From the Trenches

Aiming for the middle ground.

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"A room without books is like a body without a soul."— Marcus Tullius Cicero

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People are living their lives right in front of us.



My class pretended to play dead my teacher flipped here is video evidence

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Kathy Cassidy has her six year olds building digital portfolios and shows why and how. If my child was enrolling in school today, I’d ask to see some sample portfolios or where I could access them online. This is a hidden, little requested artifact that can probably tell you more about the progressiveness of a school than anything else!

I keep trying to find ways to implement technology within my classroom, but the lack of available computers and the super-strong web filtre always keeps me from doing it.  I might try to find a way around these problems this summer. 

Interesting article on a topic I’ve been observing more and more lately.

I have been contemplating ending my teaching career because of all of the crazy in the last 3 years. Between evaluations that are so skewed that I’m not sure the evaluators are even seeing the same class I am, the recent salary cuts, the garbage we have to go through for passing state exams, and the fact that many of my students just simply don’t want to be in school (early onset senioritis), I’m having trouble justifying it all when I compare it to the technical writing job I had before teaching.

But emails like this help stave it off.  This student came in as a senior, mid-year, speaking very little English, newly in-country from Iran.  She had already graduated from high school in Iran, but wanted to have the adjustment period before going to college, since she was only 17.  A math-whiz, she couldn’t decide between engineering (what she really wanted) or pharmacy (what her dad wanted).  However, because her English skills were so limited, she couldn’t pass the state reading exam, so she couldn’t graduate.  I was working with her, getting her extra study materials and helping her over email when she wasn’t in my class any longer.  She was planning on retaking the exam this fall and applying to colleges for Spring semester, but since I changed schools, I had lost contact with her for a few months.

So it’s been awhile since I heard from her, but this is what I woke up to this morning.  It’s lovely to know that she thinks of me, and took the time to tell me she was doing well.  And after all the crap we’ve all dealt with as teachers in recent years, it’s nice to know that it’s still worth something.  


1. “…children’s beliefs are largely determined by what they experience with their senses.  What they see, hear, touch, and feel determines how they think things are….only our actions are concrete.  Actions, not words, define our rules.” p. 63

2. “Compliant children don’t do a lot of testing….Their underlying desire is to be compliant….To strong-willed children the word stop is a theory waiting to be tested.” p.66

3. Although strong-willed children constitute less than 15 percent of the school population, they are a powerful minority because they’re responsible for nearly 90 percent of classroom discipline problems.” p. 66

4. Explaining why the rule is in place seems to do nothing.  The child already knows that information.  What the seem to want to know is what you will do. What they hear when you explain only what you want them to do, then explain your feelings about what they’re doing (“I’m uncomfortable with you doing that because you may get hurt.”), is only that you are uncomfortable.  That doesn’t affect them. “‘You can put that away in your backpack…or I can keep it in my desk for the rest of the semester”” works much better…the student has all the information they need now to make a decision. p. 78

5. Students don’t take anything away when we explain the rules.  Then they only learn that there are 2 sets - the ones we say and the ones that we follow through on.  p. 79.

5. “‘You can put that away in your backpack…or I can keep it in my desk for the rest of the semester.’”

Ch 2: How Teachers Teach Their Rules

  • Teachers, like parents, have four approaches in creating rules and enforcing them: permissive (respectful but not firm), punitive (firm but not respectful), mixed (neither firm nor respectful), or democratic (both firm and respectful).
  • MacKenzie describes various scenarios he has seen with teachers and students, which he terms “dances”, visualized as vertical timelines with teacher behavior on the left and child behavior on the right.  Teacher behavior is often characterized as cajoling and giving students the opportunity to follow the rules, which MacKenzie says gives the students opportunities to NOT follow the rules if they don’t want to…the teacher is only going to talk and not act.
  • I was hoping I was simply permissive, but it looks like I might be mixed.  I generally am permissive in the beginning of a “dance”, but move quickly to punitive when I get frustrated that the behavior isn’t stopping.  

Click on the link to read the rest.  This blogger has some fantastic insights and like I always tell my own students: “Smart gets you there.  Only hard work keeps you there.”


Why Smart Students Don’t Succeed

An outstanding collection of insight from reddit user lnri137. Here’s an excerpt:

You got A’s because you studied or because the classes were easy. You got a B probably because you were so used to understanding things that you didn’t know how to deal with something that didn’t come so easily. I’m guessing that early on you built the cognitive and intellectual tools to rapidly acquire and process new information, but that you’ve relied on those tools so much you never really developed a good set of tools for what to do when those failed. This is what happened to me, but I didn’t figure it out until after I got crushed by my first semester of college. I need to ask you, has anyone ever taken the time to teach you how to study? And separately, have you learned how to study on your own in the absence of a teacher or curriculum? These are the most valuable tools you can acquire because they are the tools you will use to develop more powerful and more insightful tools. It only snowballs from there…

(via world-shaker-deactivated2013092)


After stressing the importance of intellect with some very dramatic middle school girls this semester, I find this note tacked on my bulletin board ~ “books before boys”

Looks like my job here is done.

