5 Reminders for a Better Teaching Year

16543582619_9514979bea_kSharing positives pays great dividends

I think time has shown me that I get tired of doing this each day in my class. At the same time there is an effect of family and brotherly sisterly feelings when I do it long term. This is something to start and not stop doing in 2015-2016.

Morning Routines

Going into the year, morning routines need to be established and followed. This is definitely part of classroom behavior.

Model the correct behavior

I think it’s really important to not escalate kids’ anger. Challenging a student is not a productive strategy. When they have done something wrong, simply remind them of the rule and if they show anger, remind them you are on their side and you will revisit it. Sometimes modeling the right behavior is best. Give them an activity safe to do while they calm down. Later on, in private clarify how they made a wrong choice and discuss better ways of handling it.

Bell to Bell teaching and working

My teaching contract says 9-3:30p To avoid being ridiculed or otherwise criticized by admin or rude and nosy colleagues, the most important part of 2015-2016 is not so much the goals but planning them within the contractual boundaries. These oddball people who are always complaining about the hours and hours they put in off contract time may gain the admin favor but they do not have a sustainable model and are likely to be way more stressed on the inside. I feel the same way about those who spend thousands on their class every year. That’s just unwise, uncalled for, and borderline neurotic. Be great when the contract allots you to do it. The other time is yours.

Do Not Let Supervisors or Colleagues Sap Your Energy or Vision … I Repeat:

Students can make it tough to be a teacher. They can also make it totally worthwhile. Colleagues are the same way. In my experience however, many cannot be trusted. Do not … I repeat DO NOT ever allow colleagues to sap your energy or vision. Make sure your focus is never on them. Your class, your kids is the range or vision you must stick to. Do not deviate into paying attention to colleagues or bosses or you’ll be doomed in this line of work. Your classroom and your students, away from the hue and cry of colleagues and admin, are your only chance to real success as a teacher.


This post was published first as 5 Reminders for a Better Teaching Year on Dynamite Lesson Plan.

What Great Teachers Do

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Here’s 7 things taken from a great article. Click on the link below them to visit the original post and read the rest. What a great post for teachers.

1. Great teachers never forget that it is people, not programs, that determine the quality of a school.

2. Great teachers establish clear expectations at the start of the year and follow them consistently as the year progresses.

3. When a student misbehaves, great teachers have one goal: to keep that behavior from happening again.

4. Great teachers have high expectations for students, but even higher expectations for themselves.

5. Great teachers know who is the variable in the classroom: THEY are.

6. Great teachers create a positive atmosphere in their classrooms and schools.

7. Great teachers consistently filter out the negatives that don’t matter and share a positive attitude.”

via What Great Teachers Do Differently


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Special File for Student Notes and Creations

Often teachers share with me that they get trinkets and drawings from their students. I know I get my fair share. All too often we sweep them aside to the edges of our teaching desks and end up throwing them away. A mentor of mine several years back told me about something I know have and call a “sunshine folder.” In this, you put special “gifts” from the kids and then when you are feeling down or just want a reminder that you “don’t suck” as a teacher, you can just pull the folder out and browse through it.

I am not sure exactly why, but it seems that all children love to draw. I have been given so many pictures through the years it could probably fill a landfill. Most of them are gone forever because I didn’t hang on to them. After my mentor’s suggestion, I started keeping all the photos and small stapled envelopes my kids give me and it is getting quite encouraging already. I never know what to do with these gifts and the students always give them to me at inopportune times. Having the sunshine folder helps me keep their sentiments until a time when I can properly enjoy them and it shows the students I care enough to file it and read it at a later time I’ve noticed in recent years the students have used more “realism” in portraying my bald head. The last on I got gave me wings like George Constanza on Seinfeld. I guess looking at the ongoing realism of these pictures from my students is a little bit like accepting that I am aging. All the more reason to keep these special items in a dedicated place.

In the recent past I had a not-so-great day of teaching. I was quite deflated. Everything seemed to have a “catch” attached to it and nothing was working, not even my printer. So, I sat down and pulled out my sunshine folder. As I read through so many messages of “You’re the best … You rock … You’re the best teacher ever …” I found myself feeling better and reminded once again of why I do this wonderful though often difficult job of teaching.


This post was published first as Special File for Student Notes and Creations on Dynamite Lesson Plan.

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Have You Modeled the Correct Behavior?

kids in a lineThis past week I experienced a relapse in my kids’ behavior. They were doing great for a few days then all of a sudden, BAM! They were out of the line, slapping each other, running, not putting their hands behind their backs, talking … shouting. I got bad comments from 3 grownups on campus and when I got the third I knew we were going to have to practice until they were blue in the face (figure of speech). Sometimes teachers forget to model the behavior they want to see in their students. I think this was one such occasion. I marched them to my door from the blacktop and out again about 10 times. Each time I repeated the things I wanted to see and each time, up until the last time, someone in line did not conform to the expectation.

