Five Problems in the Classroom #4
Submitted by: Sara Glodoski
Assignment to turn in at class 4: List the five most important and specific problem areas
in your classroom that you or your cooperating teacher would like to alleviate/fix. This
might be a rule, procedure, discipline or management problem. For each one, describe the
problem, state how you have already tried to alleviate the problem, generate a specific
plan for addressing the problem, and finally for each problem, include why you think this
solution will work for you. You will know if your plan is specific enough, if another
person could take your plan and implement it without you there for interpretation.
1. Frequent Bathroom breaks at the beginning of the subject change
At this time, the students are allowed to go to the bathroom when they want. They point
at the board that holds the bathroom pass. Once we nod and give the ok signal, they can
get up and grab the pass and go. When they return, they put the pass back up on the
board. We only have two passes, so only two students can go at a time. We generally try
to make sure that no two girls or boys are in there at the same time. The problem is that,
they always want to go when we switch from Morning Work to Math. They often do this
as a way to get out of having to do some work. However, since I teach Math I usually
dawdle around until they come back. They have not noticed this yet, but still the constant
arm points for the bathroom pass happen every time.
To address this issue, I will implement that they cannot go unless all homework was
turned in to me (since I ask for it when the class starts). Also, that until they answer a
question from the material we learned yesterday, they cannot go, unless it is a major
emergency. If they cannot answer a question, they cannot go to the bathroom. This will
work because once the lesson starts and the assignment is given, then they are asked if
they want to go again. By this time, they should not have to go any longer. Alternatively,
this will be away to see if they truly had to go in the first place.
2. Homework tardiness
When homework is assigned, about 10% of class is absent so the students never get the
homework or ever have to make it up. At first the teacher had an absent folder that the
student next the absent chair would place items in there for them, but this stopped after
the first two weeks of school. The other 90% that are in class, about two to three of those
students forget to bring in their homework. Most of the time it is the same students, that
To help alleviate this consistent problem, one thing I can do is hold on to extra copies in
my folder. Therefore, the next day when it is time to teach Math, I will have tem handy
and I can pass out the make up work to the students that were absent the day prior. If
they are still absent I will keep a running pile of make up work aside in my binder for
them, with a post it note to keep track what sheets are for which student. This will help
with the 10% absentee students. For those that are present but forget their homework, I
will ask them to redo their work during gym class or during their morning break. This
way the assignment is turned in that day and they can still get partial credit for the late
assignment. They will loose their fun privileges to make this up; hopefully it will remind
them to make a better conscensious effort.
3. Social chatter during instruction
No matter how we structure the classroom, we still end up with a few students that are sat
by the wrong person. Meaning that they are “social butterflies” with each other, they like
to talk and goof around. They are usually not too disturbing to the others, but it bothers
me when I am teaching. Since the he cooperating teacher can put up with it better then
me, then to rectify my issue with it, only during my class teaching time, if they start
talking when they are not supposed to I will move them to a different table, where I feel
they will not be a disturbance. This should work, because it is fast and obvious to the
other students, what the consequences will be if they misbehave. The class as a whole is
usually well behaved and I do not foresee any major attitude if I do need to move them.
4. Grouping skill level ability for reading class
This is more a teacher management problem. There is a strong split between the class on
where the reading ability level falls. We have tried to group the class into only two
groups so we are not assigning too many books, where as a teacher we would have to
keep track and come up with several assignments based on the number of books assigned.
My thoughts are to read along with a different group every day to give specialized
attention to a few people at a time, so I can see the progress that each student is making.
We can still keep the class to only two books, but then a group of four would read their
same book together. For instance, if we had a class of twenty students, and lets say half
are at one level and the other half are about another level. We can assign a different book
to each half. Then take the ten students and break them up into smaller groups. These
smaller groups are the ones that I can spend each day working with. In hope, that I could
spend a day with each group per week.
Although the skill levels would still be different, it would help us manage the class better
and make sure everyone was still on task. Spending time with each group each week will
also help us figure out what kind of assessment we could give to test them on their
knowledge. This way the assessment would be relevant to what they have read so far.
5. Special Education teacher shortage for a certain student in the class
We have a boy that was been placed in our classroom, from Mississippi from the
Hurricane tragedy. This boy has been tested at a first grade level, but is actually in sixth
grade. He has a severe emotional behavior disability, a learning disability and is
medicated for ADHD. We are currently relocated at a different school, due to
construction on our classroom wing. The Special Ed teachers spend their time at the
main school and are limited to spending time at our school. The Special Ed teacher visits
our class and works with him three times a week for only 45 minutes. This does not
allow him the special attention he needs. This also creates major chaos for us in the
classroom; he cannot work along side other students for physical (fights) and mental
In attempts to help this dilemma, we have asked for first grade level books for him to
work on during the day while we are instructing the class. He has a special computer that
we can work on to give him different things to focus on. During some of my Math
lessons, I try to do things where he can be included if we are collecting students data. If
we are drawing on the white boards, I give him one as well. When the class is working
on individual assignments, I will be able to go over to his desk, and work and help guide
him through some of his dedicated assignments. Trying to include him in as many class
events as possible will help to make a difference from the issues we currently face.
