Friday, May 7, 2010


O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up--for you the flag is flung for you the bugle trills,

For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths for you the shores a-crowding,

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

- Poem “O Captain My Captain” Walt Whitman

Remember yesterday, when the 3rd/4th-grade teacher promised “fun”? Is my bitter laughter ringing on your side of the computer? I arrived at the school unsure of where to report. The gatekeeper never called to change the job to the 1st/2nd-grade assignment. Since I didn’t see (cough: didn’t look for) the assistant principal, I decided to sign in for the original job and report to that classroom.

As soon as the students began milling in, troublemaker number one was obvious, as he said something disparaging about LeBron James and how the Lakers were going to win, and then got aggressive with any children who said they liked the Celtics. Troublemaker number two was loud, unfocused, and laughed way too much (and loudly).

The LeBron hater was out of control. When I saw him push another kid, I went over.

“You are not allowed to push other people.”

“I didn't push anyone.”

“I saw you, so there’s no point in lying.”

He stared me down (while looking up). But he didn’t know he was dealing with the eye-lock MASTER. Eventually he smirked and looked away. After that, he was better about listening to me and over the course of the day he calmed more. I noticed that saying his name and/or a light touch on the back or arm got him to focus.

The student intern planned to run the day, so I provided support. Except that the intern didn’t have the control of the classroom I’d witnessed from the lead teacher the previous day. There was too much chatter. And no amount of intern tricks made it quiet and respectful enough.

One trick:

“If you can hear me, clap twice.” Doesn’t work. “If you can hear me, clap three times.” A couple of claps. “If you can hear me, clap once.” About half the class participates. “If you can hear me, clap four times.” All but the biggest offenders, who keep talking, clap.

More tricks:

“Look how nice ----- is sitting there.” “Thank you, -----, for transitioning well.” These children were complimented and thanked ALL MORNING, but the ones who didn’t listen didn’t care.

A couple of hours later, it all came to a head. During read aloud, the intern had two girls take a break for constant talking. Their “break”, meant they went into the adjoining room and chatted, missing the book entirely. Not much of a time out.

Then we met on the rug for Reading Group. As the intern gave the instructions, three girls would. Not. Stop. Talking. She asked them. Warned them. Two girls had the typical response, “Other people were talking. Why don’t you ever say something to them? Why do you always say something to us?” The intern flustered, tried to continue. They talked again, so the woman confronted them again. “This is so boring. You’re telling us what we already know.”

I snapped.

“Why don’t you two girls come with me? I think it’s time you both took a break. We’re going to write a letter of apology.” They looked at me dumbfounded. One girl tried to ignore me. “Now,” I growled. The other girl had already gotten up, and proceeded to stand at a desk to write the note haphazardly. I snatched the paper from her, and got another, plus two pencils. “We’re going to the library,” I announced.

When we got there, I demanded they sit across from me at a table.

“You two were rude and so you’ll be writing a letter to explain how you’re expected to behave in class, how you failed to meet those expectations, and how you plan to behave for the rest of the day. Three paragraphs.”

“What? Three paragraphs?” They said in unison.

“That’s six sentences,” one wailed. (Close enough.)

They begrudgingly wrote their letters and I was happy to help with spelling.

Afterwards, one girl said, “When we get downstairs, she needs to apologize to me.”

“Apologize to you? You were talking.”

“So were other people.”

“Learn this now. That argument will never get you ANYWHERE. You were talking. Bottom line. And an outside observer, I can tell you that nobody was nearly as you two girls. When someone goes through years of school to teach you, they deserve your respect.”

They didn’t respond. I continued, “You will hand her those notes nicely and apologize in a kind tone or we’ll come right back up here. I’ll find something else for you to do.”

They were MUCH BETTER to the teacher after that. More over, when we returned, I went over to each child to ask what s/he was reading and to ask a follow up question or to make a comment. Those two girls treated me kindly as if the whole incident never happened. One even sought me out to talk in the afternoon.

The lead teacher came back a couple of hours before the day ended. The change in tone and respect from the students to the teachers and each other was palpable. The main teacher was the captain of the ship. And she used the same compliment and clapping tactics but more sparingly and with greater effect. When she gave a warning or took away a privilege, it was swift and the kids responded immediately.

The last half hour was “Academic Choice”, which meant there were tables of Banangrams, Boggle, state puzzles, and the Scrambled States of America game. The kids played well.

Afterwards, a fourth-grader, who had been in charge of explaining academic choice and sending students to the tables, was also in charge of “Reflection”. What worked well? What didn’t? Soon it would be fourth-grade week, and the teacher would have the fourth-graders run the class. This was practice.

The students treated the fourth-grader better than the intern and the whole discussion went smoothly. At the end, students were allowed to say whom they acknowledged for doing something positive that day.

“Even though eight of us played Scrambled States, we all worked together.”

“I want to acknowledge Theresa for playing Banangrams with me.” (They go by first names at this school.)