The rest of the story is that they really line up well now. By showing them what I wanted and having them practice it over and over, the line problem was solved. I wish every challenge of student behavior would be solved this easily. Unfortunately, all teaching is a work in progress. Notwithstanding, when you feel like you are beating your head against a wall with your class and they just aren’t doing the expected behavior. It is wise to ask yourself, “Have you modeled the correct behavior?” I think 9 times out of 10, they will rise to your expectation if you get out there with them and SHOW them.


This post was published first as Have You Modeled the Correct Behavior? on Dynamite Lesson Plan.

Problem of the Day as Routine

teaching kidsI was so glad to hear that Common Core had less standards that the 1997 set in California. When you look at the pages of standards you have to teach in a year, it can produce anxiety. A reasonable response to that anxiety can be to schedule too much each day. It’s been said it’s better to aim at something and miss than to aim at nothing and hit your target. A problem of the day for math and language arts can seem miniscule but if done every day, you can get a lot done over a year. 185 standards covered in both ELA and math, that sounds good to me! I can feel anxiety lifting as I type it. If you go through them as a class, you have a different approach that isn’t possible all day long. Plus, the mind likes routines and chunks of information. All these things are the pros of doing a problem of the day.(…)
Read the rest of the article here.


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Great Lesson Basics – Mixing Methods

IAF_CL1_PX01192If you’re like me, you’ve been to hundreds of trainings, most claiming to be the greatest lesson method. Then, you learned they were good and bad but never universal. Have you ever sat down and tried to piece together the best of the best into something that works for you? Whether you have or not “knowingly” done so, that is the role of the teacher … to synthesize a lot of information, create, and innovate. I used to be a huge proponent of a method called “EDI.” In fact, my EDI posts get the most traffic of any posts here on the blog. I am proud to share EDI because plain and simple: it works! A few years later since my initial EDI training, I have created sort of a hybrid set of “great lesson basics” that work to foster student achievement. I am happy to share them here with you.

1. Learning Objective: I have to introduce what I am teaching and what the students are expected to do in order to be successful after the lesson.

2. Engagement: This is a step I invented. It is what people often call a “sponge activity.” It can be a story, a puppet show, a short video, a game, anything that gets the learner absorbed into the subject matter.

3. Importance: I have found time and time again that when the kids know the value of learning the lesson, they are more engaged and thus learn more and faster.

4. Steps: Everything in education can be broken down to steps. This is often easier said than done. Taking time with the steps is invaluable toward getting kids to meet the demands of the lesson.

5. Guided Practice: Simply put, SHOW THEM HOW YOU DO IT. Use the steps and model over and over. I learned to play guitar by imitating Dave Sharp on the Alarm albums. I would move the needle back again and again until I knew every guitar riff. Kids are the same today with academics. Show them and then show them some more. Gradually release them to do it on their own.

6. Independent Practice: At this step they should be doing what they watched you do over and over. Make sure they can do it before you let them go on their own.

20120815-140604.jpg7. Small group intervention: There are usually going to be a group of kids who need extra guided practice. Take them to a side table which the whole group is working independently. Just repeat the steps of the lessons for as long as you have time or until they get it, whichever is first.

This is the lesson method I have developed through the years. I would really appreciate your comments of what you think of it, ie; how I might improve it. Thanks for being part of the Dynamite Lesson Plan professional learning community.


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Look at it Differently

When you face an UN-solveable riddle as a teacher, you might find a solution if you step back and look at it differently. Currently, I am dealing with a small yet tedious situation with a bookshelf. I moved it and now I don’t think its location is optimal for my students. I moved it where it is now to assist me in my lesson planning but in doing so through “tunnel vision” I failed to see how it would block a large area where I could present student work. I went over the placement again and again in my mind coming up empty on a win/win idea. Sometime today, I will sit down and sketch an aerial view of my classroom, in hopes of finding a better placement. Of course, i have left out the part about how heavy and obtrusive it is. I believe it can be used in an optimal way to serve both the teacher and students. As of yet though, I haven’t a clue how.

Making a schematic of the room is a way to look at the conundrum differently. I have used this approach to many teaching issues with positive results. This approach could mean many things: videoing yourself teaching, asking a colleagues perspective, a Principal. My drawing I will make at my kitchen table is a change of perspective. It is a way of viewing a problem “from a distance.” Sometimes looking at your situation differently is the secret to a dynamite lesson plan.


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A Teacher Should Strive to be Great Just as any Butcher, Baker, or Candlestick Maker

When the Secretary of Education, Jack O’Connell, visited our school, I was asked to do an EDI lesson. This is me teaching “cause and effect” with the board members, Sec. O’Connell, and other honored guests.

There is much being said about this article where a Judge in California has deemed teacher tenure “unconstitutional.” A few people have been kind enough to ask me what I think. I thought I’d blog my response to all that here rather than in a confining comment box on social media. Here is the news article I am responding to if you haven’t read it. Below is my reaction to the article:

Teacher tenure has been a popular issue in the media for about ten years. Unfortunately, most the people writing, talking, and making movies about it are jumping to conclusions and setting up a straw man fallacy. Like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger did, I believe in unions. In the 1950’s that may have pigeon-holed me as a communist. When I think of unions I think of the part of the constitution that reads basically this: “Each individual in endowed with … inalienable rights … the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I have seen teacher’s unions help people keep those rights. If we are to destroy unions, we destroy something good for humanity.

