Monthly Archives: April 2013

What Would You Do? Prescription Drugs in the Classroom

Students abuse prescription drugsOn Tuesday morning, Lakeshia (not her real name) came to school a little bit high, not on recreational drugs but on her mother’s very powerful anti-seizure medication. She believed her friends would think she was adventurous and daring for experimenting with her mother’s medication, though she had no intention of telling them the pills had come from the family medicine cabinet. By the time she got to homeroom, she was feeling a pretty good buzz from the two pills she had already taken, so she took two more in front of them just to prove they were real. She then proceeded to hand out more pills to her friends.

Fortunately for me, I was not her substitute that morning; Mr. Dickinson was. Mr. Dickinson is an old pro at teaching with more than twenty years experience. He immediately recognized the signs of drug use in Lakeshia and began making plans to help her. He sent word to the teacher in the next room that he needed help (she was on her planning period and therefore had not students at the time) and asked her to watch his students while he personally walked Lakeshia to the clinic. By this time, Lakeshia’s behavior was markedly erratic, and Mr. Dickinson was worried she might have a meltdown before he could get her to the clinic. Actually, the meltdown came right after they arrived at the clinic.

student prescription drugs The drug Lakeshia had overdosed on can cause dizziness, decreased attention span, slowness of thinking and extreme irritability in children. As soon as Lakeshia, entered the clinic she completely lost control of her wits and bolted out the door, through the double doors of the front office off school property and into the woods nearby. The school nurse, normally a quiet and reserved woman, bolted after her along with Mr. Dickinson, the principal and several others. They did not try to apprehend her, but kept an eye on her until the police could get their and use the Baker Act to get her the medical attention she required.

I heard about this incident at the end of the day as I was checking out from my sub assignment down the hall. I had heard none of the commotion, but was certainly glad this had not happened in my classroom. I was also glad to have heard how Mr. Dickinson had handled the situation so I would know what to do in the future. From this incident I have gathered the following general rules to keep handy should I face something similar:

  • Know the signs of drug use. Glassy eyes, slurred speech and erratic behavior are but a few of the possible signs of drug use, depending on what drugs they are taking. The main thing to notice is whether there behavior is significantly different from normal. This may be a challenge for a sub, but you can usually get some input from the other students if you ask properly.
  • Don’t leave your students unattended. You are legally responsible for providing supervision over the students in your care. Leaving a classroom, even in an emergency is inviting serious risk and a possible lawsuit.
  • You can’t send someone who is mentally of physically impaired to the office alone. Mr. Dickinson’s choice to escort Lakeshia to the clinic was the right choice and may have saved her from serious harm. If she had been sent to the office alone, it is possible she would never been seen leaving the school. No telling what may have happened in that case.

Think this won’t happen to you? The DEA says that prescription drugs are abused more that heroin, LSD, cocaine, meth and other drugs combined. Of the students surveyed, 25% admitted to abusing prescriptions drugs at least once. Chances are very good that at some point in your teaching career you are likely to have to face this monster. Taking note of your school’s policies and developing a game plan could save you a painful lawsuit, and, more importantly, may safe the life of a child in your care.

Note: While this story is based on real events, many of the details have been changedor omitted to protect the privacy of those involved. The story is told as a cautionary tale with the hope that it will inform others and help them prepare in case something similar happens in their classroom.

photo credit: ep_jhu via photopin cc

photo credit: Thomas Leuthard via photopin cc

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Posted by on April 28, 2013 in Education


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5 Minutes a Day that Will Change the Way You Teach (for the Better!)

Florida State v North Carolina

Legendary football coach Bobby Bowden used to tell his players, “Everybody wants to win, few want to do the work to be a winner.” Such an attitude applies to activities far beyond college sports and includes teaching as well as most other professions. Clearly the vast majority of those who teach work diligently to perfect their craft (I have to admit to being humbled by some of the lengths teachers go to in their attempts to do a better job.) So telling someone who puts the long hours into teaching that there is something they can be doing in five minutes that will change the way they teach is a very bold statement. Let’s just see if it is worthy of consideration.

