniors. I feel a little bit like a fish out of water. My eighth grade classroom was a Literacy Lab classroom where students had choices and a lot of independent learning. While that classroom came with its own set of problems, my senior level classroom is a traditional English classroom with a traditional teacher (no choice, teaching classics — ick).
It is only November, and my seniors already have serious cases of “Senioritis.” I hear phrases like “I don’t need to know this” and “This doesn’t matter.” I have been assigned to teach The Canterbury Tales. Instead of making them write a big fat ugly MLA paper or take some sort of crazy test none of them will study for, I have decided to have them make a life-sized “body biography” of a character from the prologue.
What other ideas do you have to engage my seniors and get them excited — or at least wake them up?
November 16, 2008
The Girl No One Likes.
Anonymous raises the issue:
Fellow interns, let me prepare you, this will seem harsh. How do you handle a student who is so obnoxious that she is not liked by her students, her parents, and quite frankly her teachers? This student told me the first day of class that she hates every student in her class. This was the first of many unpleasant interactions with her. She missed class when she had to go to court for a criminal incident and seems to be in trouble quite a bit. She also disrupts the class with what seems like an endless supply of negativity.
The most recent and troubling classroom incident occurred when I invited students to share their writing after a journal assignment. This student was the only volunteer, so I had no other option but to allow her to share. As she walked to the front of the classroom, it was clear that she had written something very divisive and shared it with other students, because the other students were laughing nervously. When she reached the front of the room and started to read, she stopped and said that she didn’t want to read. I asked her if she wanted me to read the journal for her and she agreed.
Before I began reading, I scanned the page and discovered that the journal was a detailed listing of one of her teacher’s faults. I did not read the journal and asked the student to see me after class. We discussed the journal and I consider the discipline portion of that particular issue resolved.
How do you deal with a student you just don’t like? Further, how do you effectively hide the fact that you don’t like the student? I have really made an effort to be fair and kind to this student, but she is so disruptive, that I am forced to reprimand her. Your advice would be so helpful.
November 16, 2008
In Search of
Katherine Collier raises the issue:
I have a ninth-grade class that includes six Individual Education Plan (IEP) students (one of whom cannot form a complete sentence), two repeating students, and one 504 plan that literally says he can walk out of the class at any moment because of his anger management issues. In this classroom, group work is impossible.
The rest of the class consists of five very bright students who should be in pre-AP and an additional 16 kids who are fine, but bored out of their mind. Most of the activities I plan are either partner or group work. I have tried and tried to find inventive ways to do active work in this class, and it never works. However, I don't want it to be a traditional class where I stand in front and lecture all day, hand out assignments, and give them time to do their work in class. Lately, that is how I have had to run this class and their attention and desire to do the work has completely diminished.
What are some creative ways I can engage these kids without making them uncomfortable or frustrated?
October 10, 2008
Stephanie Pierce raises the issue:
My question is very similar to Grace's question; however, it seems to be the greatest problem I have. I have three students, all of whom are well known by the teachers, admin, and the other kids as disruptive troublemakers and underachieving students. All come from poor homes with poor family situations and are very familiar with detention.
I seem to get along with these kids, in that we have conversations that are positive, and they seem to do some work when I ask, but the underlying issue is that they're bullies. When I'm not looking, they poke, touch, steal, blow spitwads, and (occasionaly) blurt out inappropriate comments. Sending them away, giving check marks, or sending them to a principal's office doesn't cut it because they'll just repeat the behavior when they come back to class. My problem is how do I keep them from disrupting or disrespecting the other students when my back is turned?
October 9, 2008
Disrespect in Spanish
Katy Moore asks for help:
The main rule in my classroom is that we respect one another. We have many rules, but this is THE BIG ONE! However, I have several instances where kids have complained that other kids are calling them bad names, or saying bad things in Spanish, during my class. I am not sure how to deal with this. I have tried to learn some phrases, but they are pretty creative in the way they insult each other. This has become a major issue because students from different countries are beginning to have physical altercations based on these exchanges. HELP!
