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Uncategorized   |   Feb 14, 2013

Ask Angela Anything: February Edition

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Ask Angela Anything: February Edition

By Angela Watson


Welcome to this month’s 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 “Ask Angela Anything” 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.

I am a 5th grade teacher and my district is considering piloting a co-teaching/ departmentalized schedule with myself and one other 5th grade teacher. We were thinking one of us would take science and math and the other, writing and reading. How do we begin thinking about a schedule to suggest to our principal?
–K. (from Facebook)

This sounds like a great arrangement–you can both teach to your strengths and really focus on creating the best lessons possible. And it’s wonderful that you’re looking for ideas and info online. Start by checking out the resources on the Departmentalized Teaching page and Co-Teaching/Team Teaching page to get some tips from teachers who have done it successfully. It’s probably best to figure out as many small details as possible before presenting your idea to the principal so that there’s less for him or her to figure out. It might make sense to teach reading and math in the morning and science and writing in the afternoon, but since reading and math will probably need to be your longest blocks of time, you may need to fit those in whenever it makes sense with your lunch and specials schedule.

How did you make the move from classroom teacher to consultant, writer, etc.?

I’ve shared quite a bit of info about this on the Edupreneur section of my website, including the Becoming an Educational Consultant page and the Publishing a Teaching Book page. But your question made me realize I haven’t really shared the story of how the whole thing came about for me!

I started my website in 2003 just to share ideas with teachers and wrote my first book in 2008 when I was still in the classroom. I wasn’t sure where things would go from there, but it was something I really wanted to do, so I did it! When I got married in 2009, my husband was living and working in New York City. Finding a teaching job in NY is not easy and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to learn a whole new set of standards and norms in another state. Plus I felt really passionate about working with teachers on a greater scale. It was scary to give up a teaching position (and benefits) in a great school in Florida and I missed it a lot, but I took the leap of faith!

I found a part time job working for BrainPOP. I’m still doing that today and absolutely love it. A month later, I found another part time job doing literacy and math coaching in the city. Later, I started doing instructional technology coaching. In addition to that, I was blogging, working on my next two books and the webinar, and conducting PD on classroom management. Now, I’ve added printable teaching resources to the mix. I learned a lot along the way and my teaching philosophy evolved quite a bit. I also had to adjust to living in New York. But I couldn’t be happier. I feel like I’ve created my dream job.

So essentially, I started by doing what I really love, and kept expanding as new opportunities presented themselves. If that’s a path you’re interested in following, start taking small steps now while you’re still teaching. You never know what those experiences could lead to!

I have no idea what to do or if I should be concerned with this situation. A six year old girl in my class masturbates everyday, all day, to the point she doesn’t focus on her work. I have to remind her to get busy and I just tell her to stop playing under her desk, that way other students might just think she is fiddling with erasers or something. I know sometimes its common for young children to do, but I don’t know if it should be this excessive. Also, it makes it awkward because her mother is a fellow teacher at the school. Please help!
–Concerned 2nd grade teacher

Aaaaand, there’s a topic I never thought I’d be writing about on this blog! However, I’m really glad you asked because you are far from the only teacher dealing with this issue. I’ve talked with probably half a dozen elementary teachers who had girls in their class who exhibited this behavior and one who had a male student who did this. Although the behavior does not necesarily mean the child has been molested or there is some sort of sexual abuse occurring (which many people automatically assume), you are right to be concerned and seeking help, as this is not appropriate behavior for the classroom.

The first thing you should do is consult your school guidance counselor or psychologist for advice. If you don’t have one, go to your principal. It’s important to have a conference with the girl’s parents, but you should not have to facilitate a conversation like that alone. The goal of the conference is to find out if the parents(s) have noticed the behavior at home (almost certainly they have) and how they’re addressing it, and then talk about how to address the root issues and handle the behavior in school.

Typically the teacher will be asked to communicate to the student in a non-shaming way that the behavior is not “bad”, but it’s not appropriate for school, and then distract or redirect the child whenever the behavior occurs. If the behavior is compulsive, the student may need non-verbal cues or other signals all throughout the day. However, the way you address the situation should be under the advice of a professional in your school, so the sooner you make your guidance counselor and administrator aware of the problem, the better. I will warn you that this is an issue that tends to go on for a very long time, and I have not heard of any “quick fixes,” so make sure the plan you put into place for redirecting the child is a plan that’s sustainable throughout the school year.

Do you have advice for any of the teachers above? Please share your experiences in the comments!

And if you have a topic you’d like to see addressed in a future “Ask Angela Anything” post, submit your question here! Your entries are completely anonymous, so ask ANYTHING you’ve ever wanted to know about teaching but were afraid to ask.

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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  1. For the Concerned Gr.2 Teacher,
    I’m also a gr.2 teacher; I had this issue last year with a boy in my class, and have had it come up with girls as well.
    I agree with everything Angela suggested. I spoke to the parents in my case, and they were just as frustrated and confused as I with how to break the cycle. We decided together on what kind of message (what words or cues) we would use to talk with the student, so that there was consistency in the message. By the end of the year, I hardly had to remind him anymore… I’m hoping that’s continued!
    One other area to consider: is it medical (ex. yeast infection or worms)?

    1. Linda, thanks for chiming in on this topic. I’m glad to hear that the problem got better for the student in your class. I’m glad you mentioned the possibility of medical issues, as yes, the child’s doctor should absolutely examine her to rule out any physical problems. I also think it’s good you mentioned that the child’s parents were also frustrated and confused. This has been the case in my experience, too–everyone is baffled and embarrassed and has no idea what to do. Meeting together as a team so that you don’t feel alone in helping the child deal with this issue is so important!

  2. I team teach 2nd grade. We do decided to do this because I have a grant that gives me iPads in my classroom for each kiddo. By team teaching, I get twice as many kiddos who now have access to this wonderful technology. The schedule was a big concern because we did not want to have many transition times. Luckily our lunch and specials times fit perfectly. I teach reading/language arts until 11:30, while my partner is teaching math, science/social studies. We exchange kids at 11:30 and then head to lunch at 11:40. That gives them just enough time to put backpacks away to prepare for after lunch lessons. When we return, we repeat the lessons from the morning with the new group. Our specials fall at 1:45, leaving a thirty minute block afterwards to wrap up the day. Here is the key: Every week we switch the groups so that if they came to me in the morning this week, next week they come in the afternoon. This is so very beneficial because the morning block is a little longer and every other week the kids are getting extra time in reading or math. It works out really great. The kids adjusted very quickly. The parents took a little longer!

  3. This is a comment about the child masterbating. The last year I taught in the public schools (I am now in teacher education at a university) I had a child in my third grade classroom who also had history of masterbation at school. She had a host of other issues too, but of course masterbating at school was one symptom that got a lot of attention. One thing that I did in my classroom that I believe mitigated her behavior was that I had a lot of art materials. They were available to any of the children when assignments or direct instruction wasn’t going on. This way anyone who was feeling anxious or needed to be doing something with their hands could use open-ended materials for creations. At one point she made me a crown and a sash (“world’s greatest teacher”) and quite often had a plan for the things she was making. She went through almost all of my scrap paper, but there were no instances of masterbation. It could have been partly her age (it had been a k-2 issue), but I also think that her over-all anxiousness was lowered. She had been sexually abused as a toddler and was being raised by her grandmother. Her intelligence was very high and I believe she had been aware of the abuse before she had the words to communicate with anyone about it, this can cause all sorts of personality issues. She is now a young adult and from seeing her Facebook page I believe she still has issues, but has found socially acceptable ways to deal with them.

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