Tag Archives: Educators

Staying Positive During Assessment Week

Last year, I really began to stress out.  I felt ill many times and became distracted by all of the noise.  I was taking it personally that “everyone” wanted to judge my ability as a teacher.  It is not that I doubt my abilities.  Am I the best teacher ever?  Hardly.  However, I work with them everyday.  Every day I have learned from my colleagues.  They do whatever it takes.

When I was in high school, the athletes around me motivated me also.  I swam with some of the best in the state.  Coach (for the first month I thought that was his name) made me swim in the sprinter’s lane.  These guys swam the 50 free in 23 seconds.  One day Coach gave us a set of 10 x 50 on 30 seconds.  If we swam the two laps in 25 seconds we would have 5 seconds rest before we swam the next one.  Only Coach, with his wisdom, experience, and sadism, told me to swim breaststroke, the slowest stroke, and my best time was 29.5 seconds!  How was I going to swim 10 of these in a row in 30 seconds with half a second rest? Coach had a T-shirt that with “Rule #1: Coach is always right.” On the front, and “Rule 2: If you think Coach is wrong, see Rule #1.”

"Retired" Coach being a commentator at the State Swim Meet.

“Retired” Coach being a commentator at the State Swim Meet.

Of course, I tried my best.  And, my teammates encouraged me to do my best.

Many say swimming is an individual sport, like a teacher alone in a classroom.  However, my teammates wanted all of us to swim fast.  All would succeed! And, my colleagues share this sentiment.  They have always shared and collaborated to have every child learn and improve.

Each day, I see the great things the teachers around me are doing and I marvel.  How can I keep up?  What can I do?  It is the kind of challenge that makes teaching fun!  (The students also create a challenge, which is fun most of the time.)

Luckily, I have realized that my teaching will survive the scrutiny made from assessments indifferent students take.   Survive?!  On the contrary. My teaching will improve as I tackle the challenges of devoting six – eight days for these tests and a shortened schedule for five days as other students take the graduation test!

images  Assessments?  They are nothing compared to Coach’s workouts.

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Filed under Education, Goals, Learning, Measuring Student Success, Teacher Evaluations

I Refuse to Work!

What happens when a student refuses to do the work?  What would you do?

Yesterday, I had a young lady with a 2×4 chip on her shoulder refuse to comply to class procedures.

The background:

Since day two of school, I give the students 3 words and their definitions.  The students then create a sentence with context clues.  Yesterday, I walked around the room, looking over shoulders and offering encouragement until I came to Angie’s desk.  Once there, I stopped in my tracked and looked at an empty desk, for she was not on task.  Before I could say a word, she said, “Don’t talk to me.”  Of course, being the rebellious person that I am, I had to say something.

I reminded her that she was to be copying the vocabulary words and creating an original sentence.  She felt the need to repeat, “I said don’t talk to me!”

With that, I sent her into the hall.  She was poising the class with her negative attitude.  I have tried to help her, but her anger prevents her from succeeding.  At the start of the last nine weeks, I feel that I have to concentrate on the kids who want to do well.  It is a constant struggle any public school teacher faces.

Well, I told Angie to sit in the hall, and class discussion was a positive experience.  I wrote a discipline referral and the vice principal suspended out of school for two days.  It seems that her attitude and behavior is not confined to my class.

I am left with the feeling that she has a lot of baggage in life and will not succeed.  However, I do have to teach the other 29 students in class.  Am I suppose to cut the losses and give up on her?  How much time and energy do I devote to her?  This is something every educator in the United States struggles with.  If you have the right answer, I am all ears.


Filed under Education, Learning

Educating Rebels

What happens when a student does not want to do the work?  I wish I knew one answer!  Instead, I, like every other teacher, try to find the solution to the enigma with each particular student.

Students come to school carrying book-bags and personal baggage. They come from troubled homes, like Pony Boy and the other greasers in S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.   They come from homes where illness strikes, like the children of Randy Paush, who gave The Last Lecture on September 18, 2007.  They come from homes with single parents; however, not all are like Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. They come from everywhere.

Cover of "To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Ann...

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The truth is that we all have baggage.   However, some students’ baggage consumes their thoughts.   It prevents them from doing work at home and school.  It preoccupies their minds when they are supposed to be writing or reading.  These distractions may have been happening for years, and now the student is struggling because she reads below grade level.

Every teacher faces these students.  We try to make a connection.  We try to find ways to encourage, teach, and show we care.  I am struggling more this year, and I cannot put my finger on a solution that will work everyday.