No less an authority than Socrates is quoted as saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” For most of us, such a thought does not fit well with our busy works schedules; yet Socrates is adamant. He doesn’t say, “The unexamined life is less meaningful,” he says, “Not worth living.” Of course he is talking about growth, both personal and spiritual, which is something most of us don’t give a lot of thought to in our daily machinations.

george-santayana-262x232And what of George Santayana‘s famous statement, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” Such a statement should give us pause; how often do we find ourselves making the same mistakes again and again. Does that not suggest we are not learning our lesson the first time? (It is one of life’s little axioms that we tend to get served the same lessons over and over until we finally learn from them.)

So, what does all of this mean? Can this discussion pass the “so what” test? Is there a way that we can do a bit of self examination without sinking into deep and meaningless navel gazing? I think we can, but we need to put limits on it to make it effective. I would suggest we spend just five minutes at the end of each day to consider how our day went and what we could have done to make it better. And since we are teachers, I would suggest we write it down. However, and here is the big caveat, we have got to limit the time and scope of this introspection.

Most of us spend hours and hours mulling over the dealings of the day in the back of our minds. Most of us use this time to beat ourselves up. If you are afraid this will cause feelings of guilty, then you need to pass until another time. The idea here is to learn from our mistakes, to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. None of the teachers I know need any more abuse, from outsiders, from other teachers or administrators, and most especially not from themselves.

We also need to limit the time we take for this process. Five minutes is just a tiny fraction of our day, yet it could bring huge benefits. Could you do it in three? Probably. Would ten be better? Probably not. Don’t get hung up on the time, just spend a few minutes with yourself thinking about what you could do better. Then, most importantly, stop thinking about it and focus on the many roles of you play in other parts of your day.

single-pen-quiver-for-pocket-notebooks-485 (1)I carry one of those little notebooks with the little elastic straps on it. At the end of each day I jot down a few notes about what the challenges of the day were; what worked and what didn’t. The benefits to doing so come in two flavors. The simple act of putting these thoughts to paper help clarify my thinking while the day is still fresh in my mind. Plus, there is the added benefit of being able to review these notes days, weeks and months later to see my progress, to see how I have grown and to see how I handled things in the past.

One of the strange facts of life is that we often find something that works, use it for a season, and then abandon it. As one might expect, the old problems resurface and we wonder why. Looking back at your notes will sometimes reveal that there was a time when you had this problem solved. What were you doing then that worked better? Can you do it again, or some slightly modified version of it? We are working with human beings and humans by very nature are complex and capricious, yet there are certain things that work again and again in a way that makes a bit of introspection well worth the effort.

How you do this doesn’t really matter. In the past I have used a little program on my computer to take notes for this purpose. After all, most of us have our computers up and working during the day and it is often the last thing we turn of at the end of the day. Why not spend a few minutes polishing the apple? How you choose to do this isn’t important, the fact that you do it is.

My mother, one of the wisest women I have ever known, used to say, “What we do today doesn’t matter nearly as much as what we do every day.” Clearly this is one of those habits that we do every day that can have a profound effect on our year, our career and our life.

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Posted by on April 26, 2013 in Growth


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3 Things You Think Are “Cool” That Actually Make Middle School Kids Hate You

Hardly a day goes by that I am not called “the coolest sub in the school” by someone, yet that has never been my goal. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure I am not bothered a bit by that moniker. It’s fine being “cool” but only if you are meeting the needs of your students and the expecations of the teachers you are temporarily replacing. In the article below, author Catherine Killingsworth tells us three things we can do that may seem cool, but will ultimately cause us to lose respect. That is certainly a price too high to pay for coolness.

