Tag Archives: classroom management

A Simple Story About A Farmer And A Pig

This is a simple story about a farmer and a pig.

Last Wednesday my class had just finished another benchmark assessment which was intended to determine who was progressing adequately according to our county’s learning objectives.

My students had taken them on laptops and gotten their results immediately, so they knew their score and knew which specific problems had stumped them.

This is the story I told to my class the next morning which I remembered first hearing from my former colleague Will. It seemed appropriate and timely.

This is a simple story about a farmer and a pig.

You see, a farmer doesn’t buy a pig or doesn’t allow a piglet to be born in his barn without a reason.

He feeds that pig and over time that pig gets larger – some would say fat.

The farmer keeps doing what he’s doing and waits it out. There’s cleaning, there’s worry about the cold or heat, and there’s quite a bit of anticipation.

And every day: food and time, food and time.

And then one day the farmer decides that enough time and feed has been fed to that now very large pig. The time has come.

The time has come to make sausage.

Because, again, the farmer doesn’t just raise that little piglet to become a very large pig because he likes pigs, or thinks pigs are cute, or is a fan of Charlotte’s Web.

The farmer instead knows that with enough time and enough food, his pig will one day be ready to become some very yummy sausage that he will use to feed his family.

Teachers are like farmers is what I told my class.

We spend a lot of time and a lot of effort on students. We spend this kind of energy because we have a goal too.

Our goal is to get you to learn and understand.

And we do it all kind of ways.

We do it by being creative in our lessons, having you help one another, and having you complete projects. We talk in front of you, tell funny stories, use videos, remind you to stay on task, and ask you a lot of questions.

We do it because we know that time will run out and if we’ve done our job, you’re supposed to know what you have been taught.

And then it will be time to make some sausage.

Except the sausage we’re making will be how you do on your SOLs.

I expect all of our effort to pay off.

I’ve worked hard every day, listened to when you didn’t understand, and tried again in a different way to help you understand better.

Now the farmer out on the farm might be able to spend some more time getting that pig ready. Maybe give that pig some more feed. Maybe wait just another couple of weeks or months.

We can’t do that here at school – and I know that might seem pretty unfair.

So instead I need you to understand that we only have so much time to finish what needs to be done.

Our day of sausage-making will be here soon and I guarantee you and I will both be disappointed if all this effort won’t have worked.

Just like you can imagine the disappointment of the farmer whose pig isn’t ready, even after caring for him for months and months.

So if you know you’re not ready to sit down in front of a computer and prove what you know answering forty questions about math or reading. If you feel like you haven’t understood it no matter how hard you’ve tried.

Well, then it’s time to spend more time asking questions and trying to understand why you don’t understand.

Oh, and let’s forget about the SOLs for a second.

If you haven’t left this classroom understanding more than when you came into this classroom in September. If you have been waiting for time to just tick on by every day instead of really trying your best. If you still aren’t kinder toward other people in this class because you’re now a whole year older than you were last year…

Do you think that you’re ready for 4th grade?

I ask each of you that question because I cared about each of you since the first day of school when you walked into our classroom. Each day since I’ve done my best to make our classroom a place you would want to come to.

If that didn’t help you get ready for what’s coming in the 4th grade then I either didn’t do my job, or you didn’t do yours.

Which do you think it is? And would it be fair to you if we sent you to the 4th grade and you weren’t ready.

This is really, just a very simple little story about a farmer and pig.

It’s about working day after day and getting ready for something much bigger. It’s about working on yourself to be better tomorrow, than you were today.

So, how will you spend today?

Denay Haist Answers 12 Questions

Over twelve years ago I found myself sitting across from Denay as we both started in a new school. With a background in special education and specifically with emotionally disturbed students, Denay introduced me to a world in which students wanted nothing more than to be included, while also grappling with their own challenges.  She would became a dear friend and would be my classroom neighbor and teammate for over a decade. Here are her answers to 12 questions that I hope will bring insight into another professional’s experience in the classroom.

Note: As you might guess from the picture above, Denay is not a fan of having her picture taken so this is a favorite from her school days that she shares on the first day of school.

1. Why did you want to become a teacher?

I became a teacher later in life when I wanted to find a more meaningful career. I felt I had something to offer young students, especially those with disabilities. I went back to school to get my Master Degree in Education.

2. How long have you been teaching and where?

I was a teacher of students with emotional disabilities for ten years at Wells Elementary and for the last eleven years I have been a fifth grade general education teacher at Beulah Elementary, both in Chesterfield County.

