Category Archives: Teaching as a Profession

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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Infographic: Making the Grade

Making the Grade: Great Teachers in Our Schools
Source: Making the Grade: Great Teachers in Our Schools

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Posted by on May 31, 2013 in Teaching as a Profession


Your First Day as a Substitute Teacher

English: A special education teacher assists o...

After jumping through the hoops necessary to become a substitute teacher, some school boards put new subs through some sort of orientation and training. (Many offer no training at all.) However, those that do have training tend to prove to be woefully inadequate to prepare you for the job ahead. There is a very good chance that after the first day of subbing you will wish you had been better prepared. With that in mind, let’s look at your number one priority as a sub and what you can do to prepare for it.

We all remember what it was like when we had a substitute teacher in school; it was a license to play. The teacher would leave an assignment but we would do everything in out power to keep from doing any of the work. It was a license to play and we did all we could to take advantage of the situation. The bad news is, nothing has changed. Students still see substitutes as an opportunity to play, goof off and create as much mischief as possible. Therefore, the first thing you are likely to learn is that if you can’t manage your class noting will be learned.

In these days of high stakes testing, schools cannot afford to let a day slip by. Studies at Utah State have shown that during the years from kindergarten to high school graduation the average student is under the tutelage of a substitute for the equivalent of a year. That’s too much time for schools to let slip by. True, many teacher will do the minimum by giving you a movie to show the kids, but if you are able to prove that you can actually teach you will find you are in great demand in classrooms all over your county.

For these reasons, your first and most important duty is to learn how to manage your classroom and that typically means doing a little research before you get started. The first thing you need to know is what your school’s policy is dealing with disruptive kids in your classroom. Usually there is a graduated plan of some sort that starts with a verbal reprimand, then moving the student to another desk, then, if the behavior continues, sending them to a neighboring teachers classroom, and finally, referring them to the dean or behavioral resource teacher.

Long practice has taught me that it is wise to begin this process as early as possible, and not put them off as a last resort. Behavioral problems escalate quickly and are best handled by nipping them in the bud. If, by your actions, students get the impression that you are permissive and unlikely to take action and you will quickly have a problem too big to manage alone. Conversely, if your start out too strict, you can always loosen up as time goes on.

Remember, it is not your job to make friends with these students. Your job is to teach for a day and you can’t do that if you have behavior problems in the class. One of the things I have found interesting when I have an especially disruptive student, is that after I send them out of the room I will often hear someone say “Thank You” in a barely audible voice. Your students are expecting you to be in control and will respect you more if you handle these problems quickly and effectively.

One quick caveat to go with these instructions: never, never, ever discipline in anger. You should never allow yourself to get to the point where your anger builds, but rather you should exercise discipline long before your emotions are engaged. Trust me on this one; I have seen teachers and subs alike furiously yelling at students for their misbehaviors and there is simply no excuse for that. You will lose all the respect you have worked hard to earn from your students. What’s more, in overreacting you will often find that instead of just one or two troublemakers, you now have twenty who feel like you are out of control and do not deserve to be head of their class.

Teachers who can discipline coolly, with a minimum of drama, maintain learning environments that are both pleasant and professional. You will also find that in multi-day assignments, students you discipline one day will show no resentment the next, provided you handle things in a quiet and professional manner. There are no emotional wounds that need to be healed, only the faint recollection of a corrective behavior and the sense that it would be unwise on their part to misbehave again.


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Posted by on May 5, 2013 in Teaching as a Profession


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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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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


How can I tell; Is Teaching Right for Me?

English: Teachers from the Exploratorium's Tea...

Teachers from the Exploratorium’s Teacher Institute examine the “String Thing” they built. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nationally, teachers are leaving the profession at the rate of 17 percent per year, and in urban areas, the number is 20 percent. The national cost for this revolving door of teachers coming and going at such a rate is over $7 billion a year. Teachers are leaving for a number of reasons, with low pay and lack of respect near the top. That means two things for those thinking about choosing teaching as a profession. First, it means that there are always new openings for good teachers, particularly in urban environments and second, it means that those thinking about becoming teachers need to do some serious soul searching before embarking on that journey.

Why would anyone want to enter into teaching? If low pay and lack of respect are the things driving people away, then why should anyone consider teaching as a profession? The unmistakable truth is that there are few professions that are more vital to our success as a society. Teachers are quite literally preparing the next generation to assume leadership roles. Hard as it is to imagine, it is entirely possible that one of the kids you teach could be a great inventor, poet, actor or politician in the disguise of a small human that desperately needs help with his/her ABC’s.

For that reason, you would think teachers would how a position of honor in our society, but that has not been the case in recent years. Teachers, and schools in general, are under tremendous pressure to perform and a very high level. Because the stakes are so high, tempers can flair and accusations made that make many feel like they are in an undesirable profession.

With the stakes so high, and the rewards so modest, why would anyone choose this profession? Clearly, there are rewards that are not a part of your employment package. The teachers who enjoy their work most, and perform best, are those who genuinely love working with children. This may sound obvious, but you would be surprised by the number of people who have wandered into the profession who have little patience for kids.

So, how do you know if this profession is for you? The best way is to get some experience. Schools have programs for those who are working on there degree in education that requires them to spend time in the classroom, working with, and assisting a teacher. However, this comes at the end of their college experience, near graduation, when they have committed to a course of action and feel the pressure to pay off their student loans. Spending time as a volunteer earlier in the process would make more sense. Getting an accurate picture of what it is like to teach, both its challenges and rewards, is essential to make making a good decision.

Substituting is even better than volunteering in that it requires you to actually assume responsibility for the class. Interning for an experienced teacher can make the job look far easier than it really is. How much better to put yourself in the driver’s seat and experience just how big the challenges are. The requirements for subs vary from state to state, but if you qualify it is a great way to get experience, with the added benefit that it is also a great path to a full time job. Substitutes work with the very people who make hiring decisions, and good subs are often given a fast track to permanent employment.

The other advantage to substituting is that it can give you a chance to teach at a number of different levels. More than a few teachers have entered the profession thinking they wanted to teach one age group, only to find later that they were far more comfortable in another. Sometimes, just the difference in maturity levels between one grade and the next can make a difference in your perspective, and your success, in the classroom.

The industry needs good teachers. Indeed, all our society needs the best teachers we can get. If you think you might bit that bill, get some experience, see the job from the inside as much as possible before committing to take on such and important task. No one will blame you if you decide you are shaped for something else. And if you decided it is for you… you’re in for an incredible treat, with a challenge to match.

Author: Lee Reed is a teacher who writes extensively on matters of education, children and careers.Check out his new book for teachers and substitutes alike at: The Substitute Teacher’s Toolkit

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Posted by on April 11, 2013 in Teaching as a Profession


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