Tag Archives: funny antics

The Most Important Lesson

Each year I make the same deal with my students.

If they tell me it’s their birthday, and they make the request, I will make the hat.

This is no ordinary hat.

This is a custom, made to fit, and designed for just one student hat.

In fact, when some of my former students will visit me, often on Back to School Night, and I ask them if they still have their hat, they tell it’s still sitting on their bedroom dresser. For many of them this is many years after it was first made.

Why do they hold on to something made out of simple construction paper?

Perhaps it’s because no hat is alike.

Some hats dangle in all directions. Some are excessively tall while others are short and even slide down to sit on their nose – complete with eye holes. Some practically drag the sidewalk behind them. They’re decorated with names, stories and perhaps even ponies – if that’s what the birthday student loves. There are math equations, science terms and history lessons, but only if each somehow connected with the student. I’ll write questions on the hat in hopes that others will ask them about the dog they love or their little sister that makes them crazy.

Each time I begin one of these hats, I worry about the amount of time the production requires. In between science and reading, math problems and historical accounts. In between lunch and recess, resource and the bus loop… I staple, resize, crimp, fold, and cut.

Students watch me from their seats as they look up from completing a quiz or from behind their worksheets.

It takes more time than I care to admit. There’s constant cutting and even a resizing in the midst of the build. This all takes some time. Time away from what some would, no question, argue is a distraction from what’s expected to happen in the classroom.

So why does their smile stretch across their face when I sit that hat upon their head when I’ve finished?

While I think yes, it is because each is individually made just for them, I also believe it’s because of what I obsess over – the time it takes to make each one.

In an era of testing, meeting lesson objectives, remediation, and student anxiety; in a time when students are forced to acclimate to test taking strategies — all they want to do is share a story about what happened at the ball field or during last night’s sleepover with friends. They want us to make an effort to hear their story.

So seeing them proudly wear their hat as they follow me down the bus loop and get on the bus, is a memory for both student and teacher to remember.

When students know that you care enough about them to spend the time to make them happy – that’s a realization not quickly forgotten and quite possibly the most important lesson we can impart.

Teacher Desk Essentials


Now that teachers are back at it, here’s the very important, very necessary list of items every teacher needs, no – can’t live without, in their desk.

This is the one place you can call your own, your own little personal space. They have their desk and you’ve probably decorated your walls for them. This desk is yours – a container for memories and pick-me-ups.

Students may try to gain access, do not let them look. No getting something out of it for you. Don’t let them take a peek. Having a few surprises at hand might end up changing their day from mediocre to awe inspiring.

So with what to fill that old, splitting, pealing, well worn desk?

Here are eleven I consider to be must-haves.

1. Breath Mints. Mints because while many of us enjoy our morning coffee, our students do not appreciate the coffee breath that comes with it. Even worse might be that amazing hoagie you had for lunch filled with garlic and onion goodness that’s left your breath, well, a little ripe. If you care about helping them one-on-one, then you’re going to have to care enough to try to be a bit minty.

2. Chocolate / Candy / Guilty Tasty Pleasure. You deserve it! Next time you’re at the grocery store go on down the candy aisle and stash a bag of chocolate in your cart. Maybe two in fact. Then take that bag and stuff it far up in your desk drawer. Just when you’ve forgotten it’s there and you had a less than stellar day, go ahead and have a bite (or two).

Also, if you’re a friendly soul, and you should be, offer some chocolatey goodness to a colleague when they’re having a tough day. Perhaps they will offer some yummies when your time comes.

3. Spare Set of Shoes. Your feet are going to hurt. Maybe they already hurt. Mine do. Go out and buy that pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing that speak to you. Go ahead, permission granted. Then place them at the bottom of your desk to replace the ones that perfectly matched your outfit, however cause pain to shoot up your legs if you get up from your chair for more than a minute and a half. Remember, you so deserve those pair of shoes.

4. EZ Grader. I know that having an app to accomplish this task might be more impressive, however there’s nothing wrong with having this trusty tool at the ready. I think I have three at this point. Used to quickly determine grades by sliding to the correct number of problems, this handy little product is a must have and needs to be close at hand. Your students might also swoon at its ability to accurately report their grade and it doesn’t even require batteries.

5. Change for the Vending Machine. It’s the afternoon and there are days in which a little sugar rush is in order. Similar to the chocolate fix, this is an additional pick-me-up needed on occasion. Carefully decide however if combining a snack with the chocolate isn’t overkill, or just go for it and let the chips fall where they may.

Collect enough change and perhaps you can even convince your front office staff to order you some Chinese on a Friday as a super treat – please then go and remember #1.

6. Deodorant. You rushed out of the house this morning worrying about your family, your dog’s panicked look saying please let me out before you go required a bit more time in the backyard, and you then went back to the house for your lunch that you forgot. What you didn’t do is lather yourself with a swipe or two of deodorant. Similar to the breath mints, this one can’t be ignored or forgotten, so it’s better to have some backup just in case. Doesn’t take up much space, just try not to apply while standing in the front of the room.

7. Happy File. When students draw you a picture, when their parents have taken the time to send in a card of thanks, when your principal has written you an inspiring note recognizing your hard work, when good things come your way… put them into your Happy Feel Good File. Then also remember to take out a few examples to recall the impact you’ve made on students that have long since left your room and continued on to the next grade or even out of school.