“I want to acknowledge (problem girl) because she knows (another girl) always pushes us on the tire swing. (Problem girl) thought it would be nice for her to get a ride for a change.”

And so the acknowledgements abounded, with the names of the do-gooders and their good deeds placed on sticky notes and added to a poster.

I love witnessing moments like these. Watching the lead teacher reminded me of the teacher I want to be, one who can command a class, forms strong relationships with her students, and garners their respect.

Happy weekend! My next post will be for my father in honor of Mother’s Day.


  1. Aww!

    Poor intern though! She has a lot to learn and a great deal to learn from you - the Stare Master!!!!

    Well done you. Those talky girls are so familiar to me!! Not that I was them when I was at school - but I'd be in classes with them - it's the "why are you picking on us and not the others who are doing exactly the same thing" type supposedly no-win argument!

    So it's great what you did!!! I hope that intern grows more in confident and soon acquires that proper teacher-ly personna that you so obviously have!

    HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    It's really confusing because we had our Mother's day on 14 March! But everyday is mother's day (and father's too!).

    Take care

  2. That was a lovely post, I love a story with a happy ending, good for you.
    I am intrigued about your 'mothers day' post,
    Happy Mothers Day !

  3. I admire folks like you, and I can't say that enough.

  4. Yes, you will be that teacher to receive this respect some day for your understanding and encouraging ways.

  5. Old Kitty, that teacher persona is hard to cultivate and I don't have it quite right every day.

    I guess that bad attitude has existed for generations in various countries.

    Speaking of other countries, I recall Brigid wishing me a Happy Mother's Day in March and then realized your countries had it two months ahead of ours. Thank you!

    Brigid, thank you.

    Julie, thanks!

    Paul C, thank you for saying I'm "understanding and encouraging".

  6. Kudos to you for putting in the extra effort with these students, when you see the need. Many subs wouldn't go the extra mile like that.

  7. I admire you, teaching is such challanging work, it must be very satisfying to have a day that reminds you why you do it. I might print out your post... some of it could come in useful at home. May practise my stare!

  8. The worst thing about the naughty kids is that they make you look and feel like such a meany when you come down on them. I prefer the quiet and painful reaction rather than the endless warning or hinting at good behavior by complimenting other kids. I usually give them one verbal warning, and then they call their parents and tell them how they are behaving. That usually only has to happen to one kid and then the rest of the class is angelic for the rest of the day and the kids (and I) have a much more productive and fun day.

    Also, I dread seeing "I have a fun day planned!" in the sub notes because it's generally not fun for the sub.

  9. Joanne, I worried that the intern would be offended, but she said she appreciated it.

    Words A Day, having a "look" with my children and students comes in handy. I have to since I'm less than 5'3".

    Sarah, when I was an assistant and ETS, I used to make the students write the letter and get it sighed by their parents. If a student had to write one once, they made sure never to have to do it again.

    You're right about the fun day. Rarely fun.

  10. You go girl! Bless her heart, the little intern needs to learn some consistency...and "the look". lol

  11. I didn't know what a banangram was... Looked it up. Looks like fun!

    As usual, sounds you're putting your all into your work.
    I hope you get a chance to fully become the teacher you want to be. I'm rooting for you, for what it's worth. : j

  12. Nice job! And how wonderful that you would be able to take those girls out of the environment to make them concentrate on their punishment.

    I've often considered making classes write letters of apology to their own teacher when the act up for me. Unfortunately, that would mean not going by the lesson plan, which might cause more trouble.

  13. Oh boy, you handled those situations so well! I love how you are the master of locking eyes -- mind passing that on to me?

    I have a tough, tough 5th grade class scheduled for Monday that I have no idea how I'm going to handle. I'll have to take a page or two from your book, especially with your confidence.

    Glad you were so in control, that's awesome.

  14. I like that you took control of a bad situation. As a sub, it is sometimes hard to tell your power in a situation when an intern or student teacher is there, too. Sounds like you did what was right, though.

    One day (soon!) you have your own room and you can implement all these wonderful things you've learned from subbing.

  15. Man, what an exhausting day for you, I'm sure! Sounds like you made many things better by the end though, Eye-lock Master. :o)

  16. It's sad, isn't it? That sometimes just wanting to be a teacher, studying and going to school for a bunch of doesn't really guarantee that you'll be any good at it, does it? Makes me feel badly for poor Intern. With teaching, as with writing, you either have that indescribable "it" or you don't. You cleary have "it", though! Good job!

  17. Oh, how I love the term 'eyelock master'! I need to learn how to do that. Excellent post, Theresa. I absolutely love the quote by Whitman. It's one of my favorites.

  18. Like the fact that you stared the student down, good on ya! I would be absolutely slaughtered if I was a teacher, I admire anyone who can deal with dozens of kids and manage to keep control:)

  19. Took me back to school...though I don't remember us being that unruly. Certainly not *me* anyway.

    Can you come visit my daughter's classroom? There is this never-ending drama between her and two of her friends. Not kidding, the girls are getting split up next year because of it.