3. What has been your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge is meeting all the needs of students from those with disabilities, to those who are gifted, those who didn’t have any breakfast that morning, those that have lost a parent and those who have yet to find the value of education. There is never enough time and no matter how much you do, you never feel you have done enough.

4. What do you think makes you successful?

I genuinely care about the students. I also think I am creative with lessons as it keeps students engaged in the learning process. I constantly reevaluate how I present concepts to make it as interesting as possible. I use many visuals and hands on activities. My room is a visual overload. I am also a big believer in that you train people how to treat you and I put a lot of work in the beginning working on how we are going to treat each other in the classroom.

5. How do you start your first day, first week of school?

On the first day I always read and discuss the book The Giving Tree. It has many nuanced lessons about life. I also play a PowerPoint on my life, many photos of me as a kid, and the students love it so much that they want to see it the next day. I model organization all day to set the tone for the year. I also smile as much as possible.

6. Do you have any daily norms?

I try to connect to each student daily with questions about their life outside of school or give them a compliment about how hard they are working or how well they are behaving. We also read daily from a shared novel and the students generally love the novel we are reading. I also try to provide writing time every day and whole writing I try to play music from other cultures. Currently my students love music from Iceland.

7. How do you motivate?

I motivate by trying to celebrate every time I see someone working hard or being kind. Kids love to be positively recognized, it can really turn around an unmotivated student. I also set the academic and behavior board very high and do not lower that bar. Students quickly figure out that they can achieve goals they never thought they could and this becomes the source of the motivation.

8. What do you hope students remember about you?

It is so rewarding when they tell me fifth grade was their favorite school year. I hope they remember that I cared about them and that I helped them academically to be life long learners. I am still in touch with so many students and I love seeing the path some of them took. I love receiving letters from parents about his grateful they are that I was their child’s teacher.

9. Favorite subject / topic?

My favorite subject to teach is math. I teach accelerated math and it is my favorite hour of the day. My favorite subject to learn about is science. I am continuing to learn about astronomy, biology and chemistry. I love how You Tube makes available scientists and educators from all over the world to keep the educational process going long after school is over. I love breaking down complex subjects so that students can easily understand, it is definitely an art form.

10. How do you teach challenging students?

Every class has challenging students and part of teaching them is to accept the challenge. I feel lesson preparation, staying even keeled emotionally and having supportive team members helps. Sometimes it helps to figure out what is making that student challenging – fear, loneliness, a disability, sad home life, lack of confidence. You have to be realistic in that you can’t fix every student, but you can be a positive adult in their life. Almost every teacher I know has turned around some of their challenging students.

11. Best memory teaching?

The best moments are never anything big, it is always the small quiet moments when students are being kind to one another either by encouraging one another or helping each other learn. I love watching kids who are working towards a goal with their classmates. I remember a time one student comforted another student. I also love that feeling with I can say to myself, “Well that was a great lesson!”

12. What have you learned while being a teacher?

Teaching is not for everyone. You have to be your own cheerleader and motivator. The amount of work is overwhelming and often you are made to feel you never do enough. You have to be selfless, but you should also have boundaries. It is all a huge balancing act, but I can’t image doing anything else!

What are your answers to these questions? I would love to hear them. Please comment here on the blog so others might hear about your experience. Thank  you for sharing with others teaching in classrooms.


Classroom Toolbox: Strategies for Survival

boy swinging

They outnumber you.

While the calendar says you have about 180 days together, those days will fly by unsuccessfully if you don’t wrangle and redirect your students.

Here are nine strategies from my classroom toolbox I use to motivate, entertain, refocus attention, and encourage reflection.

I hope one or two will prove useful to you in your own classroom.

Laser Focus: Last year, two of my students were beyond impressive in watching my every move. I called it “laser focus” and I still refer to them both as examples of how to listen to me as I try my best to teach them. It was even more impactful that they both performed at an advanced level once those state assessment scores were returned. When students’ eyes are wandering to the far reaches of the room – I prompt them with the laser focus command.

Why or How?: After years of being given the assignment of teaching concepts that are sometimes developmentally beyond the understanding of my students, I have the following conversation.

During a lesson some students will want to know why and grapple with understanding a concept until the why is fully understood – this may, of course, take some time. For some students this will be accomplished in a matter of minutes, while for others it could very well take days. For the remaining students, even after repeated attempts using various approaches, a concept just may never “sink in” within the current academic year.

