Classroom Management: Appropriate Consequences


This is a follow-up to my previous post on the Teacher’s Voice and its impact on classroom management.

They’re Not Bored, You’re Boring

A lot of teachers feel that it’s not their job to entertain students, and it’s not—but it is your job to be interesting and if you can entertain them, that’s a bonus. I’m supported here by the California Standards for the Teaching Profession which make engaging students one of their requirements.

I’d estimate that 90% of student misbehavior can be stopped by increasing student engagement and participation. Frequently students are acting up because they’re bored.

Clear Expectations

In the same way that it’s better to pre-teach a concept to students who are going to have a hard time comprehending it rather than constantly reteaching it, it’s better to talk about expected behavior before that behavior is needed.

If you’re going to an assembly, talk about appropriate auditorium behavior before getting to the auditorium. If you haven’t had that conversation, once you’re in the auditorium and students are acting up, it’s too late…it’s not their fault, it’s yours. Your post-assembly discussion should focus on debriefing how students did in regards to living up to the expectations you set. If you set no expectations, then your conversation is just going to be you complaining to students about their awful behavior and they’re going to start tuning you out quickly (reread the part about engaging students).

Understand that just because you’ve set up clear expectations for the classroom, every new situation needs a new set of expectations and a quick refresher course never does harm. If students have already internalized the expectations, then they can tell you what appropriate auditorium behavior is.

Have Clear Boundaries

Students need to know exactly where you draw the line.

I worked with a teacher at a school with many trees. She had a rule, “No tree climbing.” But there was a student who liked to climb trees. For him, the rule was “No tree climbing…but if you climb, don’t go past the third branch.” But once he had climbed to the fifth branch, she changed the rule. Once he reached the top, the rule became, “No jumping off the top of trees.” Once he jumped off the tree and landed with a thud on the ground, she changed the rule back to “No tree climbing” but it was too late. If you bend the boundaries you can’t get them back. Students learn that they make the rules, not you.

So in my classroom, I do allows students to talk while they write. I do allow them to get up when they need a pencil or a Kleenex. But I do insist that when another student or I are addressing the whole class, they do not talk or get up and move around. That’s my boundary. It should not be crossed.

Be Proactive

Finding a way to channel student misbehavior into something productive is your first line of attack.

Students who misbehave have talents that school does little to bring out. Students who are ringleaders have leadership qualities that we’d be wise to nurture rather than stigmatize. We want them to use their talents for good instead of evil but what do we do to give them that opportunity? Sitting and being quiet is not appealing to a leader.

When we were filming our class movies, every twenty minutes or so we’d need it to be “quiet on the set” so that groups of students could record their voiceovers. I had one student who I knew was going to have a hard time being quiet. So I made him the engineer. He was the one who called for “quiet on the set” and he was the one who pushed the button to start the recording. It was totally quiet in my room. Instead of allowing James to be the guy who ruined our class projects by yapping, he became our trusted engineer. He felt good about it and the class appreciated him for it.

Teachers who have students who have trouble wandering around the room might make those kids the paper or door monitors so they have a reason to wander and wander with a purpose that’s productive for the classroom. If students have a problem with talking in the classroom, you might arrange your seats in groups rather than isolated tables so that learning can be more social and project based.

But What Then?

No matter how clear your expectations, no matter how firm your boundaries, some students will test those boundaries. Don’t be surprised by this; expect it. Plan for it.

The consequence of breaking a boundary should logically follow the offense. If the ball monitor doesn’t hold the ball, they get a warning. But if they do it again, they’re fired from that job and I choose a new ball monitor. I don’t mess around with changing cards or handing out money all year. Not all parents care if their child had a red day or a fuscia one and kids who misbehave don’t care either. I need for students to feel the disappointment of their actions immediately with something that seems reasonable to them and to me. Missing a field trip because a ball monitor couldn’t hold the ball is silly because it’s out of whack and it doesn’t make sense given the offense.

The student understands when they’ve made a mistake and it’s easier for you to follow through when your consequence is reasonable. The most appropriate consequence should always be missing out on the activity that the rest of the class is doing for an amount of time equal to their age.

I Don’t Care

What about those students who say they don’t care about missing out. If they say they don’t care, it’s usually because they really do care (see Aesop’s Fox and the Grapes origin of “sour grapes”). If they really don’t care then reread the part about student engagement. If it doesn’t bother students to miss out on your activities then your activities aren’t that interesting.

Your Own Dirty Laundry

Don’t send students out of the room. The office hates you when you send them your bad kids, but that’s not why I say don’t do it. A student often misbehaves because he’s bored…he then misbehaves…you send him to the office. Sounds like a lot of fun for someone who thought your classroom was really boring in the first place. Don’t reward bad behavior in this way. It diminishes your own power and gives another incentive to misbehave.

