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Uncategorized   |   Apr 23, 2012

According to Angela: Teachers’ Questions Answered

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

According to Angela: Teachers’ Questions Answered

By Angela Watson


Welcome to the second edition of the monthly post series in which I answer readers’ frequently-asked questions. Although I do respond personally to every email, with this series, you can submit any teaching-related question anonymously to maintain your privacy and student confidentiality. I’ve called the series “According to Angela” because I share what has worked for me in my own classroom and in the rooms of the teachers I coach. My personal philosophy is that there’s no one “right” solution that works for every child in every classroom: I encourage you to adapt the ideas I share for your own situation.

Though the content of the post is completely mine, the series is sponsored by companies and organizations that are committed to providing high-quality resources for educators,  This month’s post is brought to you by Marygrove College’s Master in the Art of Teaching, an online degree program designed to empower teachers by focusing on the knowledge and skills required to deliver effective instruction to diverse learners from preschool through high school, including those with special needs.

I have a few boys in my grade this year that blurt out answers or interrupt me constantly. It has gotten to the point where it is disrespectful. I have a money/economy system, so I have taken their classroom $, sign behavior charts, and even spoken to parents. It may work for a day or two, but they start again. Any positive behavior suggestions for overly aggressive boys that need the attention but need to stop interrupting lessons?

Hi, Tammi! What a frustrating situation. I’ll share with you something I tried with 4 different students (incidentally, all boys) and it has improved the situation tremendously every time. I took five math manipulatives from our class supply–these are sometimes called tokens, counters, and chips. I explained to the child, “We’ve talked before about how it is difficult for me to teach and for other students to listen when you interrupt me and call out. I know you can control yourself, and I’ve been thinking about ways I can help you. I want to tell you about an idea I have, and you can let me know what you think. I want to give you 5 of these counters every morning when you arrive at school. You can keep them on the edge of your desk. Each time you interuppt the lesson or call out, I’m going to remove one of the counters. I won’t say anything to you or embarrass you, I’ll just walk over and put one in my pocket. Sometimes you don’t realize you’re interuppting because you’re excited about what you have to say, so this will be the reminder to you that you’ve called out. At the end of the day, bring the counters that you have left over to me and we’ll talk about how you did. The goal is for you to keep as many of your counters as possible–maybe even all 5!  How does that sound to you–do you think it will help you be aware of your behavior and use self-control? Can we try that for today and see how it goes? Thanks for being willing to work with me on this. I know that you’re going to get better and better about waiting your turn to talk.”

You can attach some sort of reward if you think the child needs it–maybe one extra minute of computer or recess time for each counter he manages to keep all day, or he could trade them in for tokens in your class economy (maybe 10 counters can equal one token or something like that.) But you will probably find that no reward is necessary: the counters make the child aware of his disruptive behavior in a really visible, tangible way, and that’s the part of the process that is so effective.

Try this out and let me know how it goes. I think you’ll be surprised at how 5 counters is enough even for chronic interrupters. I had one student that called out probably 30 times a day, but that very first day when he had 5 counters sitting on his desk, he only called out twice. After a week, he didn’t need the system anymore. The idea of not interrupting is vague and and very difficult to manage for 6 hours a day: the tokens quantify the expectation and make the goal more concrete. And it also allows for mistakes: the child can call out a few times and still be successful because he has counters left. Within a few weeks, you can only give 3 counters a day, and then wean the child off the system completely and only bring it out as needed.

I have been teaching for 10 years in the same charter school. I just found out my position has been cut and I will be forced to teach at a grade level several years below what I teach now. I want to interview for other teaching jobs but I haven’t interviewed in a decade and have no idea what I should say! What can I do to brush up on my interviewing skills? I’m also wondering what to wear. I don’t have a business suit. Is it worth investing in one? 

I’m really sorry to hear about your situation, and I’m glad you’ve decided to look around for a position that is a better fit for you. I’ve changed schools many times and I’ve been on a million interviews in different parts of the U.S., so I compiled all my advice on a page called Job Interview Tips for Teachers. There you’ll find a detailed explanation of commonly-asked teacher interview questions (and ideas to get you thinking about how to respond), advice on creating a teaching portfolio, questions to ASK your potential principal so you can find out what the school working environment is really like, and what to look for when you tour the school. It’s important to remember that YOU are also interviewing the SCHOOL because you want to find a place that you’ll be happy at and feel supported.

The page also touches on what to wear to a teaching interview, but it’s such a subjective question that I have a hard time answering it without knowing where you live. If you’re interviewing in a conservative part of the country, go conservative. Put on a piece of jewelry that shows your personality and makes a statement. If you’re interviewing in a more laid back area, you can wear business-like attire in playful colors. I don’t think it’s necessary to invest in a business suit unless you think you’ll have other opportunities to wear it. A nice dress or skirt/pants and top is fine, and a good blazer will pull it all together. Wear something that makes you feel powerful and confident. All the best to you in your interviews!

I find it very difficult to hold the interest of the smaller children for more than 30 minutes. I would be grateful for any suggestions as what kind of activities I can use.

Hi, Sara! Don’t feel bad that you’re having a hard time keeping young students interested in your lessons for long periods. Small children’s attention spans are very short, and if you’re trying to get an entire class of little ones to attend to the same task for 30 minutes or more, it’s usually going to be a very frustrating experience for everyone.

Try to limit your whole-class instruction as much as possible. Teach in small groups while the rest of the class works in centers or stations. Use lots of partner and group work so students are learning from one another instead of just from the teacher. And when you do use teacher-directed instruction, keep it as brief as possible. You can manage that using a guideline I created called FMAP: Fifteen Minutes, Active Participation. This is something I explain in great detail in The Cornerstone book, but basically, it means that you should try to change activities within a lesson at least every 15 minutes and keep kids actively involved whenever possible.

So for example, you might do 15 minutes of teacher directed instruction, followed by 15 minutes of partner work, and then 15 minutes of independent work. Or do a 10 minute minute mini lessons, 15 minutes of cooperative work, and another 10 minute whole group session at the end. The idea is to switch up the structure of the activities a lot so kids aren’t sitting there listening to you for too long. If you’ve taught clearly defined academic routines that the kids are used to doing, you’ll be able to transition between each element of your lesson very smoothly.

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Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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