Tag Archives: classroom management

The Day I Didn’t Get The Joke

Instead of getting the joke – I gave a Long Form.  Here’s what the student wrote.


Daniel (not his real name) asked for a Short Form, so I gave him a Long Form.  I should have laughed it off because it was not actually a problem.  Not every behavior is a problem that needs to be dealt with.

I did not get the joke because at the time Daniel and I were experiencing two different classrooms:  I was experiencing one where a student was challenging my authority and disrespecting me.  Daniel was experiencing one where he was making a light-hearted joke to a favorite teacher.  Both realities cannot be true at the same time.  I do not know for him, but my perception was altered by the fact that I was still frustrated by the actions of another student a few minutes prior.  I was upset and probably waiting for a student to do anything that would allow me to show my authority.

A class has a certain vibe that you just have to feel in order to make good discipline decisions.   You have to know when to act, when to laugh, when to give a referral, when to give a Short Form, or when to let it slide.  It sounds like a daunting task but it’s not – at least it’s not if you don’t overthink it.  Basically you just need to be in a good mood and you’ll make good decisions.

In teaching there are moments when you have to laugh.  There are moments when you have to get the joke.

You Are Not Your Lesson Plan

We spend lots of time and energy creating the best possible lessons that we can.  We get excited about them and feel good about them.  Thus many days, armed with well thought-out lessons, we achieve a measure of success in our classes.  But then there are those days when nothing works.  When the lesson we poured our energy into falls flat on the floor.   The kind of day when the lesson is getting disrupted by off-task students, and a carefully scaffolded intro leaves student after student saying “I don’t get it”, “what am I supposed to do?”.  The volume of off-task chatter rises and opens the door to increased behavior problems.  Behavior problems by the way, that are ripe for misintrepretation by the now frustrated teacher.

First thing to remember during these times – You are not your lesson plan.  Thus every student act of ignoring it, failing at it, brushing it aside, sleeping during it, distracting it, or any other negative, is not a personal affront to you.  That took me awhile to realize.  In my own practice, in the midst of my favorite lessons failing it would bring up anger and frustration, often towards the students who were most clearly rejecting me (of course they were not actually rejecting me, but hence the point of this post).

There are an array of reasons a lesson might fail, but you will be unable to properly diagnose any of them if you are angry.  Anything in your teaching practice that creates negative energy towards your students, your profession, or yourself, needs to be analyzed and reconstructed.   These negative emotions commonly end up concluding that the lesson failed because the students are lazy, don’t care or don’t pay attention.  Maybe they were or didn’t, but if that is the primary conclusion then you are overlooking a couple important facts:  First – there is a way to improve the lesson and those students are helping you discover it.  Secondly, deep down you were probably personally offended by the way the students interacted with your lesson, which is intimately connected to your identity as a teacher.  Thus you feel like a failure, and angry at those who exposed you.

Experience doesn’t necessarily help in this situation.  This problem of identifying with our lesson plans actually got worse for me as I became more experienced.  Because often at some point we as teachers, who pour ourselves into teaching, begin to recieve a fair amount of praise from adminstrators and students.  We start to look at ourselves as great teachers, which makes the day when that identity is challenged even more difficult to take.

So bottom line is this:  You aren’t your lesson plan.  Don’t take it personal.  If you have a lesson that collapses into failure don’t get upset, don’t get stressed out, don’t get frustrated.  Stay positve and do whatever you have to do in that moment to teach the best you can.  Afterwards,  I recommend you take a moment to reflect on what went right, what went wrong, and how it could be improved.  Make sure you properly file that reflection so you can use it the next time you plan the lesson.  After that, just finish the day and be done with it.

This Is Too Grand To Be Said

In college I had the honor of taking Elliot Aronson’s last Social Psychology class at UCSC.  He had been a professor there for many years and was going to take a position at Stanford.  The large lecture hall was packed for that last day, filled with his current and former students.  He ended the class by reading the final lines of  J.D. Salinger’s “Seymour, An Introduction”.  He got all choked up and started to cry midway through.  The passage itself is a wonderful reflection on life and teaching, and I get why Professor Aronson choose to end his last class with it.  Here is what he read to us that day:

