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penultimate straw

December 19, 2007

As of late, its been sorta blog dry around here. Despite my ability to continue to blog quite strongly for a couple weeks past nablopomo says something to my writing ability that I didn’t suspect. All this time, I thought I was erratic and undisciplined about my practice. So I’ve been gone from here to an extent, only posting occasionally. It’s like not wanting to eat in a way, as the last month was a great exercise for my brain and I’m better for it all.

That said, in the last week and a half, I think I’ve put out three or four very workable poems. The surprise isn’t in that number alone, but in that I’ve also been revising those poems, and some of them are turning out quite nicely. I’m getting better at this, after all.

It is the last day of the semester here, and I will be working all break long. My prinicipal made it clear to me that my classroom management skills are lackluster at best, and he wants to see dramatic improvement by January 18th. I will be on a trip for the bulk of the first week of school, and I have a meeting with him that very first day, so I have to spend a good amount of time in my break redesigning my classroom strategy and creating lesson plans that demonstrate such. He wants hard copies, visible in the classroom, and documentation materials for discipline, strategy plans, phone logs, and assessments. He informs me that strides must be made by March, or I won’t be offered a position in this district again.

I am trying to avoid the depressed state of mind. Lucky for me, I’ve been working on these sorts of things already, and knowing exactly what he expects only makes that easier.  The fact that this is a dire situation only spurs me on more. I am the sort to thrive under pressure. I have a definitive goal and a deadline. Now all I need is the velocipede I’m gonna ride down the hill.

I’m gonna attempt to keep log of things here. If nothing else, it will help me organize my thoughts a little bit, and it will be nice to have teachers *ahem* commenting *ahem* on my progress *ahem*. Also, it will make a nice little blogging project for this next month. *chilibringfriends*

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21 comments

  1. I’m on it, Sweetie! I’ll write a directory post this afternoon!

    Don’t – let me repeat that – DON’T be depressed about this. This is GOOD. This is an opportunity for growth and development. This is the principal saying “I WANT to keep you, but I can’t keep you the way you are.” He’s told you what you need to do to fix this – it was a gift from him, and one that MOST principals wouldn’t have bothered to wrap. I’m excited for you.

    A lot of classroom management IS hitting that stride. It’s a hard thing to teach because each classroom – each group of students – is different and requires different things. That being said, I’ll do EVERYTHING in my power to help you, up to an including directing my teacherfirends here. We’ll help you out as much as we can.

    Love ya!

    Chili


  2. I think you will do fine you have always been able to adapt and bring change to your life when needed. You will make it and by the way things sound you already know that. 🙂 In any case good luck, we here in the Lone Star State have you in our thoughts and prayers and know with confidence you will pull through this with at least one if not two gold stars!!!


  3. Chili, you’re the best!


  4. I agree with Ms. Chili – not every boss would have been nice enough to give you an action plan. He might have been very much in the mood to say, straw in mouth, leaning back in a leather chair, and unbuttoning a top button of his pants, “We don’t like ya round these here parts. Get ‘t steppin’.”


  5. That said, you can do it!


  6. I think that this can be helpful to you:
    Go to: http://www.panix.com/~pro-ed/

    If you get this book and video: PREVENTING Classroom Discipline Problems, [it is in many libraries, so you don’t have to buy them] email me and I can refer you to the sections of the book and the video [that demonstrates the effective vs. the ineffective teacher] that can help you.

    If you cannot get them, email me anyway and I will try to help.
    Best regards,

    Howard

    Howard Seeman, Ph.D.
    Professor Emeritus,
    City Univ. of New York
    20 River Court
    Suite 1404
    Jersey City, NJ 07310

    Email: Hokaja@aol.com
    FAX: (586) 279-0935

    Book, Training Video/CD:
    Preventing Classroom Discipline Problems
    http://www.ClassroomManagementOnline.com
    The Educator’s Support Forum


  7. […] Go on over here and chime in. What do YOU do as part of that amorphous, undefinable skill we teachers call “classroom management”? What challenges do you find yourself facing? What have you got totally knocked? What advice or suggestions would you offer my friend who wants to be the best teacher he can be? […]


  8. As Chili said, much of what constitutes “classroom management” is dependent upon the group of students that you have. In my first year of teaching, I struggled to keep my head above the water and my butt out of my admin’s office because the group of students was so difficult for me to work with. As I met new difficulties, my approach began to adapt.

    As time has passed, I’ve come to recognize that a few students can wreck/change a classroom environment, so keeping those kids under my thumb can really help keep everybody else in line too… it’s a “Control the Leaders and everybody else will follow” mentality sometimes.