What Do You Think?

Please leave your thoughts, exceptions, disagreements. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

Related Posts:

Classroom Management: The Teacher’s Voice
Classroom Management: Good Morning
Classroom Management:  Do Something Proactive Today

46 Responses to Classroom Management: Appropriate Consequences

  1. Great stuff here! I find that it is always best to plan in advance for these kinds of things. Even after doing that for four years, I still find that my problems happen whenever I do not plan enough. As I’m sure you know from my blog, classroom management is a topic about which I am very passionate! Thanks for writing this!

  2. I have to say that this is one of the hardest and most recent lessons I have learned as a teacher. In all my teacher training it never occurred to me that I might be bore my students. But looking back after certain behavior incidents, I can absolutely see where and why things fell apart for certain students.
    One question I have maybe only pertains to certain teachers. I teach an elective subject- and more often than not I get a large number of students in my class who were just put there for scheduling reasons rather than a real desire to learn the subject. And a lot of these students truly don’t want to participate or behave no matter how interesting the lesson is. So, how do you handle these situations? Sure I could find the one things they like and give them encouragement and responsibility- but they can’t do one thing for an entire semester.
    Also, about the dirty laundry- I think it is a double edge sword- and depends a lot on what happens to the students when they leave the classroom. I was very fortunate in a former school to have administration who took discipline very seriously and assumed that if the student was sent to them, there was a good reason that needed a strong consequence. I think as a teacher you can usually tell when I student is just bored or trying to annoy you- and those are the ones you keep in the room and try further to engage.
    I think expectations and boundaries are tools that teachers know are important- but don’t always follow through on- which is silly when you think about it!

  3. Thanks Joel and Jennifer for your thoughtful comments.

    @Jennifer

    I meant to (but forgot) to remind my readers that I’m an elementary school teacher so it’s possible that some of what I write is particular to my situation.

    However, if you want to mention your elective area, maybe we could brainstorm some possible specific ideas. Hopefully you saw my article about what Jim Cramer (of CNBC’s Mad Money) has taught me about engaging students. I would say that in second grade it’s not much different though in that none of my students have chosen to learn how to read, compare fractions, or explore how animals use adaptation (to name a few subjects); they’ve all been placed in my class.

    In regards to sending kids to the office…I’m sure there are some schools where the office handles discipline problems effectively. If a student is being sent to the office frequently though then it’s probably fair to say that being sent to the office isn’t working.

  4. thanks, Matthew. Currently I teach in ESL in Hong Kong- but stateside I teach drama. I agree with the fact that it is probably similar for non-elective teachers- in that the students have to be there with no choice. There is something about high school students and the fact that they know they could be in somewhere else that makes things difficult. Especially in a class like drama which requires the student to get up in front of their peers, at least a little, in order to fulfill certain requirements. When students obviously hate performing I try to be reasonable in how much I ask them to do in front of the group. I find that the anxiety of it can make behavior very unpredictable. I’m going to check out your article on Jim Cramer later tonight. Thanks!

  5. Jennifer, I teach middle school band. A lot of the kids enjoy it, but a lot of them enrolled thinking it would be easier or just because their parents made them.

    I have actually found some success in assigning some of the noncompliant students different duties. Maybe I need them to file music for me, or straighten up the stuff on my desk. Maybe it’s sweeping the floor. Whatever the case, I have found that when people do something that gives them a sense of accomplishment, they end up being more receptive to our leadership.

    I’ve had students who did that for a week, got back to work and actually participated. One day, I had a student like this come in and ask if he could sweep or if there was something I needed him to do. It just wasn’t a play day for him, I guess.

    Basically, we just need to find a way for each kid to fit into the group. If we don’t, then they will create their own way. They’ve seen TV, they know that every class has to have a clown. If that’s the way to fit in, that’s the solution. If we can provide them productive and meaningful things to do, we can keep them from creating destructive things to do!

  6. Matthew-

    As an elementary music specialist, this post is gold! I have really been struggling lately with class room management issues and your recipe and reminders about appropriate consequences is immediately applicable to my situation.

    You are exactly right: we can no longer assume that our kids know what appropriate behavior means or even looks like. I resonate with your assembly behavior example and blogged about this very issue recently: Theater Etiquette: norms for audience behavior

  7. Thanks for reminding us of several useful classroom management techniques. I’m curious, what do you mean, “bored?” You appear to attribute motivation to student or teacher behavior inconsistent with an observer’s expectations.