Please know that I feel, to become and stay a teacher, you must have a deep care for the development of young people. Those young people, namely students, should be the reason you teach. Because the profession has a “human” product and not a monetary one, I think there should be a way to get rid of bad teachers who under-perform consistently and don’t care about the human side. The first 2 years a teacher is evaluated and observed 3 times a year. After that, every other year once a year. If the teacher gets a substandard evaluation, they are re-evaluated the following year. In addition, a tenured teacher is not immune from discipline, at least not in the schools I have worked at.

I feel a teacher should strive to be great just as any butcher, baker, or candlestick maker. Next year will be my 16th year in teaching and I have never viewed tenure as a “protection” for me to under-perform. I am always working hard to be the best teacher I can be for my students. Sure, there are under-performing teachers out there but there are also under-performing butchers, bakers and … well you get it. How we weed them out of teaching is a very good question.

Anyway, non-union people may disagree but that’s what I think. I think we should make working with kids a more attractive profession so there is more competition. Then, the best will be hired. As a teacher I don’t feel as if my profession is as respected as it once was in society. Some stuff I read these days, mostly from conservatives, is downright hateful and ignorant about teaching. Sometimes I think the confusion about what teachers do leads to hateful monolgues that wrongly vilify unions. Who knows what the future of teaching will hold. I know one thing for sure, society will always need teachers in one way or another with or without tenure. Don’t believe the hype, believe in our need for great teachers.


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Dealing With Fighting in Schools: Are we Helping Our Kids?


Walking home from school or playing on the playground as a kid, were you bullied? Flip that around now: were YOU the bully? As a public school teacher in an inner-city demographic, I deal with the issue of kids fighting M-F (not Sa-Su thank goodness). I can attest that it is a real issue for parents and teachers. I am a big proponent of teaching things outside academics that are so necessary as life skills like teaching music and conflict resolution for example. Unfortunately, even the democrats have become polarized on language and math only so it may be a few years.

So if that is true, why is it I hear nearly all parents of kids involved in fights say they give their child permission to fight? (especially us dads) Of course, we invoke the “self-defense” clause of all that’s common sense about humanity … I would never argue with that. But, there is something they don’t know … something they don’t see. You might refer to it as “the fallen nature” if you are a Christian. Or, you might call it the law of the jungle if you’re an atheist. However you label the data, it’s there and it is kids beating the crud out of each other daily and blaming it on dear old mom and dad.

Last week there was a kid in my summer school class who pummeled another kid right in front of me. (incidentally, if you want to read a hilarious story about a similar student I had my first year, click here) This kid doing the pummeling was about 80 pounds give or take and the kid he was hitting was maybe 40, 45 tops I’d say. After going through all the steps and paperwork that we teachers must to in order to avoid being sued, I met with his dad and his dad said these exact words:

“I tell my son to defend himself because the school don’t do nothing.”

Poetry to this teachers’ ears (not). This isn’t an isolated case. I have even seen kids aggravate smaller kids until the small ones take a swing … then they move in fast for the, well in keeping with the idiom … the kill.

My school strives to be safe. It’s in the worst part of the High Desert. If any of you out there know Adelanto, it’s in “Old Adelanto.” I doubt many will see a picture in their head. It’s way off any tourist path. Still we keep it safe, and I know many other schools where they strive to do the same. Counsel your kids to NOT punch or hit, even in self-defense. Most the time, to avoid one parent suing the school, if any blows are thrown for any reason, both kids get suspended. There is a fine line between defending oneself and opening a can of whoop-ass. I wish more parents would have that discussion at the dinner table every night until their kids’ are 18. Let’s go beyond our animal urges and look at the psychology of what we tell our kids.


This post was published first as Dealing With Fighting in Schools: Are we Helping Our Kids? on Dynamite Lesson Plan.

A So-Called “Teacher Bill of Rights”

On Facebook this evening, I found this “teacher’s bill of rights.” This comment may sound rude but I hate blue-sky, irrational posts like this that complain on behalf of us teachers in the trenches. I would like this if it were meant as humor but I think they are being serious.
1891061_10152303771788708_1428955988_nI don’t need them to plead my case as a teacher. Here are my corresponding comments: #1 Is subjective. #2 Is subjective #3 Copy paper, pencils, and soap are provided (though I could use more pencils than 30 a month) #4 My school has fairly advanced technology #5 ok #6 Ridiculous. Highly subjective statement and completely impossible to grant to any teacher.#7 WTH are they talking about here? Colleagues evaluating us? Hopefully not some I know #8) Ha. Go into the business world. Teaching will always be a medium paid job, which is not bad. There is more security in teaching than most jobs of the same pay. #9) A dream, but a good one. #10) We get this already.

I agree with the direction of these rights but the way they aim to get there is bordering on absurd. “Think Big” they say out there in the world. I say, be the change you want to see. Little by little, you’ll affect big changes.


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