“The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”

(Not the exact question I was asked to give, but close enough.)

Sub for long enough and you get to the point where you look forward to unusual days. Last Wednesday started normal enough, but I had something interesting happen about halfway through. I was subbing for a history teacher who wanted me to show a movie on Martin Luther in the first period. No problem. Not my favorite thing to do, but easy enough. The rest of the periods were to be used as a study hall to catch up on work for this and other classes. I knew the students would see this as synonymous with ‘free time,’ but there was little I could do about that.

During the day, I am sure that word got out that this teacher was absent and the students would essentially free to do as they pleased. That was true of all the classes except fourth period. For them, the teacher had left me a long question to ask. It took most of the white board to write the explanation and the instructions for what they were to do, but I did as instructed. Imagine the consternation of the students who entered fourth period assuming they were to have a ‘free day’ only to find they were to write and thought provoking essay. You would have thought I had sentenced them all the forty lashes tied to the ship’s mast. Needless to say, managing the class for that hour was difficult as the students did everything they could to avoid actually having to do the assignment.

A number of questions entered my thinking as I wrestled with the students to keep them on task. Why was this class singled out? Was it some sort of punishment? If so, it would have been nice to have been given an explanation. Perhaps the students were being punished and they knew why, but I didn’t know and that would have been helpful information to have.

Next, I wondered at how hard they seemed to think this assignment was. To help alleviate some of their fears, I held a class discussion on the subject assigned hoping to spur their thinking a bit. I thought they had enough information by the time we were finished that writing the essay would be a snap. Sure enough, two of the students were finished five minutes after I asked them to start, but they were the exception. These were high school seniors and many of them claimed that they intended to go on to college. Did they have any idea how much of this kind of writing would be required at higher levels? Did they not realize that many of them would be answering a question much like this on their entry application? Apparently not.

I still have no idea why fourth period was singled out this way. If I get the chance, I am going to stop by and ask that teacher when I am at his school next. I can’t wait to hear his answer: it’s bound to be interesting.

Bad News for 4th Period

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Posted by on October 26, 2015 in Education, Policy


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Giving Noisy Kids a Chance

Recently I was reading a book on classroom management and found a statement I thoroughly disagreed with. The author made the statement that if students act up in class you should fist assume the assignment you have given them is too difficult and they are acting up to avoid the work.

“How naive!” I thought. Many of the students in classes where I sub start acting up long before you have had the chance to hand out the assignment. It may be true that they are trying to avoid work, but not because they think it is too hard,they haven’t even seen what it is yet.

On further inspection, it occurred to me that the author was making the point that we should start by assuming the students do feel they are up to the task. I can see where that may be helpful, but in my experience, most of the students I see in class that act up are simply seeking attention.

The other day, I was  subbing in a middle school math class with several challenging students. That is, they were noisy and didn’t want to stay on task. I demonstrated the first problem on the worksheet that was assigned, then asked one of the noisiest girls to come up and help with the second problem. At first, she hesitated thinking this was some sort of punishment that would involve embarrassment. I assured her that I would not let her get embarrassed; all she needed to do was follow my instructions. We did the problem together with me telling her exactly what to write at each step.

As soon as she was done, three more hands went up, all wanting to come work on the board with me, all of them among the noisiest in the class. One by one, I let them all come up and work out a problem. In almost every case, they did not need help from me and they loved it because it meant that for a few minutes, the entire class was focused on them.

I have used this technique in several classes since, and have found it quite effective. If students want attention, then I let them get it by working at the board. They get to demonstrate what they now with the promise that I will not let them stumble. It’s a win for them, a win for the class who gets to see the lesson from the eyes of a peer, and a win for me, because management issues are greatly reduced.

This is a work in progress for me, but I would encourage you to give it a try and see how it works for you. There’s little downside and lots to gain. Just the way I like it.