That Writing Lady

We all want to be cool. Often, even when we are the most experienced, knowledgeable, and confident person in the room (as we often are–though not always–in middle school classrooms) we still want our kids to like us. This is why we often do three very stupid things in the hopes of making ourselves more appealing to our kids:

1. Being sarcastic. We all have vague memories of a high school teacher who was sort of bitter and sarcastic, and we remember thinking he was entertaining.  He reminded us of that cool teacher from TV, right? So if we’re sarcastic in class, that makes us cool, right?

Wrong–especially with kids under the age of 14. If think back further, we remember that,while it was sometimes  funny when teachers made fun of historical figures, we never liked listening to jokes we didn’t understand, and we REALLY didn’t like feeling stupid or…

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Posted by on April 24, 2013 in Uncategorized


New Substitute Teacher Cheat Sheet

StateLibQld 1 113036 Cartoon of students recei...

After you have jumped through the necessary hoops to get certified as a substitute teachers (in my state that means a background check, college transcripts, fingerprinting and an all-too-brief orientation) you will be, according to the school board you are to be working with, prepared to fill in for a real teacher. Au contraire! If you are new to the teaching profession you are likely in for a shock. Unlike your own children, your students are likely to see your instructions as a rude interruption in their social calendars and will do all they can to resist you at every turn. Your pleas for compliance, your begging them to do this for their own good, will go completely unheeded and unappreciated. No matter how well meaning your intentions, you will be thrown a gauntlet you must accept.

In many ways, substitutes have it easy over the teachers they replace. They don’t have the endless meetings, the planning, the form filling, or the parent meetings. But in another way they are at a serious disadvantage. Every student knows that in a day, or at most a week, the sub will be gone and may never be seen or heard from again. For that reason they feel free to take advantage of the situation and do as they please. (Many of you will remember this from your own school days.) Maintaining classroom discipline can, therefore, become a monumental challenge. The only bright spot to this scenario is that if you can master classroom discipline as a sub, transitioning those skills to a full time position will be a breeze.

So what is a sub to do? Here are some simple strategies to help you get and maintain classroom discipline:

  • Know the discipline procedures for your school board: I hate giving out referrals but there are times when it is necessary. The other day I gave one to a young lady who had gone out of her way to earn it and sent her to the office with it. She was back ten minutes later as insolent as ever and nothing more was done. I suspected, and later confirmed, that she never made it to the office with the form; she trashed it. In discussing the incident with the guidance counselor I learned to important points: 1) never send the referral with the person who is being referred, and 2) send the referrals to the dean’s office not the front office. My mistake, I’ll know better nest time.
  • Get students on task as soon as possible: One of the teachers I worked for had an assignment on the board that she called a “bell ringer.” It was an assignment that could be completed in about five minutes that kept the students bust while I took role. I was amazed at how effective it was and made it a regular part of my routine. If the teacher doesn’t have a bell ringer, I bring one of my own. Truth is, one of the most important things you can do to maintain class discipline is to get students on task early and keep them there through the entire class.
  • Never lose your cool: I was standing outside a classroom the other day when I could hear a teacher down the hall yelling, “What is your name, young man?” again and again. The tone of his voice told me this teacher was exasperated and everyone in the hall knew it. I couldn’t see the teacher but a could see students that were not far from the scene. It was as if you could see them losing respect for this teacher. Never, never, never ever do this. You are the professional and if you can’t maintain discipline over yourself, you will never get it from your students. Promise yourself now that you will never raise your voice, and then keep that promise. Yes, there will be times when you need to get everyone’s attention and for those times I carry a secret weapon: a coach’s whistle. Kids come preprogrammed to respond to a whistle and a short blast nearly always does the trick.
  • Bring filler material: Most school boards require teachers to prepare lesson plans in advance, so you should have instructions when you arrive. However, the plans don’t always fit the time allotted. Look online and you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of sources of word searches, mazes, games, puzzles and more. Having a number of these handy, arranged by grade level and the amount of time required to complete them can go a long way toward making you look like a pro.
  • Whatever you do, don’t get discouraged: I was in a class the other day where the teacher had mounted a poster of a little boy holding a baseball bat and standing in a major league ball park. Beneath the photo were the words, “Remember, no matter how good someone is now, they were once a rookie, just like you.” Those words are as true for teachers and substitutes as they are for any other profession. It takes time to master your craft and until you do, there will be days that will test you to the core.