  8. It’s interesting that I have quite a few music and drama teachers reading.

    @Jen
    I’m an actor but I get extremely nervous whenever I have to perform. I feel best when the classroom is a safe place and I can do improv type activities with a partner before doing them in front of a whole group. I look forward to following your exploits now that I’ve found your blog.

    @Bob
    I’m assuming that you’re talking about the subhead “They’re Not Bored, You’re Boring” which I wrote as a play on what parents sometimes tell their kids when they say they’re bored…”You’re not bored, you’re boring.” I wanted to make the point that we do sometimes have some responsibility for students’ lack of interest. (I read it again and you’re right, it might be confusing).

    Again, remember I teach second grade. If learning isn’t fun in the lower grades it can easily turn students off to school forever.

  9. Interesting post. What do you do when the class material doesn’t meet the child’s needs? I.e. when a child is a few years ahead or behind the class level. For example, a second grader reading at a fifth grade level, or a second grader who doesn’t speek English. What do you do when you have both children in the same class?

  10. @Jane,

    You’re talking more about differentiation than classroom management, I think. If you choose the “independent work time” category on the right side, there are a few posts about that too.

    In a nutshell, if you can preteach key concepts to small groups before you teach the whole group then the groups that are behind are better able to participate in the whole group. This is also the time when you provide activities that challenge the higher students. Visuals, technology, and higher level thinking are ways of engaging students even if they may be at a different level than your lessons.

  11. Actually it is a classroom management issue. The mother of the second grader who reads at a fifth grade level will be constantly asking you why her daughter is bored and miserable and in tears at the prospect of going to school. Or you might have another bright child point out that you are asking them to do baby work.

    How does preteaching work if a child has already mastered the content you are trying to teach?

    How in the world do you convince a parent that differentiation is even possible for the bright children?

    If a child already knows the material, they will be bored if they have to keep going over it. And a bored child can and likely will cause problems in the classroom. And the parents will not be on your side if their child has little to no opportunities to learn in your classroom.

  12. @Jane, preteaching is for the students you mentioned being several years behind the grade level material not the advanced students. What are you doing to challenge the advanced students in your class now or are they just doing what everyone else is doing?

  13. Actually, it is my children’s classes that I have issues with. The school’s strategy seems to be to separate and isolate the bright children.

    What has happened varies depending on the child and grade. The child who entered kindergarten able to count past several hundred spent most of the year practicing counting to thirty. This is the one who asked, in class mind you, why she had to do baby work. This child asks daily when it will be summer vacation.

    The child who read the first two Harry Potter books between first and second grade spent the entire second grade doing OCR, reading and rereading stories. The teacher’s comment in September of second grade, “isn’t it great that she had met the second grade standards already” She figured out how to ignore the teacher and read under her desk. She has spent second, third and fourth grade ignoring the teachers and reading under her desk. The teachers never care so long as she is quiet and they can ignore her. She will be in serious trouble when she runs across new material and needs to pay attention in class.

    I have long since figured out that differentiation is teacher/administrator speak for “we are going to ignore these children and use them for their test scores.”

    It has never seemed possible that a teacher facing 20 or more students, with a range of six or seven years in skill levels could effectively teach them.

    I am trying to understand the other side (i.e. teachers/administrators). If you believe differentiation is possible, why?

    Why do you believe that parents would believe differentiation is possible?

    These are real questions, and I am honestly seeking answers.

  14. Real differentiation means that you’re planning activities for students of all levels, not just the lower levels. While there is a certain amount of direct instruction that would be review for your child, activities like research and inquiry, writing and writer’s workshop, and project based learning are activities in which students can participate in on whatever level they are at.

    You’re are right that differentiation is difficult but every classroom has students at different levels and it’s not impossible to plan for all of them.

  15. Differentiation may be possible, but I haven’t seen it done. What is the rational for using heterogenous classroom grouping instead of homogenous groupings? Or at least cluster the gifted kids together.

    Have you read the gifted education blogs?

    You still haven’t answered my questions:

    Why do you believe differentiation is possible?

    What do you think parents would believe differentiaion is possible and beneficial?

    And a few more questions:

    What is the maximum spread of abilities in a classroom for differentiation to be possible?

    Why is having a heterogenous classroom set with differentiation different from assigning children in a school alphabetically? I.e., all children whose first names start with letters A in one classroom, all those whose first names start with B in another, etc.

  16. I heartily agree with your premise here — too often, I’ve seen teachers at the school where I teach have classroom management problems for this precise reason, and to be honest, I can’t entirely blame the students. Listening to them, I was bored also. If I had to be there day in, day out, I’d probably tune out or be rude (if I were of high school age).