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Counting Your Words

I was in church this morning when someone stood up to sing. Before the music started, the singer decided he wanted to say a few words. I have never been a fan of this “sermon before the sermon” but don’t mind if it is kept short. Unfortunately, this person wanted us to know just how passionate he was about the theme of the song and what it meant to him and how it had effected his life, and on and on. To his credit, most people forgave his indulgence once he started singing as he had a wonderful voice. Now I know I should have been listening to the words and considering their meaning, but I’m afraid I had tuned this gentleman out two paragraphs into his soliloquy.

My mind wandered to something I read this week in Gary Rubenstein’s book, Reluctant Disciplinarian. He says a mentor once told him that “teachers have only a certain number of words they can say in the year before their class tunes them out. New teachers use them up in the first month.” I thought that was particularly sage advice when I read it, and now, having sat through words I thought were unnecessary, I had a new appreciation for this bit of wisdom.

Harry Wong says much the same thing in The First Days of School. He says “the person doing the work is the one learning.” All too often, the person doing the most work is the teacher and frequently that work is being done in the form of talking. In Wong’s class, he had the work posted on the board and his students were trained to get started as soon as they entered the room. Now I know, subs rarely walk into classes so well disciplined, but I love the idea of keeping words to a minimum. Say what you need to say and let them get to work.

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Posted by on October 12, 2015 in Education


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Sub Procedures

Classroom ProceduresAs I study the challenges that substitute teachers face, I have come to the conclusion that one of the things that make subbing difficult is the breakdown of procedures in the classroom. Let me explain.

Each teacher is allowed to make their own classroom rules and procedures. Some things may be suggested by the school’s administration, but each teacher needs flexibility in deciding what procedures will help them be most effective. Does this mean school should establish procedures school wide so there is consistency from class to class. No, this would be a huge hindrance to the regular teacher.

Some classrooms, particularly at the Elementary School level, have procedures posted on the wall. I always try to follow those procedures to the letter, if at all possible. However, these lists are seldom exhaustive.I have also been in classrooms where the regular teacher has done a fabulous job of creating a notebook full of detailed information on how to handle each and every procedural process. I am always thankful for that kind of information. However, unless you are teaching in a class for an extended period (that is, more than one day) you are unlikely to get the chance to review and learn all such procedures.

What then is a sub to do? My suggestion is to put together a short presentation informing students of what your procedural expectations are for the day. You should be able to do this in five minutes or less so you don’t cut into class time any more than is absolutely necessary. You are also going to have to be very flexible in which procedures you use in each particular situation and how you explain them. For instance, seniors taking a test would require very little instruction where grade school students would likely require a great deal more.

I have a short Power Point presentation I often (though not always) show to my classes. In it we quickly review bathroom procedures, fire and lock-down drill procedures and more. There is a bit a humor in it and the students generally enjoy watching it. I’ve actually had students who have seen it in another class ask me to show it in classes where it wasn’t needed.

Making your procedures slightly outrageous will help make them more memorable. For instance. have students who want to use the bathroom carry with them a large and silly looking hall pass. Ask students who come late to class sing a few bars of their favorite song… You get the picture.

Adopting new procedures for a day or a few days is no great challenge for your students, yet it helps maintain your professionalism and authority in the classroom. You are also far less likely to hear the complaint, “But our teacher let’s us do this…” Many times such statements are bogus, which makes it all that much more important to establish your own procedures while you are teaching. Your response can be as simple as, “I’m sorry, but Mrs. X is not here today so we will be following my procedures. You are welcome to take it up with him/her when they return.”

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Posted by on August 10, 2013 in Uncategorized


Wintertime Preschool Activities

Preschool is a fantastic introduction for children.  The valuable lessons that they learn are all conducted in a fun manner that helps to make education fun.  In the wintertime it is often more difficult to have educational outdoor activities and as all kinds, they can get quite rambunctious inside.  Here are some wintertime preschool activities that kids always love.

Maple Candy

This is a very easy recipe that is a lot of fun for kids and very easy for them to manage at their coordination level.  Preschool activities such as this introduce them to basic cooking, science and just an overall fun for making things.