    You can be like Supernanny only for schools. SuperSubby. hahaha

  20. VKT, the teacher needed some confidence to set limits. They also could've used a burn off nervous energy like Simon Says. 3 1/2 hours of being quiet, hard-working students is a lot to ask.

    Alesa, I have Bananagrams at home and love it. We picked it up on vacation in Cape Cod a couple of summers ago. It's addicting.

    Thanks for rooting for me.

    Vagabond Teacher, as a sub you're at a disadvantage, but I think writing may be justified. Have the student take a time out, write a letter of how they misbehaved, and return to class. If it's the whole class, the letter may not take more than five or ten minutes. But I've never tried it with a whole class.

  21. I just wish you were my second grade teacher. I was Bullied around all the time and my teacher never took it seriously. Well that was because, I once squirted water from a toy gun on his face...:) (accidentally)

  22. Shelley, thanks for the nice words. I wonder how I would've been if I were on my own with them. They were a tough class.

    Good luck on Monday. Exuding confidence works wonders, but is easier said than done.

    Tiffany, I'm trying to remember what I learned before and keep track of what I learn now. Subbing makes me feel rusty when it comes to envisioning the whole year and creating those first relationship, discipline, and educational building blocks.

    Jackee, I feel like to Obi Wan of eye-locking from these comments!

    Ant, she seems good in the academic parts, like being clear, going around to different tables, and asking good questions. She just needs to find her voice, just like writers. Ooo, that would be a good post!

  23. Roxy, I'm glad you liked the quote. I had it in the back of my mind because a recent blog I read from an English teacher who wrote that she'd reconciled that she'd never be called "Captain". Made me think of the movie.

    Olive, it ain't easy. This was one challenging class. I was glad I wasn't alone.

    Miss V, a sub mentor? Hmmmm.

    I'm sorry about your daughter. Girls can be so mean and it's always triangles. The solution is usually a split up. When I was an assistant, one year we only had one fifth-grade class, so we couldn't pull them apart.

    Mr. Stupid, you think the teacher would get over that, especially since it was... accidental. You can take comfort that bullying is becoming illegal in Massachusetts, so teachers won't be able to ignore it.

  24. Interning is not easy. Teaching takes a lot of skills not obvious to non-teachers. Commanding that respect takes patience, strength of will and a genuine liking of kids.

  25. Jemi, you are so right. It's not about being "mean" to get kids in line. It takes practice to balance all of the skills you describe.

  26. That intern does have alot to learn about discipline. Hopefully in time, she will learn. As we know it takes learning, lots of patience and consistancy to make it work. Hopefully, she learned from you.
    Have a great day.
    Happy Mother's Day.

  27. I'll say it again - what a day you had! I love the way you handled those talkative girls. That intern is lucky she got to observe that, and hopefully she'll learn from it. It must be so difficult to keep a roomful of kids under control, let alone teach them something. Hooray for teachers!

  28. Ugh, pratice teaching and interning is so hard. The kids really need to respect you and getting that respect is such an uphill climb! I would have loved to have had someone like you on my side, Theresa!

  29. Choices, she was trying to copy the teacher, but she didn't have that kind of control to sound so... I don't know... apologetic. She told me she preferred to do younger kids too.

    Susan, thank you for the nice words. You're right it ain't easy.

    Talli, you're right, respect is an uphill climb. That's what's bad about subbing. New climb each day.

  30. While I was reading your post, I was getting nervous- like it was a suspense novel. How are they going to make those two girls stop talking? Does someone die at the end? I am so terrified of kids. I applaud you.

  31. Missed Periods, I am happy to report that nobody had to die. Kids aren't that bad once you learn how to tame them. Except when you can't tame them.

  32. That's such a great idea to have them write apology letters. Everyone should have to do that, grown ups included!

    I got your pages and will go through them today! (Friday I worked all day and then went to a medium demonstration at night)

    Happy Mother's Day!

  33. Aubrie, thanks for going through my pages. You'll have to tell me about the medium demonstration.

    I've made my kids write apology letters too. Sometimes they do it on their own after a time out.

  34. I have had the whole class write a letter before. They just couldn't behave watching a video so I stopped it and had them write about why we didn't finish.

    Just about every kid wrote the same thing.

    Granted, I don't know how happy the teacher was with that. But I didn't hear from her or the subbing agency about how I was terrible for making them do that.

  35. Chris. good for you for writing a letter. I'm sure the teacher appreciated you did that. Especially since videos are just "busy work".

  36. I found this post fascinating, because I can remember what it was like to be in your shoes, in the intern's shoes, and in the older teacher's shoes.

    And hurrah for you for pulling aside the problem girls! It's amazing how much influence ONE or TWO students can have on the ENTIRE class.

  37. Beth, it must be funny seeing it from all perspectives. Since I'd been an assistant for so many years and ran classes, I almost feel like I see if from all three angles too.

    Yes, one or two students can break a class.