    I’ve also come to realize that picking my battles makes a major difference in how the students react to me. If I’m not so strict on the little things, the bigger issues don’t seem so “BIG”. If I allow the students to chat from time to time, they’re more willing to listen when I am talking. If I allow the students to listen to their iPods when they’re doing their in class assignments, asking them to put them away during lectures or tests isn’t a problem. They don’t feel resentful if I allow them the freedoms that they earn. So I think that I work with students very well and that I’ve adapted my approach in order to meet their wants while still maintaining my “philosophy” for teaching. My students learn respect, kindness, and a “sharing” attitude because I’m willing to give and take with them.

    As Pope John XXIII said, “See everything, overlook a great deal; correct a little.”

    It wasn’t easy to develop that relationship with my students though.

    And I still struggle with quite a few things too. Every semester, there are two or three students who can sometimes wreck my day by being blatently disrespectful, and for those kids, I often keep them after class and have them call their parents… at work.. to explain the problem while I’m standing there. That way I can get to the parents first and I know what the parents are hearing from their kids. Bosses don’t always like Moms and Dads being called at work (and neither do the Moms and Dads), so I find that this helps make sure adjustments are made at home.

    Sorry for the long comment. Hope the input helps though.


  9. Hi,

    After speaking to Mrs Chili I came to see your blog. I teach high school freshman (mostly) and I would suggest the following.

    Have a classroom contract that outlines both academic and behavioral expectations. These may be generated with the students or on your own. I have found that when the students generate the rules they are more specific and harsher than I would have been. (The fact that kids are very specific as to what they should and should not be allowed to do speaks volumes about the fact that most kids like, want, and need defined boundaries.) I would not let the students generate all of the rules but allowing them to supplement the rules you make gives them a sense of ownership.

    Once the expectations are outlined the consequences must be as clearly stated as the rules. The system should be easy to follow and administer. Rewards (if any) and consequences need to be firm and should not be a burden on you. They should, on the other hand, inconvenience the students and or the parents. If a student has to stay after school with you then you are both being inconvenienced. If a student has to clean up the classroom, or loses a privilege then the student is inconvenienced rather than you. If a parent needs to come in after school. This inconveniences the parent and, because the child’s behavior is the cause, the parent is more likely to take notice and cooperate.

    These rules and consequences should be approved by your administrator and then written up and sent home to be signed by the parent or guardian. If the administration doesn’t support them then you are at a great disadvantage.

    I collect the signed sheets and photocopy them and give the photocopies back to the students to be kept in a notebook. I then put these sheets in my own binder and use the blank space on each one to log phone calls and other communications.

    Finally, the consequences need to be adhered to. Unless there are unavoidable extenuating circumstances, the rules and consequences should not be modified. This seems very draconian but will prevent complaints of favoritism or accusations of picking on individuals or groups.

    I also suggest calling every parent once within the first two to three weeks of school to touch base. This works especially well if you have good things to say about each student. (Don’t ignore problems just don’t harp on them in the first phone call.) When a parent knows you are willing to get in touch for reasons other than problems they are often more amenable to helping out later when/if there is a problem. Keep a log of the calls with the time and what was said by both parties in general. If you use email, save copies of the sent emails and if necessary, print them out and put them in your folder. (Realize that the burden of proof that these communications happened will fall on you if a question arises.)

    Finally a class survey of how the students feel about what has gone on and what could be improved may help. (I am not a fan of this but my administration urges us to do them.)

    I am definitely not the definitive expert on this. I don’t think anyone is. My experience has been that for a management plan to work well it has to come from the teacher and be supported by the administration, as well as the parents at some level.

    As far as lesson plan/learning expectations and rules go I have recently tried something that seems to be working well. If you are interested in trying a method that is similar I can outline them for you at some other time. It would take too much space here.

    I don’t have a blog but if you wish to get in touch with me you can do so through Mrs. Chili.

    I hope you find these suggestions useful, and that you are successful in your endeavors.

    ~ bowyer


  10. i apologize profusely that i didn’t have time to read all the comments thus far, but a few quick things:

    1) pick a few (maybe 3-5) priority rules – things that are REALLY important to you in your classroom. this can be largely directed by your particular students. talk with the students about them and find clear, direct ways of stating them.

    2) when you’re generating rules of behavior for the classroom, it’s often good to have some rules that include your own behavior also, to let the students know that they’re not the only ones who are accountable. as an example, my students cited many past experiences where they felt unjustly judged by teachers, so one of my “rules” was that i, as the teacher, would work under positive assumptions unless someone showed me otherwise (w/cheating, bad behavior, etc.).

