Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Book Review: Setting Limits in the Classroom, Revised: How to Move Beyond the Dance of Discipline in Today's Classrooms by Robert J. Mackenzie

My first book review. The book is Setting Limits in the Classroom, Revised: How to Move Beyond the Dance of Discipline in Today's Classrooms by Robert J. Mackenzie. I purchased mine from Amazon.com.

I feel that this is an excellent book. Though targeted toward classroom teachers rather than substitutes, I feel that this book will help everyone learn to respectfully teach children to make good behavioral choices. And I don't just mean teachers - parents, too!

The book helps readers identify their own style of teaching, and then highlights the author's best method for implementing classroom discipline. His approach is practical, and utilizes what he calls the "democratic" approach to discipline. Basically he suggests providing immediate choices for consequences for negative or unapproved behaviors. This allows the student to have a hand in his discipline, and allows the student to save face - keep respect. Of course the trick, as with all "self-help" books, requires that the reader implement these techniques consistently. This, of course, can be difficult to do! But as with all good things worth doing, practice makes perfect.

This book is about creating and keeping a respectful environment while still teaching the students that there are consequences for their actions.

Mackenzie writes this book in an easy to read fashion, and lays the concepts out simply, using examples from multiple grades. He also uses diagrams to simply illustrate his points.

I found that in my case I was particularly able to see these examples in the book - DESPITE being new to substitute teaching - because of my experiences with children... including my own. I could actually identify my own children as "compliant" or not, and see the teacher examples from the book relating to how I relate to each of my own children. Mackenzie himself uses an example from his own family for one lesson on how each student differs from another.

A great read, informative and well-written, nicely organized, and terrific information!

A+ review

Monday, February 22, 2010

Teaching in the classroom....

Though my family is full of teachers, including my father, who was a college professor, I never had the dream of working in a classroom. Quitting college after the first year, I ran off and got married, and entered the workforce. A few years later, our first child was born, and suddenly it became apparent that teaching was in my blood, whether I admitted it or not. When my children were toddlers, I printed words and pictures identifying objects throughout the house, as some people do when they are learning a new language. My intent was to teach my children word recognition, similar to the early-learning skill of recognizing store signs such as those from McDonald’s and K-mart. When I read to them, I taught them hand signals for words such as “the” without easy phonetic translation, and in this way, they could “read” with me, word by word, even if the only symbol they recognized was that letter grouping. To encourage letter sounds, we played hangman on big chalkboards. Entering kindergarten, all four children were voracious readers, and I had re-enrolled in college, taking occasional courses as time allowed.

While I enjoyed these word games with my children, I still did not consider a degree in education. I was even a volunteer coordinator for the Dauphin County Literacy Council. Friends and teachers from my children’s schools where I volunteered would tell me repeatedly that I was a natural teacher, and that I should consider making that my career when I was ready to go back to work. I demurred, finding focus in my love of art, and ultimately I graduated just this summer with my Bachelor of Art in Art History with a minor in General Computing. However, three years ago a teacher friend of mine enrolled at a university to obtain her Reading Specialist Certification and Masters Degree. I was intrigued. It was at this moment that I began to imagine myself in a classroom. I spoke with my adviser at my university, but an education minor was not available to me. I decided I would have to work toward it after graduation, and here I am today.

Understanding that a Reading Specialist Certification can only come after previous teaching certification, I would love to inspire students to want to embrace language and learning. I worked hard to receive my degree, particularly since I finally received my Associates Degree in 2006 and began completion of my Bachelors. With four children, school, and a job, the past three years have been a joyful challenge to maintain my excellent grades and yet maintain stability at home. I can proudly say that my two oldest children have now entered college, and I would love to be able to help other students make this a reality. I am an encourager, something I used ridicule about myself when I was younger – saying that everyone needed cheerleaders to appreciate their efforts. However, it is only now that I can understand the need to embrace this gift of encouragement and to use it, with my love of language, to help others. 

I will contribute my enthusiasm and my strict work ethic. These traits will be evident in both settings, and will encourage both my peers and my future students to set goals, and enjoy their journeys as they work toward their goals. My circuitous route to this point may have been a long time coming, but I am glad, because I would not have the insight I have now, had I not gone through so much to get here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


When I first thought of keeping this blog about expectations for life and work, I really was thinking that so many people have no expectations - or they don't know how to articulate them. I actually forgot that many people have negative expectations, and they live their lives that way, and don't even realize it. This is a huge issue and I think it is only in my own optimistic denial that I didn't think of it as an issue at all.