October 9, 2008
Martha Sandven presents the case:
I am teaching three sections of "regular" seventh-grade English and Reading. In each of my classes, there are approximately one-third low achievers (Basic), one-third medium achievers (Regular), and one-third high achievers (Advanced.) My Pathwise observer has noted that I need to provide more "differentiated instruction" for my students.
I completely agree that we should always try our best to teach each individual student to their aptitude! My own experience as an elementary school student was positive intellectually and socially because I was consistently taught to my aptitude. Although I believe in "differentiated instruction," I am struggling with the practical challenges of providing three tiers of difficulty and complexity to my students when they are wry enough to see right through my strategies.
It is awkward to distribute three different levels of worksheets. The students compare their handouts with each other. It is awkward to pull individual students aside and give them differentiated verbal instructions. My advanced students roll their eyes heavenward when I give them extended work. They express that they feel like they are being punished for doing so well. "Can’t I just read my book? I finished the assignment."
Here’s what I have done so far. Table teams in my classroom have low, medium, and high students working together. Low students receive extra attention from me both before and after school (!! Here is another issue — differentiated instruction DURING contract hours please???); and both low and regular students have special meeting times and activities during study hall to address specific areas in which they are struggling (spelling, reading comprehension, vocabulary, etc.)
What are you doing to invigorate your advanced students and modify coursework for your lower students? When are you accommodating them? How do you differentiate when everyone is in the classroom together? What is your response to the suggestion, “You need to provide more differentiated instruction during the class period"? I will appreciate any comments and suggestions you’d like to share!
October 9, 2008
The Crazy Kid
Katy Henry poses the question:
I am having trouble in my seventh grade section. I have one boy in the class who is disruptful, no matter where I put him. We have changed the seating arrangement in the class a few times, but he always seems to find someone to talk to, thus disrupting their work and the rest of the class as well. I can't seem to figure out what to do with him! He does what we tell him to do, but he always seems to have some comment to make or funny thing to say to disrupt the other students.
I know that he is a leader in the class, and that other students sometimes play off of what he says. I have had the "you're a leader in the class, try to be a good role model" speech with him, but he doesn't seem to care. I've also tried playing up his crazy personality and trying to fit his funny comments into my lecture or the class discussion, but these efforts seems to make everything worse. I've also tried punishing him by making him stay after class, but he doesn't seem to care about punishment either.
Should I move him again, or is there something else I can do about this crazy kid who always wants to be funny?
October 8, 2008
How Far the Troublemaker?
Stephanie Stidham describes the situation:
How far do you let things go with a troublemaker in your room before sending them to the principal? I have always been of the opinion that teachers should handle discipline problems themselves, rather than letting an assistant principal handle everything, but that was before I found myself alone in a classroom!
I have one specific student who pushes me to my limits. He is openly sarcastic and very disrespectful to me in front of the entire classroom. He has become so disruptive, we aren't getting through our lessons, and the other students are asking him to stop! Last week, I asked him to sit in a desk right outside our door when I had finally had enough. Unfortunately, the principal walked by and saw him there. He (principal) asked what was going on, got both sides of the story, and placed the student in ISS.
Once the student was there, he got an additional day for bad behavior in the ISS room. He was not allowed to play in the football game Thursday night, and mom was called. I feel extremely guilty that I couldn't handle this myself, and all of these repurcussions happened because I was ineffective at disciplining this student!
Sidenote: I was subbing these two days while my mentor was at LitLab, so there was no back-up!
October 5, 2008
ELL Won't Work on His Own.
