Ask Angela Anything: May Edition

May 21, 2012

in your questions answered

Ask Angela Anything

Yes. I changed the name of this post series. Initially, I called it “According to Angela” because I’m sharing what has worked for me in my own classroom and in the rooms of the teachers I coach. But there’s something about the phrase that just kind of grated on me the more I read it: it sounded kind of haughty and overly authoritative somehow. I always heard the voice of a butler with an English accent booming, “Welllll, according to ANG-ela…” and it just didn’t strike the tone I was going for.

So here we are, with “Ask Angela Anything.” I hope that title betters conveys a sense that you can submit any teaching-related question anonymously to maintain your privacy and student confidentiality, and I’ll share some ideas that you can adapt for your situation.

Though the content of the post is completely mine, the series is sponsored by companies and organizations that are committed to providing high-quality resources for educators. This month’s post is brought to you by Marygrove College’s Master in the Art of Teaching, an online degree program designed to empower teachers by focusing on the knowledge and skills required to deliver effective instruction to diverse learners from preschool through high school, including those with special needs.

Angela, 
What would you recommend to teachers who are continuously being moved from one grade to another? How would you organize with so many changes? During my summer break I will try to organize by subject.  At this time, I don’t know where I’ll be or what grade I will be teaching.  Any pointers? Thank you for your wonderful ideas!
–Alba

Hi, Alba! Being moved to other grade levels can be very tough organizationally. I think using your summer break to organize your materials by subject is a great idea! Anything you have that you can’t use in your new grade level can be stored in boxes, one for each subject area. Since you’re not sure what grade you’ll be teaching yet, try to have smaller boxes for a range of grade levels that you place inside the subject area boxes. So for example, anything that could be used for the full K-6 range can be placed in your larger science box, alongside a small box for primary grades science stuff and a small box for upper grades science stuff.

This will be a nice opportunity to clear out clutter and get rid of stuff you’re not using, and I think you’ll find that a lot of the materials can be used for multiple grade levels. If you end up teaching a higher grade next year, you can use your current materials to provide additional small group support for struggling students, and if you teach a lower grade level, your current materials can be placed in centers or otherwise used to challenge high-achievers and differentiate instruction. The Lesson Materials and Files page of my website has photos of how I organize the materials currently being used for each subject. Hopefully that will give you ideas about what types of containers you can use and how to store everything. All the best to you in your new grade level!

Angela,
I teach at a Spalding School and it is a daily struggle for me to keep my 2nd graders in their seats for more then 30 min at a time. Our lessons usually last about an hour per subject, so I need ideas about how to keep them actively engaged while seated and still. Help!
–Amy

Hi, Amy! I had to do some research to learn about the Spalding method–my understanding is that it’s a very rigorous, scripted program which is basically the opposite of the whole language approach. So, my usual advice in this scenario–to get students up and moving, vary the types of activities they do (small group/centers/cooperative learning), incorporate more student-directed instruction, etc.– probably don’t apply to you. But, all is not lost!

Even if you don’t have a lot of freedom to choose the type of activities you do with your class, you CAN choose teaching strategies to keep them engaged. I talked in last’s month post about the FMAP guideline: 15 minutes, active participation: make sure you check that out.  In addition to that, the best thing you can do is get yourself a class set of dry erase boards. Go to a home improvement store and buy a huge piece of shower board (also called tile board) and have them cut it into one foot-by-one foot squares. You’ll get 30 dry erase boards for about $20. Have parents donate markers and use squares of felt for erasers. Kids can solve problems on their boards and hold them  up for you to see and check. Even writing spelling words and doing phonics drills can become more engaging for little ones because they love using the markers! My students used the boards all day long and never seemed to get tired of them. Good luck!

Angela,
Can teachers be bullied by students? Today a student took another students paper and when I asked her why she had it, she announced that it was none of my business and I should just leave her alone. She refused to give it to me or to the other student until I told them they would both get zeros on the assignment. Then she announced that I was crazy and she can’t believe she has to put up with me for two more months. Meanwhile, the rest of the students either laughed or were silent. I told the student to stay after class and she would call her dad and she said she had a family emergency and didn’t have to stay, when I stood in front of her she taunted me and said “What are you, a body guard?” Last month, she was eating in class and I told her to get rid of it and she ate it anyway and called me a b*&$#. I have a parent conference next week, but I’m not sure where to go from here. I’ve been humiliated in my own class. I feel harassed because she’s treated me like this before and I suspect she bullies the other kids and that’s why they let her cheat.
-Anonymous

Wow, Anon, I’m really sorry you’re going through this. Absolutely, I believe teachers can be and are bullied by students. There are two different aspects that I think need to be addressed here. The first is that your administration needs to know what is happening. Ideally, they would show you support, but even if you feel they won’t, you still need to inform them so that you are covered in case the situation ever escalates. If the student lashes out physically, for example, you will benefit if there is already a paper trail documenting her behavior. I would imagine your school or district has a procedure in place where there are levels of consequences for various behaviors: make sure you are adhering to these. If you have a union representative, get that person involved immediately so that you know your rights and the resources that are available to you. This is not something you should be dealing with by yourself.

The other thing that needs to happen centers on your relationship with this student. If you can address the root of the problem, the symptoms will improve. There are so many reasons why this child could be acting out. The two that pop into my mind first are that she might feel like you “have it out” for her and will get fussed out for every little minor thing (so why should she bother to listen to anything you say); and the other is that her behaviors have very little to do with you and are stemming from issues she has with school, authority, and her life in general. It’s impossible for me to tell for sure, of course. If your school has a good guidance counselor, you might want to speak to him or her and get suggestions on dealing with this particular student (chances are, you’re not the first teacher who has seen these behaviors from her), or even have the guidance counselor mediate a session between you and the student.

Regardless of the reason why a student is bullying a teacher or acting disrespectfully, a big part of the solution centers around building a rapport and relationship. I don’t want to sound trite and tell you to talk to her directly about how you feel, but I do think that’s a useful strategy. Use I-statements that are non-accusatory and don’t hold on to any expectations about how you think she should respond; just tell her you’ve noticed that there’s a problem between you, and you care about her and want to resolve it. If you do this with sincerity and kindness, this girl will sense that and it can make a BIG difference. In class, avoid direct confrontations with her so that you don’t have a stand-off. Pick your battles, and anytime you do correct her, make sure it’s done privately rather than loud enough for the whole class to hear. Hang in there, my friend–there are no easy answers, but I’ve seen situations like these get better many, many times. It’s far from a hopeless case.

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Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Subscribe via email for blog updates, exclusive tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

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