It came to my attention in a big way this past week when I was in a classroom with preschool children. The students were of varying ages and some had emotional or physical diagnosis outside of the average preschooler. The staff in the classroom had been working with these kids since September, and clearly they were tired of some of the repetitive behaviors of some of the children. Let me make it clear that they did have the student's best interest in mind. I just think that they let their own emotions get in the way of the correct way of dealing with some of the kids.

They also may have needed additional training, for that matter. Maybe a reminder course with interactive lessons to get them to respond to the issues in fresh new ways.

We all need to remember that at one point or another this is something we need to face - shaking up our own routines benefits not only the students and those around us but gives us renewed energy.

But I digress!!

In the case of one student in particular, the teachers never once responded to him positively. I guess maybe this could possibly be something that they had determined was not appropriate for him (for example, maybe he couldn't learn that way bec/ of his diagnosis). However, no one prepped me for that so all I saw was negativity. Every action this child performed was pounced upon as if they were looking for bad behaviors. And you know, by the end of the class, this student was the only one who didn't get to be a "Super Star" on his behavior paper that he took home for mom.

Once our minds are 'tattooed' with negative thinking, our chances for long-term success diminish. ~John Maxwell

Sunday, January 31, 2010

My day as a Fly on the wall... (Teacher Observation Day)

So the other day I went into a high school to observe a teacher at work. This was a teacher who made things look easy - but I could see that the intense interaction with her students made her tired by the end of the day.

Mrs. C was kind and friendly, and I could see that she was just a little tough. Tougher than me. I fall all over people thinking everyone is as friendly as I am (NOTE TO SELF for substitute teaching later - GET TOUGH, don't assume everyone is nice, or honest). However, she was pleasant and she had won numerous teaching awards. She introduced me to a few other teachers, got me situated with a desk and chair in the back of the room, and started her day.

Her first period was free, so she spent the time coordinating some teaching strategies with other teachers in her department. No matter the academic level of the classes, they all follow the same lessons - but the faster learners go more in depth into each subject in the same period of time. This way everyone has a base of knowledge but the extra information allows the advanced learners more knowledge for extra insights in the future, etc. In addition to talking and planning these strategies, she worked ahead on some lessons for presentation. She uses a power point and a dry-erase board, and every day she uses the power point to dramatize her lesson or to give examples. She also had papers copied for use in class lessons, and it looked like she had photocopied things about 3 months in advance, there were so many stapled copies. But to me this means she was just very prepared. Terrific!

The first 3 classes I sat through were AP classes. These classes had kids who were interested in the subject, despite some of the students wearing things that made me cringe! It was so exciting to see the discussions. I was so happy to hear the insights that these kids brought to the subject. They were obviously well taught, as they mentioned historical examples for things, and they were quick to put ideas together, and give insight into the topics. This is a clear admonishment against judging by looks - just because you aren't used to something doesn't mean you know what to expect.

Mrs. C had a total of 5 classes, a lunch, a study period, and 2 planning periods. The two planning planning periods don't happen every day, but this was my schedule (not in that order). The other 2 classes that I observed were average level classes, and I was sad to hear the level of knowledge that these students possessed. They were also not as neatly dressed as the other students (despite wearing basically the same type of clothing, to my older untrained eye). This clothing observation may mean nothing, but I wonder how it might fit into the area of conscientiousness and responsibility and how they affect one's drive or focus.

The other classes were louder (though not too loud), they were messier, less restrained, and less prepared than the AP classes. Many students did not have their books or other items needed for class. This school has adopted the rule that every student shall have a small point off for being unprepared for class, but this teacher has made it a little easier for the students by having supplies for them as they need them (but no, spoons are NOT taped to the pencils).

The lessons were simple, and verbally the students seemed to stay on topic for the most part. The writing work that was done in these classes, however, was plagued by an inability to focus. Though the teacher clearly told the class that the work would be collected as a test the next day, they failed to take the time to do the work in class. She also had them pair up and had one student do the odds while the other worked on the evens. They even failed to take advantage of this. I wanted to stand up and say, "Hey! Easy A! What are you thinking??"

Classroom management and Learning Focused School techniques were in abundance, though. I loved to watch this teacher draw out the classes - especially the 2 more challenging ones.

