Embarrassing stories AND free stuff. Yep, this post has it all.

July 31, 2009

in classroom management ideas, your stories/contests

Most teachers enter the profession completely unprepared for all the complexities of running a classroom. I think at some point, we’ve all been faced with an unforseen challenge and wondered incredulously, Geez, I never knew I was supposed to plan for or anticipate this issue: how am I expected to have a solution for a problem I didn’t know existed? Personally, I’m astounded by the sheer number of basic classroom management lessons I had to learn the hard way:

-Communicating effectively with parents requires a concerted effort and a much greater time investment than I’d assumed. Once I carefully scheduled eight parent conferences back-to-back and stayed at school until 6 pm (by myself–which was perhaps the dumbest part of the whole scenario) and was furious when every single parent was a no-show. Why the poor turn out? Because I’d scheduled the conferences two weeks prior and didn’t know I needed to provide forty-seven notes, emails, and phone messages as a follow-up reminder. Now that I’ve learned to send notices via every form of communication except sky writing and smoke signals, my no-show rate has become much more reasonable.

-Letting third graders keep scissors in their desks is generally a bad idea. It took the following catastrophes for me to reach that conclusion: one child’s impromptu trimming of her own bangs without the benefit of a mirror; a boy’s decision to snip two braids off a girl’s elaborate and expensive style that took five hours to create; and a third child’s unexplainable propensity toward slicing the file folder centers I spent three weeks making. That was all in one semester. After that, I decided to keep the scissors in one communal area and distribute them only when needed (which was as infrequently as possible with that group, believe me). Even now, I still have to be extra cautious during scissor activities, and have a responsible kid do a scissor count after they’ve been collected. Failure to do so may result in some little sneakster using his scissors to either trim textbook page edges, sharpen pencils using the blade edge (!!), or carve the word ‘fart’ into his desktop.

-Photocopies MUST be made as far in advance as possible. There is nothing more disappointing than getting a brainstorm and working all evening on a fabulous activity for the next day’s lesson, only to be stuck assigning something boring from the textbook because there’s either no paper or all the copiers are down, AGAIN. I once had an amazing math activity with Halloween candy that I couldn’t get copied for FIVE WEEKS. I busted out the worksheet on Valentine’s Day and told the kids to replace the words black and orange with red and pink and change all the pumpkins into hearts. Needless to say, the kids weren’t buying it. Although, since their behavior was top notch the whole day in anticipation of eating the candy afterward, all was not completely lost. And I picked out my Cinco de Mayo activities the following morning.

So tell me: what classroom management lesson did YOU learn the hard way? Your story can be short or long, funny or serious, embarrassing or matter-of-fact…just share the true tale of a mistake or misunderstanding you experienced while trying to manage a classroom.

Leave your story as a comment on this post. I’ll select a winner on Wednesday, August 5th, and send out a free copy of my book The Cornerstone: Classroom Management That Makes Teaching More Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable. Inside, I explain all the stuff I had to learn from trial and error–managing small groups, organizing materials, getting kids to follow basic procedures, handling test pressure–so that you can learn specific steps for creating the learning environment you’ve always wanted. It’s a practical guide that will show you how to construct a self-running classroom that frees you to TEACH.

The book will ship via Priority Mail so the winner should have it in plenty of time to read before the new school year begins (unless you’re in one of those schools that’s already starting back, in which case, I can only offer you my deepest sympathy).

I’m looking forward to your stories! Thanks for sharing!

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Angela was a classroom teacher for 11 years and currently works as an instructional coach and educational consultant based in New York City. She's created a webinar series on pro-active behavior management and has written 3 books for educators. Check out the blog and free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous August 1, 2009 at 7:34 am

My very first year of teaching (A LONNNNNNNNNNNNG time ago) I was teaching in a Catholic school where we take the kids to service each morning. The first week of school I was getting my combination first/second grade class together for mass and realized we had a few minutes before we had to walk over to the church. So… not one to like to waste time I thought I would go ahead and allow some to share their "Show and Tell." One little boy brought in some handcuffs. I was so grateful when he told the story of how he got the handcuffs from his dad who was a police officer. Long story short he shared his "item" and them hooked them around his hands. We all gave him the glory he was looking for and I then asked him to remove them so we could get in line for church. After awhile of tugging and pulling on them he sheepishly said they were "stuck" I tried pulling on them and realized they were locked and asked him for the key. After a little time and a lot of "Oh No what do I do?" His dad was called, but he went with his very embarrassed first year teacher to mass handcuffed.
Lesson learned: check out the "Show and Tell" before it is actually shared.
Linda Simons (Charlotte, NC)

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2 SmWonder00 August 1, 2009 at 8:55 am

I spent the entire summer planning and organizing for my first year of teaching. I had all types of materials and ideas and back up ideas. I was lucky to get a great job in a great school teaching first grade. But a GREAT challenge lay ahead of me! One of my students was in a temporary wheelchair after a random accident. She was completely healed, but her leg muscles were not strong enough for her to walk. So she needed me to push her everywhere, put her in and take her out of the wheelchair and rearrange my room to accommodate a large wheelchair. Problem was: I’m a very small person and she was a very tall first grader. So while I was helping her or pushing her down the hall…what do you think the other kids were doing the first few weeks of school when I had intended to lay down clear expectations? That is something that is not taught in college…what to do with a child in a temporary wheelchair that is about the same size as you and needs extensive help the first week of school (and how to manage the other kids at the same time!).

