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Uncategorized   |   Aug 1, 2009

Embarrassing stories AND free stuff. Yep, this post has it all.

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Embarrassing stories AND free stuff. Yep, this post has it all.

By Angela Watson

Most teachers enter the profession completely unprepared for all the complexities of running a classroom. I think at some point, we’ve all been faced with an unforseen challenge and wondered incredulously, Geez, I never knew I was supposed to plan for or anticipate this issue: how am I expected to have a solution for a problem I didn’t know existed? Personally, I’m astounded by the sheer number of basic classroom management lessons I had to learn the hard way:

-Communicating effectively with parents requires a concerted effort and a much greater time investment than I’d assumed. Once I carefully scheduled eight parent conferences back-to-back and stayed at school until 6 pm (by myself–which was perhaps the dumbest part of the whole scenario) and was furious when every single parent was a no-show. Why the poor turn out? Because I’d scheduled the conferences two weeks prior and didn’t know I needed to provide forty-seven notes, emails, and phone messages as a follow-up reminder. Now that I’ve learned to send notices via every form of communication except sky writing and smoke signals, my no-show rate has become much more reasonable.

-Letting third graders keep scissors in their desks is generally a bad idea. It took the following catastrophes for me to reach that conclusion: one child’s impromptu trimming of her own bangs without the benefit of a mirror; a boy’s decision to snip two braids off a girl’s elaborate and expensive style that took five hours to create; and a third child’s unexplainable propensity toward slicing the file folder centers I spent three weeks making. That was all in one semester. After that, I decided to keep the scissors in one communal area and distribute them only when needed (which was as infrequently as possible with that group, believe me). Even now, I still have to be extra cautious during scissor activities, and have a responsible kid do a scissor count after they’ve been collected. Failure to do so may result in some little sneakster using his scissors to either trim textbook page edges, sharpen pencils using the blade edge (!!), or carve the word ‘fart’ into his desktop.

-Photocopies MUST be made as far in advance as possible. There is nothing more disappointing than getting a brainstorm and working all evening on a fabulous activity for the next day’s lesson, only to be stuck assigning something boring from the textbook because there’s either no paper or all the copiers are down, AGAIN. I once had an amazing math activity with Halloween candy that I couldn’t get copied for FIVE WEEKS. I busted out the worksheet on Valentine’s Day and told the kids to replace the words black and orange with red and pink and change all the pumpkins into hearts. Needless to say, the kids weren’t buying it. Although, since their behavior was top notch the whole day in anticipation of eating the candy afterward, all was not completely lost. And I picked out my Cinco de Mayo activities the following morning.


So tell me: what classroom management lesson did YOU learn the hard way? Your story can be short or long, funny or serious, embarrassing or matter-of-fact…just share the true tale of a mistake or misunderstanding you experienced while trying to manage a classroom.

Leave your story as a comment on this post. I’ll select a winner on Wednesday, August 5th, and send out a free copy of my book The Cornerstone: Classroom Management That Makes Teaching More Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable. Inside, I explain all the stuff I had to learn from trial and error–managing small groups, organizing materials, getting kids to follow basic procedures, handling test pressure–so that you can learn specific steps for creating the learning environment you’ve always wanted. It’s a practical guide that will show you how to construct a self-running classroom that frees you to TEACH.

The book will ship via Priority Mail so the winner should have it in plenty of time to read before the new school year begins (unless you’re in one of those schools that’s already starting back, in which case, I can only offer you my deepest sympathy).

I’m looking forward to your stories! Thanks for sharing!

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. My very first year of teaching (A LONNNNNNNNNNNNG time ago) I was teaching in a Catholic school where we take the kids to service each morning. The first week of school I was getting my combination first/second grade class together for mass and realized we had a few minutes before we had to walk over to the church. So… not one to like to waste time I thought I would go ahead and allow some to share their "Show and Tell." One little boy brought in some handcuffs. I was so grateful when he told the story of how he got the handcuffs from his dad who was a police officer. Long story short he shared his "item" and them hooked them around his hands. We all gave him the glory he was looking for and I then asked him to remove them so we could get in line for church. After awhile of tugging and pulling on them he sheepishly said they were "stuck" I tried pulling on them and realized they were locked and asked him for the key. After a little time and a lot of "Oh No what do I do?" His dad was called, but he went with his very embarrassed first year teacher to mass handcuffed.
    Lesson learned: check out the "Show and Tell" before it is actually shared.
    Linda Simons (Charlotte, NC)