In her discussion with me, Mrs. C references what she called, "old style teaching." She had a zippy term for it - "The Sage on the Stage". And the modern teaching style she labeled "The Guide on the Side". As far as I can tell, this references an article and lessons (for teachers) from the nineties. The article was written by Alison King, who is an associate professor of education in the College of Education at California State University in San Marcos. An excerpt can be found here, or if you have access to JSTOR you can access it here. I have JSTOR access and I found this article to be enlightening. In addition, having watched my children go through schools in the nineties and 00's I can see how much impact this article had in their lives because of it's impact upon their teachers. I had just never heard it worded like that.

When the students in each class arrived, Mrs. C had today's LEQ on the board, along with the title of the class. She also had what she called a "Please Do Now", or PDN. This is based on the LEQ of the day. The PDN is usually done in the student's notebook before class even starts, and she takes time to discuss it with the students once the bell rings.

When the bell rang, Mrs. C greeted the students immediately and shut the door (or had someone shut it). She then opened with a discussion about the PDN, which was on topic w/ the lesson. She didn't seem to point out the LEQ to any student, but it was written boldly on the board so that there was no question about the point of the lesson.

Almost like clockwork, but without seeming to reference the clock, Mrs. C ran each class in a similar fashion. After the opening discussion about the PDN (which introduced the lesson) she had hands on work for them to do in class. This lasted about ten minutes. Following this they spent 2-3 minutes discussing what was just worked on and continued with the lesson. After approxiamately a total of 4-5 minutes (varied a little, might be more) she then had them do more reading and writing. She assigned the work as homework if it was not completed in class.

During one or two of the discussion periods I noticed that she used a question to increase attention through suspense, just as our substitute book suggests as a technique. Of course, this teacher's 23 years of experience helped her make this look easy.

At one point in one of the classes the student's volume increased. The teacher gave one warning about giving "points" and after this the teacher had the student's formally pair up to work together, in an attempt to keep the volume down, maybe.

She also used a Frayer Model as their "Ticket Out the Door", which was a summary of the entire LEQ. For some reason she wasn't able to use this in each class, but I think that some of that might have been the issue of having an observer - she certainly might have been a little more tough on them for getting so loud if a stranger wasn't watching. Here is a fun way to run the "Ticket Out the Door" process.

She did warn me, though, that the kids will be more unruly for me than they were for her - but she felt that since they met me, these particular kids might be better for me than for a sub whom they'd never met - since they know that she and I "know" each other.

She mentioned that she is going out of town in April and will need a sub at that time. I asked her to request me, and she agreed. I hope she does! And I hope that I can respond to her students half as well as she does. I don't expect to be right on top of them, after all, I have no experience with students over sixth grade, but I do hope that I can put on a grand facade and win them over with love and TOUGHNESS.

Childhood Expectations

Where I expected to be, versus where I am...

When I was a child and played games, I never envisioned a "grown-up" life that included a husband and children. Sometimes I gave lip service to the thought of a husband, but this was because I assumed that I needed a husband to have the 3 children I imagined. But most of the time when I was picturing my adult life, it was me - alone. Alone and happy.

But this was not to be, and it was probably obvious to others around me as soon as I entered high school. I always either had a boyfriend or was interested in one. Now I know that this was probably high physical drive, not a search for a husband, but that is where it led. I was rarely alone. Eventually I met someone and married, and we started a family.

That was not my expectation, though life has mostly been good.

When I was born, my parents were in their 40's. so when I graduated high school my parents were much older than those of my friends. My mother and I were very close. At age 18, I imagined the day when I would be old enough for me to be there for her as she was for me when I was a child. I looked forward to the day when I could casually visit with her and enjoy her company, and maybe even have her come live with me if she needed to. I never told her these things but I looked forward to them just the same.

However, after I began my own family, I moved far away from my parents, and I have been lucky to see them once each year, sometimes less. My father has passed away but my mother is still here, but again, lives too far for me to visit. I will often say that I am having "withdrawal" from my mom if I go more than a year between visits, but there is no way I could make this happen more frequently. I wish I could.

So over the past 25 years I have not shared many cups of coffee with her, have not spent too many days relaxing with her with no time pressures, and in fact I have spent less than one year - total - with my mother in the past 25 years (one visit per year, 52 weeks in a year, you do the math...).

This was completely opposite of my expectations.

Have you had to adjust your expectations for your life? I think we all have. If we haven't, this means that we did it without thinking, purposefully or not. At every age we should stop occasionally and examine our goals, and our expectations. I think I would have surprised myself and made certain things happen, if I had made it a point to write my own expectations down.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Fashion - not

Tonight I'm concerned with what I will wear tomorrow for my day of observation at the high school. I know I need to wear something comfortable, but professional.