Time to go to How. I clearly remember blindly following my teacher’s instruction in math when I was in school. Instead of why we were regrouping (as an example) I immediately went to the just tell me what to do and I will do it exactly that way. This is obviously not what we want our students to do – we want questions and thought provoking conversation, however we also can’t have students participating in mass melt-downs as the curriculum becomes more difficult as the year progresses.

Sometimes teaching the how, and waiting for students to ask why is ok. Sometimes acknowledging that students just asking how is perfect for that moment.

The Success Board: When my students have achieved an A and have shown the paper off at home, I ask them to return it to school so I can staple it on our Success Board. I then frequently refer to it as the days pass claiming that each of them can indeed achieve awesomeness. Each of them has within them the ability to achieve anything they desire – I hope that seeing it, will help them believe it.

Your Choice: When I ask my students to read as they sit in the hallway and wait to use the restroom, or when I want them to begin their homework and instead they want to stare at the ceiling I tell them it’s their choice. They can do as I ask or they can do it during recess. While some teachers may get upset and raise their voice, I prefer a little logic prompted by a carrot.

Crush It: The other day my students and I spoke for some time about the state assessments and the choice each of them had. They could take them and hope for the best, or they could crush it. I continued telling them that my hope was they would not just prove their capability to people who loved them, but they would prove to themselves that they could overcome any challenge. The constant battle of intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards is one with which I continue to struggle as society looks to equate learning to getting a reward

The Worm: Students’ nature is to be competitive with one another. Often this leads to a race to the front of the line. For some reason being first is worth falling on the floor or pushing others out of the way. This is when I introduce “the worm”. As we reach our destination, whether lunch or resource, I have the last person swing around and become the first person. As they curl around, I remind them to worm around behind one another.

Teaching With My Head Down: Too often students feel it appropriate to put their head down and listen to my instructions. So I pretend to teach with my head on my desk. It leaves the same impression on them – except I’m sure I look sillier with my head on my desk.

Foreign Language Redirection: when we have a student in class who is a non-English speaker and we’re determining how to help him, I pause and speak to them in German for a minute or so. Hearing an unfamiliar language of an uncomfortable amount of time helps hit home how our ESOL students might feel each day, every hour, every minute.

Speaking in a different language also encourages sleepy heads to perk up and look around while they wonder for a moment if they haven’t in fact fallen asleep and awoken in a world where no English is spoken.

The Mumble: Some students are really loud. Others are very quiet. I can relate to both. Until I entered my senior year in high school, I was that quiet boy in the class who hoped no attention would come to him. If I can get my student to smile, perhaps I can get that quiet person inside to show a bit of themselves.

So occasionally I will repeat a student’s question with a reply that doesn’t have a thing to do with what was asked. For instance: “why yes, when the moon spins backwards my hair does grow quicker.” Not done too often or when my student is having an off day, I make sure that the smile I’m hoping for will likely come quickly. I then prompt them to ask me their question again.

I’m curious what tactics you have for those everyday occurrences in your classroom. I know I need to add a few to my toolbox to keep both myself and my students interested.

What tools do you pull out when necessary?

7 Top Classroom Management Strategies

empty classroom

It doesn’t matter what you teach or how amazing you are at knowing the subject.

If students regularly take over your room. You’ve got no classroom management.

To me, it’s what teacher nightmares are made of. Paper airplanes flying from the hands of students standing atop desks. Laughing at your best efforts while you try in vain to regain control. The mockery of all the time you’ve spent wanting to teach them. The look of panic in the teacher’s eyes as they cradle their head in their hands.

Makes me break out into a cold sweat.

It doesn’t and shouldn’t have to be this way.

It’s not hard to understand that having no classroom management equals the end of learning in your room.

Here are seven strategies to help you maintain order because once the door closes and it’s just you and your students, it can quickly be a scary place if you haven’t thought through how you will maintain order.

1) Find the happy medium between too strict and too lackadaisical.

Over a decade ago I prepared for my first week as the new teacher. I was nervous. I had done all the lesson planning possible, I even had lessons in case I finished my lessons. I was still nervous.

Years before in my first year at Redford University I had decided I wanted no part in teaching. I didn’t want to spend my days telling my students to be quiet. If only I had stayed the course and learned that it doesn’t have to be that way.

And here I sat the Saturday before school started worried that I had made the wrong decision to return to teaching after many years working in higher education.

I sought out the most experienced teacher on my team for help. What she said still resonates. She shared this.

The teacher who is strict or too lenient will fail as a teacher.

Every teacher needs to find that happy medium that works for them. Some of us are more comfortable with groups who are talkative and occasionally loud while others have zero tolerance. You have to determine that comfort level.

