Teacher War Stories
These stories are more anecdotal than tips. We have our teachers share odd school situations and how they were handled to provide you with some ideas.
"Since I work with students in a pull-out setting, I only have them
for a half-hour a day. They struggle with spelling even basic words and
were constantly asking me to spell things out for them. The word wall wasn't
working as nobody bothered to look up there. So instead, I took a large
sheet of construction paper. I had them draw a self portrait in the middle,
and around it I printed out lists of basic words they would need quick access
to. For example, I had a list of color words, number words, days and months
of the year, punctuation marks, along with right vs. left for my primary
students. On the back, I printed out an alphabetical list of commonly misspelled
words. I left space for them to add more if needed. And, I included a sample
of the alphabet (print or cursive depending on grade). Finally, I laminated
these and gave them to them at the end of the year to keep. These were great
because they were portable and could be used in any setting. You could customize
them for math if you'd like. Or have your students could pick and choose
what they want to include on these."
Working With ADHD
"As school was about to begin, I was informed that I would be working
with a child who had ADHD, was highly intelligent, did very little work
in the classroom last year, wandered around the classroom because he was
extremely nervous, was on medication to control his behavior, had parents
who were about to get a divorce, was seeing a psychologist, and was attached
to his mother to a point of screaming each morning when she brought him
to school. This 'war story' began long before I met this child. My first
strategy was to meet the parents. They were desperate and wanted to be as
cooperative as possible. He was entering the first grade and they knew the
curriculum was extensive. I wanted to meet the child before school started
to afford the child some comfort level in knowing where he was going and
who I was. He was a fragile child, dark circles under his eyes and unable
to sit when we spoke. Our first weeks of school were very rough . He needed
to know where I was at all times and transferred his dependency from mom
to me. I had 23 other students in the room. There were times when he needed
to hold on to my skirt or my sleeve as I taught. He needed security and
I just continued teaching as he held on. I did not neglect the other students.
Each one had their needs too. Somehow they believed that I cared for each
of them. I did. As weeks turned into months, this child began to break from
me and began to do his work. He received good grades. This had a high price.
. . constant reassurance that he could do the work, a parent to help him,
a child to remind him about his work. Everyone played a part. There were
good days and bad days, but there wasn't a day that he didn't feel that
he was loved. Just when progress was being made, the doctor changed his
medication and we were back at square one. He could not adjust and he became
unruly. I would find him under a table because he couldn't sit in a chair.
The one bright spot was that he now trusted me and listened when I spoke
to him. We worked through this for at least a month. He began to adjust
again. He did a good job with his work. His mother began to ask how I got
him to work. I set goals. I set parameters. He had choices. He learned to
make good choices. There were consequences. I learned a lot that year. It
was a year that taught me never to give up on a child."
"For valid reasons, I reported one of my students" families to
Child Protective Services (CPS), The family was known to lie, prone to violence
and was known to have guns and knives at home. After the child was removed,
the family burst into my school building yelling "Where's Caroline?
We're gonna kill her!" My principal dialed 911 and all was okay. What
I would do differently is make sure that the prinicipal and the superintendent
and all relevant personnel were aware of the situation before hand that
safety precautions were in place."
The System Can Help
"One of my families had given birth to a completely normal child to
see him severely neurologically damaged as a result of a car accident at
the age of 7 months old. The mom brought him to special education pre-school
and took off gung-ho with the program. She became pregnant again. Toward
the end of the pregnancy, she appeared in my room saying "We just came
from Dr. X and he said that Thomas will be a vegetable for the rest of his
life. So my question if this: What's my life going to be like?" With
this, she dissolved into the grief she had so stoically denied for so long.
If I look back at this in retrospect, I would have insisted on counseling
for all parents coming into the system from day one."
"Actions That Take Courage"
"I had a sexual harassment incident in my class this week. Instead of just reprimanding the students involved, I decided to teach about choices and actions that take courage. I explained to them how choices are truly a gift and we can make positive and negative choices. Then, using a book called "Lists to Live By," we discussed the varying choices that could have been made. By the end of the lesson, I had the entire story unfolded, because they fed directly into the story line and uncovered themselves!"
The Lesson of Power Struggling
"I will never forget when I "demanded" that a student put
the gum he was chewing on his nose. This was a defiant student who had been
giving me trouble since day one. It became a public power struggle as he
refused to do what I had asked him to do. I kept insisting that he put the
gum on his nose and I finally won. Later that day, after school, I was called
to the principal's office and was informed that the parent of that student
"demanded" a meeting with me the following morning. The next morning,
a meeting was held in the principal's office and I was told by the parent
that unless I gave her son a public apology in front of the class that I
had "humiliated" him, I would be faced with a law suit. The parent
was very angry and also thought that as a punishment for me, I should have
to walk around for a day with gum on my nose! You can't imagine the anxiety
that I went through. Because I did not react and stayed calm and immediately
took ownership for my actions, I believe that the parent backed off on the
punishment for me. I immediately agreed to apologize to the student and
did so as soon as I returned to my classroom. I learned a lesson from this
experience because I have never put myself or a student in a power struggle
position since then. If I have to hold a student accountable for inappropriate
behavior, I now do it privately or in a more subtle way. I also came to
realize that junior high students are under a lot of peer pressure and do
not take well to open confrontation."
The Female Challenge
Upon meeting the parents of a new child in my classroom, I was confronted
with a father who thought that teachers knew nothing and that he knew every
thing. He had little respect for women in general. He shared with me how
the teacher from the previous year how taught very little and didn�t know
how to handle his son. He began by telling me how I should handle his son,
how I should punish him and that I should not let him get away with anything.
I thanked him as politely as I could and told him that my short 25 years
in education would probably give me a little edge on his son. I told him
that I would be in contact with him and his wife and see him at the first
parent-teacher conference. The child was energetic, but very quickly realized
that the rules were also made for him. He was bright, receptive and a delight
to teach. He was respectful and when he did �forget� the rules, a simple
look was enough. By the time we had the first parent-teacher conference,
I was ready for the father. I began the meeting by telling the parents about
the talented and intelligent child that they had . He was already reading
and other subject areas were just as good. They had seen the change at home
and could not believe how he loved to read. They couldn�t believe that he
was well behaved in the classroom. I never had to call home about behavior!!
After this conference, mom began to volunteer once a week in our classroom.
She witnessed her son�s behavior for herself. Dad came to school one day
on his lunch break and asked if he could help in the classroom. I invited
him to come and join us. He began to come on his day off and help with groups
in the classroom. We all grew in respect that year, especially Dad!"
Language Lessons For An English Teacher
"One year, I gave a writing assignment and a student (while laughing) asked, "Does it have to be in English or can we write it in Japanese?" Tired and not thinking, I blurted out, "Any language you choose!"
When the students returned the next day, I had six papers in foreign languages. It must be this Internet thing I told myself. I then asked the students, "Can I grade it in any language?" They all replied "Yes!" This gave me some leverage.
I went to the nearest electronics store and brought a translation program. This allowed me to read what they had wrote. I made marks on their paper, but left the writing off. I then found a web site that translates your entries into Sanskrit a 2,000 year old dead language. I then printed out a copy of each of the comments I had for their papers.
When I gave them back their papers, they were at a loss for words. As I approached they said "Have any trouble grading our papers. I replied "No, but I think you may still have some language learning left to do." It took them two months just to figure out what language I wrote their comments in.
I admit it was a lot of work, but I don't think those kids will every try that again."