    I would also add that a great many classroom management issues can be solved by one simple expedient: talking to the malefactor *out in the hall,* not challenging her or him in front of a peer group. Also, assuming the best of them, even if it’s lip service only, goes a long way. Rather than hissing, “Why isn’t your homework out?” asking, “Having a hard time finding your homework?” works wonders.

    Thanks!

  17. @Jane,

    The rationale behind heterogenous groupings is that the world isn’t homogenous and students do need to learn to get along with students of all abilities and backgrounds. I know differentiation is possible because I’m a teacher and I’ve done it. As for your other questions, I think they’re out of place here on a post about classroom management but thanks for the inspiration, a post on differentiation may be coming.

    @Adso of Melk,

    I like your point about talking to students individually about misbehavior rather than confronting students in front of the whole class. This builds a relationship with individual students, is respectful, and allows you to remain fair and level headed rather than yelling at a group.

  18. What a great post! I love the beginning when you said it was our job to be interesting and that entertaining was a bonus. I also like how you mentioned that kids are going to push the boundaries. I used office referrals as a last resort after parent communication, which means I rarely used office referrals. This also means that when I sent someone to the office, the office and the student and the parents knew that I had reached the end of my rope and the consequences would be severe.

  19. Matthew,
    I loved this article. I think it is vitally important for a teacher to reflect on an unsuccessful lesson and to have their antennae up high enough to register when it is their fault that the students were not engaged. Sure, we shouldn’t always have to do a soft shoe for their attention, but students put out effort when they are given effort. In addition, I think your theory that a student’s claim that they “don’t care” being linked to lesson interest is dead on. At times I have bumped into teachers, you know, the type of teacher whose class you’d freakin’ die if you had to sit through, who complains about some shared student who not only functions but thrives in your own classroom, and you wonder, “who the heck is she talking about? That kid is awesome.” The fact is that while classroom management and student achievement are linked to student engagement, the other element that has a direct correlation to student engagement is our own enjoyment of the job. And our enjoyment feeds our ability to continue being engaging. Call me selfish. I like teaching, and I like the feeling of a class of middle schoolers getting what it is I’m talking about. Student achievement and classroom management may be the goals by some teachers’ standards, but to me, they are the by-product of my own enjoyment of teaching.

  20. Kudos, Jane, for asking tough questions. Unfortunately, no teacher can offer blanket responses valid for your or any students in all situations all the time. I faced the same issues you raised about accomplished public school 1st and 2nd grade readers in my family as well as in my classrooms of elementary age students and preservice and advanced graduate education students. The way teachers offer classes affects when students crack academic codes. Relatively few public school administrators require teachers to adjust instruction to fit each student’s learning rate, not even in GATE programs. It’s possible to do so, and most teachers know how to do it, but it’s not required. That’s just the way it is, and I’m guessing, will continue for the near future. That appears to leave parents with two choices: adjust at home to fit their child’s learning rate, if maximizing a child’s learning is of interest, or move the child to a private school that provides the kind of instruction you select. Many online programs exist for learners of all ages to use at home. In our family, we told our children that they must go to school to learn to get along with other people; we’d help them at home to learn whatever they needed to learn (at their rate). (We couldn’t afford private schools.)

  21. Pingback: Creating Lifelong Learners » Blog Archive » Differentiate This! Part One: Why?

  22. You cannot imagine how refreshing it is to read this discussion on differentiation without one person saying “Where do I find the time?” “I have too much on my plate” “I have to teach the stuff on the test”. These are the responses I hear wayyyy toooo often.

    Differentiation for all learners is not easy, but it can be done—I could tell you how but I’m sure many of you know how to do it, I’d be glad to answer specific questions if you have any.

    I heard Carol Tomlinson say some years ago “With a perfect match between curriculum and student ability, discipline problems would be eliminated.” I’m sure that statement is huperbole, but there is a lot of truth to it. Some of the kids are trouble because the work is too hard and some of the kids are trouble because the work is too easy. Wouldn’t it be nice if each student was learning something new and on their level everyday?

    Oh, BTW I’ve taught gifted kids for 25 years and have 3 gifted sons.

  23. High school student's view

    Hello. I am a student – a 11th grade student.
    I don’t have much to say on this article except that it’s mostly untrue.
    No matter what you do, kids aren’t going to give a damn.
    If you could be a genuinely entertaining teacher then fine, go for it.
    But most of the time those teachers come off as obnoxious and irritating to us.
    Generally we just want to go to class and sit back and learn the information.
    Actually I’m speaking all on my own behalf. I learn by listening, most of the time.

    PS- I haven’t ever EVER met a kid who wanted to go to the office for the excitement for it. Seriously.

  24. @High school student

    Thank you for your amusing comments. Please remember this is an elementary school blog and so a little entertainment goes a long way but I agree that some obnoxious jerk of a teacher would be pretty irritating. Someone who at least presents some visuals though would certainly be more interesting than listening to someone drone on and on though.