    3) once you have rules established, POST THEM IN THE CLASSROOM. it seems juvenile, like of course everyone can remember them, but it’s a very powerful psychological tool to have the rules visible every single day. it also makes it easier to give rule reminders, to have something to point to and say, “remember we all agreed to…”

    4) try to walk the fine line between explaining your actions and defending/justifying them. you’re the teacher, so you should never be on the defensive with your students, feeling that you have to justify yourself to them. however, if they want to know why you’ve decided something, (i believe) they deserve a clear (but brief) explanation. understanding the reasoning often makes it easier to follow rules.

    okay, hope that helps a little bit at least, and i’m rooting for you! (even though i’m in a hurry – sorry again!)

    (oh, and i came by way of chili. 🙂 )


  11. i apologize profusely that i didn’t have time to read all the comments thus far, so if i repeat, please forgive. just a few quick things:

    1) pick a few (maybe 3-5) priority rules – things that are REALLY important to you in your classroom. this can be largely directed by your particular students. talk with the students about them and find clear, direct ways of stating them.

    2) when you’re generating rules of behavior for the classroom, it’s often good to have some rules that include your own behavior also, to let the students know that they’re not the only ones who are accountable. as an example, my students cited many past experiences where they felt unjustly judged by teachers, so one of my “rules” was that i, as the teacher, would work under positive assumptions unless someone showed me otherwise (w/cheating, bad behavior, etc.).

    3) once you have rules established, POST THEM IN THE CLASSROOM. it seems juvenile, like of course everyone can remember them, but it’s a very powerful psychological tool to have the rules visible every single day. it also makes it easier to give rule reminders, to have something to point to and say, “remember we all agreed to…”

    4) try to walk the fine line between explaining your actions and defending/justifying them. you’re the teacher, so you should never be on the defensive with your students, feeling that you have to justify yourself to them. however, if they want to know why you’ve decided something, (i believe) they deserve a clear (but brief) explanation. understanding the reasoning often makes it easier to follow rules.

    okay, hope that helps a little bit at least, and i’m rooting for you! (even though i’m in a hurry – sorry again!)

    (oh, and i came by way of chili. 🙂 )


  12. ack, sorry for the repeat comment…


  13. When my son started catching on his baseball team, my husband told him, “You OWN that base. Protect it.” The same is true of your classroom. Once you feel that ownership, it all comes more naturally.

    This has happened at an excellent time. The first day you’re back from your trip, you have a reason to (re)establish rules and procedures the way you want them. Rearrange the desks, change the posters, make it feel like a brand new year.

    You might even change the way you’ve been dressing. If you normally wear a tie, stop; if you don’t, start. The kids will notice the change.

    Be firm, don’t smile, and try to get them to hate you for a little while. (It won’t last.) Have some silent days that include lots of tedious, independent work. Be sure that they know they have to earn fun assignments.

    Finally, reward them. I normally hate candy in classrooms, but, with your job in jeopardy, now is the time to have it. I used to keep a log of their behavior and give them a jolly rancher on days with no negative marks. They’re cheap and nasty, but kids will do amazing things for them. Plus, it’s fun to watch them get upset when you make a tally mark on a notepad.

    Don’t underestimate the power of humor. It defuses situations, distracts onlookers, and endears you to the childen. It is my best and favorite tool. And it’s as easy as restating what they have said from an adult perspective.

    My first year of teaching was tough. I inherited three classes of completely out-of-control seventh graders, and I hated going to work every day. It’s my second year in a poorly-performing urban high school — and third year of teaching — and I have fun every day. I can’t wait to get to work in the morning and I will probably miss the kids terribly over Christmas.

    If you list some of your specific issues, perhaps people can offer more targeted advice.

    Good luck! I know you’ll do a great job!


  14. Here from Mrs. Chili…

    I teach grades 9 through 12, and like Bowyer, I have my 9th graders and any new students in the other grades sign a contract of classroom rules and regulations. They get a copy, and I have one in my file cabinet. If and when any problems arise, not only do I come up with some kind of punishment right away (and usually the first few times I will punish the whole class — peer pressure works wonders!), I pull out the contract and remind them of the rules and the fact that their signature is on there. But my main management skill is to be mean to begin with. I don’t smile, joke, nothing! with my new groups at first. And I work them to death. They have no time in class to chit chat or to get themselves in trouble. However, by the end of the year, I’m able to slack up a great deal, and by then, I hardly have to tell them what to do… They already know what I expect.

    Best wishes to you.


  15. Thanks to everyone on their help and tips! Great ideas all around.


  16. Overwhelmed, aren’t you?


  17. Ha! Me…well, maybe a little. But it’s gotta get done.


  18. Got here through Mrs Chili’s blog…

    First of all: I am sure everything will work out great. You know what you need to work on, and you are willing to learn. Besides, there is no better time to start with new rules in the classroom than after a break.