I tell my students that I don’t expect them to be soldiers. To be frank, I don’t want soldiers.

Students are little people with history, family heartache and worries. Each with a story, an individual. I don’t want them in lock step as they march toward the cafeteria.

I do however expect them to do their best in following our classroom and school rules. And that’s when I remind them of the following…

2) Three rules: Does it keep me from teaching, keep you the student from learning, or keep other students from learning?

When one of these happens, we don’t learn.

These three questions are simple to remember and can quickly be brought up when students have “forgotten” right from wrong.

Additionally these three remind me that the restless student who learns and doesn’t keep others from learning doesn’t need be redirected. He’s just fine fidgeting in the back of the room constantly standing behind his desk.

It also reminds me to constantly be on the lookout for those whose number one priority is to get the attention of everyone around them.

3) Be Consistently Fair.

Early on in the year I ask my students to make a choice: Do they want an easy and unfair teacher OR do they want a fair teacher that expects them to learn?

I give them an example or two of what those two teachers might look like.

One of them can’t be trusted to do the fair thing from one day to the next versus the other teacher who might be tough, but you also know he’ll be fair.

From their reaction I can tell that most students haven’t been given a choice. It’s the beginning of what I consider building a relationship of trust based on fairness.

4) Start with being predictably consistent.

When students are loud, follow with a consequence. When students get up without asking, follow up with a consequence. When students aren’t doing what you’ve expected of them, reiterate the consequence… by giving a consequence. You have to be that person.

Do what you said you would. Be predictable and be consistent.

5) Continue to unpredictability and continue to demonstrate fairness.

And now that you’re predictable… students have gotten bored.

They understand how the classroom game is played. They know exactly what you will say when they stop following your rules. They know your consequences because you’ve given them before and they know what to expect. They are no longer surprised.

Surprise them.

This is when you need to be fair, but a bit unpredictable.

You’ve no doubt heard about having tools in your toolbox.

This is when you need to be creative in order to reach that student.

Instead of mixing it up a bit, some teachers will chase the student into the principal’s office immediately. Won’t they be returned to you in short order? Perhaps even within an hour? Then what?

It’s why you can’t treat all students the same.

Yes, I said can’t.

Here’s why.

6) The consequences are different because students are different — by day, by hour, by subject, by the moment.

Our students are human and as such, every day will be different. We hope that the majority of days will be good. Of course they won’t be.

If the student that arrives every morning into your classroom with a smile and then one day you notice as soon as he enters your room that he’s having an off day, that’s to be expected. It’s time to console and lend an ear.

If a student interrupts your lesson every day, quarrels with her peers and keeps others from learning – then that’s a choice she’s making. It’s time to change the consequences and reiterate that your name is on the door – you’re the teacher.

One is having a bad day. One is choosing to ruin everyone else’s day.

Why would you treat them the same?

In my first year when each day was a challenge I hadn’t experienced, one of my students thought a great deal of himself. He acted like he was in high school at the tender age of 10 and no matter what I said about my expectations, nothing sunk in. He was rude to me and others. He wanted no part of learning. When he had an all day writing prompt, he gave me a paragraph within a half an hour claiming that was the best he could do.

His mom had already conferenced with me and was equally disappointed with him.

In fact mom had come into my room one afternoon and grabbed her son by his jacket lapels and started screaming. And what did my colleagues do who had been waiting with me in my room?

They left me, mom and the student in my room as if the fire bell had gone off.

Yes, mom was frustrated. So with his mother’s approval we began a new consequence. It was then that I introduced the concept of the do-over day.

Each day, if I felt like his day fell below my expectations, I would walk him back from the bus loop to the classroom as the buses left. As you might imagine, it left quite the impression. My student went from disruptive and defiant to the type of student I looked forward to seeing each morning.

Was he awesome in every way? No. He was however now doing his best. It took four days of staying after school with him before he realized I was serious about giving his best effort.

By thinking about how to change your consequence beyond a call home, you are reaffirming that your classroom is a place of learning. I will add that on the state writing assessments, he performed at the advanced level.

7) The first week is crucial. CRUCIAL!

Lastly, if you don’t draw the line in the sand the first day about your expectations, you will never reel them back in. Convey to those entrusted in your care the very first day or you will chase them for the rest of the year. There is no going back. There is no do over.

You don’t need to be the teacher that gets mad at the noise and chaos.

With some thought and reflection, your class can be one in which everyone understands your expectations and you can spend more time enjoying your time together instead of wishing the day over.

What do you do in leading your students?

Please share in the comments below. I’d very much like to add to my toolbox of approaches.