We have had him included in gym class, so he can run and wear outs some energy. We
have moved him to a different part of the room, where we could not intentionally distract
another student. This will be an on-going problem until we can get more help and time
from the special Ed teachers. When we move back to the building, this should be better
by Gene Van Tassell
Teachers do not generally want to give control to their students. Teachers are instructed
that the mark of a good teacher is that the teacher is in control of the class. (Taylor, 1987)
The amount of control that teachers have in the class is often seen by the administration
as a measurement of the quality of a teacher. Administrators are usually happy if a
teacher never sends a student to the office and interpret this as proof that the teacher is in
control and must be doing a good job. (Edwards, 1994)
Teachers are afraid of losing control if students have increased autonomy. Control is an
issue with which many people in management have had to struggle. Although somewhat
cyclic in its application, the business world has only in the last couple of decades really
accepted the idea that central control may not be the best choice of management. The
management systems of the U.S. military are also an interesting example. In the Vietnam
war, the U.S. military was central office oriented. Most decisions were made at the
Pentagon and White House. Even tactical decisions regarding the battlefield were often
made on a table in Washington, D.C. If this style were compared to the management style
of the Gulf War in 1991, it would be obvious that the U.S. military currently accepts that
local control and autonomy are a better management style.
Teachers fear that students with more control will not want to learn what the teacher
wants to teach. This is Theory X type thinking. An examination of McGregor's (1967)
Theory X and Theory Y would help teachers to understand that students want to learn. If
the barriers to their learning were reduced, then students will of their own intrinsic nature
will want to learn. The role of a teacher is to facilitate and help remove those barriers. It
should not be the role of a teacher to assume responsibility for the motivation of the
Teachers do not know alternative discipline methods which allow for increased student
autonomy. The local state university teaches Assertive Discipline methods in its teacher
training. Teachers are generally unaware of alternative methods of discipline and what
these methods have to offer to them as educators.
Control of students by teachers tends to be regarded as the goal of classroom discipline.
This emphasis on control is so pervasive that control by teachers is often seen by
educators as more important than the learning that goes on the classroom. (Edwards,
Glasser (1984) states that control is necessary for the psychological balance in one's life.
It is a common trait of human beings to want control in their lives. In schools this is
carried to such an extent that discipline itself is often seen as synonymous with control.
"In schools, the most widely and practiced interpretation of the word discipline is
control" (Wlodkowski, 1982, p. 2).
Many students do not always know how to manage their behavior. It is a common theme
for parents to be frustrated by teenagers' lack of ability to mange their own behavior.
Children themselves are frustrated with their lack of ability to cope with the problems
they see in life. Suicide rates have skyrocketed in the past 30 years. "Suicides have
increased 300 percent in the past thirty years, while suicide attempts have risen 350
percent to 700 percent" (Edwards, 1989, p. 59).
Teachers are not trained in the use of effective discipline methods. (Fuhr, 1993; Hyman
as quoted in Harper & Epstein, 1989; Taylor, 1987) Even though other methods are
allowed, teachers most often use Assertive Discipline. Canter claims that 500,000
teachers have been trained in the methods of Assertive Discipline. (Render, Padilla, and
Krank, 1989) No other discipline method has reported to have trained so many educators.
There has been substantial debate as to the relationship between self-esteem and
performance by children in education. Although a positive correlation between
achievement and self-esteem would seem logical, there has been considerable research
which questions whether this correlation actually exists. (Moore, 1993; Kohn, 1994)
Even if focusing on the improvement of the self-esteem of children may not produce
enhanced performance, it is highly unlikely that battering the self-esteem of children will
increase their performance. Children who have poor self-esteem are more likely to be
discipline problems. (Edwards, 1994) Kohn (1994) makes this point in an article which
rebuts the positive correlation between self-esteem and achievement. Kohn states that "it
is entirely possible that children who feel good about themselves are not necessarily high-
achievers or caring people - and yet, at the same time, that those who doubt their own
worth are even less likely to be so" (p. 272).
The fear and stigma of public punishment must not be underestimated. I have asked
persons 60 to 70- years-old to recollect school experiences. The majority of those
memories are negative ones--punishments handed out by teachers in front of children a
half century before. I feel for the shy first grader who always will remember her name on
the board for something that was not her fault or should have been ignored. (Gartrell,
1987, p. 10)
There are many stories of how discipline used incorrectly can have lasting negative
effects on the lives of children. (Harper & Epstein, 1989) It is difficult to argue that these
are positive influences on the education of a child. Children need to be provided with an
education in an environment which does not destroy their self-esteem.
Discipline is widely regarded by most educators and the public alike as the number one
problem in schools. (Wlodkowski, 1982) Even though administrators and teachers alike
view discipline as their number one problem, newly graduated teachers still feel woefully
unprepared for the task awaiting them when they start their first teaching job. (Taylor,
1987) There is a plethora of opinions on classroom discipline and systems available from
which to choose.
The discipline system known as Assertive Discipline was developed by Lee and Marlene
Canter in 1976. In the first 12 years of distribution "Lee and Marlene Canter claim to
have trained some 300,000 teachers in workshops in 48 states -- including half of the
teachers in Oregon and California" (Crockenberg, 1982, p. 59). By 1989, some 500,000
teachers had been trained in Assertive Discipline. (Render, Padilla, and Krank, 1989) No
other discipline system has made such claims of distribution and acceptance.
Assertive Discipline teaches students to accept the consequences of their actions. It has
"as its basic premise the reinforcement of appropriate behavior" (Render, Padilla, and
Krank, 1989, p. 609). "Responsibility is exactly what Assertive Discipline is all about"
(Canter, 1988, p. 24). Practitioners of Assertive Discipline are taught that they must learn
to be assertive in taking control of the class. A system of rewards and punishments are
devised by the teacher to let students know when they have acted correctly or incorrectly.
Increasingly unpleasant penalties are incurred by students who continue to make
improper choices. Canter expresses concern about teachers who "spend too much time
punishing children. . . . This is the key to Assertive Discipline, positives and lots of
praise" (Canter, 1988, p. 24).