Lesson Learned: Be flexible…things won't always go as planned, but you can still make it work.

As a side note: She regained her strength quickly and only needed the help for a few weeks. She was had a great attitude about her needs and never complained. She is one of the sweetest and most memorable students of my teaching career. And now, at 11, she is taller than me!

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3 Anonymous August 1, 2009 at 9:17 am

I was "initiated" into my first year with a particularly unruly group of fourth graders. My school is an inner-city school with a lot of children who live near each other in a housing complex. Most of my students fought – a lot! – like brothers and sisters. One day as they began arguing and fussing, I needed a moment of peace. I told them to put their heads on their desks for five minutes. I was very frustrated and let them know that if anyone spoke during the five minutes, I would reset the timer. Well, one little girl tried to get my attention a several times. Needless to say our five minutes ended up being closer to 15. When they finally were allowed to lift their heads, I hand happened to brush the front of my shirt with my hand. I was mortified to discover that I felt skin where my shirt should have been covering my stomach. The material from the bottom of my shirt had somehow gotten tucked under my bra and my stomach was showing! I was horrified! The girl who had been trying to get my attention saw my face and mouthed the words – "That's what I was trying to tell you." Lesson learned: Listen to the kids! Even if you have to discreetly take them aside or let them whisper in your ear. Their persistence is usually important. (Glenda Dunson – facebook fan)

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4 Anonymous August 1, 2009 at 9:46 am

This lesson learned was probably in my twelfth year of teaching in my third grade classroom. For science we were using the FOSS kits on Structures of Life. One of the main lessons was a crayfish unit. We would look at all the body parts of crayfish, crayfish behaviors, and habits. Kids LOVE this unit and are so excited for science. One morning upon entering the hallway to my classroom about 6:15 a.m. I see something up ahead on the floor. As I get closer I say to myself, "No way". There on the floor in the middle of the hallway was a dead crayfish. It had crawled out of the covered bin, walked out of my classroom down the hallway, and turned down another hallway only to meet its early death. I was a little freaked out wondering how that could have happened. Walked into my classroom to find 5 more of those critters had escaped and didn't make it.

Upon looking at the bins they were still covered but there was an opening through the tagboard. Large enough to escape. ( I left that opening thinking they might need more oxygen.)

I was so nervous and disappointed to explain to the students why we had 6 less crayfish to study. It was a very teachable moment for us all.

Lesson learned: Cover the tub of a crayfish bin completely and don't leave them on the floor.

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5 Zuleika Maldonado August 1, 2009 at 9:47 am

The first year I taught third grade was horrific! I had 29 students and the all the students with behavior issues. They fought and argued all day,at recess they really showed off and one of them even stole my cell phone! So, during a math lesson in measurement, students had to measure certain objects around the classroom. As I was bending down to help a group of kids, another student used a meter stick to measure the width of my buttocks!!! The kids were all laughing and I didn't know why. When I turned around I see him holding the ruler with two hands and about to measure again!! I stopped the lesson immediately, I was so embarrassed!!!! I was also very upset because I thought it was very disrespectful. However, I knew if I blew up it wouldn't be productive and the other kids were enjoying the lesson, so I kind of laughed it off and ask the little boy to keep that measurement to himself and that they had to measure objects not body parts. During the end of the day, I did have a class meeting and had a discussion on what happened during math time. I talked to this student afterschool and made a call home that night. His mom was embarrassed as well but told me that her son has a huge crush on me!! I was like oh boy…I'll have to keep that in mind in planning future lessons…lol.

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6 Anonymous August 1, 2009 at 10:33 am

My first experience with interesteing behavior was my very first day of student teaching. After this experience I really wondered if I was doing the right thing!! I was with a teacher who had been teaching for many years, in fact she was close to retiring. She was awesome, very energetic and spent lots of time with lessons and everything. I learned a lot from her. We were in kindergarten and it was the first day of school. Kindergarten was only a half of day and this was the first session. The kids were sitting on the floor. The teacher was up front on a chair, she had a dress on. As she is trying to teach kindergarteners the proper way to sit on the floor for morning news. A little boy crawls up to the front of the room, crawls under her dress and says in a very loud voice, "I smell you!" I was horrified, the teacher was horrified and in total shock. She tried to get the little boy out of the middle of the group, which was really hard because he was stubborn. Eventually she got him back by me and I pretty much had to sit with him that day to keep in on track. That was an interesting year because the behaviors just got worse. Lots of problems in the home. We ended up having a behavior specialist in the class with us for most of the year, because there was things happening that were far beyond our control. The best thing that I can say about this experience is that I was NOT by myself. My cooperating teacher was wonderful through and I think because of how she handeled the situation and helped me throught it is what keep me going!