Posted by on April 24, 2013 in Teaching as a Profession


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Harry Wong’s Secret to Being an Effective Teacher


Harry & Rosemary Wong

Harry & Rosemary Wong

Harry Wong and his wife, Rosemary, are two of the most respected voices in the education industry. Read any of their books and you will discover facile minds filled to the brim with the latest research combined with decades of experience in teaching and helping others teach better. Their best known book, The First Days of School, is so highly lauded that it is required reading in many university education programs. That book, like all of their publications, is loaded with great information and handy advice that is essential to being an effective teacher. However, one piece of advice stands out above the rest as being Harry Wong’s biggest secret to being a better teacher.

One of the things Wong talks about is being prepared. It is essential that teachers and administrators alike have a detailed plan for what will happen in the first few days of a new school year. Explaining and rehearsing routines that will be used throughout the year is essential. As a matter of fact, Wong makes it clear that for most teachers the year can be be won or lost in the first few days, perhaps even the first few minutes of the school year. For that reason, having a well thought out plan that includes as many contingencies as you can conceive is absolutely essential to being an effective teacher. Yet as good as this advice is, it is not Harry Wong’s Secret to being a better teacher.

The Wong’s also stress the importance of classroom management. “Effective teachers,” they tell us, “manage their classrooms; ineffective teachers discipline a classroom.” They go on to describe what an effective classroom should look like and how it should work. They stress the importance of building an environment that is task oriented with an ingrained expectation of superlative performance. Truth is, it’s amazing what can be done when kids are in a positive environment, with an expectation for excellence and an effective teacher who will uphold high standards for them to achieve. But in spite of the fact that they spend nearly 100 pages talking about it, and in spite of the fact that teachers frequently identify classroom management as their number one concern, this is not the Wong’s secret to being a better teacher.

Harry Wong and his wife also talk at length about lesson mastery. To use their words, “If a student cannot demonstrate learning or achievement, the student has not failed- WE have failed the student.” So, if that is the case, what is the key to making sure our students succeed? The Wong’s answer is straight to the point, “To increase learning and achievement, increase the amount of time students are working.” Too many teachers believe that their most significant time is spent lecturing, but research has shown that students learn most when THEY are working, not the teacher. Great teachers lecture just enough to explain to students what needs to be done and then get out of the way so that students can do as much of it as possible. The results from this kind of strategy can be quite profound. Great teachers can teach as much in a year as a lesser teacher teaches in a year and a half, and yet as significant as this difference is, it is not the Wong’s secret to being a better teacher.

That secret, and he mentions it early in both the book and the accompanying CD, is this: “If you dare to teach, you must dare to learn.” Remember, teaching is a profession and just as doctors, lawyers, accountants and architects have to constantly keep themselves abreast of the latest trends in their profession, so do teachers. Yet many teachers lose sight of this truth and discontinue their personal development as soon as they are given their own classrooms. How tragic in light of the fact that our students desperately need us to be at the very top of our game. No matter how challenging it is to stay current with our knowledge base and skills, our kids deserve our best efforts. They are counting on us to help them find their way, not just through school, but through life itself. Don’t let them down, commit now to excellence by being the most knowledgeable and best prepared teacher your students could possibly find. As Samuel Meisels has said, “The highest stake of all is our ability to help children realize their full potential.”