Assertive Discipline is generally considered easy to learn. "Assertive Discipline provides
an attractive, packaged, simple-to-understand, easy-to-implement alternative" (Curwin
and Mendler, 1989, p. 83). Assertive Discipline seems to be the easiest discipline system
to implement. (Emmer, 1986; Edwards, 1993) Teachers will often feel secure in
implementing Assertive Discipline with only a few hours of training in a seminar behind
them. (Curwin and Mendler, 1989; Emmer, 1986; Edwards, 1993)
There are many criticisms of Assertive Discipline. There has been limited research on the
effectiveness of such a widely accepted discipline system. (Curwin and Mendler, 1989)
"We found only 16 studies (10 dissertations, 3 journals, and 3 other reports) meeting our
criteria. Equally surprising is the nature of the studies. Not one study systematically
investigated the program's effectiveness compared with any other specific approach"
(Render, Padilla, and Krank, 1989, p. 72).
Although Assertive Discipline is widely used, there are many arguments that suggest it
does more harm than good. (Watson, 1982; Crockenberg, 1982; Curwin and Mendler,
1989; Gartrell, 1987) The self-esteem of students is often decreased by methods born of
Assertive Discipline. "Excessive control is apparently a major contributing factor in
creating at-risk conditions for school children" (Edwards, 1994, p. 344).
Assertive Discipline is also criticized on the basis that it suggests that all problems in a
classroom stem from students who do not know how to behave. (Curwin and Mendler,
1989) "The Canters nowhere in their book recognize that behavior problems in the
classroom might possibly be a function of poor teaching" (Crockenberg, 1982, p. 63).
Students are forced to accept the rule of the teacher or else. Lines of control are strictly
enforced with little or no democracy in the classroom. It is up to the teacher to make and
enforce classroom rules. "The teacher knows what is required. . . . Parents must adapt to
the teacher's requirements. Any attempts by parents to criticize teaching are understood to
be 'side-tracking manipulations', uninformed and unfair" (Crockenberg, 1982, p. 63). Hitz
(1988) describes Assertive Discipline as "power assertion rather than developing
responsible behavior" (p. 25).
THEORY X AND THEORY Y
Theory X and Theory Y is an example of non-Newtonian thinking. McGregor (1967) is
not talking about two different types of people, but two different ways in which people
can be viewed. Theory X is Newtonian, Theory Y is post-Newtonian. Theory X suggests
that people will the do the minimum possible amount of work necessary to accomplish a
task. Theory X suggests that enticement is required through deterministic techniques to
get people to do what the enticer wants them to do.
Theory Y suggests that all people want to succeed, but there are obstacles in their path
which inhibit their progress. If these obstacles are removed, then they can succeed as well
as anyone else. McGregor (1967) states, "Strictly speaking, the answer to the question
mangers so often ask of behavioral scientists-How do you motivate people?--is: You
don't. Man is by nature motivated" (p. 10). This approach suggests a holistic approach to
solutions. Theory Y suggests that the process is more important than the deterministic
motivations that come from behaviorism. Theory Y promotes autonomy, while Theory X
simply pushes people to prescribed goals.
Gartrell (1987) suggests that Assertive Discipline punishes children "for having a
problem rather than being helped to resolve that problem" (p. 10). This example suggests
a Theory X view of children by Assertive Discipline.
According to the post-Newtonian paradigm, looking at the process is more important than
trying to predict behavior. It is the process of overcoming obstacles that is important.
With effort and work focused on the obstacles, educators will be working on the
relationship of a spectrum of barriers rather than trying to predict individual behavior.
This understanding of a post-Newtonian paradigm helps educators to understand why
Theory Y may be the more acceptable method of viewing individuals and the solutions to
Control theory was developed by William Glasser in 1984. Glasser subsequently
developed Reality Therapy in 1989. Glasser (1984) suggests that there are 4 basic human
needs. They are love, control, freedom, and fun. These four components are necessary for
a healthy psychological balance. Children need to be taught how to control their behavior.
People have pictures in their head of their perception of the world. These pictures include
perceptions of their needs and how they can be satisfied. "Most people, however, do not
believe they have a choice" (Glasser, 1989, p. 2). It is the responsibility of a teacher to
teach students that students choose how they act. "The teacher's task is to help students
make good choices by making clear the connection between student behavior and its
consequences" (Emmer, 1986, p. 7).
Glasser emphasizes that people do not picture themselves doing badly. Everyone has a
view of being successful and happy. Individuals may at times choose to do self-
destructive things, but do not intend to destroy themselves. Pictures make sense to people;
otherwise, they would not have them. (Edwards, 1993)
Reality Therapy is a series of steps to help children understand the choices they are
making. A teacher first tries to help the student identify the inappropriate behavior of the
student. Then the teacher helps the student identify the consequences of that behavior. No
attempt is made to come up with new or artificial consequences that the teacher might
impose. It is important that the student, not the teacher, identify the consequences. Then
the student needs to create a plan to eliminate inappropriate behavior. The teacher helps
the student with successful implementation of the plan or allows the consequences to
occur. (Edwards, 1993)
Problems reported with Control Theory and Reality Therapy are that it takes considerable
training and classroom time to implement these programs. (Edwards, 1993) Emmer (1986)
reports that "all of the studies of Reality Therapy that assessed effects on student
variables . . . showed at least one student outcome that differed significantly for the E
[Experimental] and C [Control] groups or from pre to post" (p. 15).
Control Theory is a relatively new theory which fits outside of the Newtonian paradigm.
Glasser (1993) states, "Control Theory is a new explanation of how we choose to live our
lives: It is actually a new psychology" (p. 122). Glasser's Control Theory suggests that
one of the criteria that makes us psychologically healthy is possessing control in our life.
Having autonomy as a student increases the control and self-esteem in a student's life.
Students having autonomy in the classroom is at odds with the behaviorism of Skinner.
Skinner's behaviorism which stems from the Newtonian paradigm suggests that people
can be controlled by applying the correct rewards and punishments.