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7 Patricia August 1, 2009 at 10:38 am

During my internship I decided to make Oobleck with 4th graders in celebration of Dr. Seuss's birthday. Oobleck is a Non-Newtonian fluid made out of cornstarch and water. It is also a HUGE mess when you don't have a whole day to spend on a science lesson. I gave thorough expectations, a thought guided workseeet, and I even made the activitiy into a contest to see which group of students could keep their floor area the cleanest. Needless to say all the students went crazy with Oobleck and the classroom floor was a mess. The students wanted to take their creations home so my supervising teacher and I spent time labeling zip loc bags with each student's name while they cleaned up their desk area. This took away from our discussion time but the students had fun. I, on the other hand, did not have much fun with the time I spent after school vacuuming so the custodian would not have to do it. I have learned some valuable lessons:

1) when it comes to messy science projects to split them into two or more days so there is time for instructions, comprehensive discussions, and clean up.
2) I also learned that putting newspaper not only ON TOP of the desk but on the floor would have been ideal too.
and
3)Oobleck is not meant to be taken home, it goes bad the next day and the parents were not happy with it when their child told them not to throw it down the sink because it would clog up the drain. =)

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8 elainaann August 1, 2009 at 10:58 am

I have only been teaching three years so I'm sure there is still a lot for me to learn in my teaching career. However, I've already learned a lot in these three years. One of my biggest lessons is about preparation. One evening I searched online all evening trying to figure out what we were going to do the following day. Things had changed big time with my lesson plans and I needed a great one day lesson. After much research, I finally found a great lab to do with my students. I even had all the materials that I needed in my classroom. I printed it off, ran copies the next morning, and got everything ready. The students got started and about half way through this not so clean lab, we realized it didn't work. I needed a specific kind of dirt. Go figure. With that and a few similar situations before, I learned always always do the lab before you have students to do. This allows you to work through all the kinks.

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9 Anonymous August 1, 2009 at 1:51 pm

Over the years, I have come to realize a few very important lessons regarding field trips. One year, we had a dump of snow on the day that we were to go to the skating rink for a "fun skate" before Christmas break. The bus was only slightly late due to the snowfall, but parents started picking their students up early because of it. By the time we finally got to the rink (after the bus sliding a few times and getting caught behind other cars/trucks)we all took a grateful breath…only to find out that the rink had thought we weren't going to show and had sent their staff home. The kids did get to skate for a little while, but then we ended up calling the rest of the parents to come and get them (because the bus was stuck in a ditch). Needless to say, I learned to call ahead in unforseen weather, NOT go on a field trip in a snowstorm, and always pack snowboots just in case.
The second lesson was learned when I asked for parent drivers for a field trip that would take about 45 minutes to get to. I had them all fill out a driver's record (as for the school policy) and gave them directions and specific instructions of where they were to meet me. I don't know what happened (I guess I should have really made sure that ALL the parents actually were listening), but one of the cars ended up stopping to get ice cream and gas (and being 30 minutes late for the trip) AND then got lost on the way back as well (due again to getting gas and a 'treat' for the kids in her car). Amazing to me since we were all travelling together on the way back….the funny thing is this happened another time as well (and then another time for the teacher the following year).
lesson learned: some parents should not be drivers for field trips, and others really need to have things clarified for them (or have you go with them).
So, it's not always the kids that need the management, but the teacher and the parents as well.

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10 Seawaters August 1, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Like one of the previous posters, I had a bad habit of NOT checking out the items for sharing during Show and Tell. Needless to say, I learned the hard way–one young girl brought a vibrator for sharing. Luckily, it was eventually noticed just before it was to go on public display. Now when an excited student comes up and wants to share his or her Show and Tell item, I will always oblige!

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11 Emily August 1, 2009 at 3:19 pm

One lesson I have definitely learned over the years is to be specific when telling kids what "cheating" is. Before a test, I give my little speech, which has grown in length and detail because of certain experiences I have had. My speech goes something like this…"During the test, do not look at anyone elses paper or anything around the room. Do not write the answers down ahead of time in any way(pants, crayon boxes, desks, paper, being some of the surfaces on which students have written things such as spelling words ahead of time). Purposefully showing your paper to someone else is also cheating (as one of my star students allowed another student to copy the planets of the solar system off his paper and didn't realize that was wrong). You may not say the answers out loud, as that is also cheating (my first subbing experience I dimissed a child from the classroom for spelling the the spelling words aloud during the test). I want to know your answers and your answers only."

