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.

Teaching Idea

"Work Mats"
Meenal Parikh: Elementary ESL Teacher

"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."

Teaching Idea

Working With ADHD
Diane, Inclusion Teacher: Rochester, NY

"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."

Teaching Idea

Mandated Reporting
Caroline, Special Education Teacher: Newark, New Jersey

"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."

Teaching Idea

The System Can Help
Jackie, Special Education Teacher: Brooklyn, NY

"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."

Teaching Idea

"Actions That Take Courage"
Kathryn Toro: 4th Grade Teacher

"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!"

Teaching Idea

The Lesson of Power Struggling
Junior High School Teacher: Nashville, TN

"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."

Teaching Idea

The Female Challenge
Judy, 3rd Grade Teacher: Petaluma, CA

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!"

Teaching Idea

Language Lessons For An English Teacher
Bill, 12 Grade English Teacher: Grand Rapids, MI

"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."