  2. I spent the entire summer planning and organizing for my first year of teaching. I had all types of materials and ideas and back up ideas. I was lucky to get a great job in a great school teaching first grade. But a GREAT challenge lay ahead of me! One of my students was in a temporary wheelchair after a random accident. She was completely healed, but her leg muscles were not strong enough for her to walk. So she needed me to push her everywhere, put her in and take her out of the wheelchair and rearrange my room to accommodate a large wheelchair. Problem was: I’m a very small person and she was a very tall first grader. So while I was helping her or pushing her down the hall…what do you think the other kids were doing the first few weeks of school when I had intended to lay down clear expectations? That is something that is not taught in college…what to do with a child in a temporary wheelchair that is about the same size as you and needs extensive help the first week of school (and how to manage the other kids at the same time!).

    Lesson Learned: Be flexible…things won't always go as planned, but you can still make it work.

    As a side note: She regained her strength quickly and only needed the help for a few weeks. She was had a great attitude about her needs and never complained. She is one of the sweetest and most memorable students of my teaching career. And now, at 11, she is taller than me!

  3. I was "initiated" into my first year with a particularly unruly group of fourth graders. My school is an inner-city school with a lot of children who live near each other in a housing complex. Most of my students fought – a lot! – like brothers and sisters. One day as they began arguing and fussing, I needed a moment of peace. I told them to put their heads on their desks for five minutes. I was very frustrated and let them know that if anyone spoke during the five minutes, I would reset the timer. Well, one little girl tried to get my attention a several times. Needless to say our five minutes ended up being closer to 15. When they finally were allowed to lift their heads, I hand happened to brush the front of my shirt with my hand. I was mortified to discover that I felt skin where my shirt should have been covering my stomach. The material from the bottom of my shirt had somehow gotten tucked under my bra and my stomach was showing! I was horrified! The girl who had been trying to get my attention saw my face and mouthed the words – "That's what I was trying to tell you." Lesson learned: Listen to the kids! Even if you have to discreetly take them aside or let them whisper in your ear. Their persistence is usually important. (Glenda Dunson – facebook fan)

  4. This lesson learned was probably in my twelfth year of teaching in my third grade classroom. For science we were using the FOSS kits on Structures of Life. One of the main lessons was a crayfish unit. We would look at all the body parts of crayfish, crayfish behaviors, and habits. Kids LOVE this unit and are so excited for science. One morning upon entering the hallway to my classroom about 6:15 a.m. I see something up ahead on the floor. As I get closer I say to myself, "No way". There on the floor in the middle of the hallway was a dead crayfish. It had crawled out of the covered bin, walked out of my classroom down the hallway, and turned down another hallway only to meet its early death. I was a little freaked out wondering how that could have happened. Walked into my classroom to find 5 more of those critters had escaped and didn't make it.

    Upon looking at the bins they were still covered but there was an opening through the tagboard. Large enough to escape. ( I left that opening thinking they might need more oxygen.)

    I was so nervous and disappointed to explain to the students why we had 6 less crayfish to study. It was a very teachable moment for us all.

    Lesson learned: Cover the tub of a crayfish bin completely and don't leave them on the floor.

  5. The first year I taught third grade was horrific! I had 29 students and the all the students with behavior issues. They fought and argued all day,at recess they really showed off and one of them even stole my cell phone! So, during a math lesson in measurement, students had to measure certain objects around the classroom. As I was bending down to help a group of kids, another student used a meter stick to measure the width of my buttocks!!! The kids were all laughing and I didn't know why. When I turned around I see him holding the ruler with two hands and about to measure again!! I stopped the lesson immediately, I was so embarrassed!!!! I was also very upset because I thought it was very disrespectful. However, I knew if I blew up it wouldn't be productive and the other kids were enjoying the lesson, so I kind of laughed it off and ask the little boy to keep that measurement to himself and that they had to measure objects not body parts. During the end of the day, I did have a class meeting and had a discussion on what happened during math time. I talked to this student afterschool and made a call home that night. His mom was embarrassed as well but told me that her son has a huge crush on me!! I was like oh boy…I'll have to keep that in mind in planning future lessons…lol.

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