Since I have been wearing nursing uniforms for my job at the veterinarian clinic during the past 2 and one half years, I really don't have too many professional outfits. I do have one skirt (which I refuse to wear), one pair of comfy pants that are big everywhere and long, but are a little cinched at the waste, and one suit that is too long for my legs but otherwise fits me. Wait, I forgot I hemmed the suit. Bonus points!

I have a great outfit for the comfy pants, and that includes a pale green turtleneck sweater and a black and white tweed jacket. But I'm afraid it will be too warm.

The suit is a gray pinstripe which is a nice color and I have been wearing a bright blue dress shirt with it, which makes it very friendly. But maybe I don't want to look too friendly tomorrow in front of classes of high schoolers. hmmm...

The shoes will be a comfortable pair of black boots with 2" heels. They are not leather, but they are comfortable, and that's what counts. I have been looking for boots for a few years, since I wore mine out. I haven't even found one pair of plain leather boots, so this pair is literally the first I've bought in about 5 years. I have been wearing them for about 2 weeks, and they are just about perfect. I just wish they were leather because leather can be repaired while vinyl usually cannot be repaired.

So how much do I think this will really matter tomorrow to the teacher whom I am observing and to the students? Well, not much, but I will feel better if I feel comfortable and professional and well put together. Classic chic. LOL okay, I may not be classic or chic but I still want to feel good. And there are some things that a person can do to achieve this, and this is the point of getting it ready tonight.

Just as the Bag of Tricks helps the substitute be prepared, so does getting your outfit ready the night before. I may not be able to look like Angelina Jolie (voted most beautiful woman in the world last year), but I hope to look half as good as this classic beauty, Jodie Foster.

Starting to expect things...

Having told you a little of what is going on in my life, I want to write a little about why I wanted to create this blog.

I want to help other people look positively toward the future, to visualize their goals, and to work to attain them. In doing this I want to help myself complete new goals that I have set for myself, holding myself accountable.

When my children were small I used to ask them what they wanted to be when they grew up. After they told me, I encouraged whatever it was. I would take them to the library for books on that subject. I would talk about how this skill or another skill that they possessed would help them when they were doing that career. I had the EXPECTATION that they would be successful. It didn’t matter if they changed their minds, my purpose was always the same, to be their cheerleader, and to try to help them gain the skills they would need as an adult in any capacity – and in whatever career they would choose.

One of my children had a desire to be an astronaut. I remember driving a carpool and in the car were some of the coolest kids from elementary school. One of them asked my son what he wanted be when he grew up. My child unabashedly said that he wanted to be an astronaut. This was something that he had been talking about for a few years. The boy who asked the question scoffed audibly. However, my son was already confident in himself to say such a thing, despite the fact that we rented our house and bought his clothes at Goodwill®, unlike the other boys in the car. Today, with a large academic scholarship, my son attends a prestigious university learning about something he loves. It is NOT something that will take him into space, but it is something HE chose because it was something he loved, and he wasn’t afraid to choose it.

I like to think that my EXPECATIONS for my son allowed him to dream of his own big expectations.

Do you have expectations for yourself or your loved ones? Can you help facilitate them? You might say, “I expect good grades!” But do you do anything to help make that happen? Do you allow the student to have a quiet period and a place to study? Making sure you are available to answer questions if they have any? Even if your work schedule doesn’t allow you to see them during the week, do you spend a short time on the weekend sitting together looking over those boring school papers? These are important to your expectation so you should show that by showing interest.

If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can't, you're right. – Henry Ford

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bag of Tricks!

I mentioned that I am getting ready to substitute teach. One of the things that I was encouraged to prepare was a “Bag of Tricks”. The items inside vary depending upon the person you ask. The bag is supposed to be a resource for a substitute teacher so that if the teacher's desk is locked or a lesson plan is missing, the sub will be prepared regardless! It should also carry a high-energy snack, a bottle of water, and throat lozenges for the busy teacher.

I asked a friend who is already subbing to show me her bag, and she did. It was a sorry sight! It held only tape and Whiteout©, a few pencils and pens, some chocolate candy to give as rewards (I don’t think my district allows candy), and some 3X5 cards.

I already have an over the shoulder soft "briefcase" or lap-top messenger bag that I am going to use, but other styles would work just as well.

I haven’t even subbed yet and I have already begun creating my Super-Duper Bag of Tricks!