I'm sure someone will come up with another unforseeable way to cheat this year, which will make one more line to my ever growing speech. ;)

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12 Jackie Richter August 1, 2009 at 6:17 pm

Don't bite off more than you can chew! This past year was my first year as a lead teacher with a new LA curriculum teaching 4 different grade levels. And then I volunteered to be the first teacher to use a Promethean Board. I LOVE the board, but I pushed myself to learn it and make interactive flipcharts with it for every lesson. All the while, I was making my lesson plans for 4 different grades and learning all the new curriculum. (I never taught middle school LA before.) Definitely a hard lesson to learn about pacing yourself! By the end of the year, I was exhausted. I will definitely NOT do that again.

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13 John Spencer August 1, 2009 at 7:12 pm

I love this post!

I learned a few my first year:

1. Prep kids on field trips. Practice it ahead of time and never assume they'll do (or not do) anything. I had kids almost get hit when jaywalking.

2. Never place your phone in a reachable area for students. One 9-1-1 phone calls was enough for me.

3. Shift from grading to assessment and from individual assignments to larger projects. This way you spend more time giving meaningful feedback.

4. As dumb as this might sound, bring water. Drink it all day. I turn into a monster when I'm dehydrated.

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14 Anonymous August 1, 2009 at 7:47 pm

I love using manipulatives for math. To minimize the time for kids to get their manipulatives and to be sure all are collected at the end of math, I put a set of manipulatives into a plastic bag for each child. Each ziplock bag is labeled with a student number, since student are given permanent numbers for the year. That system makes it easier to see if any manipulatives are missing, and to immediately identify which student is responsible for the missing materials. The system worked very well for a couple years.

Then I had little Johnny. Johnny (obviously not his name) was ADHD like no child I'd ever seen. He was incredibly bright, but dedicated his life to making things "interesting" for those around him. On the first day I introduced the class to the ziplock bag system, everything seemed to go well – engaged, interested students making discoveries, all was good. Then, from behind me I heard a very loud bang and I jumped several feet off the floor. Well, not really, but it sure felt like it! Johnny had blown air into his empty ziplock bag, zipped it, and popped it.

Ever since that day, I have always, without fail, punched a hole in every ziplock bag I gave my students. And it's the one lesson of unexpected complications that I always tell new teachers!
Jan T.

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15 Anonymous August 1, 2009 at 7:48 pm

At the end of my first year of teaching 5th grade I noticed some boys arguing in line as we were entering the classroom. I pulled them aside and quickly learned that they had lost a $100 bill! Apparently one of the boys offered the other $100 to rent his brand new IPOD touch (worth ~$220). The boy quickly agreed, but then later changed his mind and quickly tried to shove the money in his pocket, but it fell out in the hallway as we were going to lunch. Knowing the imminent parental frustration that was about to occur I traveled with them to the office where I quickly learned unbeknownst to the boys that a fellow colleague had found it! Thank goodness. I could only imagine the parental reaction. Goes to show you never know what the day will toss at you.

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16 C. Rowley August 1, 2009 at 9:32 pm

Using the bathroom as a teacher always seems like a priviledge (especially when your planning period is towards the end of the day)! During my planning period my first year, I hustled to the restroom relieved to have the opportunity. Unfortunately, in my haste and attempt to "stay clean in a public restroom" the inevitable happened (granted I had also gained a few pounds)—my pants ripped! I tried to pull my shirt as far down my backside as possible on my way to my room. Thankfully, I used my sweater that I also keep on the back of my chair as a shield and tied it around my waist. Fortunately I only had one more class to teach before the end of the day. Despite being caught off-guard I didn't lose my cool, on the other hand, I had a new fashion accessory the rest of the day!

Lesson learned: Always keep a sweater in the classroom, it does more than keep you warm on a cold day!

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17 WideIEyedWonder August 2, 2009 at 3:42 am

When I was in my first year of teaching I walked into a classroom where a lesson was already taking place and it was my job to help continue and co-teach. This particular lesson was on adjectives. The students were given sheets of paper (which I had cut out and copied in advance) with little adjective squares that they needed to cut out and then match to the picture that they best described. When I walked into the room one of my students yelled out, "Hey, Miss H, what does HORNY mean?!" I almost started in on a lecture about appropriate questions for class when I looked down at the sheet to see the word horny and the corresponding picture of a toad.

My middle school teacher friends are constantly editing material for "appropriateness" (and students will take the most innocent things out of context these days) and I think we can all agree: I learned to preview everything that I give to the students, even the things that I get from other much more experienced teachers.