According to Glasser (1989), pushing a student into a corner until they conform with our
expectations is not in accordance with a psychologically healthy adolescent. When youth
turn 18, society expects them to make rational, complex decisions, yet behaviorism has
its major emphasis on compliance as opposed to the development of cognitive skills.
There is a need to look at the process of acquiring those skills as opposed to
concentrating on activities with predictive consequences.
Much of the movement that is seen in education today stems from the desire to be
scientific according to Newton. Behavior Modification by Skinner is one of molding all
children to conform by use of standard punishments and rewards. Prediction is an
important part of Skinner's work. Behavior Modification techniques suggest that specific
rewards and punishments will yield predictable results in the behavior of children.
Behaviorism suggests a system that will modify children to comply with prescribed
norms. Compliance with these prescribed norms restricts student autonomy. As would be
expected in the Newtonian paradigm, the theory is to predict results by detailing correct
initial conditions and equations that prescribe action upon those initial conditions. In the
case of Skinner behaviorism, the initial conditions are individuals and the equations are
those behavioristic techniques set out to modify the individuals.
It is true when the behavioral sciences have gone beyond the collection of facts to
recommend courses of action and have done so by predicting consequences, they have
not been too helpful . . . Applied psychology is usually a mixture of science and common
sense. . . . From the very beginning the application of an experimental analysis of
behavior was different. It was doubly concerned with consequences. (Skinner, 1976,
Canter describes Assertive Discipline as teaching students the natural consequences of
their actions. "Students choose [consequences]. Assertive teachers do not punish students.
Students are taught to accept the consequences for their own actions" (Canter, 1988, p.
24). The Newtonian model of standard conditions giving predictable results is apparent.
Bracey (1994) states that "15 years of research have confirmed that offering a reward for
an enjoyable behavior can decrease the likelihood that the behavior will be performed
under subsequent nonrewarded conditions" (p. 494). In the name of being scientific like
Newton, educators impose Assertive Discipline on children. Skinner's behaviorism and
Canter's Assertive Discipline are attempts by one of the social sciences, psychology, to
imitate the Newtonian paradigm.
Quality should be defined in nonmathematical terms. It is not the score on a test which
defines student success. The goal in classrooms should be that the students want to learn
more and feel good about what they do in the classroom. (Glasser, 1993) In this respect,
it is not what is taught, but how it is taught that is significant. As transformational leaders
are concerned about the form of the future, educators should be concerned about a wider
view of education than a Dow Jones Index for Education. (Guthrie, 1993) Classroom
management techniques are an important focus point. Educators need to develop a vision
for their classroom based on modern principles. Too many teachers substitute the
management of the Newtonian paradigm for the leadership of the post- Newtonian
paradigm. A vision of a perfect classroom has less room for managers, but lots of room
for leaders. The objective of leadership is to provide vision to students, as opposed to
managers who demand compliance. (Bennis, 1992)
Transactional analysis studies the interactions of behavior between teachers and students.
(Harris, 1967) Harris suggests three stages of development called ego-states. These ego-
states are called Child, Parent, and Adult. In order for teachers to be successful in
transactional analysis, they need to remain in the Adult ego-state and be able to recognize
the ego-state of students around them. Teachers can then recognize the games that
students may play in a Child ego-state and teach students to behave in an Adult ego-state.
The strengths of this approach are that students are encouraged to monitor their own
communication and behavior. The disadvantages of this system is that it may be too
difficult for students and cause them to psychoanalyze each other. (Edwards, 1993)
The Ginott Model concentrates on the communication between teacher and student. This
approach concentrates on avoiding criticism and trying to understand the student's
feelings. Teachers are encouraged to foster student autonomy and try to help students
take responsibility for their actions. These goals are accomplished by establishing a
communication with the students and by reasoning with the student. (Edwards, 1993)
The Kay Model views the character of children built upon internalized standards. People
constantly judge their actions by these internal standards. By teaching and building upon
these internal standards, children can be taught to by self-governing and responsible for
their own actions. Students are intrinsically motivated to behave properly if they are
taught how to do it. Students are responsible for their own motivation and for monitoring
their own behavior. Teachers should not lift these responsibilities off of the students'
shoulders. The role of the teacher is to teach students how to monitor themselves. (Kay &
Fredric H. Jones developed a model of classroom discipline which accentuated the
physical presence of the teacher. The basic assumptions of the Jones Model are that
children need to be controlled and that teachers can achieve this control through body
language, administration, and parental support. A teacher needs to understand stage
presence. The ripple effects of the teacher's presence will go out and affect each student if
the teacher adequately forceful. Stopping instruction, staring, sitting close to the student
are all powerful intimidation techniques which should stop students from misbehaving.
1. Training in discipline techniques is needed by any teacher. Many teachers know little
or nothing of nonbehavioristic discipline techniques and are generally thrilled to hear
about alternative methods.
2. Non-behavioristic discipline techniques need to be taught to teachers more than once.
These techniques are the most difficult for teachers to grasp and to be comfortable
applying in the classroom.
3. Teachers must role play Reality Therapy many times in a learning environment such as
a seminar before they can apply this method in the classroom. Although teachers may
choose this as their favorite method, teachers may not be successful in its application
without sufficient practice.
4. Classroom management is an ongoing process which is unlikely to be learned in a
single seminar. Given that many discipline seminars are only a day long, such a short
seminar may not give all the information needed for teachers to make a education
decision regarding classroom discipline techniques.
Too often, studying the structure of a system focuses on what makes that structure stable.