“Nonetheless, I’m done here.  There are one or  two more fragmentary physical-type remarks I’d like to make, but I feel too strongly that my time is up.  Also, it’s twenty to seven, and I have a nine-o’clock class.  There’s just enough time for a half-hour nap, a shave, and maybe a cool, refreshing blood bath.  I have an impulse-more of an old urban reflex than an impulse, thank God- to say something mildly caustic about the twenty-four young ladies, just back from big weekends at Cambridge or Hanover or New Haven, who will be waiting for me in Room 307, but I can’t finish writing a description of Seymour-even a bad description, even one where my ego, my perpetual lust to share top billing with him, is all over the place-without being conscious of the good, the real.  This is too grand to be said (so I’m just the man to say it), but I can’t be my brother’s brother for nothing, and I know-not always, but I know-there is no single thing I do that is more important than going into that awful Room 307.  There isn’t one girl in there, including the Terrible Miss Zabel, who is not as much my sister as Boo Boo or Franny.  They may shine with the misinformation of the ages, but they shine.  This thought manages to stun me:  There’s no place I’d really rather go right now than into Room 307.  Seymour once said that all we do our whole lives is go from one little piece of Holy Ground to the next.  Is he never wrong?

I’m filing this post under classroom management because our own personal happiness as teachers is often the most important ingredient to a positive and productive classroom.

This Is What I Was Born To Do

I don’t watch American Idol looking for inspiration towards the teaching profession.  But I found it the other night.  Contestant Nicholas Mathis went on stage looking very defeated and full of doubt, and his performance was lack luster because of it.  After Mathis finished, Idol judge Keith Urban made the following remark to him about musicians, but I believe it applies even more for teachers:

“There’s a lot that pulls at you in this calling. And somehow we have to compartmentalize that and when we wake up at three a.m. in the morning on a tour bus and we wonder ‘What are we doing here,’ and we just cry, the only answer can ever be ‘This is what I was born to do. This is my calling.'”  –  Keith Urban

Except for teachers instead of 3am, it’s 3pm, and instead of a tour bus it’s a classroom.

The judges voted Mathis off after that appearance, and if we show up to the classroom like Mathis showed up to Idol, then we are likely to be voted off by our students.   We cannot show up to a class looking defeated – your students deserve a teacher who is positive and professional.  So you need to figure out how you are going to intrepret the things that happen in your class in such a way that keeps you positive and happy.  Realizing that you were born to do this, well, that is just one way.

Say All Their Names… Twice (at least)

I say every one of my students name at least twice a day, and I am very intentional about it.   The reason I do it is because saying a students name is a simple way to make students feel welcomed and appreciated.  My method for saying each name allows me to ensure that I do not miss a single student.  Ultimately I may end up saying every name lots of times, but this is my built-in strategy to make sure that on any given day, I acknowledge each student at least twice.

The first time I say each students name is before class when I greet them at the door.   I am never robotic about my greetings – meaning I never say “hello _______ (insert name)” to every student.  I throw out a lot of non-sequiturs “Juan how was 3rd period?” “Beautiful day, right Alicia?” “Welcome to Algebra Josh”.  It’s more fun and sincere that way.  If a group of students show up at the same time I will catch them all in the same greeting  “Thomas, Cinthia, Linda, welcome to class”.

The second time I say each name is when I check off homework.  Right when the bell rings I have all my classes work on warm-up problems while I circulate the aisles and check off the previous days classwork.  Here I once again use each students name, “excellent Leisi”, “you da man Chris”.  I will randomly choose a few students to engage in quick discussions with a simple “How was your weekend Bryce?”.

Thus I guarentee that I acknowledge the existent of each of my students at least twice a day, everyday.  It’s not much, but I believe it to goes a long way in making the students feel like welcomed and appreciated members of the classroom.

The Disciplined Discipline Discussion

The discipline discussions I have with students are fundamental to the success of my  Long / Short Forms.   I’m going to keep coming back to this topic, but here are some of the important things I try to do when I talk to a student after class who received a Long / Short Form.  By the way, for most students this converstion is straightforward, but for the most disrputive students it can be a bit tricky, so the details of it become very important.

The key to discipline discussions is to remember that the goal of them is not to convince the student that you are right and they are wrong.  The goal is for you to let the student know why they received the Long / Short form, and why that behavior is not acceptable to you.  This goal allows you to stay focused on what is important, and also avoid getting into an argument.  Never get into a back and forth with a student on why they received the discipline.