Kelly Riley raises the issue:
I am concerned about an advanced ELL student who, despite my efforts to get him involved, does not do his work. I have asked him one-on-one if I could do something more to help him, but he just smiles apologetically and shakes his head. He's a very nice and respectful boy. I try to work with him one-on-one when other students are doing independent work. This seems to help him get his work done, but I am unable to work with him for long stretches of time because other students call for my attention. I have asked him to come see me during seminar time (scheduled study hall) or before or after school, but he never comes. I know that he works after school and that he is often very tired; however, I don't want this boy to slip through the cracks. I know he is bright and very capable. Any suggestions?
September 28, 2008
Dousing Another's Fires
Julia Bachelor raises the issue:
I am working at a middle school that divides its students using pods. This structure affords me the opportunity to work with multiple teachers throughout the day in a way that I believe truly is helpful to the students. At every team meeting we discuss our students — who is doing well, who is struggling, who we need to bring in to talk with — and we are able to create a small community within our school where the students can feel comfortable. They know there are at least four teachers who are keeping close tabs on how they are doing at school and at home.
To say the least, it has been an eye-opening experience to work with multiple teachers and witness the dynamic that exists among them. I have been learning a lot about teacher interaction and all the ups and downs that go along with working with a team.
My ponder has to do with the interactions of teachers, but on a different level from the team concept. Our pod has many inclusion students. Another teacher is actually in the classroom with my mentor teacher and me during a couple of classes. This teacher is responsible for giving extra attention and help to the inclusion students when it is needed. It is really wonderful to have this extra teacher present (who, in our case, knows the kids well), and to have someone who can give individual attention to students, whether or not that student is an inclusion student, when my mentor or I may be working with someone else.
What I find myself pondering during the day is how I can work well with someone who has a different way of dealing with the students, a way that is more blunt and abrupt than me? Often this teacher sees events and occurrences in an unclear, distorted way, and mishandles situations because he/she does not see the whole picture. In my own classroom I have to douse fires caused by another teacher.
October 3, 2008
A Double Standard
Megan Hampel poses the question:
I have the most amazing group of seventh graders, but they are constantly talking, and it's a struggle for me to get them focused. We, my mentor and I, have tried several different seating arrangements and a reward system, but when I am in the classroom by myself, they don't see me as the teacher. I have been teaching three or four classes for about three-to-four weeks now, and it's always a struggle for them to follow my directions; however, when my mentor says the exact same thing, they immediately stop talking and focus on the task at hand. I speak at approximately the same voice level, and we have a bell to ring to capture attention, but I find myself ringing it far more than she is.
I am getting to the point where I feel disrespected. How can I get my students to stop talking, listen to directions, focus on the task at hand, and view me as the teacher?
October 2, 2008
A Delicate Issue of Discipline
Laurie Trahan raises the issue:
I'm having a very hard time deciding on the proper way to discipline my students for bad behavior. I know what my school rules call for, but my mentor teacher does not like to send students to detention and is proud of the fact that she can handle all of the discipline problems herself without sending a student to detention or writing them up. I have found that it works great for her, but when she is gone and I am in charge of the class, I have a very hard time getting the "trouble" students to respect me because they know that no action is going to be taken against them. How can I discipline my students in a way that will both reprimand them for their actions and not go against my mentor's opinion of how discipline should be handled?
October 2, 2008
Disrespect toward Women
Rachael Gatewood asks the question:
How should young women teachers handle boy students who do not treat them respectfully?
October 2, 2008
Too Much Commentary
John O'Berski describes the issue:
There is a student in my seventh grade Language Arts class who exhibits some unusual behavior. He ranges from totally disinterested (trying to read through instruction or ignoring us even to the point of laying his head down on the desk) to uncontrollably contributive. He's not just the average interrupter; when he has a comment to make he will go on for minutes and minutes without concern for clear cues that the class needs to move on. Some of our teachers have commented that this child displays many of the classic signs of Asperger's (or high functioning Autism) and should be getting some intervention to help with issues of socialization. Because the parents do not want him tested, let alone diagnosed, we will most likely just have to do the best we can by him without help.