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18 Anonymous August 2, 2009 at 9:17 am

These posts are great! I think we should all get together and write a book of mishaps! I have too many to recall after ten years of teaching in a disadvantaged area of Dublin. However, these are my faves –
1. A little girl aged 5 telling the community police officer that her mammy also had handcuffs, but they were "pink and all fluffy"!!! (I left the room quickly!)
2. A little girl telling me she had a coldslaw on her lip and wouldn't believe me that that wasn't the proper word :-))
3.Being in Ireland, our children make their Holy Communion in Second Class, when they are 7/8 years old. Every week, we take the classes over to Mass in the Church beside us. One year I had a child in my class with lots of special ed needs. He spent lots of time sitting beside me asking me questions through Mass and one day I was shushing him a lot because he was very loud….In the middle of the Gospel, he obviously has enough of me telling him to be quiet and ROARED out "Teacher, teacher, Is Jesus alive???". The rest of the congregation all turned agog while I nodded and smiled, eyes fixed firmly on Father Dave!! (I still miss that little boy.)

Lessons Learned – keep nodding and smiling, whatever happens ;-))
Gabrielle Healy, Ireland

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19 SmWonder00 August 2, 2009 at 2:10 pm

These comments are hilarious! I had to come back and read some from other teachers…I'll have to come back in a few days again! These are the kinds of things that make teaching such an interesting job!

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20 Angela August 2, 2009 at 2:31 pm

SmWonder00, you're right, these are FABULOUS! I'll compile them and put them in a post next week so everyone can read.

Keep 'em coming!!

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21 Anonymous August 2, 2009 at 7:18 pm

Last year I was happily teaching a small group in my procedure driven first grade class. I glanced up expecting to see my proud, independent first graders busily working away. Instead, what met my eyes was one of my boys SHAMPOOING with hand soap! Apparently, he had gotten glue in his hair and was 'taking care of it'. I quickly switched gears to whole group instruction on exactly how much is 'too much' hand soap while I rinsed his head -beauty shop style- in our classroom sink.
The moral of this story: you can never have too many procedures. And NEVER turn your back on six year olds!
Teri Hamilton- Kansas City

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22 Anonymous August 2, 2009 at 8:08 pm

A few years ago, our school had an open door policy, which meant parents could come to your class at anytime, no appointment, just show up. Bad, I know. One day it was Sherri's birthday (name changed) and her dad appeared at the door with a rectangular Barbie birthday cake. I was caught off guard, took the cake mainly so I could just resume teaching, and her dad left. Mind you, he brought NO OTHER SUPPLIES (e. g. napkins, plates, forks). I did not even have a knife to cut the cake with. Not wanting to disappoint the little birthday girl, I borrowed a plastic knife from a neighboring teacher and procured the school's "brown paper towels" so the kids would have somewhere to put their cake. Later on, we sang "Happy Birthday" and the birthday babe told me she wanted the piece in the middle with her name on it with Barbie next to it. I cut the cake and began traveling around with it, giving out pieces around the edges first. After about five kids got served, the cake became unbalanced and, to my horror, I DROPPED the entire thing on a little boy's head and jeans. Everyone gasped and my mouth dropped open, aghast at what I had done. I apologized profusely to everyone and began cleaning the boy up. After school, I immediately left and spent $17 on a cupcake "cake" to replace the one I had destroyed and spoke with Sherri's incensed mother, who did not readily forgive me, even after I tried to make amends. (BTW, I never heard anything from the little boy's mom. I guess she just washed him and his clothing and let it go. I love that!)

Lessons learned: Many! I approached the administration about the "open door" policy, and within a few months, major changes were in place that helped make our school better and safer. I was also instrumental in changing the birthday cake policy–no cakes, just cupcakes, treat bags, etc.
I try not to "travel" around with anything that can tip over on kids; also, that it's okay to convey to my class my sorrow for the accident. I now try to extend patience to my own childrens' teachers, remembering this horrible disaster.
I think even though it was such an embarrassing situation, I tried to teach my class that I am human, accidents happen, we should do our best to make amends, ask forgiveness, and finally to forgive ourselves.

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23 Stacy August 2, 2009 at 9:01 pm

I love your webiste and check it often for ideas!

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24 peace in the classroom August 3, 2009 at 10:10 am

As a first year teacher, you always tend to try things you've seen before without really knowing if they will work for you. In my first year, I came up with a list of classroom jobs with my first graders and assigned each child a job. They all drew pictures of their jobs which I pasted onto cute colorful envelopes and then I put the children's names on little popsicle sticks and place each stick in the child's job. It looked so cute and organized and community oriented.

It was a disaster. The kids used our 5 minute weekly "job" time to fool around. When we had a need for sweeping or watering the plants, or even taking the attendance to the office, I found myself asking different, more capable, children to help than those on the jobs list. This caused children to get upset and say "it's not fair, that's my job" (even though said child had just misbehaved). Our classroom jobs became a negative thing. Also, the kids weren't really helping me, and we all know that without a TA or para in the room, we NEED help!