Prigogine and Stenger's (1984) work on dynamic systems showed that disequilibrium is
necessary for growth. It is not the structure that is important, but the process of where the
system is moving. (Wheatley, 1994) Bennis (1985) suggests that leaders (a) have a vision
of where they want to go, (b) must communicate this vision to those around them, (c)
position themselves where they can be effective, and (d) have the courage to leave their
comfort zones and walk a tightrope to where they want to go. Note that Bennis is talking
about the process of detailing that a process is moving somewhere, rather than about the
structure that is being created.
Since early history, society has been influenced by its vision of science. It has only been a
few decades since the Newtonian paradigm lost its hold on science. It is not surprising
that those areas of study that have been fashioned on the anvil of the Newtonian
paradigm are still pursuing that paradigm headlong, even though the physical sciences
have now moved in a new direction of relativity, quantum mechanics, and chaos theory.
It is important to understand that a new fundamental understanding of our universe has
occurred. It is still unclear as to where the new science paradigm will lead. It is not yet
fully developed. A similar analogy might be imagining the world in Europe in 1544.
Many people wondered where this new theory about the earth revolving around the sun
might lead them. Much more progress will be made by making the right assumptions now
as well as then.
New theories are being proposed from the social sciences which support and corroborate
the new science. Classroom discipline methods are not immune to this examination. New
and old theories alike need to be evaluated in light of their dependence on the Newtonian
paradigm. These evaluations can lead to greater success and understanding in
determining what will be effective in the management and leadership of children in
classrooms. Control theory, Reality therapy, Theory X, and Theory Y are examples of
organizational behavior theories of the post-industrial model which promote student
autonomy. Behavioristic techniques worry about what the structure looks like rather than
where the process is leading.
Dr. Fred Jones's Tools for Teaching
Starting the New School Year:
Getting Off on the Right Foot
On the first day of school, the first question in students' minds is, "Who are
you?" You will introduce yourself, of course, but you also might talk about yourself a little
Deal with such obvious questions as, "Why are you here?" Sometimes students show
surprise when you confide to them that you get great pleasure from seeing them learn.
Eyes might widen when you tell them that school should be fun. Don't beat it to death,
but, a few words from the heart are in order.
On the first day of school, the second question in students' minds is, "Who are they?" If
you think the students all know one another, think again.
I used to have secondary teachers hand out a blank seating chart in mid-November and
ask students to fill in the first and last names of everyone in the class. Rarely did the
number of correct papers exceed 25 percent. Teachers were typically shocked, but most
had to admit that they had invested little time in making it otherwise.
Students do better in class both academically and socially when they are comfortable,
relaxed, and "at home." They do not do so well in an impersonal environment.
The question facing the teacher is, "Do you care?" Is it worth your time to make the
students feel at home? I strongly suggest that you devote the lion's share of the first
class period of the year to creating comfort. Spend at least a half-hour doing an
Many teachers feel it is all-important to "set the tone" of the class by getting right into a
meaty assignment during the first class period. Although well intentioned, that objective
is not aligned with the students' needs. Think of yourself suddenly thrown together with a
group of your peers: some you know and some you don't; a few are good friends you
haven't seen in months. Some social "settling in" is needed.
If you invest time and energy in producing comfort, you signal to students that you care
about them as people. If you do not invest, you signal that they are nothing but warm
bodies occupying chairs in your classroom. Do not expect a lot of warmth and
consideration coming back to you from students who are treated in that fashion.
Because the objective of breaking the ice is social, have some fun with it. Anything that
helps students get to know one another and laugh is golden.
Here are some sample icebreakers that you can use on the first day of school.
Customize them to fit your needs. Your colleagues can give you even more.
Scavenger Hunt: Hand out a sheet of paper with ten questions about things students
are likely to have in common (the last movie you saw, your favorite sport, your favorite
flavor of ice cream, how you get to school, and so on.). To the right of the questions are
four columns. Students write the answer to each question in column one. They then
must find three students who have the same answer for each question. Those students
sign in one of the three remaining columns. Give students a time limit and watch them
go. Be a participant yourself. Any activity of this kind will work better when you are part
Name Game: Students form a circle with their desks. Hanging on the front of each desk
is a 3-by-5 card with the student's first name printed on it in big, bold letters that can be
read from across the room. The first person begins the game by saying his or her first
name along with a rhyme, an adjective, or a nickname describing him or her. This part is
always good for laughs. The second person does the same, and then repeats what the
first student has said. The third person does the same, and then repeats what the
second and first students said. By the time the game has gone around the room, the
person who is "it" has a lot of names and nicknames to remember, but the name cards
on the front of the desks serve as reminders. Class members are directed to quickly
supply missing information if a fellow student gets stuck. As simple as it sounds, this
game usually generates a lot of kidding around while helping students associate names
with faces. Of course, the teacher goes last and learns students' names in the process.
Partner Introductions: Students pair up, and then each student interviews his or her
partner and introduces the partner to the rest of the class. Structure interviews by
providing a list of topics. Interviewers typically get specifics about their partner's family,
pets, hobbies, and special interests.
Group Sharing: Have each student share with the group the best thing he or she did
during the summer, his or her biggest fear or biggest hope for the new school year, and
so on. You supply the list of topics.
ART AND GRAPHICS
Design a T-shirt: Have each student design a T-shirt press-on that tells about himself or
herself. Invite each student to display and explain the design.
Digital Photos: If you have access to a digital camera, take students' pictures on the
first day of school. On the bottom half of a sheet of notebook paper, have each student
list five things that describe him or herself. Then, have students read their lists to the
group prior to mounting their photos on the top half of the paper. Post the photo sheets
around the room. This activity can be extended throughout the first week of school by
having each student bring a baby picture. Number the baby pictures and post
them on the bulletin board. Have a contest in which points are given for
matching current pictures with baby pictures.
Guess Who: Hand out a sheet of paper with ten questions about personal
characteristics of the students. Have students answer the questions and hand them in.