Strike a positive tone.   If the student appears upset, I will say something like this:  “Don’t think of this form as a ‘I hate you, shut up, stop talking’, but rather think of this as ‘Mr. Miller wants me to be successful, and thinks that my behavior at this moment is not allowing me to be at my full potential'”.   Remind the student that you want them in the class, you enjoy their personality, but it is this or that behavior that you will not accept.    The behavior is separate from the person.  Because don’t forget – you’re not mad at them.

Here’s the basic scenario:  Tell the student why they received the Long / Short Form.  Ask them if they understand, and if they believe you are being reasonable.  Hear what they say.  If they agree, then it’s all good.  If they argue about why they should not have received the form, or how it was not their fault, then repeat back their point to them – tell them why it seems like a reasonable idea, but you can not have them do that for this or that reason.  Conversation on topic ends.  Do not get into a debate about what happened or what the rules are.  If at the end of the discussion the student does not agree with you, that is fine.  They just need to know why you gave them the form and that they should expect the form again if they repeat the behavior in the future.

Oh yeah, and if the student is correct, and you did make a mistake – maybe you gave them a form too quickly because you were angry for some reason, here’s what you do:  Apologize.

Long and Short Forms – A Discipline Overview

Before I describe these forms I want to restate that classroom management is driven mainly by content (engaging lesson plans), and secondly by making students feel welcomed and appreciated, and keeping ourselves positive and energized.    For me personally, if classroom management ever became a process of making a bunch of rules, and figuring out how to enforce them, then I would probably quit teaching because my heart is not into it.  But that being said, a discipline structure is needed and this post is the beginnings of a description of mine.

The Description:

My main tools for handing out discipline in my class are Long Forms and Short Forms.  These forms generally take the place of referrals and detentions.  The Short Form has entirely eliminated my need for detentions, and the Long Form is generally used in replacement of referrals.

I save all forms in class folders.  Students who are behavior problems generally get their own folder.  This is great for me and administrators, as I can bring the folder to parent / teacher conferences, and provide it to administrators as a record of student behavior in class.

Here are brief descriptions of each:

Short Forms (Student Behavior Reflection):  I give students Short forms for minor distractions.  When they get a short form they must stop whatever they are doing and fill it out immediately.  They are not allowed to protest a short form, and if they feel they receieved it in error, they must write that in the form.  At the bottom of the form there is a place for their signature and mine, which I will only do after class.  Thus after class I quickly touch base with each student and let them know why I gave it to them.  I also be sure to listen to their explanations of why they acted the way they did, or why they thought they didn’t deserve it.

Long Forms (Student Self-Diagnostic Referral):  Long Forms are for more serious infractions.  Some examples would include defiance, and name calling.  I also do not give two short forms to the same student on the same day.  Thus if a student already has a short form, then any distraction could result in a Long Form.

If a student gets a Long Form, they must leave the classroom to fill it out, and they must come back into the classroom when they are finished.  The Long Form also has a place for Parent / Vice Principal signature.   I do not always require the student to get those signatures.

The Advice:

Students who recieve these forms must stay after class and talk to me.  These conversations are incredibly important for a lot of reasons – diffuse any possible hostility, help further explain to student why certain behaviors are not acceptable, and so forth.  I will write a post all about the importance of these conversations , and how I approach them, at a later date.  (see update below)

If students refuse to stay after class to talk, then it is an immediate referral.

I added that little box at the bottom of each form this year.  I check the box if I think the form did not change student behavior.

The Goods:



The Update:

Here are some thoughts on discipline discussion you should be having with students who receive these forms.

What I Do When I Have A Bad Day

I definitely think an important part of classroom management is learning how to manage ourselves.  How to put the things that happen in our classes into perspective, and keep ourselves focused, happy, and energized.  And how to keep ourselves from not feeling tired, regretful, or hopeless.  We have to keep ourselves fresh and away from negativity, which is easier said than done.  Especially on those days where it’s not working for us.  Those days where a disruptive student got the best of us, and has us feeling outmatched.  So I’ll just tell you that when I have one of those days –  I always recite the following quote to myself:

“Finish each day and be done with it, you have done what you could.  Blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can.  Tomorrow is a new day.  Begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have it reserved to memory and recommend you do too.  It cheers me up and gives me energy to face each day anew.  For me, it is exactly what I need to hear at that moment.  I won’t talk about what else it means to me, I’ll let it mean to you whatever you want it to.

Another thing that helped me tough days I wrote about here.  If you are having issues with a couple students who are really frustrating you, I recommend reading it.  It is a technique I use to reframe my thinking on problem students into a positive and productive mindset.