Anyway, during my second year of teaching, we still made the list and the pictures of the classroom jobs together, but this time I didn't assign any names. I realized that I wanted all of the children to be able to do all of the jobs at some point. I wanted the classroom to run so smoothly and be so organized so that anyone could do any job. It works so much better for me. If I need someone to water the plants, I ask to see "who is excellent" which is a great motivator for the children. The kids also know that if they can't clean up safely, they can't help, end of story. I rarely have any problems with clean up or classroom organization anymore and the kids are a HUGE help to me.

They can deliver messages to any room (even the dreaded 5th floor), they can care for the plants, they can sweep the floor, clean the table (with my homemade non-toxic cleaner), organize the leveled library, straighten the tablecloths, etc. I also taught them how to do activities that require two people (they are quite little), like getting out the bin of math books. They can put flyers in the communication folders (they even know which ones go in Spanish and which ones have to be in English). They can even put the homework in the notebooks for me. They can even get in line for lunch without me and walk themselves half way if I'm busy dealing with something else. They can even do shared reading on their own if there is an emergency (like a little accident on the floor that I have to clean up).

It has gotten to the point where sometimes they just help out without even being asked. It's great. Everyone always asks me how I manage it without a para or assistant. I always say that 25 little helpers is better than one big one. I sometimes actually feel bad for my student teachers when I have them because the students know what to do better than they do.

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25 Brittany August 3, 2009 at 10:40 am

After just completing my first year of teaching, I have learned MANY new things to do with classroom management. One of the most important being that if a student isn't sitting still in their seat doesn't mean that they aren't learning. I had a student in my class who I will never forget. The student was entertaining and always full of knowledge. This knowledge did not come to him while he was sitting still in his seat. He would often stand up, wander, lay down, and even spun circles from time to time. No matter what type of question was thrown at this student, he could answer it without a problem. He also could recall everything that was just said to the class. One of the funniest things this student enjoyed doing was making sounds into the fan in the classroom (no a/c). During a few times (thankfully not during lessons), he went to the fan and talked like Darth Vadar. Let me just say, he is one student I will not forget and a student who taught me to relax and enjoy what I was doing and to accept the individuality of each student!

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26 Kelly Tenkely August 3, 2009 at 1:28 pm

My first year as a computer teacher a second grader (who I swear is Dennis the Mennace incarnate) came up to me before class and asked "Can I lick the chocolate off of my headphones?" Confused, I asked for clarification "why is there chocolate on your headphones?" He answered with a, "they were in my pocket." As if that should solve the mystery. "So can I lick the chocolate off?" I needed more clarification, "why do you have chocolate in your pocket?" Now he looked like a deer caught in the headlights: "Because I'm not allowed to eat chocolate, my mom says it makes me hyper. So I sneaked chocloate into my pocket and then when I need a little I stick my fingers in and lick the chocolate off. I forgot which pocket it was in and put my headphones in there so I didn't have to carry them down the hall. Now they have chocolate all over them and I want to lick it off." Lesson 1: There is always a perfectly reasonable explination (in a child's mind) for any strange act they may committ. Lesson 2: Collect and hand out headphones, left to their own devices the headphones will be chewed on, stuffed into pockets, and licked after getting covered in melted chocolate. Lesson 3: know your audience, I had to be on my toes with this class!
The same student came to school the next day and informed me that he had been grounded from watching TV. I naturally assumed that this was a bi-product of melted chocolate in the washing machine. However, when I asked why he got grounded he said, "For burrying the remote control in the backyard." When I asked why he did it he responded "I was playing hide and go seek with my dog."
As I said Dennis the Mennace incarnate! I do miss teaching him, it was never a dull moment :)

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27 Kelly August 3, 2009 at 1:40 pm

Okay, forgive me but after reading Brittany's comment I have to add one more lesson learned. I too had a student who could not sit still for anything. He was the biggest boy in my second grade class and constantly moving around, adjusting in his seat and rolling around on the floor. If you could get him to complete a task, you would find that he was one of the brightest students in the class. He needed to move to learn. I learned to let him move while I taught, it kept him focused on what I was teaching and not on trying to stay still. One day he was wearing those pants that button up both sides. I was teaching math and he was in the back of the classroom climbing on his seat and sliding down the back. The next time I looked up he was standing next to his seat with his pants around his ankles in his underwear! During his adjusting, the pants got caught on the chair and all the buttons unsnapped. He stood frozen until I gave him a wink and kept teaching. He quickly gathered his pants and hid behind my desk. None of the other kids had even noticed. After the lesson I went looking for him and found him trying to button the pants back up…it was not going well. I quickly helped him and wrote a note home to let mom know that although very comfortable, these were not ideal pants for her son.