I have three girls, good friends from the same neighborhood, and who moved into our community a few years ago.  They use to live in an urban environment that to be called rough would be an understatement.

Each day, right before the tardy bell rings, they saunter into class complaining about something or someone.  I believe that they are creating their own drama, but I know they are not getting a lot of parental support.  Their grades reflect this.

I spent the first few weeks encouraging them to complete assignments, and point out the positives in their writing.  Nonetheless, I still got negative feedback in the form of sighs, rolled eyes, and “Tsk!”  I could not allow the rude behavior, so I gave them detentions.

This worked to stop the behavior in class, but it seemed to cause two of the girls to stop doing assignments.  It seemed they wanted to punish me by failing.  I never understand this line of thinking.  If I disliked my English teacher, I would write a five-page essay when he asks for a three pages.  I would make him read a little more every time, so he has to spend more time grading.

Now, I face the dilemma of spending a great amount of time and energy on two rebellious students while ignoring 26 students who are trying their best to learn.  How can I reel in the rebels and challenge everyone to push strive for success?

What I have done that seems to be working for now…

  • When the girls enter, I whisper to them about what we are doing today and remind them about my expectations, even though it is written on the board.
  • I have them seated away from each other.
  • If they are not working, I give them a nonverbal reminder by walking up to their desk and motioning for them to be reading or writing.
  • I do not engage in a conversation; I walk away.  I have found if I stay near  the student, she will become stubborn and try to show me who is boss.
  • If she does not get started working after I leave, I walk to my desk and fill out the paperwork for a detention.  Then, I look up to see if she is working yet.  If she is, I don’t deliver the detention.  I save it in case she gets off task later.

I have nearly given up on changing the girls’ negative attitudes.  However, every few days, one of them contributes to the class discussion or does well on a writing assignment we completed in class.  Then, I am reminded that they have developed their negativity over years, and I may not be able to change it during the 225 minutes a week I see them.

Do you have any other ideas?


Filed under Education, Goals, Learning

Welcome To Another School Year

Welcome to another school year.  I share this blog with my students and their parents, as well as the world.  I tend to share my thoughts, however politically incorrect they may be, with anyone who meets me.  I welcome others to do the same, and I would die defending their right to their viewpoint, no matter how wrong it is.

After two days, I am beginning to see who the shy students are, who the gregarious students are, and the ones who understand my sense of humor.  I have yet to discover any student I wish to defenestrate.

Each year, I look inward to see how I can improve.  Although I know I am perfect, I entertain my wife’s thought that I can be better.  (It never hurts to humor the little woman…).

This year, I have created a separate document to show student’s mastery of the Common Core Curriculum.  To be honest, I have done this with my grade book, but the spreadsheet will make it easier for administrators to see the job I am doing.  Realistically speaking, it is not really how well we do our job, but how well we convince bosses that we do our job.

Administrators, parents, students, and other blog readers: do not fear.  I am utilizing the “I Can” statements of the Core as presented by Christina Hank, an excellent resource.  I am very aware of the direction we are headed, and I am happy to see it.  I just notice that we (leaders in education) have been this way before.  The difference is that leaders changed and terms changed, but the ideas did not.  Now, we have a common language and goals to help our students succeed.  This is exciting!

For parents, it may be too much information.  Nonetheless, know that your kids are in good hands.  I am teaching writing and reading.  I have lots of other words to describe what I am teaching, but for most of you, that is not important.  I am working hard to prepare your child for success in college and / or a career.  I know that all of my students will not be English teachers, although several have chosen that path.  I do know that the kids will need to think and analyze and support their opinions.  That is what I focus on.

For any current students reading this, know that I plan to challenge you.  I do not care what your opinion is as much as I care how well you support it.  I want you to stand for something, not fall for anything.  I want you to disagree with me.  I want you to show me with facts why I am wrong.  I know I am not perfect; I am married with 4 kids.  The family tells me how wrong I am all of the time.  I merely like supporting details and examples.

Here is a little secret: I will disagree with you just to see what facts you present to me to show me that I am wrong even though, in my heart, I agree with you.

Good luck this year students and parents.


Filed under Education, Learning

Warm Fuzzies and Smiley Faces


education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Teaching high school has had some perks.  When my children were younger, I knew who the most responsible babysitters were.  However, at the end of the year, teacher gifts and thank-yous are not the norm. Nonetheless, I do get a few.  And, I always get that warm fuzzy feeling when a student or parent writes me a thank you.