The teacher reads the first item on a student's list, and the entire class has to guess who
the person is. Additional items on the list are read until the student is identified. The rest
of the students follow in turn.
Place in the Family: Have students form groups according to their order in their families
(oldest, middle, youngest). Ask students in each group to list the things they have in
common and the advantages and disadvantages of their place in the family. Invite each
group to share their lists with the class.
Editor's Note: Check out the Education World Back to School theme page for hundreds
more Icebreaker activities.
By the end of the first day of the school year, students will have a well-formed
impression of each teacher. They will know if the teacher cares about them. They will
know whether the class is a work environment or a place to kick back. They will know
whether they have an old pro or a rookie.
Students can always tell what is important just by watching you. Things that are
important are worth your time and effort. Students need to know that they are important.
Do You Have What It Takes to Teach in a High-Poverty
If better teaching causes more learning, and experienced teachers are usually
better than inexperienced teachers, is it ethical for teachers to refuse to teach in
high-poverty schools? Brenda Dyck ponders this sticky question. Included: Take
a "test" to learn if you have what it takes to teach in a high-poverty setting.
When I began my teaching career, I taught second grade in a
high-needs school. The students in my classroom lived in trailer
parks and run-down duplexes. Their achievement test scores
were known to be among the lowest in the city. But I didn't care. I
was glad to have a job. It was well known, and I was comforted
by the fact, that my school served as a kind of halfway house for
teachers. Teachers didn't stay in the school for long. They usually
moved on to a better teaching situation -- a school on the "right
side of the tracks."
I was reminded of that school this week as I read the Betsy
Rogers' blog. Rogers, a 20-year teaching veteran from Alabama,
was named National Teacher of the Year in 2003. Rogers spent
her year as national teacher traveling around the country. In
countless cities and towns, she shared her belief that the best way to close the equity
gap is to put the strongest teachers in the weakest schools.
When her year as national teacher was over, Betsy returned to teaching; she took a new
job at the neediest school in Jefferson County, Alabama.
Betsy's story made me wonder… What kind of teacher would sign up to teach in the
trenches when they could teach on the mountaintop?
IS IT A QUESTION OF ETHICS?
I felt pangs of guilt as I pondered that question. Like so many other teachers I taught
with that first year, I moved long ago to a school where I teach middle- and upper-class
kids. Did I shirk my moral responsibility by leaving behind that little school by the trailer
Haberman spelled out
some of the tools of an
effective teacher in a
themselves by their
--- persistence. To help me ponder that question, I turned to my friends and
--- physical and colleagues of the Teacher Leaders Network. Soon we were
emotional stamina. knee-deep in a listserv discussion of the question Is it ethical
--- caring relationships for teachers to refuse to teach in high-poverty schools?
--- commitment to Fellow listers were quick to chime in. One of them, Juli Kendall,
acknowledging and who keeps a online diary, was among the first to respond. The
appreciating student large urban school in which Juli teaches -- in Long Beach,
effort. California -- is home to families that speak more than 50
--- willingness to admit languages. Every student in the school is eligible for free lunch,
mistakes. and 90 percent of the students are English language learners.
--- focus on in-depth Juli suggested that teachers in hard-to-staff schools need an
learning. entirely different set of skills to be successful with students.
--- commitment to
inclusion. Juli's comments challenged me to reframe my question. The
--- organizational question became Who is best able to teach at-risk students?
skills. or, even more personally, Do I have what it takes to teach
students from challenging schools?
In addition, successful
teachers in high- THOSE WHO CAN'T…
poverty schools SHOULDN'T
--- protect student
learning. As I cast about on the Net for help in answering those
--- translate theory and questions, I came across information about a man who has
research into practice. devoted his life to trying to figure out if there is a way to predict
--- cope with the which teachers will be successful in challenging schools. Dr.
bureaucracy. Martin Haberman, creator of the Metropolitan Milwaukee
--- create student Teacher Education Program, has spent years researching
ownership. teachers who teach in, and remain in, schools of poverty. His
--- engage parents research reveals that not just anyone can or should teach in
and caregivers as high-poverty schools. Selection of the right teacher is more
partners in student important -- and a bigger predictor of success -- than training
learning. is, Haberman says. Hiring the right people is essential, he
--- support adds, because "for children and youth in poverty from diverse
accountability for at- cultural backgrounds who attend urban schools, having
risk students' learning. effective teachers is a matter of life and death."
As Haberman explored the differences between teachers who stuck with it in and were
successful at teaching every child to his or her potential and those who quit prematurely
or failed to teach, he saw some patterns began to emerge. He saw patterns related to
what those teachers did in the classroom and why they did it. Soon he had a list of
characteristics of an effective teacher.
Once Haberman had his list of core beliefs/characteristics, he translated those beliefs
into interview questions that might be used to predict a teacher's success in a school of
high poverty. According to Haberman, the interview has just a 3 percent error rate in
identifying teachers who will succeed with challenging children.
As I read through Haberman's rigorous characteristics of an effective teacher, I had to
catch my breath! How would I fare if measured on those attributes? I needed to find
Next week: Brenda takes the test! How did she do?
Is It Ethical for Teachers to Refuse to Teach in High-Poverty Schools?
This article is sure to elicit an enthusiastic discussion.
Can Star Teachers Create Learning Communities?
What is a star teacher? How do star teachers affect the learning communities in which
Can Teachers Be Found and Certified to Teach Students At Risk?
This article focuses on why traditional teacher certification programs are designed to fail
children at risk and in poverty.
What It Means to Be a "Highly Qualified" Teacher
The Southeast Center for Teaching Quality identifies the discrepancy between NCLB's
definition of a highly qualified teacher and the skills and knowledge teachers need to
teach diverse groups of children.