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28 Becky N, August 3, 2009 at 6:01 pm

This is going to sound terribly boring but I would say that the biggest lesson I have learned with classroom management is the management of paperwork and resources. I have to echo what you say, Angela, about running copies as far in advance of the lesson as possible. For me I always felt like I was chasing my tail (and wasting so much time) trying to get organized in the classroom without really knowing HOW to do it. So for example, not being able to find an overhead transparency several minutes into a literacy lesson = anxious teacher, bored kids. Not being able to find a parent's new cell phone number because I scribbled it on the back of an envelope then placed that envelope …hmm…somewhere. Really it was the Cornerstone book that helped me with so much of this. I used to think that being organized meant putting papers in a neat pile on top of my desk.
Whoever wins the book is a lucky person; it was one of my best investments. I'm about to take it off the shelf and dig-in again, to get ready for the new school year.

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29 The Tabbs August 3, 2009 at 8:36 pm

My first year teaching I taught sixth grade. I had a student ask to use the restroom. He didn't have his hall pass book so I told him to have a seat. He did not appear to be in any dire need to go. A few minutes later, I was teaching and noticed a terrible smell. Several students around him were laughing. I thought he was just passing gas. I finally asked what was going on because the students were laughing so much. They pointed across the way at a girl's desk a few rows over. A strange-colored, gooey substance was on her desk chair. Never thinking about what it could be, I told her to get a paper towel and wipe it off. The laughter was still not stopping, but I pressed on and finished the lesson. Finally, class was dismissed and I pulled a very trustworthy student to the side and said, "Honey, what in the world was everyone laughing about?" She said, "______ pooped in his pants." I looked at her kind of strange and was quite at a loss for words. Then she continued, "She put his hands in his pants and flung it." My jaw dropped even further to the floor. I said, "Wait…so that stuff on ____'s chair was….poop? He put his hands in his pants and flung poop across two aisles?" She nodded. I looked in the trash at the paper towel she had thrown away and sure enough…poop. Thankfully the assistant principal's office was just down the hall and we were able to get the student up to the office quickly, although he was probably uncomfortable in more ways than one. All in all that day, I learned that sometimes, it's okay to make exceptions for restroom use. Sixth graders are not too old for accidents. And never ask a student to clean up anything that looks suspicious. Never.

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30 The Tabbs August 3, 2009 at 8:39 pm

I hope the above story was not confusing. The boy had the accident. It got thrown on a girls' chair and she cleaned it off..before i knew what it was..

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31 Sarah August 4, 2009 at 4:48 am

Actions speak louder than words. So make sure your actions match your words! This is especially the case when you are trying to keep a straight face with discipline ;). Case in point:

I once had a kindergartner get in trouble for biting someone. He has high-functioning autism and his aide, his general ed. teacher and I all met with him in a small room off the main office. When I hung up the phone after informing his parents, I started to discuss with the kiddo what his dad had said. He didn't want to hear any of it, so he flattened himself out like a board (laying across his teacher's lap), closed his eyes, crossed his arms in the shape of an X across his chest, and stuck out his tongue. He was literally playing dead!! The sheer unexpectedness of this action (in all of its six-year-old wisdom and logic) was enough to make each of us turn away from him and laugh into our sleeves.

Must… keep… a straight face… for discipline….

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32 teachin' August 4, 2009 at 1:11 pm

I learned to be as specific as possible with directions and to think through rash promises before making them. I had a kid who loved to use the word gay as an insult. That drives me crazy, and my kids all know it – most of them adjust very quickly and stop using it (at least around me…), but not this one.

One day, I got so fed up with him that I stopped him. I told him he could insult his friends if he wanted to (this was during lunch, and he was a former student at the time, so I was more lenient with language) but he could not use the word gay. Anything else, but not gay.

I figured he'd go with stupid, or loser, or idiot – something not great, but at least not homophobic. Nope.

Instead, he looked at his friend and called him a cocksucker (hope no one's offended by the language).

Touche, my friend, touche. I'm a lot more careful now to think it through before I challenge a kid that way.

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33 Melissa August 4, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Warning: not for those eating lunch.

One lesson I learned this year (my 4th teaching) was something I didn't expect. I had taught 1st grade and one day Charlie came back from the bathroom with a problem. Apparently he had finished a #2 and while wiping, he had gotten poop on his hands, under his nails, and on his sleeve. Now, I have a very weak stomach and was not prepared for his proclamation of help needed in front of the entire class!

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34 Michigan Mom August 4, 2009 at 5:46 pm

I made the mistake of not starting the year with any behavior management plan. I came from Michigan to Florida and in MI the kids just followed the rule in the classroom I was in my cooperating teaching set up a card system but never really introduced or used it with the kids. When I got my first teaching job in Broward county, FL I was in a very urban school. After about 3 weeks I was ready to quit because the kids were so out of control and at that point decided that I needed to implement a behavior plan but by then it was WAY too late. I suffered through a very long year with desks being throw, death threats, cussing, talking back, just to name a few.

Lesson learned: Start the year with a firm behavior plan in place, though you can make minor adjustments it's something that has to start from day 1!