    In regards to being sent to the office. Naturally no one is sitting around thinking, “Gee I’d like to get sent to the office today.” However, even amongst adults for any behavior pattern that repeats there is some reward for that behavior…even self-destructive behavior.

  25. @ Matthew

    I’m a first year music education major at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. I’m currently taking an introduction to music ed class and I’ve done a few preliminary observations of teachers. I found this article to be especially relevant to the basic concepts we’re learning in the class and applying to the Early Field Observation reports we’re required to write, so thank you. It’s a comfort to see “classroom management” and “differentiation” used outside of the course I’m taking.

    @Jane

    I did the gifted thing as a child (which was not so long ago since I just turned 19). My advice to you is to place less blame on the school and consider what you personally could do to cultivate your daughter’s/son’s “gift.”

    Excuse me while I reminisce. Throughout my K-12 years I was placed in some sort of gifted program…I think it was called ELP or ALP? Accelerated Learning Program. I actually grew up in Eagan, MN (as opposed to somewhere in New England). It was engaging at times. However, at some points (especially as I grew older) it became clear that the program was created simply to have something to show to mothers concerned about their child’s apparent superior intellect going unappreciated, whether or not it was a good program. My point is that even with additional differentiation, there will inevitably be bored or unchallenged children. That is, unless each individual child is personally evaluated on every possible level and given a specific and optimal curriculum created just for them.

    And that’s where you come in. If you really think your child is that great, do something about it and stop expecting others to do it for you. Have them take summer classes in advanced math or another language. Private art lessons. Move them to a different school. Do flashcards at home. Train them to be a piano virtuoso.

    Don’t flame on some blog to some random teacher about how great your kid is and what a shame it is that no one is challenging her. Do it yourself.

  26. @Grace: You’re right on. I was in a similar situation. My parents put all of us in summer reading programs, we took summer courses at the local community college. We went to summer camps at the local university. We enrolled in Zoo schools and museum schools.

    They homeschooled us for a couple of years. During that, we took a field trip to The Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Cavern, Southern California (we actually learned some cool stuff at Universal Studios), Hoover Dam, Las Vegas (woo).

    We took another one through Tennessee including Mud Island in Memphis, Oak Ridge, and Nashville.

    We got to go see a Space Shuttle launch. On my birthday. Heck yeah!

    As a music ed student, I’d also like to invite you to check out my blog and dig around there some as time allows. Good luck with your juries. :)

  27. I teach technology in a K -5 dual language 100% title I school. I agree with you 100%. Our AP will take over as principal next year. Some teachers are griping about how AP doesn’t ever do anything.

    When I ask them for examples – they talk about being tired of dealing with Sam (not a real name) and sending him to the office and they just sent him back. I ask if they filled out the referral – no they just sent a note.

    The referral requires they tell what they have already done to deal with the child’s problems, that is why they don’t want to fill it out.

    On the other hand we have had 5 very disturbed students that were disrupting the whole campus. One a 4 yo, sent an aide to the ER from the injuries that he inflicted. When AP and current Principal came in – their immediate goal was to get these 5 kids the help they needed so they would stop disrupting. 2 are gone – they were brothers and Mom stormed out taking the kids because we dare say they need to to stop sending staff to the ER.

    The other 3 – 2 are very steady doing well. The 3rd does ok, until mom decides to switch to another method/medication then things go wonky till he gets steady on new meds. He starts disrupting – like talking to people that aren’t there. Admin will come remove him and call mom.

    I haven’t sent one child to the office from my room this year. I have very clear boundaries and consequences. Severe misbehavior in my room can cost you computer privileges for 3 weeks. (I teach technology)

    Also when kids deserve it – I complement them. Sometimes privately some times publicly. I sent an e-mail to the 5th grade team/administration Friday about a 5th grade class. The DVD player wouldn’t work for the sub. A student was sent to get me. When I got in the room, the kids were working – except a small group that was trying to trouble shoot the problem. I determined they were correct – the TV was broken. We put the DVD in a computer and the students gathered around that -while two helped me get the cart back to the library. Coach, Librarian and I swapped out carts/DVD players. Then the boys helped me move it back to the portables. When we got back to the room the students were still working.

    This is a group with a reputation for being hell raisers – Their teachers were shocked. They will be given a reward on Monday.

  28. @Grace

    I am glad that your needs were met during your school years.

    My kids are in school six hours a day. No matter what we do outside of the time the children are in school, they are still there six hours a day. My children (and all the children at the school) should learn something every day.