First of all, I created an 8 x 10 activity sheet, with everything from tic-tac-toe to mazes on one side, blank on the other. I have made 30 copies of these. Then I trimmed the sheets down about 4 mm on each side. Placing a colorful piece of computer paper behind the activity sheet, I have also placed a blank computer sheet (cut down 4mm on each side as well) on the other side. Three pieces of paper make it sturdier than one, and now there is a small colorful boarder around the white sheets of paper. Finally, I laminated them. Now I don’t know if they will last me very long. It was an expensive endeavor. I will have to let you know.

Next I bought pencils that were on clearance from Office Max. I bought a lot. And I sharpened them. This way if anyone needs to get up to sharpen a pencil, what I will try to do will be to trade pencils with them. Giving the kids new pencils eliminates the need for anyone to make a run for the sharpener on the other side of the room. However, if this proves costly in the future (everyone likes new pencils!), I could allow them to use the sharpener – but if someone needs a pencil I might tape a spoon to the end of each, allowing them to borrow one but thus encouraging them to return it!

These pencil ideas were two thoughts from people in the (sub class) I took. The spoon idea is one that I have seen done. At one of our local colleges, the bookstore has had the SAME pen for 4 years. The pen is not taped to the desk, nor is it on a string. Four years ago the manager taped a long plastic ice cream spoon to the side of the pen. No one has ever forgotten that it wasn’t theirs!

I have also bought dry-erase markers to go with those activity sheets. Again, this was a hopeful investment. In addition I have an old camping whistle for gym, safety pins for clothing, Band-Aids©, and stickers. I also have a newspaper - this is a great resource for everything from lesson plans to games. I have normal office supplies as well. Lastly, I have printed sheets for several grade levels… from a complex maze/word search for high school aged students to a pre-reading game for kindergarteners.

Probably my most important ingredients for MY bag are games, foldables, and a book that I have. The games are short, age-appropriate time fillers that can be adapted to subject matter. The foldables are activities that can be done on paper that can be left for the permanent teacher to show what the substitute worked on with the students, and a book that I am keeping is one of the Stories with Holes by Nathan Levy. Click on the Title to go to this author's site.

I am in the middle of reading several books w/ tips, and as I read them and enjoy them I will post their titles. These are books for the substitute teacher, or the teacher, to read. Once I have a little experience under my belt I will post a list here so that other substitute teachers might use some of my ideas (or not!) .

Going backward to get started

Last night I was inspired to speak eloquently about my purpose for this blog. Unfortunately I was alone, driving in a car, and unable to record myself! Let me just tell you it was wonderful!

Today, instead, I will tell you about my current endeavor: substitute teaching.

Without going into all the background about why I'm entering into this venture, I will tell you that I am soon going to be subbing. In my state, if an interested person would like to substitute teach but does not have a teaching certification (which varies from state to state!), that person would be allowed to sub if he/she has a Bachelor's degree, and takes the training required of their school district, after which the person is considered a "Guest Teacher". While I have been accepted into a post-b program for a teaching cert, I have not yet begun those classes, so I followed the other route. Last fall I applied for my various clearances, including getting fingerprinted by the FBI, being verified for child abuse clearance, and a criminal background check.

Once I began that process I filled out a form for my local Intermediate Unit, which in my case runs the Guest Teacher program. I sent them my application and fee, and then waited for a call for an interview. I had a pleasant interview, but I believe that my referral by a local teacher was what cemented my position. This is a teacher who taught 2 of my children, and I can't say enough wonderful things about how amazing she is. She is the teacher we should all aspire to be! I let her know my plans and she supported me and graciously allowed me to use her as a reference.

Finally last week the class was held. I had all of my paperwork ready, so I was disappointed when I was told I had to wait another week to call to arrange my observation. Honestly, I welcome the observation, I just wanted to do it right away!

My observation is scheduled for next week. I can't wait.

More later!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Day 1

No, I won't be labeling every post this way, but I couldn't resist.

I have toyed for years with the idea of blogging. Even 15 years ago I considered it. However, I felt that I would reveal too much of myself by creating a personal blog, and my areas of expertise were such that it would involve many personal stories.

Today I embark upon this new experience with the intent to help define some of my own future goals and perhaps help others (if others decide to read this) in making opportunities for themselves and take them!

I would like to blog about the need to redefine oneself over a lifetime. I would like to blog about finding a personal vision. I would like to also investigate goal setting, within the realm of that personal vision. And I would like to encourage people of all ages with an interest in returning to school, to do so. I will do this by adding information about college and what that entails.

Please excuse me as I investigate the set up for my future posts, and welcome to my site!