Tips for Starting the First Day
Oh, the excitement of a new year! Imagine those hallways the first day back...
everyone talking, laughing, comparing schedules, comparing lunches, greeting
old friends and meeting new ones. With all the hustle and bustle, how in the
world are you ever going to get them to be quiet once the bell rings? Everyone
can probably agree that on the first day, you might not get them quiet right away!
But as the year starts up, now is the time to get into a groove, and form habits
that will be healthy and helpful for everyone involved.
How do you kick off the morning? (Tell us, we'd love to hear your answer!)
Across the board, many of the methods are similar. Board work is a popular way
to get students focused as they take their seats, and relaxing music is also
Bath and body stores sell wonderful aromatherapy candles that can help bring a
calm to the room. There are also similar types of relaxing potpourri, light bulb
rings, aroma jars and oils. All of these things contribute to the atmosphere
without you having to direct attention to them, unlike board work. Note, however,
that some businesses and schools have banned perfumes, and some adhere to
strict fire prevention rules as well, so you should check before plugging in your
For more than just a different atmosphere, put "bell work" to the test. The
moment the bell rings, have students do a fun activity, like solving a puzzle or
riddle, or assign a journal entry, short pop quiz, or worksheet. Be careful that you
don't just supply "busy work." Grade or give set points for whatever you require
them to do, otherwise put up an extra credit assignment. Not giving points for an
assignment might bring resentment.
Our T2T contributors share their own ideas for the best way to start the morning.
Read on for their quotes...
I have found it useful to have the lights down low and sometimes the lights down low
with the overhead projector on with an assignment, mindteaser, or announcements
projected onto a screen. The dull lighting seems to promote an aura of calmness and the
light from the projector focuses their attention on the task at hand. Sometimes I will have
classical music playing too. -Ron Dyck
I start each day by greeting my 3rd graders at the door. They have a choice of a high-five,
hand shake, or a hug. By doing this, I can take care of any problems that might have
happened on the playground or see which students might have had a bad start to their day.
I also have instrumental music playing. An activity to get started on is a must. I give table
points through the day, so they know that I will be looking for tables that have settled
down quietly and gotten right to work. -Lisa
I would also recommend a new CD I just received titled "The most Calming Classical
music CD ever!" I ordered it through BMG and then saw it advertised on TV. I got it as
one of the freebies and they advertised it for $26! It is a double CD. I will have this
playing everyday in class at the beginning. -DeDe
I have been reading "The First Day of School" by Harry Wong and his suggestion is that
they should always come into class with an assignment to start immediately (either on the
board or on their desk). This should eliminate the talking. His book is excellent on
classroom management. -SJohns731
In our team taught classroom we clap and snap patterns to quiet down the students...
CLAP, CLAP, SNAP, SNAP...CLAP, CLAP, SNAP, SNAP... and everyone joins in and
within a few minutes as everyone follows the pattern, you just stop and it is VERY quiet.
As the year progresses, we snap and clap MANY different patterns to keep them
interested! This is a second grade classroom. -Sharon Dodge, Littleton, NH
We have a homeroom period before school. This is brand new for us. Last year, I had
morning work for the children to complete when they got to school. Another teacher in
my building calls it "Hello Paper", and it is something that has to do with the previous
day's lessons. With the new homeroom period, I will be doing the same thing. The
students arrive, check in, choose their lunch, and do the Hello Paper. -Lauren
I teach 5th. At our school, we bring our class from the playground after the take-up bell.
If mine have no additional verbal instructions from me, they have 10 minutes to come in,
unpack, copy the assignments for the day from the board into their assignment logs, and
begin a particular assignment/worksheet that doesn't require teacher assistance. During
this time I am collecting notes and homework, taking attendance and lunch count, and
dealing with immediate issues and concerns. -Trish
After greeting students at the door, I have a journal question ready for them on the board.
They have to respond with at least 3 sentences and have 10 minutes. They seem to get
settled quickly and I walk around and put a red star on each journal as I read it. After 10
minutes we start our days assignments. (I teach a 3rd/4th combined room.) -Laura
We have 3 bells that ring in the morning. The first signals that the building is open. The
second is a 5 min. warning bell, and the third is the "tardy" bell. My students eat
breakfast in the room. From the first day I stress that breakfast is over at the warning bell.
During the time between bell 1 and 2 (15 minutes) they are also responsible for
unpacking bookbags, turning in homework, sharpening pencils, and moving their lunch
card from the chalk tray to the basket on my desk. When the second bell rings whoever
still has breakfast on their desk must dump it. Then they still have 5 min. to finish getting
ready for the day. Once bookbags are unpacked they are not to go to them until lunch.
This one is tough because someone always forgets to get out their homework or a
pencil...but I continually remind them of the rules and do send them home to parents, as
well. At the tardy bell the class stands and recites 2 pledges. The first, of course, is the
Pledge of Allegiance. The second is a School Pledge. It doesn't take long for them to
memorize it. By the second grading period they start without me. If I'm in the hall talking
to someone and the last bell rings, the next thing you hear is my class pledging the flag.
It's one way to signal the beginning of the day. (I started this with first graders and it
worked just as well. They are even slower about breakfast, if you let them.) -Susan
Anhold, Third Grade
We have started with the "Clean Joke of the Day"--the dumber (groaner) the better. Laffy
Taffy wrappers are an excellent source. Kids want to hear the joke, but if they miss it, it's
their loss. Also, it's not vital info that they've missed. I announce the joke, tell it, we
laugh/groan, and then start class in a good mood. :-D An example: What do you call four
matadors standing in a pit of quicksand? cuatro sink-o HA! -Bethanie Carlson
For riddles to use in your room, try: Riddles and More Riddles (excellent stuff!)
and Poetry & Riddles.