I am sure his mom made him do it, but what he wrote is definitely his own work:

Dear Mr. ,

I really enjoyed your class despite having it with an ex-girlfriend.  Your a really cool teacher and I love your jokes despite how bad they are and thanks for living through all the sentences our class wrote about you.


And what does this note tell me?

1. English class is more fun if one can share it with a girlfriend.

2. Bad jokes are cool?

3. Continuing to live even though students try to insult you with vocabulary words is a good thing.

4. I did not teach the difference between “you’re” and “your” very well.

5. Missing periods can be bad.


Filed under Education, Humor, Lessons from students, Teacher Evaluations, Writing

Smiley-Faces make me Smile

The Eye-patched smiley face mascot, as feature...

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Remember when you were in grade school and the teacher would put a stamp on your paper that read “Nice work” or “Keep trying”?  Or, if you did really well, she would put a gold star near your name!  Brings back some good memories, doesn’t it?

You would think high school kids would think this kind of thing is too immature.  However, they love it!  Now, I don’t do this every time I grade something because I usually have 150 papers to grade and placing stickers on a paper or stamping them takes time.  Although, I have cheated and let my children do it for me.  One student had 15 stickers and a dozen stamps on her paper.  Four year-olds tend to get a little sticker-and-stamp happy.

Last night I hastily drew smiley-faces on papers.  When I returned the graded work to the students, I heard a few giggles and comments:

“Is this a smiley-face or is he constipated?”

“Mine looks like he has no mouth and a double chin.”

“This one has an eye outside of his head!”

In my defense, I lost my artistic ability in kindergarten.  Tragically, I had chicken pox and my mom actually made me miss school for a week.  Not just any week! It was the week we learned how to draw a smiling person with fingers.  Mrs. Erke never took the time to let me make up drawing.  Perhaps she was jealous of my earlier abilities with houses and trees in art class.  Perhaps she was just mean.  Come to think of it, one day I mentioned to the class that I missed Carl, who had moved away a few months earlier.  She reprimanded me for being off task: ” We all miss him.  But, it’s time to paste the pictures to the correct words on the worksheet.  And, Bart, please stop eating the paste.”  See, she was mean. What kind of teacher keeps  a child from eating?  Everyone knows you learn better on a full stomach.

Thus, today, my drawings of people resemble Picasso’s self-portrait with mittens on.  It is miraculous that I have achieved any success in life.

Of course I am joking.  About Mrs. Erke … not my artistic ability.  She was wonderful and I can’t draw well.  Nonetheless, the fact that students noticed the smiley-face means something.

It seems teenagers want cheerleaders.  They want supportive teachers and parents.  A “good job,” or “I can tell you put a lot of effort into this essay” can help a student work harder next time.  For example, I had a student, Scott, a few years back.  He thought he was a terrible writer.  He saw a “B” grade as a bright neon sign flashing “Failure.”  It took positive comments on what he did well to give him confidence. He realized that all writers make errors, especially novices who are constantly taking risks with word choice and sentence structure.  Gold stars, stickers, and smiley faces placed near his successful risk taking in writing made him challenge himself more.

By the end of the year he was getting his coveted “A” on all of his work.  He learned how to focus on what he did correctly.  Sometimes we all need a reminder.


Filed under Education, Humor


The Monkees, left to right: Micky Dolenz, Davy...

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I am a daydream believer.  (Sorry Monkees)  I daydream all of the time in class. Sometimes I even do it while students are answering my questions.

I began daydreaming when I was a freshman.  I would sit and think of different ways the teacher could be teaching the lesson.  Of course, I was a teenager and knew everything.  Unfortunately, teachers did catch me once in a while and left me feeling slightly embarrassed.

I was reminded of daydreaming today in two different classes.  I hope I did not embarrass the young ladies, as that was not my intent.

It all started in a morning class.  Lindsey was sitting at her desk with a big smile on her face.  Thinking she was finished with her writing, I called on her to share it with the class.  Her eyes blinked rapidly and the smile faded.  She looked around sheepishly and I could tell she wasn’t ready.  I smiled and asked her if she was daydreaming.  She relaxed and replied, “Yes.”  I chuckled a little and asked her what she was daydreaming about.  “Basketball,” she answered.  (She is on the basketball team and they have a big game tomorrow.)  I told her I understood; it happens to me all of the time.  Lindsey relaxed and refocused on class.  Nothing unusual, just a typical day in a classroom, right?  Not today.

In an afternoon class I noticed Ainsley sitting at her desk with a grin and staring at the board.  She looked like she was finished with her writing, so I called on her. The grin disappeared and a little panic swept over the face.  I smiled and asked her if she was daydreaming.  She frowned and said, “Yes, sorry.”

