Sunday, March 15, 2015

Dealing With a Difficult Child



It happens every year! There is at least one student in our classrooms who seem to have been put on earth to make our life miserable. When he/she is absent, life is beautiful. The fact is, since it happens every year, we need to deal with these students, so they don't disrupt the learning that must take place. Not only that, these are exactly the students who need us the most. Every teacher who has taught for a few years has one memory of THAT child who started rough, but really came around by the end of the year. That's what teaching is all about! Below are a few ideas to help you not only make your life easier, but truely impact your students' lives. I hope they are helpful.


1. Dont argue...when you argue with a difficult student you bring their stature up to yours. They win. Worse, it makes other students think they can argue with you too. Winning isn't even the point with these students, improving their stature in the class is exactly the point.

       Instead: When you must speak with a student, do it in private. Outside the door works great. When a student is removed from the class he loses his audience. You imediately are in a position of control. If he starts to argue, don't get pulled in. Instead state what was done and how it goes against classroom rules. Give a couple of ways the student can improve. I always ended these little "talks" with a handshake and the words, "I know you can do better, I have confidence in you."

2. Yelling and lecturing makes every kid in the class dislike you. When that yelling and lecturing is aimed at one student in particular, it is a guarantee that their behavior will get worse. Worse yet, when ridicule or blame is used by a teacher no student feels safe. They could be next!

      Instead: Be proactive by emphasizing problem-solving instead of punishment. This will help you avoid that horrible win-lose conflict. When all students are treated respectfully, even when they misbehave, it tells all of the students in the classroom that you are in control. Teachers who emphasis and reward acceptable behavior more than poor behavior get better behavior in their classroom. You get what you reward. When  you yell, argue, and loose your cool with any student that is their reward. You'll get more of that behavior too.

3. Don't try to get that difficult student to give an explanation for their behavior. Demanding an explanation makes that student REALLY dislike you. The result is more bad behavior. Plus you won't get a real explanation...ever.

      Instead: Give the student a chance to respond. Don't demand it, but give them the opportunity. Explain exactly what is being done wrong, and a couple of strategies to improve. Consider if this student needs academic survival skills. He or she may need direct instruction in communicating, sharing, and listening. It seems basic, but I've had many kids who absolutely didn't know how to do these things.

4. Keep your cool! When difficult students know they can push your buttons, they will push! What's worse, other kids will do it too. That includes sighs and eye rolls. It says you don't have control and causes tension in the classroom.

       Instead: take a deep breath and stay calm. Keep in mind that the child doesn't act up just for you, it's a patern of behavior. Make sure the student knows you like them, but not the behavior. Sentences like "That kind of behavior is not acceptable in this classroom.", etc put the emphasis on the behavior, not the child. Avoid sentences that start with "You".

5.  Don't ignor unacceptable behavior. When a student knows he/she can get away with it sometimes, the poor behavior will increase. Remember Pavlov's dogs? It's the same thing with kids.

      Instead: Make sure the rules of the class are clear and posted somewhere in the room. Have consequences also posted, so the results of poor behavior are not a surprise. Practice what the behavior looks like, and what the unacceptable behavior looks like. Kids love roll playing. Then discuss why the poor behavior is a problem and what will be done. I would often include the child with the most behavior problems in the roll play, both in acting correctly, and incorrectly. It's a safe way to learn important rules. Avoid calling behavior "good" or "bad", instead use words like acceptable, disruptive, and so on. Once the rules and consequences are clear, put them into effect consistently with every student. No favorite here!

Final thoughts:
The truth is there are some kids that just do not respond to anything you do. They are chronic behavior problems. Remember that we can help most kids, but not all. If you need help ask for it. The child may need to be tested for a behavior disorder. If so, get that in motion.

One technique that worked for me was having a child with a particularly big issue call their parents and discuss what is going on. Always tell the parents that this could happen at some point in the year. It should not be a surprise that this could happen. The point is to help the child address the issue, and keep parents in the loop. I have to say, kids who would NOT admit to any poor discipline choices broke down in tears and regret on the phone with Mom. You do need to know the parents support your efforts. Calling a parent who is also a problem is usefless. I then get on the phone to tell the parent how proud I am that the child has owned up to the problem. I want the child to know I like them (and the parent as well). We discuss what might be done, and is acceptable to the parent. Usually Mom takes the ball from there, and I can let it go. Do NOT do this very often. I saved it for big problems only. It must also be done privately.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

How Can I Get Parents on My Side?



Nothing can destroy a teacher's year (and reputation) as much as poor parent-teacher relationships. Parents are a teacher's best friend, or worst enemy. I've seen teachers in tears more than once after dealing with a particularly difficult parent. Why does that happen? Usually, it's because a parent isn't convinced a teacher is on their child's side. That doesn't mean a teacher agrees with everything a child does, but it does mean that parents know the teacher cares about their child, and wants what is best for them. It's impossible to work with a parent to change behavior if that parent thinks a teacher doesn't like their child. Sometimes even teachers who are the most caring get on a parent's bad side. How can this be avoided? Actually, a few simple actions on the part of a teacher can make even the most difficult parent an ally. I know, because I've used each and every one of these ideas, and I can tell you they work! Give them a try!