    This being said, here are my two cents:

    1. Sit down and write to yourself how you would like to see your classroom. When I just started teaching, I didn’t think about this for a second. I believe it’s very important to know what you expect from your students. Can they get up without asking? How about hall passes? Homework policy? Things they need to bring to class? Taking notes? Working in pairs? Etc. Etc. Etc.

    2. The next step is to think of how you want to achieve the things you wrote down under 1. For example, many of my students didn’t do their homework and didn’t bring their stuff to class (they did bring their Ipods, of course). So I decided to check the status of their homework and books at the beginning of each lessons. The situation has improved dramatically. It’s the same with drinking during class or going to the bathroom. In the end, it’s YOU who decides what the rules are, and it is THEY who need to comply.

    3. You are never done learning. Don’t expect that all problems are solved by January 18. Your principal doesn’t expect this either. I still have a class from hell that is really bugging me, and on some days all my classes horrible. But with the right tools and mindset, a lot can be improved.

    4. Don’t get overwhelmed by all the advice! Do what works best for you, and what fits your teaching style best.

    5. Keep reading on this subject. Three of my favorites are:

    http://www.amazon.com/Reluctant-Disciplinarian-Management-Eventually-Successful/dp/1877673366/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1198354436&sr=8-1

    http://www.amazon.com/Setting-Limits-Classroom-Revised-Discipline/dp/0761516751/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1198354463&sr=8-1

    http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Love-Logic-Control-Classroom/dp/094463429X/ref=pd_bbs_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1198354490&sr=8-1


  19. Hi EatsBugs,

    I, too, am here via Mrs. Chili.

    I completed my internship back in May, and while I am still waiting to get my first teaching job, I’ll chime in with my two cents, if you don’t mind.

    I found having a sense of humor to be extremely helpful. I found taking the first day of class to set the ground rules and expectations to be useful. I found treating the students almost as equals worked out fairly well. I made a conscious effort to not call them “kids,” and I apologized when I did. When they saw that I respected them, they respected me.

    My cooperating teacher harped on me constantly to always have multiple activities for each class. “Change gears at least three times for every class,” he would say. By changing gears you keep them from getting bored or zoning out.

    Hope that helps!


  20. Mrs. Chilli sent me.

    Dear EatsBugs,

    First, let me commend you on what you already possess that makes you an outstanding teacher – a humble, teachable spirit. I heartily agree with Mrs. Chilli about the discussion with your principal being a gift. If he didn’t think you had it in you to be a great teacher, he would just keep quiet and hand you a pink slip at the end of the year (or whenever your state requires).

    I have not read all of the other comments, so forgive me if mine are redundant. They may appear akin to stream of consciousness, so take them for what they are worth.

    1. Student Engagement is the key – in every lesson, at every moment, have the kids participating actively in some way – choral response, a quick write, share two sentences about what we are doing with a partner next to you, as students verbally share answers to a worksheet – have other students put a star on their papers if their answer matches or add it to their paper if it is a new idea.

    2. REQUIRE the students to be actively engaged. If you ask for a choral response to a question and not 100% of the students respond, mention it and repeat the question until all students respond chorally. (or any engagement strategy you are using).

    3. TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN – if students don’t know your expectations and procedures, you have no one to blame for their misbehavior but yourself. (This goes for all the student engagement strategies I mentioned as well as procedures for pencils, entering & exiting class, picking noses, etc.)

    4. NEVER argue or negotiate with a student – even if you win, you lose.

    5. Continually move about the classroom. Never stay in one place in the room. Kids have built in teacher radar and know just how much they can misbehave and/or not attend in relation to your distance from them.

    6. Get to know your students as much as possible in your given situation. Relationship goes a long way.

    7. The more frustrated you get, the calmer and more thoughtful you must appear on the outside. The old adage, “Never let them see you sweat!” is a truism.

    8. Plan well – as a new teacher, you can’t afford to fly by the seat of your pants. Know exactly what you are going to do for each and every step of every lesson.

    9. Fred Jones (fredjones.com) has GREAT tips and ideas for management. I am a veteran teacher with good management skills and have found his ideas invaluable in making me even better.

    10. Save for a rainy day! Any bit of encouragement or joy or and “atta boy” you get – write it down. When you feel discouraged, revisit those moments and remember why and for whom you became a teacher.

    11. BE Consistent! The kids will give you what you require if you require it all the time.

    In five words: PLANNING, PROCEDURES, TRAINING, RELATIONSHIPS and CONSISTENCY!

    We are all pulling for you!

    Smiles,

    Kim
    rainydaydiamonds.blogspot.com


  21. whoah this weblog is magnificent i like reading your articles.
    Stay up the good work! You understand, many individuals are searching around for this information, you could help them greatly.



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