8. Clown nose, Lone Ranger mask, magic kit. Use one of these (or all three) sparingly and whenever you pull open that squeaky drawer, heads will pop up. Eyes will widen wondering what your next move might be. Convince them that you’re someone else, combine it with an accent, and you’re certain to have them reminiscing at lunch about your crazy antics.

9. Stress Ball. For obvious reasons it’s a better idea to squeeze the ball than to unleash your frustration. Even better is to loan this to your students who have a bit of frustration pent up inside. Have more than two and one can be used for the all important toe crushing you can do under your desk as you appear calm from the waist up.

10. Music Option. When you need it a little quieter, try classical. When you need to inspire, try some jazz. When you need to develop camaraderie, go ahead and have a sing-a-long. Music can play a great role in your classroom and students won’t soon forget that Indonesian music you played that they had never heard anything that even come close to it. When they tell you they know if all, break out some big band and see how long they complain – they’ll come around, it just might take a few weeks.

11. Family Pictures. When you’re wondering why you’re still at it and how God could have possibly given you the patience you have found deep within yourself, take a look at the family that loves you and knows you are doing great work.

 I’m curious what you have in that desk of yours that others might find to be essential worthy. Please leave your comment. I look forward to adding yours to my list – I still have some room.

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?

Laughter: A Requirement In The Classroom


The other day I was rushing to the copier in hopes of beating the bell before students arrived.

“Don’t ever smile,” is what I overheard a colleague share with a student teacher as I raced by. “You’ve got to be serious all of the time.”

I nearly snapped my neck wondering who would give that kind of advice.


I’ve heard other bits of sage advice about being personable in the classroom as I’m sure you have as well.

Don’t smile before Thanksgiving or your class will become unruly. You’ll never get control of your class after you share a joke. It will be chaos, you’ll see.

If you’ve ever taught or are about to, how to act in front of your classroom has definitely been part of the conversation. Whether in the classroom as a student yourself or in the teacher lounge, antics from the front of the room are often debated. Too nice, too mean, too strict, too casual. What’s the best approach?

To be frank, this last week has been draining. Perhaps it’s me or my students or both of us. We’re tired of prepping for the state assessments coming up in about two months and we obviously have a while to go yet. So I’ve had to force the funny and they’ve had to reel in their zany demeanor at times.

I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Sure it’s more work to rein them in at times – I just love the genuine third grade smiles and laughter. Their enthusiasm is impressive as well. Their jokes brighten my day as much as I hope mine do in their lives.

Can they control themselves? You bet they can.

Can they transition back to seriousness as we return to the lesson? Definitely.

I admit that sometimes the funny doesn’t work. However I don’t think you stop trying. The power of the funny is too important.

Funny breaks the ice that first day of school. It allows us to laugh at ourselves when we mess up. It reiterates that we’re not robots.

Funny puts people at ease.

One can also convey seriousness when the funny isn’t used. When a serious subject or topic is needed, the absence of laughter is definitely noticed.

Funny is an approach useful in motivating when students just don’t want to do the work anymore.

Going after the funny helps your students realize that you’re human, after all. Being human is good.

I suppose every teacher has his or her standards.  Not laughing, smiling, or enjoying myself at the front of the classroom just isn’t on my to-do list.

Remember the class you had when your teacher just seemed to be there without any emotion whatsoever?

You and I are not alone with those memories. That teacher no doubt served as inspiration in a film you’ve undoubtedly seen.

Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

That guy has made a name for himself with his monotone delivery. Not only do I not want to have to sit in his class and hear him drone on and on. I don’t want to be that kind of teacher either.

I’ll take my lead from Dr. Pappas as I briefly mentioned in Classroom Truths & Hints. He held us spellbound with antics that startled and amused us into never missing a class regardless of his no attendance policy. He had us when he walked into class mimicking bird calls.

Here are a few of my attempts at funny.

  • Birthday hats made upon request. All you need is some construction paper, a pair of scissors and a stapler. A simple endeavor in which the crazier the hat is made the better. No two are alike because it’s just impossible to do that kind of zaniness twice. Students love it and more than one has told me how they’ve kept theirs for years afterward.
  • Nicknaming students. Obviously take some time to get to know your students to better anticipate whether they will take offense if you suddenly call them Bubba or Bubbette. Sometimes nicknames even find their way home or heard on the playground. That’s when you know that Frozone was the perfect name for the student that calculated his math problems with icy precision.
  • I try to include stories in the middle of my lesson. It not only offers a mental break, but it encourages another opportunity for students to get to know me better – building relationships = better learning.
  • I throw in accents occasionally to be a head turner.  They not only awaken the student at the back of the room who has ventured to the beach by the look in his eyes, but they result in all students listening a bit closer to what you’re saying. You can actually see them lean forward listening intently.
  • Cheese and Crackers. I’ve long since forgotten how this title emerged. The premise is a student volunteers to come to the front of the room and sit on the stool. We get to ask him or her questions about favorite dessert or vacation. I start it off with a few and then students raise their hands to be called on by the student. It’s a combination of laughter and sincerity as we learn more about each student. After a few questions, it is quickly apparent what little we know of our students even though they sit in our classroom day in and day out.

School doesn’t need to feel like school.

Yes, students’ jobs are to learn, but they didn’t sign up for this job did they? It’s not as if they stood in line for an application hoping to get the position of student.

School is hard enough without making it an experience that they will enjoy. Sometimes it’s the engaging lesson, and sometimes it’s starting the day with a smile.

Add in a quick story about something funny that happened on the way to school that morning and your students are already engaged.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about being funny at the front of the classroom.

Do you agree that adding humor is acceptable, if not crucial?