Here's the problem: If he's interested in what's happening, he's pretty smart and wants to contribute. However, since it is difficult to wrestle the class back from him, I don't always want to call on him and interrupt a lesson for what may well turn into a huge diversion. Sometimes his comments are hardly related and can derail the train of thought. Other teachers have tried and suggested giving him one or two opportunities a day to contribute, each represented by a "talking stick" or other object. I was hoping to not have to single him out, even though most of the students seem aware of the awkward nature of his comments.
I do not want to alienate someone who is already struggling to interact, but I cannot justify getting too often off-task by humoring his diatribes. Recently, I have been calling on him once or twice a class, but preceeding his comments with a qualifier like "briefly, tell me...." or "give me just one reason...." This seems to be helping, but I wonder if anyone has had any similar interactions or experience that may help.
October 9, 2008
How to Help a Student Focus?
Elizabeth Findlay describes the issue:
I have a student who has a lot of trouble in class. He is obviously in need of some medication to get him focused, but due to parent-testing-outside things that I as an intern cannot control, he is not getting any help soon. My mentor is trying to get the wheels rolling on his testing for ADHD, but progress is slow.
Meanwhile, this student is either fidgeting and distracting others in class or sleeping on his desk, missing the lesson completely. If I take the time to ask him directly to focus, be quiet, or stop distracting others, he is able to focus and get amazing work done. Unfortunately, this usually comes after the rest of the class has been derailed due to his activity. He is a funny, outgoing kid — I'd love to give him five minutes of class to just be himself and entertain the masses — but he's consequently setting a bad environment for everyone else. The rest of the students, who are extremely smart and should know better, now come into class expecting a show instead of being ready to learn.
This student knows he is a distraction and wants to do better. I've bounced him around the room, trying to find the place where he will do the least amount of damage, but I need some more ideas on how to contain his craziness until he gets some real help. He doesn't have a bad attitude, but in order for him to work, I have to treat him like he does.
Is anybody else dealing with kids who should be getting some outside help with focus but aren't? Once he tried sitting in a rolling chair that allowed him to move a little bit, but I'm not sure if that really helped. Does anybody have any ideas on how he can focus, or how I can remind him to focus without stopping the entire class or getting angry with him?
October 5, 2008
Absence of ESL Modifications
Tonya Seaton describes the issue:
It is now the seventh week of school, and I have still not received "modifications" for my ESL students. I am giving a test this week. I know my ESL students need modifications, but I'm not really sure exactly what because I have not received modifications on any of these students. I have checked with the ESL teacher; she is behind on testing. As I have not received any modifications, it is my understanding I am under no legal obligation to make any changes to their tests. However, I know some should be made. What should I do? Guess at what I think I should change on the test and change it? Stick with the rules and do nothing until I receive official modications on each student?
September 30, 2008
They Egg Each Other On
Scott Koenig describes the issue:
Fortunately, I haven't had too many discipline issues in the classroom and was actually expecting more behavioral problems. They're high school juniors, so I thought I might run into "the attitude" prevalent in teenager circles. Unfortunately, one of my classes seems to behave inappropriately on occasion.
There's a high level of testosterone in the room (three girls in the entire class), and if one kid makes a smart comment, the others jump on it, as if it were a game. The teacher and I have already adjusted the seating chart as best we can, but it doesn't matter where the kids sit, they still look across the room and egg each other on. My mentor has stated he wants to take one or two of them outside to talk privately, as a matter of discipline, but who knows if this minor step will help. Any thoughts on what to do when you've got this situation in your class?
October 12, 2008
Lindsay Smith raises the issues:
I am having a wonderful time with my mentor and his students. I’m in a 9th grade pre-AP class and I have not had to deal with hardly any discipline issues — only minor things here and there. One thing that I have thought about, though, is the fact that these kids have a male and a female teacher; therefore, both a male and female perspective on the things we are discussing and teaching. My classes have an overwhelming number of boys in them. I really feel like the boys in the class love having a male teacher. These students are at a critical age when having wonderful male role models is essential.
