Tag Archives: Middle school

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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A Surprisingly Effective Tool for Substitutes

My wife is a very accomplished teacher with a doctorate in health sciences and the equivalent in education, so when she made a suggestion at the beginning of my substitute teaching career, I took note. Her suggestion was that I put together a brief PowerPoint presentation about my life, particularly those things in my life that my students might find interesting and unusual. She has taught overseas on several occasions and knows the powerful effect such a presentation can have. Rather than just looking like a substitute who is there to collect a paycheck, you create a three-dimensional character for yourself that your students can identify with.

Still, I didn’t know how such a presentation would be accepted here in the classrooms where I worked. I put the presentation together wondering if it would ever be used. When I was finished I promised myself that I would use it if, and when, the opportunity ever presented itself. The day finally did come along several weeks later. I was teaching at a middle school and the way the schedule was written, there was plenty of time for the presentation and the tools to show it were easily accessible.

Sample Image From My Presentation Showing Places I Have Been

Sample Image From My Presentation Showing Places I Have Been

I quickly went through the slides showing where I have lived (three different continents), some of my interests (I have a very broad range of interests) and some of the things that make my family unique (my oldest son is deaf, my middle son had just got married and my daughter was a cheerleader at a nearby high school.)  The whole thing took me less than five minutes to show and yet, at the end of it, and to my great astonishment, I got applause.

Buoyed by the support of that class I showed it to the next and the next and the next. As a matter of fact, I got applause in every class where I showed it. I began to show it at other schools and while I didn’t always get applause, everyone who saw it seemed to appreciate it. Some weeks later I was subbing in a high school and after the class a student came up to tell me that the day before their substitute had been a professional baseball player, but, he wanted me to know; I was cooler than that guy!

How can my rather mundane life possibly compare to that of a professional athlete? On most levels it can’t, but that is not what is important here. What this student was responding to was the fact that he was able to see me as a real person with many of the same challenges he and his peers face.

I will admit, this is not the presentation I would use to try to get a job. It is simply a fairly straightforward look at who I am as a person. Since those first days I have had the chance to show it to every age group from kindergarten to high school seniors and all have appreciated it. One of the bonuses of showing it is that it quickly earned me the reputation for being one of the cool teachers. That doesn’t mean I have compromised my standards; I suspect the rigor I try to apply in the classroom is tougher than most other subs, and yet I have this reputation that allows me to be tough and still be considered ‘cool.’

I now recommend this to all the subs I meet. Just a few pictures, an illustration or two, and if you can, work in a few jokes, especially if they are at your own expense. I end mine with a review of bathroom and emergency procedures so that showing it has some real value. (Hard for the staff to complain when you are including emergency protocols.) Just be sure to keep it under five minutes; under three if you can. That way no one can complain you are wasting valuable class time. Aside from that, give it a go. See if your results aren’t at least as good as mine. And if you find something that works better, please let me know so I can try it too.

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Posted by on May 8, 2013 in Education


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Published at Last!

Book Cover

Book Cover

I finally did it! After months of research and planning and many weeks of writing and editing, I have finally published my first book: The Substitute Teacher‘s Toolkit. In it I tell my story of woe. Well, I tell about a disastrous week I had at the middle school level shortly after I got started. I went into that week full of confidence that I knew how to handle kids, and came out thinking I had a great deal to learn.

My wife, a professor of nursing, has a real passion for middle school kids. You can’t help but feel sorry for the little rapscallions as they struggle with the vagaries of puberty while trying to look cool in the process. She begged me not to abandon them entirely as good role models were in very short supply. I took her advice, though I did lay low, mostly at the elementary school level, for a couple of months as I worked on developing the skills I needed to manage a classroom.

What I learned was astonishing. There are a ton of resources out their for teachers and subs alike. There are a lot of people who understand the challenges of teaching and they offer a vast variety of tools to assist. Corporations, too, understand the importance of a well educated workforce and they frequently offer great resources as well. And the best news is that a great many of these resources are offered free of charge.

It is now possible to gather the training and resources you need to be a very successful substitute, online and at a very reasonable price. Unlike me, you can enter the classroom looking like a professional who knows what they are doing. You can avoid many of the mistakes I made and make a great impression on the kids you teach as well as the administrators you serve. If you are hoping to work full time as a teacher, this is essential. If you just want to be a better sub, this will point you to many thousands of resources that are available to help you do your job with style. Please, check it out at the Amazon store here.

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Posted by on April 5, 2013 in Free Resources


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Sticks and Stones

I had the chance the other day to sub at an elementary school in the poorest section of town. Most of the kids that attend this school live in the projects just down the street. I like subbing here when I can, mostly because I know how much they need good subs. They certain have had their challenges in keeping good ones. When I sign in at a new school, they usually have the paperwork ready for me. I just sign it and take the pink copy, but not at this school. They have had so much trouble with subs leaving after just an hours worth of work that they require subs to pick up their copy at the end of the day.

On this particular day I was subbing for a kindergarten teacher. I didn’t learn until the next day that she had food poisoning the night before and called in sick without preparing a plan. This is usually a worst-case scenario for a sub, but I had plenty of back up material to keep them busy and on task for most of the day. Actually, they were adorable, and I really enjoyed my time with them, even if there were, at time, a handful.

At lunch time I took the kids to the cafeteria and sat with them while they ate. This is not what most teachers do. Most go to the teachers lounge to spend their thirty minutes to get a break from their kids, but I enjoy spending time with these kids and they love the attention. (Don’t try this in middle or high school, it won’t work.)

On the way back from the cafeteria the group got somewhat spread out. I was with the kids in the lead, and the kids in the back were a good ways back. I got to our room and waited for the rest to catch up. I noticed that a teacher’s aid had stopped one of my kids and was talking to him. From her bent over posture and wagging finger, I assumed she telling him off. I don’t know what he did, but it couldn’t have been that bad, I mean, how much trouble can a kindergardener get into between the cafeteria and the classroom? What ever it was, he seemed to be sufficiently remorseful and she let him proceed on his way.

As soon as this little boy entered the room, he ran to the middle of the room, threw himself on the ground and began to weep. Whatever this woman has said had hurt him deeply and I was angry. What could this boycould have done that he would deserve such harsh words. Why did his tiny soul have to be wounded so? I picked him up, took him to a rocking chair and told him I didn’t know what he had done, but I was sure it could not have been so bad he deserved such treatment.

I try hard to treat all my kids with respect. I don’t yell, or scream and I never, ever tell them they are losers. It is possible to tell kids you don’t like their behavior without questioning their motives or character. Please understand, you can get kids to behave without resorting to such tactics. The fact that you are having a bad day, or your personal life is in a shambles, doesn’t allow you to say anything you want ot these little ones…and it never will. They deserve your best; every single day, no matter what.

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Posted by on March 25, 2013 in Uncategorized


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