Get your own copy of Harry and Rosemary Wong’s book here: The First Days of School

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Posted by on April 23, 2013 in Continuing Education, Education


Technology in the Classroom: Let’s be smart about this

"Technology has exceeded our humanity"

I love technology and have welcomed it into the classroom. No doubt it will have a profound impact in the classroom in the months and years ahead, but my own concern is that we not embrace it simply for the sake of technology, but to use it as a tool to help us achieve what we could not without it.

I have seen kindergarten children cry and fight over the opportunity to play games on the computer. Are they learning something? Perhaps, but I wonder if what they are learning is something that will one day be marketable, or will make them better human beings. I have also seen middle school students in very expensive reading labs with highly sophisticated software, use those tools primarily to play games and stay entertained. Hardly a good use of the tools.

In the past American children have been at the head of the pact, working with better ideas to make them more innovative as we provided the world with a plethora of great inventions, hugely successful technologies and a very long list of noble laureates. However, the game is quickly changing.

I was in Vietnam a few years ago and the sense of excitement there was palpable. After more than a thousand years of war, they are finally at peace and they realize they can have what the people in the West have… if they just work at it hard enough. Their pace is astonishing. Everywhere you look you see people working, building, learning and growing. There is little doubt that they will be a force to be reckoned with in the future, and the same can be said, of course, for China and India, where the same motivation exists on a much larger scale.

It took us 97 years to progress from the first telephone to the first cell phone. The explosion of of cell phones since their invention in 1973 has been remarkable and service providers have been only too eager to make the investment in infrastructure the world over to be able to provide cell service from the skyscrapers of New York City to the most remote goatherd on the backside of the Sahara.

My point here is that technology works in an odd way compared to other ways of learning. Even the most backward of countries will not have to go through a hundred years of telephone development to catch up. The learning curve can be measured in weeks rather than years, and our advantage is gone shortly after the provider agreements are signed.

How much longer can we lead the world in these technology development especially when our competition is so powerfully motivated? That is hard to predict, but what we must recognize is that we desperately need to be the very best at using technology to its fullest potential. What excites me is technologies potential to engage students and capture not only their imagination, but also their inner desire to learn and grow. If we can tie into those innate desires and match them to a curriculum that allows students to work at their own pace and we could be onto something truly significant.

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Posted by on April 19, 2013 in Technology


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Fear of Being Boring

Reblogged from Albert Thompson’s blog: Computer Science Teacher


Day 2 - Boring


I recently came across Shawn Cornally‘s blog titled ThinkThankThunk and noticed that the subtitle is “Dealing with the fear of being a boring teacher.” That is a fear I can relate to. To me being boring in front of students is the kiss of death. A boring teacher is usually perceived as teaching a boring subject. Why would anyone want to learn something that is boring from someone who is boring?


Passion is the first step in not being boring. If you are excited about what you are talking about or teaching it is harder (though not impossible) to be boring. That is the low bar though. You also have to know your audience and present the material in ways that is interesting to them. In computer science that means picking projects that students can relate to; that they will find interesting and not boring. that can be a struggle sometimes for someone as far away from the students ages as I am. It occurred to me that I am as much as four times the age of some of my students. Old enough to be their grandfather. Ouch!


I do try to keep in tune with students and plan projects accordingly. In fact many of them are designed with the help of the students themselves. I want them to be motivated to do the work because of interest and not just for the grade.


One can present in a boring fashion as well. I was fortunate enough to take a number of public speaking courses while I was working in industry and I try to bring what I learned there into the classroom. Boring is bad! BTW I don’t understand why teachers do not get regular public speaking courses as part of their professional development. If anything people who speak as often as teachers do need it more than people who speak infrequently because it is very easy to become stale or lazy from repetition.


It has been said that those who think education doesn’t involve entertainment don’t understand either. I think there is real truth there. It is something I worry about regularly. So to my fellow teachers I say “Let’s have fun out there and leave boring to others!”



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Posted by on April 18, 2013 in Teaching as a Profession