I use 3-2-1 and then say lights. It works! If they do not get quiet by lights than they lose 5
minutes off their recess. -Shon Adamson
I teach grades 7 and 8 and have found that bell work makes a big difference. It can take
many forms - a review of what you taught the day before, a brainteaser, etc. The
questions are always on the board when the bell rings and the students know the routine.
They arrive, get out their books and begin the activity right away. It usually takes them
about 10 minutes to do the work, which gives me enough time to collect/sort homework,
tally trip money, pizza orders, etc. etc. etc. -mayo
Our entire school does SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) every morning for fifteen to
twenty minutes before announcements.„Our principal walks around the school during this
time and selects a class who was doing an exceptional job of silent-reading and this class
wins a small treat!„ It really helps the kids settle down and focus--I'm at a new school
now, but I still plan to do SSR each morning. -Sandy J.- 1st grade teacher
A good tip for settling down your students after recess, lunch, etc. is to let them go into
the room one at a time. The first student must be in his/her seat before the next one in line
can go in. This works well with younger students especially in the beginning of the year
when they are still working on appropriate classroom behavior. -Cassie Lambeth
Help on Bathroom Breaks!!
When you are a student just dying to get out of class, a bathroom break looks to be the ideal ticket
to freedom. The following suggestions for how to separate bogus potty breaks from the real thing
are provided by Teacher-2-Teacher contributors:
Pass the Book: Our school has a really good policy regarding bathroom use and passes in
general. At the beginning of the school year, each student is given a handbook that has 2 pages
for passes. A computer-generated label is placed on the front of the book and on each pass page.
One page is for 1st semester and the other page is for 2nd semester. There are roughly 20-25
slots for each semester.
In order to get out of class, to go use the restroom, go to their locker, library, etc., they must have
this handbook. If they don't have it, then they can't go. It's as simple as that. If they fill up their 1st
semester side in the first quarter, then they aren't allowed any passes the second quarter.
If the student loses his or her book, they have to buy a new book. Ours cost $5 each. The office
staff will then pro-rate the number of passes they have left depending on the number of weeks left
in the semester.
If a student is caught tampering with his or her book or gets caught using another student's book,
then they lose all passes for the remainder of the semester. -David Calkins
Just Say No: I never let a student go to the restroom when they ask. I find many students set up
appointments with other students in other classes. "Meet me by the restroom at 10 a.m." I delay
them at least 5-10 minutes. I'll say, "Finish this assignment and then ask me." I find that the ones
who really have to go will remember to re-ask, and the ones who just want out will forget all about
it. Plus delaying them causes them to miss the person they were supposed to meet. It's a good
test to determine who really needs to go and who doesn't. -Stephanie Brown
Borrowed Time: I guess I thought that the bathroom dilemma would be one that the students
would outgrow. Apparently not. My third and fourth graders constantly insist that they must go
NOW. Despite constant reminders of the fact that we just came in from recess and that they
should have gone them. And then they make faces, and get all jumpy, and what if they really do
need to go or else?? So now, unless I receive doctor's notes medically explaining the need for
these all too frequent bathroom breaks, I now tell them, "Sure! You can go NOW, however,
choosing to do so will cost you $5 or 5 points (Depending on you class room discipline system.)
This also works great! Take out a stopwatch and tell them that you'll time how long they are out of
class and that that time will need to be made up on their time--after school, during PE, or
whatever. I guarantee that it works. If they really have to go that badly, they'll suffer whatever
consequences. But the ones that just want to get out of class will certainly think twice about it and
with their most dramatic "winch" will tell you that they'll try to hold it. And these same kids have
the nerve to come whining twenty minutes later, insisting that they are dying of thirst and
therefore need a glass of water. HA! Hope it helps. -L Shaub
Go Quietly: A bathroom policy that I have used in the past seems to work quite well. I have each
student write on a 3x5 card their name and I keep the cards in a index card box. If a student
needs to use the bathroom, they find their card and write the date and the reason (example: sick,
need a drink). I tell the students they are not to disrupt the class. They quietly sign their card and
leave. I also tell the students that at the end of the quarter I will compare how many times they
have used the bathroom compared to their classmates. If they use it a lot more, I tell them I will
need to call their parents in because perhaps there is a medical problem that needs attention.
The system really works well, and I have never had to call a parent because of overuse of the
bathroom privilege! -Patti Fawver
Checkout Time: I started a system this year that seems to be working really well with my 2nd
graders. I had 3 laminated cards made for each student with their name on it. I put a library
pocket on the side of each desk to keep them in. If they need to use the bathroom, sharpen
pencils, etc., during class, they need to give me a card. When all 3 cards are gone, they lose a
recess for every time they need one of those things. On Friday afternoon, I give a ticket to each
student for every card they have left. Then we have a drawing for some small prizes. It really
works well. It allows for 3 "emergencies" every week. The kids really stop and think about
whether they need to go right NOW. -Loren Mead
It'll Cost You: I am a firm believer in the consequence for extra trips to the bathroom, too. During
independent work periods, my students may take a tag and go to the restroom as needed, one
boy and one girl at a time. If they ask to go in the middle of instruction time, they must pull a card.
Like someone said, if they need to go that badly, they will suffer the consequence. However, once
I told that to a student who rarely pulled cards, and she declined to go the rest of the day. Her
mother called me and really chewed me out. She felt that since her daughter rarely abused the
rules, I should have cut her some slack. She demanded that I let her daughter go to the bathroom
whenever she asked, and since I was new at it, I reluctantly agreed. You can imagine how that
child abused the rule then. Now I stick to the rule. This year I have a student who misses a lot of
school and constantly wants to go to the bathroom, and she brought a dr.'s note. I called the dr.
and asked what the medical problem was. There was none, except she might have a small
bladder. I still have her pull a card when she abuses the privilege. -Nancy Rausch