1) Find clean snow and pack it into a flat wide container such as a deep baking dish or large casserole dish.

2) Have the children draw designs in the snow or write their name or letters they have learned

3) Adults – boil 100% pure maple syrup over medium high heat until it reaches 235°F.

4) Drizzle the syrup into the designs the children drew into the snow.  If you are confident that they have the coordination, you can allow them to pour their own designs.  Arm them with an oven mitt and pour the warmed syrup into a plastic measuring cup.  Guide their hand as they pour the syrup into the snow.

5) Let it cool for a few minutes and enjoy!

Colored Ice Candles

Fire and Ice are a cool combination, no matter what age you are.  These ice candles are fun preschool activities that are very fast and simple and have a picture perfect result.

1) Fill a bucket about ⅔ of the way of ice cold water.

2) Have your preschool child mix in a few drops of food coloring, they can mix and match colors to create their own shade.

3) Place a smaller container such as a soup tin in the middle of the bucket of water, add rocks to keep it from floating (but not touching the bottom)

4) Rest a string across the top of the ice cream pail and use clothespins to pull it tight and hold it to the pail and also to the soup tin.  This will keep the tin from floating to the edges of the pail.  Be sure that the clothespin is not touching the colored water.

5) Allow the creation to freeze outside overnight.

6) The next day remove the ice from the pail (you may have to run hot water over the outside to loosen it)

7) Fill the soup tin with warm water to loosen it and then remove it from the inside of the ice creation.

8) Place a candle inside your new ice candle holder and light it. Voila! Fire and Ice in a beautiful homemade sculpture

Fancy Snow Angels

Not all preschool activities need to be conducted indoors.  When the sun is shining, it is always great to get outside, no matter what the season.  Snow angels are a great way to enjoy the outdoors while creating your own little masterpiece. Children will need to fully dressed from head to toe in snow gear in order to stay warm during this activity.

1) Help your preschooler lay down face up in a fresh and clean area of snow.

2) Have them slide their arms and legs up and down to create “wings” and a “robe”

3) Help pick them up out of their “angel” without damaging it

4) They can now decorate their snow angel with colored paint, twigs, and other craft supplies.  Colored water in spray cans works really well for this activity.

Winter Treasure Hunt

Preschool activities that end with a reward are always intriguing and fun.  This activity will get kids up and moving with a great end to the game. It also helps encourage their thought process as well as decision making skills.

1) Place packages of hot chocolate mix, marshmallows, stir sticks, apple cider and other yummy drink mix parts into small baggies.  Make sure they are waterproof, if not then consider using small tupperware containers.

2) Hide these packages outside in the snow in various areas of a yard

3) Make a treasure map giving hints to where the “treasure’ is

4) After enough treasure is found, create warm drinks for your “pirates” and enjoy the rest of the day.  Remind them that the more they find, the better their drinks will taste.

This article was written by Regina Pflieger, a work-from-home mom who discovered that online preschool programs include both indoor and outdoor preschool activities for kids and parents.

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Posted by on June 27, 2013 in Uncategorized


A Second Chance

As a few minutes ago, my first book is no longer free. It was free for a long weekend but that opportunity is now officially over. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a chance to get a free book from this site. As of now, you can get my second book, just published this weekend, and the following site:

Grab your copy now. I don’t know how long this promotion will last, so download it know while you have the chance.

A Year in the Classroom

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Posted by on June 10, 2013 in Free Resources


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Yours for FREE this weekend: The Substitute Teacher’s Toolkit!

teachers.v01 For a limited time (this weekend, from Friday, June 7 to Sunday, June 9) my new book, The Substitute Teacher’s Toolkit, will be offered for free for anyone who wants to download it. Make no mistake, you will be doing me a huge favor if you take advantage of this offer; so download away and tell all your friends. This is a case where ‘the more’ really is ‘the merrier.’



Posted by on June 6, 2013 in Uncategorized


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