Monday, November 22, 2010

A Thanksgiving Post from Jill Hare at

One of the most useful Websites for teachers everywhere is ( For several years now, this Website has provided teacher forums, great ideas, links to even more great ideas, job seeking advice, resources upon resources, and countless ways for teachers from across the globe to interact with each other in a positive way. Jill Hare, a stellar editor at TheApple, is a guest blogger this week as Thanksgiving holidays approach. Enjoy!

Jill Hare, Editor, (

It's the time of year when we think about what we're thankful for. And while some words are spoken in thankfulness, a lot goes left unsaid. While I was watching an episode of Glee a few weeks ago, this quote reminded me of why I got into teaching.

"All of us were scarred by high school. Next to our parents, nothing screws a person up more. And people like us (teachers) are stupid enough to come back here and relive that pain everyday."

And why do we chose to relive the pain of school all over again? Because we want to provide better opportunities and foster kinder students than those that taunted and hurt us. We want the smart kids to feel cool, the glee club to not feel like outcasts and everyone to be on equal ground. Many of you out there are doing just that: creating a better school environment than you had, and doing it all with out any proper thank you.

So here it is. Thirty things you probably never get thanked for. It's just the tip of the iceberg, so write in more here.

Thank you, teacher, for….

1. Believing in me when no one else does

2. Trusting me to behave when your back is turned

3. Taking time to help me when everyone else gets it

4. Listening to my problems when no one else cares

5. Spending tons of time preparing lessons

6. Staying up late to grade papers

7. Giving up time on weekends to prepare and plan for class

8. Making a lower salary than you’re worth

9. Working in and trying to improve an archaic education system

10. Learning what technology I like and using it to help me learn

11. Loving what you do and showing it every day you have fun teaching me

12. Learning new techniques and tricks that help keep me engaged

13. Letting me have options and choices to drive my learning

14. Fostering collaborative learning, because I always remember what I learn with my friends

15. Caring enough about me to form a relationship with my difficult parents

16. Teaching me things I will use in the real world

17. Setting goals you know I can reach and be proud of

18. Being proud of me even when I accomplish only small goals

19. Encouraging me to be better and reach my full potential

20. Respecting me even when I don’t always show my respect for you

21. Being fair even when I don’t deserve it

22. Being my advocate so I get the services and help I need to be successful

23. Keeping my blended family straight, even though it’s complicated

24. Giving up your lunch to help me study, learn or just sit with me so I’m not alone

25. Knowing I’m not the coolest kid in school but treating me like I am

26. Giving me responsibility to prove I can be leader

27. Pushing me to dream I can be anything I want

28. Sticking up for me when others put me down

29. Noticing when I’m upset and asking me about it

30. Helping me try to avoid mistakes that may hurt my education and my friendships

What other “thank yous” go left unsaid? Leave them below in the comments.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How to Cope with Excessively Talkative Classes

One of the most frustrating feelings that any teacher can experience is the hopelessness that comes when our students are so busy talking that they don't listen to us or work productively. Unfortunately, having a class that is excessively talkative is one of the most frequent complaints that many teachers--experienced and novice alike-- share. It is disheartening at best to plan a wonderful lesson that no student is interested in.

The problem of the talkative class is also one that is amazingly uniform across all grade levels and subjects. Large classes, small classes, very young students and sophisticated seniors can all be so talkative that little learning can occur. After all, they outnumber us by thirty or so noisy people to one teacher!

Luckily, there are a few easy approaches that can help your students take charge of their own talking patterns and learn to work well with each other and with you. Try some of these to help control the talking in your classroom.


You have a class that talks and talks and talks. They talk indiscriminately to you and to each other. While you certainly don’t want a class that is silent and dull, the excessive talking in this class prevents students from accomplishing everything you have planned for the day’s lesson. You are not just tired of trying to cope with the noise, but even more tired of trying to teach over their constant din.

Your Goals

• To raise student awareness about the harmful effects of excessive talking

• To encourage appropriate talking and discourage inappropriate talking

• To empower students so that they can cope with this issue themselves instead of being nagged by a teacher

Approaches to Take

Spend time observing your students to find the cause of the problem. Are they excited because of the time of day? Bored and restless? Unaware of the effect of their talking? Unsure of how to do their work well? Once you have determined some of the causes for their talking, work to figure out how to turn this into an advantage instead of a class failing.

Be very clear with your students when you discuss this issue. They should know when it is acceptable for them to talk and when they should be working silently or listening carefully. Setting clear limits and communicating those limits reduce your students’ tendencies to test the boundaries of your tolerance.

Be aware that sometimes you may be the cause of the problem. Once your students are settled and working, be careful not to keep talking to the whole class. Work with individuals at that point instead of distracting the entire group.

Take care to pace instruction so that once students finish an assignment they have plenty of other work to do with a minimum of transition time. Students without enough to do will find time to chatter.

Establish signals with your class so that they know when to stop talking. Many teachers find it helpful to enlist students in this process because it promotes student ownership.

If students are excited about an upcoming event, allow them to spend a timed minute or two talking before settling down to work. Clearing the air this way shows students that you are willing to be fair.

Teach students that they must be responsible for their own talking. Use positive peer pressure to your advantage. Chart their successful attempts at managing their excessive talking with a large bar or pie graph and then provide a small tangible reward for those students who are successful. Once students see that they can be successful at managing their own noise levels, they will be likely to continue in a positive trend.

Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid the sound-wave cycle of a loud class time followed by a quiet time followed by a loud time again by being very consistent in how you enforce the rules you establish about when it is acceptable for students to talk. Set clear limits and stick to them instead of appearing the least bit fuzzy on this issue.

Don’t allow students to have a great deal of down time where they don’t have anything to do but chitchat loudly with their classmates.

Don’t forget that it is important to help students focus on an assignment at the start of a lesson and then periodically throughout the class period. Reasonable timed wiggle breaks make it easier for students to not only stay on task but to talk appropriately with their classmates.

Don’t expect students to be quiet all class long. Build in a variety of activities so that their interactions can be positive ones.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Quick Way to Help Students Begin to Build a Positve Self Image

We teachers often complain that we just don't have enough time to do anything extra in class because we have so much content material to cover. Unfortunately, this is true. Most teachers already feel the pressure that comes with trying to cover enormous amounts of curriculum material without trying to add self-image improvements to it.

However, when students feel competent and confident, they tackle the work with so much more enthusiasm and motivation that minutes of valuable class time are not lost each day. The few minutes that you spend on little motivational project such as this one will reward you in improved class efficiency and better performance from you students.

Additionally, too often we focus on the weakesses our students have. This will allow them (and you) to focus on your students' strengths.

This little exercise should only take a few minutes to complete at the start of class or even at the end of class in preparation for the next day. You can adjust it to meet the particular needs of your students or even of your curriculum. For example, if you are planning an independent reading project, the four corner adjectives could be ones that relate to your students' strengths are readers or independent workers.

Here is how to do this quick exercise that can lead to very positive results:

1: Have students fold a sheet of paper so that it makes a tent that can stand alone. While the size of the tent can be as large as you would like, a piece of notebook sized paper works well.
Step 2: Ask students to write their first name in big, bold letters on the front so that everyone standing near their desks can see what they have written.

Step 3: Ask students to choose one word that describes them from each column below. They are to write each word in a corner on the same side as their name.
Step 4: On the back--the side facing the student-creator--ask students to write one very important goal that
they have for the class. This constant reminder will serve to help them stay on task.

Column 1: dependable  forgiving  compassionate  curious  self-controlled

Column 2: flexible  humorous  resourceful  enthusiastic  organized

Column 3: positive  honorable  dedicated  friendly  courteous

Column 4: tolerant  sympathetic  confident sensible  cooperative

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why Do We Have to Learn This?

Scenario: After carefully planning a unit on information that, according to your state’s standards, is absolutely necessary for you to cover, your students appear bored and restless. Finally, one of them asks the question that all teachers dread: “Why do we have to learn this?”

It can happen to even the best of teachers. Somehow, in the rush to photocopy and round up resources, we can forget one of the most important components of any lesson: the motivation that students need to want to learn the material.

Your Goals:
• To answer the question truthfully and thoughtfully
• To make sure that students have a purpose for their learning
• To resist the urge to say, “Because I told you to!”

Steps to Follow:
• Take questions such as this one seriously. If students are wondering aloud about the purpose of a lesson, you have failed to make it important to them. Spend a minute or two whenever you introduce new material to connect it to what students already know as well as to future lessons.
• Never underestimate the intense need that students have for a practical purpose for their hard work. Have them set goals for themselves and their learning. Make a point of showing students how they can use their knowledge and skills now and in the future.

Mistakes to Avoid:
• Don’t be defensive. Take the question seriously and answer respectfully.
• Don’t assume that students know why they should learn something. It’s up to you to provide relevance if you want students to want to do their work and be successful.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Grace of Children

Getting to know our students is one of the greatest perks of being a teacher. We educators don't roll out of bed each morning in hopes of a fat paycheck or lots of downtime during the day. Instead, we manage the paperwork and tedious meetings and emails and the poor pay and crowded classrooms and long hours so that we can enjoy the best part of our school day--our students.
     Few of us have not been touched by the grace of our students--those small and unexpected kindnesses that can surprise even the most jaded educator. From the tiny first graders who volunteer to help their teacher collect papers to the seniors who offer to carry heavy loads for us, we all benefit from being around children.
    The first time that I was on the receiving end of this grace was as a student teacher being observed for the first time. I was incredibly nervous even though I had just the perfect (to me, anyway) lesson ready to go. In the midst of my presentation, with my supervising teacher in the back of the room recording my real and imagined mistakes, I turned away from the class to write on the board. When I faced them again, there was a tiny, hastily written note: "Your pants are unzipped!" One of my students, aware of how nervous and unsure of myself I felt, had offered the most practical help possible!
     Since then, my students have continued to offer the best parts of themselves in countless ways. Recently, a colleague lost a dear family member and missed school for several days. I watched as our shared students passed around a condolence card so that each one could write a brief message of sympathy. When their teacher returned, she was treated gently for a few days by even the most demanding students. Our students forgot their own adolescent issues for a little while and treated her with dignity, affection, respect and, yes, with grace.
     I have never made it a secret that I enjoy being with my students. I hope that attitude is reflected in the books that I write as well as in the workshops that I give for other teachers. I want everyone who chooses education as a career to feel the same way I do. Sometimes, though, in the relentless press of the daily grind, it is hard to remember why we teach. On those days, I remind myself that I don't teach a subject, I teach students. Each one of them deserves the best from me.