    Quite frankly, there are not enough hours in the day to mitigate the damage done from spending hours sitting in a classroom not learning. Not all years are as bad as my daughter’s second grade year, but she did spend an entire school year learning next to nothing.

    I am actually curious about why educators think that:

    1. differentiation can be an effective strategy when there are multi year skill gaps among the children in a classroom?
    2. why differentiation alone would be more effective than differentiation coupled with ability grouping?
    3. Why is the need for differentiation viewed as a positive thing instead of a mitigation measure for a problematic classroom grouping?
    4. If differentiation is such a good idea, why not make is voluntary. E.g. the parents who want it have their children in a hetergenous class with differentiaton can have that and those of us who want ability groupings can have that.

    If there is a blog discussing differentiaton, I think it is acceptable to ask those questions.

  29. Jane,

    I certainly feel your frustration, after 25 years teaching gifted kids in a pullout program I rarely see their needs met in the regular classroom. I think you may be barking up the wrong tree–grouping kids by ability is so politically incorrect in most districts today you may never see this happen. The days of the bluebirds, redbirds and buzzards is probably over—as a matter of fact many districts are looking at ways to reduce their special education populations and those kiddos will be back in the regular classroom with initiatives like MTSS and RtI. NCLB has taken assessment to a new level and time in the classroom is spent getting ready for high stakes tests.

    What’s a parent to do? If you are not satisfied with what your child’s classroom teacher is doing, after visiting with him/her go to the principal with specific examples in mind. If you get no satisfaction there make an appointment with the superintendent or the head of curriculum and explain your frustrations. Consider starting a parents group. Home school? Private schools?

    As the parent of three gifted sons, I probably took the path of least resistance—I knew eventually things would get better and of course they did—in high school. I know that’s a long time to wait but I hope you will continue to support your child’s school and teachers while being as proactive as you can.

    I know none of that helps when your child is frustrated every day. I agree with you, it is the school responsibility to teach every child everyday and the gifted kids are the one learning the least new material. Be thankful you have a bright child and continue to work with your school and community, who knows what changes might be made.

    Differentiation done right will meet the needs of all children. If you would like to know how it should look email me and we can discuss it further. nbosch@aol.com

    Off the soapbox, N.

  30. @Jane

    Although your daughter may not have been properly challenged in the 2nd grade, consider the fact that she attended and completed school in that year. The fact that our country is able to provide a fairly competent education system offered and even required of every child (under 18 in some states) is what I would consider a decent education system.

    Differentiation isn’t necessarily the assumed answer. The fact of the matter is that it comes down to MONEY. That is why they are public schools–they often have limited means and thus are limited in their ability to group every child based on their ability. It’s not that teachers are idiots–it’s that they have their hands tied. They can only do so much.

    Your argument about differentiation shouldn’t really be with teachers, but with school, district or state representatives of educations. Or the president while you’re at it.

    It actually offends me that you say “damage” is done to your child while they attend school. Whether or not the school specially caters to your child’s every learning speciality or whim is not what I’m talking about, here. At least she’s going to school. At least she’s not in an elementary school gang or something. I don’t know…now I’m just flaming.

    But again. Home school and private school are good options. Think about it.

    Also, my point was that my “accelerated” experience in school wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I’m saying it was more of an invention to please parents of gifted children and to make them believe that their child was being challenged. It wasn’t always necessarily effective, engaging, relevant or valid. School wasn’t perfect, but I was safe and made friends there. Those are other reasons to appreciate a public school system doing its best to meet EVERYONE’S needs.

  31. TootieLizardTush

    I know its off the subject but what I find most alarming concerning the comments being made is how teachers are discussing how to manage kids whom are sent to a study a subject merely for scheduling reasons and consider this a problem which should be solved with discipline or “being less boring”. Does it not strike anyone as odd that students are being shuffled around to waste both their time and that of the tutor in a class they have no interest in? How can anyone either learn or teach under such circumstances? What an awful waste of time for all concerned especially when we know as adults that once we leave school we still have no interest in virtually any subject we were forced to do. How much more motivated the student would be and a much more productive adult would the student become were they simply allowed to learn that which actually interests them.

    I think instead of disciplining the students who are clearly telling you in their behavior that there is something wrong with a system that dumps them in these elective classes, teachers should become their voice and demand of the system that this matter is addressed.

    Give students the power and the resources to pursue that which interests them. Imagine that, a school which actually teaches kids what they want to learn and not what someone else considers they have to because of scheduling reasons.

  32. @TootieLizardTush,

    Elementary students do not get to choose their classes. And yes, it’s still the teacher’s job to engage the students and to teach them appropriate standards of behavior.