1. When you see a parent, always flash them a big smile. Yes, I know, it may be the parent that growled at you yesterday, but that smile leaves a good impression. That's true even if it is a brief encounter in the hallway. Those brief impressions last a really long time.  If you don't think parents talk to each other about your attitude, think again.

2. During the first week or two of every school year call each and every parent. It should be a short and upbeat phone call to just check-in. Tell them how much you like having their child in your classroom (even THAT child...his parent has NEVER heard that before). Ask if there are any questions and tell them you look forward to seeing them at conferences, or whatever school event is upcoming. It's this two to three minute phone call that sets the stage. It's especially important for students who have behavior/work problems. You need a good foundation with parents to address problems later on. I never, ever, ever talk about any problems I may have already noticed about any child in this first phone call. If a parent asks about behavior, I always say that it is the beginning of the year and we'll address any needed issues as they arise. This is a positive phone call. There's a whole year ahead to discuss problems. I did 5 calls a night until I was done. If a parent isn't there I leave a message like: "This is Mrs. ____  I'm just checking in to see if you have any questions and to tell you how happy I am to have _____ in my classroom this year. If you have any questions please call me at ______.   If it's too late in the school year to do this now, be sure to put it on your "must do" list for next year. It's well worth the time!

3. When calling later on with issues, always start with something positive. Every kid has something good going on. Share that first, then ease parents into the bad news. Many parents take personally any issues their child is having. Be as kind as possible while still giving the whole picture.

4. Listen to what parents have to say. There's a lot to learn about their discipline style, family issues and other things you need to know to help the child.

5. Give concrete and specific ideas to parents about how they can help. If you call about a problem, give at least two ways the parent can help solve the problem. Some parents just don't know what to do. Invite parent input too. Parents have some good ideas, use them.

6. Share successes! Give a quick call to share something wonderful the child did. "I was so proud of Jenny today! She helped our new student learn the rules in the class!"  That not only shows the parent that you notice what is going on, but you care enough to let them know too. By the way, that student will come in the next morning with a big smile on her face! Keep a list of who you have called, so you hit everyone at some point through the year.

7. Give parents the opportunity to help in the classroom. Parents can become very suspicious if they think you don't want them around. Parents can read with struggling students and a host of other activities you need done. When they feel welcomed, they know you are sure enough of yourself (and your teaching) to include them. In short, welcoming parents into the classroom says you know you are a good teacher, and you're not afraid to have them see what is going on. It's amazing how much this one thing can help your relationships with all of your parents. Again, they do talk to each other!

Hope these ideas are helpful. If you have any other ideas to add, please do!!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Why Would You Ever Use Picture Books with Older Students?



I am a big fan of picture books! My students always loved it when I used a picture book to start any lesson. There are SO many great picture books for math, social studies...all of the subjects. But why are picture books important for students in fourth, fifth and other upper grades so very important? Check out the reasons below....and go find your favorite picture book to read to your students. You'll be glad you did!

1. Picture books (even in high school) help students consider self image, peer pressure, conformity, and identity (Matthews, et al, 1999) in a non-threatening way.

2. Cognative thinking requires imagination. This is easily done with picture books. (Rosenblatt, "The Literary Transaction")

3. Picture books use rich vocabulary and well-crafted sentences. They are perfect to use as a writing model.

4. Picture books increase motivation, understanding of concepts and aesthetic appreciation.

5. Picture books are perfect for illustrating the literary elements.

6. Picture books often introduce complex ideas in a concrete way. This allows a teaching pathway into teaching complex ideas.

7. Picture books often introduce cultural viewpoint or moral issues. This makes them a perfect tool for discussion of complex issues.

8. Picture books serve as a terrific model for student writing.

9. Wordless books are very good as story starters. Many wordless books address the ideas of right and wrong in a very interesting way, leading to terrific discussions.

10.  Students find picture books more interesting than text books. If you have a reluctant learner, jolt them to life with a great picture book of the subject matter.

11. Many picture books tackle very advanced ideas. For example, "Faithful Elephants: A True Story of Animals, People, and War" by Tsuchiya is about the starvation of elephants in Tokyo during WW II. This was done because officials were afraid of the harm to the population if they should escape during a bombing raid. The discussion after this book would be very advanced and need true critical thinking. It's only one of many that offer students an opportunity to discuss very "adult" ideas.

12. Students who are reluctant readers can tackle a picture book they liked after it is read aloud. It brings the "chore" of reading down to size for them.

Don't overlook picture books. The teaching opportunities are endless!

Here are just a few picture books that will really get your kids thinking!

In this book two friends, one black and one white, imagine what the fields near their new homes were like in 1862, during the Civil War. 

If you need to address the problem of stealing in your classroom, don't miss this one. It's fun, but really confronts the problem!

You can't do better than this classic to teach point of view!

Are your students working on writing a story with a good plot? Don't miss this one!

That's just the tip of the iceberg! There are hundreds (thousands) of great picture books out there to make any lesson more fun, more understandable, and to get kids to really think!