I know that Ainsley plays on the basketball team, so I had to smile and ask, “By chance,were you daydreaming about basketball?”

A big smile crossed her face and she even giggled her response, “Yes.”   What are the chances?

I smiled as I was reminded that my class was not the most important thing in a freshman’s life.  I hope they win the game tomorrow.  We can write more next week.

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Leadership, Listening, and Learning (and how to spy on your teenage daughter)

Good managers and teachers try to connect with those they are leading.  Learning about a person’s family, interests, or opinions is a good start to making connections.   Placing value on a person’s life outside of the office or classroom makes many of us feel appreciated; consequently, we want to try harder or work better.

I have to admit that during my last 22 years of teaching, I have not always been very good at this.  My first few years of teaching I was only five years older than most of my students.  Therefore, I did not feel comfortable making a close connection.  I still attended sporting events and learned about the kids during structured discussions or the occasional free time at the end of the period.  However, I was not part of the community, nor did I know any of the parents.

My middle years of teaching had me treading water in my own little pond with the births of our four kids.  Nonetheless, connections started to form.  I was teaching my friends’ kids and getting to know the students who were on the summer swim team that I coached.  I even started to see the students in many different places: the grocery store, church, my children’s schools, music recitals, sporting events, and even my neighborhood.

In addition, this year has given me more optimism about making more connections.  Perhaps it is because my daughter is a freshman, and I am curious about the kids she knows.  (To be more truthful, I am very interested in any boys who appear interested in her.)  Another advantage has been changing our schedule from forty minute periods to fifty minute periods.  The feeling of rush, rush, rush has left me and reduced some stress.  Now,  I feel like I can walk around the room and discuss writing skills with students.  These conferences give me the opening to ask a few questions, sit back and listen, and get to know the kids better.

Take time to listen today.  I know I will.

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Filed under Business, Education, Goals, Measuring Student Success

The Best

I know many people say they are blessed because of where or who they work with.  They may be right, but I know I am right. Yesterday was the first day back to school for teachers, and we got to go meetings!  Oh Joy!  Oh Rapture!  However, the district-wide meeting was pretty good.  (One time we had an interpretive dance group “inspire” us to teach better.)  This time we had a pep rally, which I usually loathe, but it was neat to see band members and cheerleaders there.  After all, kids get excited about school!  Even my wife, who never seems to get excited about anything, has a lunch party  when the kids and I go back to school.   I get excited too, but it is because I no longer have to be at home with my four cherubs and all of their friends.  But, I digress.

This year we had  a key-note speaker who was knowledgable, enlightening, and a great story-teller.  Feel free to check out his website: http://www.jamievollmer.com/.

After the district-wide teacher’s meeting, we had a department meeting.  Each year, I realize I work with a great team.  We all have our strengths.  There is our department head who still loves  teaching after 31 years, and likes short meetings.  He is not that retired-person-but-still-working person.  Next, we have our research genius who provides us with excellent data to help students reach their next level.  And, we have our organizational experts who can share any idea, worksheet, or curriculum question within minutes.   We have cynics who play “devil’s advocate.”  Plus, we have the young people who never knew what a landline was, let alone a life without computers.   I am so lucky to have these resources.   My colleagues make my life easier.  Too bad  their lives will become more difficult as my kids enter high school.

Our team has set some goals to continue to use technology more since we have a set of laptops to share now.  (I think they all work.)  We want to continue to ensure our curriculum meets the new CORE standards we will have in place in two years. It is so much easier to be proactive than reactive.

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The start of 2011-12

The last four years have had me in a cynical mood for the first-day-district-wide meetings.  However,  today, I was pleasantly surprised.  Our interim superintendent did not speak down at us; instead he talked about our TEAM. And, we got the great news that we are an EXCELLENT WITH DISTINCTION school district.  To be honest, I am not sure what all of these labels mean, since we try to avoid labeling children, but I can tell that teachers worked hard to help students succeed.  And, someone somewhere cares about our label.  I just know that my four kids learned and accomplished something because of their teachers.  (Ok, some of their success was genetics from the maternal side.)

Sometime during the meeting, I became won over while our guest speaker talked about education.  You can get an idea of what Jamie Vollmer said by visiting his website: http://www.jamievollmer.com/  I also suggest giving a copy of his book to any one who thinks they know what is wrong with education.

So, today I learned that some business people can learn that education is different than business, that upper levels of leadership can shine, and I should not be so cynical.  Now, to work this into my classroom next week…

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Filed under Business, Education