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35 luckeyfrog August 4, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Almost every day, I was trying to get a particular student to simply do his work. One day early in student teaching, the Cooperating Teacher was absent and I was thrown "in charge." He didn't complete his morning work, and the consequence for that is to do it during recess. He refused to take the paper from me, and tried to go in for recess. When I followed him and offered to help him with the homework, he told me I wasn't allowed to be there (he knew I was new!). I replied that I was definitely allowed to be there, and that he would need to sit down and do his work. Instead, he ran out the door of the gym and into the boys' bathroom. I stood outside, talking to him and discussing that he could waste this recess in the bathroom, or he could come out and work on his homework so that he wouldn't have to do it during tomorrow's recess. He finally came out and worked on it with me, but it was a struggle.

On the last day of student teaching, the students made a fuss about me going. I got about a thousand hugs from various kids throughout the day. I walked the class down for dismissal on the last day, and noticed this boy run to his mom and hug her legs tightly. She looked down, peered at his face, and looked back at me with surprise. "He's crying!" she mouthed. I went over and gave him another hug and told him I'd be back to visit, but it really stuck with me that this student, who was consistently a classroom management "problem," was the only student in all 26 to cry over me leaving on the last day.

My Lesson: The attention you give students always matters. Even for the students who can be a big handful. Maybe especially for those students. I know when I teach this fall (as a 'real' teacher for the first time!), I'll remember this little boy and how important it is to always keep trying and stay positive about EVERY student.

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36 Heather Gower August 4, 2009 at 11:21 pm

I actually learned this during an observation of a teacher. On the first day in her classroom, I sat there very excited but soon found out that the class was out of control. One of the students got into trouble for not listening and was required to sit behind the teachers desk. He then proceeded to kick the trashcan across the entire length of the classroom and throw himself onto the floor. When the teacher called for the principal, she couldn't be found and the child was ignored for this behavior and never repremanded for his actions. Lesson learned: I saw the mistake that she made by ignoring him and letting it go. She later told me he caused a lot of trouble and wasn't worth the effort or the time she would spend on his consequence. I have learned that every child is worth a little extra effort and that keeping a classroom under control is worth all of the time in the world if your students behave and respect you.

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37 lagmom August 4, 2009 at 11:31 pm

I posted this before I signed in OOPS!
I actually learned this during an observation of a teacher. On the first day in her classroom, I sat there very excited but soon found out that the class was out of control. One of the students got into trouble for not listening and was required to sit behind the teachers desk. He then proceeded to kick the trashcan across the entire length of the classroom and throw himself onto the floor. When the teacher called for the principal, she couldn't be found and the child was ignored for this behavior and never repremanded for his actions. Lesson learned: I saw the mistake that she made by ignoring him and letting it go. She later told me he caused a lot of trouble and wasn't worth the effort or the time she would spend on his consequence. I have learned that every child is worth a little extra effort and that keeping a classroom under control is worth all of the time in the world if your students behave and respect you.

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38 Julie August 5, 2009 at 12:16 pm

I hope this is not too late. :)

During my student teaching I learned that push pins/thumbtacks should be kept hidden and out of sight. My teacher and I had some things thumbtacked to the wall near her desk. One day, a dear child got very angry and in his bullying went and took two pushpins from the wall and then proceeded to chase another student around the classroom. Yeah that was quite a day. From now on I'll use that tacky sticky stuff instead and keep the pushpins far far away.

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39 janette August 5, 2009 at 7:40 pm

I was a pretty new teacher working with students with learning disabilities in a Maryland Public School. I had several groups going during reading/language arts time, so I sent the students who were finished their work early out into the hallway with this really cool "speak and spell". Some unsuspecting teachers walked by in time to hear some cuss words in a computerized voice. I was embarassed, but my naive factor lessened on that day. I still find myself trusting some kids more than they probably deserve, but I guess it is just in my nature.

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40 Anonymous August 14, 2009 at 10:47 pm

What a great site!! I'll be sharing this with my colleagues!

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41 anonymous July 26, 2010 at 7:22 pm

I had attended a new teacher orientation, where our speaker had told us several tips on how to get students attention. One in particular, will always remain ingrained in my mind :-) . She had told us to use the following phrase: ” One, Two, Three all eyes on me” when attempting to get students attention. The next school year, I was at a new school and attempted to use this “saying” . Unknown to me, I had several practical jokers in the class. So, when the time came to say it, one of the boys who knew me from the previous year- did just that. Stood up, and threw a fake plastic joke googly eyeball across the room at me!
Having two son’s of my own, my immediate reaction was to catch the “ball” thrown at me. It wasn’t until I opened my hands, that I saw the googly blood shot eyeball rolling its eye at me!
moral: From that moment on, when using that particular phrase, I say:” 1,2,3, all eyes LOOKING at me.”

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