    It doesn’t really strike me as odd to hear that high school students aren’t always getting their first choice electives because that’s how it’s always been and will be in college as well. So, you get typing instead of drama, does that mean you get to be disrespectful in class?

    Sometimes the class you end up enrolled in is better than the one you originally wanted. Generally schools do allow you to drop classes and change once the term has started.

  33. Nancy,

    Thanks for your advice and kind words, I will contact you. I have already been up the food chain to the superintendent. She told me:

    1. It was unreasonable to expect my child to learn something every day; and
    2. My child should learn to feel happy for the other children who did learn.

    Not the most productive meeting I’ve ever had.

    I would be interested in your ideas. I work, so homeschool isn’t an option, but I don’t make enough to afford private school. I am holding on until high school, but that is nine years away for my youngest, which seems an awfully long time.

    My children are in a Title 1 school.

    I have told my oldest that there is lots of information she needs to learn. I will help her with it. It is not her fault that the school isn’t interested in teaching, but it is her problem. Not the kindest message for a nine year old, but unfortunately a true one.

  34. @Jane,
    If your nine year old was mine I wouldn’t have given her such a dire message. This could have been a time when you could have explained academic differences and helped her to realize that she needs to be empowered to advocate for herself.

    As long as you choose to send you child to public school you are going to have to accept that they are going to teach to the middle. You and your daughter have the responsibility to continue to try to make a difference and not become victims. Each day is a new day.

  35. Jane, I’m sorry your meeting with the superintendent went that way – I am horrified at the ethical principles she seems to believe in, frankly. Maybe look in to homeschooling as an option? Seriously — I honestly think many parents simply give up trying to achieve the (apparently) impossible in getting an appropriate education for a child whose grade and age don’t match. It’s very frustrating.

  36. Your ideas and suggestions are well thought out and tried, I am sure.

    Unfortunately, many teachers are not supported by their administration because they can’t hire enough teachers for ‘electives’ like Career and Tech. Ed. (We do tend to be the ‘bottom feeders’ in education) and you get 25 students in a Video Tech class because “there was nowhere else to put them.”

    I never thought I’d put a student ‘out in the hall,’ until I had 28 students in a Web Design class (at least 10 who hadn’t chosen it as an elective and their goal was to find ways to distract and annoy).

    Rather than waste time writing up referral after referral, putting them in the hall for 10-20 minutes has seemed to work because they get ‘bored’ not being part of the group.

    When you have students who truly want to learn in an overcrowded lab situation, you CANNOT be looking over your shoulder as you try to help those who care. Yes, parent calls do help. . . for a few days.

    I have classes that have prerequisites. When I find students are on my roll that haven’t met them, I am told, “We don’t have anywhere else to put them.”

    I certainly feel that the integrity of what I teach is compromised and I have now become a baby sitter rather than a valued professional who teaches valuable skills.

    BTW: I just had a student team win 1st place in SKILLS USA in Web Design. I don’t know how they learned through all the wasted discipline time in class.

  37. Well, I’m in a similar situation to Jane’s. My oldest is getting ready to finish his first year of school–half-day kindergarten. He went in reading at close to a fourth-grade level and having just mastered multiplying double digit numbers. We’ve gone in with an attitude that school is for way more than growing the intellect, and fortunately he loves school, even though the entire year has been beyond remedial for him. We’re helping him to pursue his own interests at home.

    But he does come home with papers admonishing him to “follow the directions,” when he was trying to stretch the assignment into something that would challenge him. (But Mom, that’s too easy!) And for his class, this is definitely an issue of classroom management–he’s one of the kids with the yellow and red cards. We’ve been talking about self-control, being part of a team, having respect for the people who need to learn this stuff, etc., but his dad and I are pretty sure a lot of the behavior problems come from boredom.

    I want him in a heterogeneous classroom, because I want him in a class where kids learn to deal with differences in abilities (where hopefully, he’ll fit in as just another outlier). But I do think most of the problem-solving for classroom “troublemakers” tends to be geared toward the less motivated or the kids with the IEPs. I just wish there would be more of an acknowledgment among public school educators and administrators that highly gifted kids are special needs kids too.

  38. This could have been a time when you could have explained academic differences and helped her to realize that she needs to be empowered to advocate for herself.

    Okay, curiousity killed the cat. What does this mean?

  39. Tracy, It will not do any good for the parent of a gifted kid to rant and rave and get pissy about the lack of rigor in today’s public school classrooms. I was commenting to what Jane told her child.

    “I will help her with it. It is not her fault that the school isn’t interested in teaching, but it is her problem. Not the kindest message for a nine year old, but unfortunately a true one.”

    Elementary students have become powerless—maybe they always were but in this time of prescripted reading programs, high stakes test prep bright kids need to step up and advocate for themselves. I think it may be more effective than a whiney “gifted” parent.