I also think they learn a lot from me, as well, but they tend to drift towards my mentor teacher whenever they have problems or questions. I’ve noticed that the girls in the class almost always ask me questions rather than ask my mentor. I don’t know if this is because I am female or if it is because they feel more comfortable with me no matter what. I really like the dynamic my mentor teacher and I bring to the classroom. These kids are so smart, and our classroom discussions are amazing! They have such strong opinion, and I can tell that they love having both of us teaching them.
I am wondering, however, how the learning environment will change in my next rotation. I will be in a 10th grade class, so just one grade up, with a female teacher. I know this is more of a discussion topic rather than a question, but I have never thought about student attitudes towards a class or participation in a class because of the gender of their teacher. There are a lot of male teachers at the school, and I think that is awesome for both boys and girls. I only had one male teacher throughout my entire schooling, except for college. Therefore, I think this aspect is very interesting.
For the people who are paired with a mentor of the opposite sex, do you see any similarities in your students — girls gravitate to women teachers, boys gravitate to male teachers? How can I make the boys more comfortable collaborating with me?
September 26, 2008
How Do You Break-up a Fight?
Brian Lee asks:
We've had several examples of kids behaving pseudo badly, but if a kid is dangerous or out-of-control, I would have no idea how to physically intervene in an appropriate way. How do you break-up a fight without hurting a student?
September 29, 2008
They Won't Do Their Work
Kelli Cole poses the question:
My major problem thus far has been with students who simply do not turn in assignments. The students are rarely assigned homework and do not have to take the work out of the room. My mentor and I do not assign homework unless the class work needs to be submitted and it was not completed in class. Some of the students seem to have trouble finding the homework tray on their way out of class. There have already been several instances where both my mentor and I have nagged the kids about turning in their work before they leave class. However, even with our repeated discussions of how neglecting to turn in work will result in zeroes, the students still seem to either have no idea of the repercussions for taking zeroes on assignments or they simply do not care about their grades at all. Does anyone have any suggestions?
September 22, 2008
Modify, Yes. But How Far?
Tara Griner raises the issues:
I have a student in my class who, literally, has a very low IQ. Since he is performing at his intellectual level, though, he is not in any sort of Special Education program, nor is he required to have modifications. However, he can do little more in class than copy down the words that are on the overhead projector. Outside of class, the work he turns in is beyond incomplete to the point that often letters are not even put together in a way that would make words. We have talked to the coordinator of Special Education, and she has said to go ahead and give him any modifications that we see fit. The problem I am having, though, is how far to modify assignments.
Do you just continue to modify to the point that he makes As? That does not seem right. Do you just keep him from failing? Neither of these options seem right to me because I can't figure out what the boundaries are. If we fudge one person's grades, how do we not fudge them all? At what point does this become dishonest grading practice?"
September 27, 2008
A Matter of Attitude
Grace Pendergrass poses the question:
In my first period (Pre-AP 8th grade English) class, I have two students who are in that "I don't respect anyone" phase of life. They are not friends, but both have the same attitude. They roll their eyes and stare at me and my mentor teacher with hate when we make an assignment. Student A's stepmother works in the building. The stepmother says, "She won't listen to me. She actually tells me she hates me. You need to talk to her father." Student B is not only disrespectful but disruptive at times. When I give directions for an assignment, repeat them, and give them in written form, I will tell the class to get started, and he will ask, "What am I supposed to do?" This was not funny to his classmates the last time he did it. A few even gasped, and others did the "ohhh, you are in trouble" thing. I spoke to him in the hallway, but he still did not complete the assignment.
What can I do to establish respect or improve the attitude of these two students in my classroom?
September 28, 2008
Freddie A. Bowles