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’m just entering the teaching profession, and going to be student teaching in the spring. I’m so excited, but also a little nervous. Do you have any advice for beginning student teachers?
Hi, Kat! I think it’s normal to be excited and nervous before starting student teaching. You’ll probably feel the same when you get your first classroom, too! Actually, I remember feeling a bit nervous every August before getting a new class–there’s just something about the unknown, I guess! I created a new page on the site called Classroom Management Advice for Student Teachers. I hope you find some useful info there!
This past summer, I went to a Responsive Classroom training, which discourages rewarding students for good behavior as it motivates children extrinsically instead of intrinsically. This resonated with me, and my school has loosely started implementing some RC practices, so this year I stopped using tangible rewards for good behavior and have had pretty good success–until recently. Luckily, I have been blessed with a great class and don’t have any extreme behaviors this year, but I feel as though general behaviors overall could be improved by implementing a rewards-based system of some kind. I really like your Bead System, but I’m struggling to reconcile the “rewarding” with the RC practices. Do you have any thoughts? –Lisa
I love Responsive Classroom, Lisa, and I’m glad you’re using some of the RC practices! I don’t see RC as being in conflict with the bead system because the beads don’t represent tangible rewards. The way that I give beads to students is more of a token of appreciation or a thank you for a job well done–it’s more of a “now that” reward rather than an “if then” reward, which makes a big difference in terms of how it impacts student motivation. Even as adults, we want to be recognized for our hard work and we like to have our efforts appreciated. That’s a normal human response and not something I want to work against in the classroom. I have a harder time accepting punitive behavior systems in which students are punished for poor choices (such as the “card flipping” system where all kids stay on green and are only recognized for misbehavior as they move down the scale, rather than recognized for good choices and rewarded for them, as in the bead system.)
My advice is to use the RC as the basis of your classroom management, but ultimately, you can adapt the system to work with your teaching style and your students’ needs. If you want to occasionally reward students for good behavior and hard work or use a simple system for doing so, go for it! Rewards are ultimately a very small piece of good classroom management. The way you nurture your classroom community will have a far bigger effect on helping students build intrinsic motivation and make good choices because it’s the right thing to do and they want to contribute to a positive learning environment.
I have been teaching for 24 years. This year, I feel like a brand new teacher…new curriculum, common core, assessment and data meeting every week, recording goals-procedures-evidence for my ESL kids and my other kids who struggle in math, reading, and behavior. Never, ever has it felt this way. This is the hardest class I have ever had. I feel like I am literally drowning. I am here early, stay late, work on weekends and I never see the light of the tunnel. Usually, I can stick it out during those times because I know they are temporary, but I don’t see the light this time. I have given up working out, eating well and all of that is starting to show. I have fewer and fewer clothes that I can fit into to wear to work. I have all of your books and I’m trying to reread them a little bit at a time at night, but I’m just so tired. What do you do when you feel like this? How do you find a way out?
Hi, Susan! I’m so sorry to hear that you’re having such a tough year. I think the most important thing is to continue taking care of yourself. Not eating well and not exercising is a vicious circle: the more you get out of your healthy habits, the less you feel like getting back into them, but you really need to! At the end of a tough day, you might just want to lay on the couch and eat junk food (who wouldn’t?) but proper rest, eating habits, and exercise will make a world of difference in how you feel. It will also go a long way toward putting your job in perspective so that you don’t feel like it’s consuming your life.
I would recommend choosing an amount of hours you want to devote to work each week and stick to it. Those hours can be long, if needed, but make a commitment to yourself: you will not THINK about work after those hours. Anytime something school-related pops into your mind in the evening, dismiss the thought immediately and replace it with something that does not cause you stress. Check out my article (and the comments on the post) called How to Work a 40 Hour Week as a Teacher and see if that helps you cut back a little.
How have you dealt with parents who wanted their child kept away from other students in the classroom (due to bullying, some outside of school conflict the students or their families were having, or some other circumstance)? What do you say when two children are in the same classroom and you don’t want anyone to feel ostracized?
–D and R Tabb
Oh boy, that’s tough. And the hardest part about these situations is that the children often want to be around each other. I recall a “friendship” in my third grade class one year in which one girl was clearly and repeatedly bullying the other, yet they always wanted to sit together, be partnered together, and play with each other at recess. It was extremely difficult because the bullied girl’s parents demanded that I keep the girls 20 feet apart at all times (uh huh), and the principal insisted the kids both remain in my classroom.
In that situation, I talked A LOT with the two girls one on one and together to help them work through their intra- and inter-personal issues. But I found it impossible to deny to the rest of the class that I was going out of my way to keep the girls apart, so I told them that there were some personal reasons that the girls needed to be separated, and asked everyone to keep that in mind when playing together at recess, etc. We talked about how they could be friends with both children but wouldn’t be able to work or play with them both at the same time, and they were very respectful of that. I was careful not to place blame on either girl and really watched my tone and body language when I spoke to the child who was bullying so that the other students wouldn’t get the impression she was “bad.” It was not an easy year, and I don’t think there are any simple solutions in this scenario, but the students will pick up on your feelings and follow your lead, so the more you can stay neutral in the conflict and positive in your interactions with both kids and their families, the better.
Confidential to “Teach to 1st”:
This sounds like a personal decision and I would love to correspond with you and try to help via email. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Confidential to Susan:
Since this post doesn’t go live until January, I’m assuming you have made your decision! I don’t have your email address to contact you, but feel free to send a message to email@example.com. I will be happy to offer advice on whichever situation you’re in right now.
Confidential to KM:
This is actually a topic I’ve been wanting to write about on the blog for YEARS. I have a post scheduled for Monday to go over it in-depth!
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.
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