  40. Teachers used to differentiate instruction all the time–this was what happened in one room school houses, with eight grades. All kids learned to work independently and all kids’ needs could be addressed since there were eight levels of material at any given moment. As teachers, we should borrow from these teachers’ experiences and practices. The other things that assists in differentiated instruction is technology. It’s possible to plan interesting experiences in the classroom that challenge and interest all or most of the children. I recommend to my students (pre-service teachers) that they plan for one really fascinating experience a week and the kids will go a long way on the less interesting stuff.

  41. Nancy said “This could have been a time when you could have explained academic differences and helped her to realize that she needs to be empowered to advocate for herself”

    I have explained to her that different kids learn at different rates. She understands this.

    “empowered to advocate for herself” If the school is willing to teach her, she would not need to be empowered to advocate for herself. She is a smart kid, she figured that one out on her own. I am not certain that advocating is effective or prudent given the district’s attitude towards bright kids (see earlier post).

    The school doesn’t teach California history. Given that she has at least a decent chance of living here as an adult, I think it is important that she learn Cal history. Since the school doesn’t teach it, she has to learn it at home.

    It is also important that she master multiplication facts to automaticity. This is also something we had to do at home.

    I am not certain that her advocating at school would help her and might well hurt her.

    By the way, WHY should she advocate for herself? The school only goes thru 6th grade, she has one year left. Once she hits 7th grade in middle school, they start to break the kids out into ability levels. If we use the school as daycare and educate at home, we can probably make it to 7th grade.

    I am sorry I come across as whiney. I prefer to come across as I am, which is angry.

  42. Did not mean that you were whiney—I was speaking in generalities. After 25 years teaching gifted kids (I also have 3 gifted sons–all grown up) I know a lot of parents who have dealt with hundreds of classroom teachers…and I know what works (sometimes) and what works (never). I have to say I rarely see parents force change for their gifted kids without p***ing off a lot of people. What I have seen work is when the student can speak for themselves and say “Hey, Mrs. Jones…this isn’t working for me”.

    He’s a Dr. Philism for you “you should spend 5% thinking about your problem and 95% thinking about solutions.” I’m sorry you took offense–none was meant.

  43. It is important for students to be entertained in the sense that they are having fun. I believe that if students are not having fun, they are not learning to their potential

  44. Hello

    I found your site today. Thank you for the great read! It was encouraging to have come across a site [1st site to view!] that said what I believed. I appreciate sound logical problem solving.

    You made me laugh many times as I could imagine that you are talking about my 8yo boy. lol. Going through life having others put a “square peg into a round hole” is not the experience I want for my child.

    I could say so much… However, I do have a question concerning consequences handed out by teachers/administration.

    Recently my boy used the “sh” word in class “in front of the other children!”, according to one of his teachers. He was sent to the office, I was called, a note was sent home and I was to sign it. The consequence he was to have today was picking up garbage and miss recess.

    I was clear that I do not agree with how the situation was handled. Over the phone one of his teachers and I became more familiar with the current events. She only had to understand that he is not to be picking up the garbage. Why not?
    His teacher skipped right over the teaching opportunity that was presented by my son using a socially “bad” word. In no way to I want my cute boy walking around saying “sh”. The only part of the “Oops letter to home” that was not filled out was the section concerning the mentoring time. Instead, the teacher sends him down to the office. I am not clear how much school my boy has missed due to being in the office [too often].
    To my knowledge this was the first time my boy has used an inappropriate word at school. The teacher’s reaction to it was way over the top.
    I meet with both teachers and principal tomorrow and will recomment this site. ♥

  45. @Joel: how do u get to ur blog?

  46. Thanks for the information. As I return to teaching after raising four children: I taught second grade 15 years ago. I find that classroom management is a such a big part of the classroom. I have been subbing for a year to figure out what I would like to teach. Of course classroom management is what I spend most of my time doing as a sub.
    I was subbing for a particularly difficult Kinder class. I had done a day here and there about 8 times for this class. One of the boys was very stubborn, didn’t respond to his name and just was not interested in being a part of what the class was doing. After trying many different types of discipline, nothing was helping, I tried a new approach. I took him aside and said, “Hey, Shane …. it wasn’t WHAT I said as much as HOW I delivered it. I was down on his level, one on one, giving him control of the outcome. It worked like a charm!
    I think as a teacher, its sometimes hard to do everything and be all things to everyone. That sometimes we forget the simple things. So reading this blog was a good reminder. Children respond so much better to a one on one connection then to group discipline.
    I would love to get a daily text message or email that reminds me of what makes a good teacher. Do you have one or know of any good resources for daily reminders?

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