An Exceptional Class

Earlier today I had to have one of my first conferences with a student after class. For now, we’ll call him Axel. Over the course of the class I told Axel to stop having side conversations and listen to his peers when they are speaking four times. For me, I should only have to say it once; four times is clearly over the limit. So I calmly walked over—knowing that we are still in the honeymoon phase of the year—and politely told him that his behavior was unacceptable.  Axel seemed shocked that this happened. “What do you mean, I did my work.” This is a response I’ve heard countless times over my four years of teaching. Each time I hear this response, I cringe. Each time I think about what this response tells me about the state of values in the United States, I hang my head in shame. Continue reading

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Day 9 Aim: How do I respond to personal questions from students?

“Mr. Harlow, are you married?” At some point this year I’m going to be asked this question. When the kid drops this on you, you basically have three options. The first option is the simple dismissal. Tell the student that personal questions do not belong in a professional environment like your classroom. Your second choice is simply be honest with the student. If you choose this route, I also suggest a snarky addition such as, “No I’m not married because no woman would want to listen to me talk about students like you every day”. The final option, and most fun if you can pull it off, is to lie to your students.  To pull this off, you need a story, and you need to stick to it. There is a teacher who will go unnamed who has told his students he has eight kids for the past three years. He knows their names better than Antonio Cromartie knows his real kids names. He has Jerry, George, Elaine, Kramer, Delicious, Isosceles, Tangent, and Hero. Because he’s stuck to this story, some kids believe him. If they don’t, well then they don’t ask personal questions anymore. Why wasn’t there a daily aim the past two days? I was busy taking care of Delicious and Isosceles.

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Day 6 Aim: How do I de-escalate a situation to avoid a fight?

Let’s face it, whether you teach kindergartners or high school students, disagreements will ensue. It may be ignorance, an inability to deal with conflict, or a simple result of raging hormones, but kids are going to get into it in your classroom or hallways. The ultimate goal is to de-escalate these situations to ensure the safety of your students and yourself. If you are able to catch a situation quick enough you can prevent a fight. The first thing you need to remember is not to tell the students to calm down. That is the first mistake. Telling someone who is upset to calm down is like telling a tidal wave to stop its trajectory. It’s just not going to happen. Your best bet is to distract the students and try and get their minds on something other than their disagreement. Pull out a shiny object and hold it up in front of them. Tell a joke. Get light. Whatever you need to do, try it. Just realize, there is a point where there is nothing you can do to prevent a fight. At that point you need to make a decision. Do I break up the fight myself or call the dean’s office? My recommendation is never break up a fight on your  own. If you get hurt, you are liable and any time you miss comes out of your money. So, try to prevent the fight, but if you can’t, get your popcorn ready.

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Day 5 Aim: What do I do if I have a bathroom emergency while teaching?

For this maneuver to work, you need to make friends on your staff. Once you do get their phone numbers, and know their prep schedule. If they are on prep, and you have to pee, a quick text can relieve your bladder. If this option is not available, try flagging someone down in the hall or call your office, cause when you gotta go you gotta go.

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Day 4 Aim: How do I establish routines for myself this year?

Ok, you’ve been through Institute (or some other teacher training program) you know that you need to mind your P-6 on the Teaching as Leadership Rubric and establish time saving procedures for your classroom. If you haven’t started doing this already in your class, get with the program. However, it’s also important at this time of the year that you establish time saving procedures for yourself outside of the classroom for your own sanity. What time do you wake up? What time do you leave to walk through the subway turnstile and see the train just beginning to approach? These are extremely important questions to consider. I can tell you from experience, there is nothing like having your daily coffee given to you without saying a word. Sometimes talking in the morning is just a little to much to handle. Also be mindful of how you use your preps. Get in the habit of being as productive as possible during your prep periods so that you minimize the work you take home. That way you can get in the good healthy routines like cooking a well balanced meal and working out so you can meet your fitness goals.

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Day 3 Aim: How do I handle my first full week of teaching?

Ok, lets face it, last Wednesday was child’s play compared to what we’ve got this week. It’s the real deal now, 5 straight days in the trenches. Tomorrow we put on our professional teacher persona. As far as our students know, we just spent the past four days sipping tea and reading books about history. Keep that perception up this week and let the kids know you mean business. If they slip one inch, give them the Ari Gold treatment so they know that anything less than 100% in your class is unacceptable.

One more thing, start planning for the weekend. Having something good to look forward to makes the daily battles much more bearable. Then, once that weekend starts, put your Hot-n-fun persona back on and live it up, cause you’ll have earned it by the end of this week.

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Day 2 Aim: What do I do with only one instructional day this week?

Well, tomorrow it happens. For the past several months those of us who teach in public schools have known that on Wednesday September 8th, 2010 the first day of teaching is also the only day that students are supposed to come into school that week. For days like this I perform a simple test: I put on my old Lakeridge Pacers t-shirt that I should have thrown out after high school, start thinking like I did in high school and ask the question, “Would I go to school?”. I was a good student with a good attendance record and I know that high school me would not go to school on day like tomorrow. I probably would only skip one or two other days in the year, but tomorrow would be one of those days. With that in mind, I know that I need to prepare for an extremely low attendance day tomorrow, and in those situations I follow the advice from Scar in The Lion King, “Be prepared“. I’m walking in tomorrow with a student survey, several icebreakers, an article from the New York Times, and an article about malleable intelligence. I may use all, some, or none of these and just have my kids help make my room look nicer. In other words, have some tricks in your back pocket and be ready to think on your feet.

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