(via teachingtoday)

For the drama midterm, I assigned students partners they had never worked with before, and this pair is no different. The young man has been a pain in the rear sometimes - non-participatory, mullish, the works. But paired with one of my advanced students and a funny script, he’s making an awesome effort that I think will show amazingly on stage in a few days. I simply love it when it finally works for them.

I agree with almost nothing this man says.  Until now.  He pointed out, to almost certain ridicule, that under-privileged and urban teens have no work ethic, not so much because they don’t have opportunity or because the “system is working against them”, but because no one has shown them how to have a work ethic.

And it’s not just the under-privileged.

In an age where parents buy whatever their kids want, there is no allowance for chores, or baby-sitting jobs or summer employment. There’s no need for their own money.  

So Gingrich basically says that we need to start teaching our kids about having a work ethic and stop letting them be victims. 

Preach on.

 Having some classroom management issues this year that I’ve never had before.  Partly, I think, because it’s a new school and I’m having trouble figuring some of where administration will help, and partly (I think) because I don’t have as much time to contact parents. 

So I’m going to go about this the way a professor showed me when I was working on my MAT: pick three to five things from each chapter that are worth remembering for YOU.  So here’s my five for Chapter One: Creating Structure that Works.

  1. In the classroom, the teacher is the main authority figure, not the parent.  You can solicit their assistance and support, but since they aren’t going to be calling you to get the kid to do their chores or not stay out past curfew, neither should you be whining about how you can’t get the kid to stay in their seat or stop cussing. (p. 5)
  2. "Support words with effective action if we want children to regard our rules seriously.  Words unsupported by action carry little weight." (p. 7)
  3. "Rules in Theory v. Rules in Practice" (pp. 8-12)
  4. Rules are not the same as expectations.
  5. Some accountability procedures in this section won’t work for me because there is no parent accountability (i.e. parent signatures are often forged with no consequence from the school) and there is no “break time” to take away.  So what could I do to replace those ideas?  I loved the “Fun Friday” activity/makeup day.  Students need that opportunity to get things done or take a break.  But would they be responsible with it?  How would I enforce that?

More to come. 

One of my favorite classroom candids.  

I’ve been dealing with the same issues, and I have found that being less concerned has actually been the solution in my particular environment.  I told my students from the outset and remind them frequently that this is an equal agreement: they have to do work for me to do work.  If they choose the route of laziness, I give zeros liberally and remorselessly since, if this was a job and I was their manager doing most of their work for them or having to show them how to do something for the 12th time because they weren’t paying attention, they’d be sacked.  

I note that this only works with my current population; they care about their grades and the parents are involved.  At my previous school, my students honestly could have cared less about their zeros and F’s, you couldn’t ever get a parent on the phone, and I got reprimanded by my administration for having too many failures (talk about a Catch-22). 


Do you have a “no notes, no speech” policy?

I teach speech at the junior level, and my requirement is an MLA outline and works cited of at least three sources.

If students want to use their outline for their speech, they can; they can also make their own modified note cards.

However, I have…

Yes. This.


It’s an interesting point to bring up in the higher education classroom, and I’ve been thinking on this for at least the past hour in the back of my head.

I really do feel that a professor still has some responsibility, if not to teach (though I believe they do in fact have a responsibility to teach, despite what I’ve seen in some of the lecture halls and classes I’ve had to attend myself), then to create an environment in which students can learn.

I don’t believe that an environment in which the classroom or group discussion is hijacked by a majority of students who claim that a female character’s own actions led to her rape is an environment in which all students can feel comfortable expressing their own opinions.  There may be a vocal few who stand up and say “That is an absolutely false or unfair idea,” but in the middle will be students who leave the classroom with a sour taste in their mouth and a churned stomach.

So what tasks does this delegate to a professor?  If not teacher, then perhaps at least moderator?

Another example — I was in a relatively small writing class in my first year of my first college (I later transferred in part because my subject interests changed, and weren’t available there, but in part because too many of my courses were 100-to-300-student lectures during which professors used powerpoints that came with the textbook, and absolutely nothing was gleaned from attending the lecture that wasn’t by reading the textbook; books are cheaper than tuition).  One of the readings was on rape culture, feminism, and sexism.

The writer insisted that media was to blame for rape culture because men could not help themselves around women once they saw them half-naked on billboards, and strongly suggested that all men in general were just biologically predisposed to be rapists and needed to be shielded from provocative advertising.

It was a predominantly female class.  All of the women in the class except for myself supported the article loudly and enthusiastically in class discussion, and the men were either unsure of what they could say, afraid to say it, or so embarrassed or disgusted that they didn’t want to say anything — they were just biding their time until they could leave.  When I spoke up it was expected that I was going to be in agreement, and when I criticized the writer, the article, and these ideas that men were all rapists and all women were potential victims, all incapable of having any power over their own fate, the next ten minutes of class was an attack and defense situation.

The professor called on people to speak, but never leant her own comments.  For the entirety of that unit, I was almost afraid to speak up, because every time I did I was met with a hoard of angry voices declaring I was not a feminist, that I was on “their side,” and that I was wrong, ignorant, or shouldn’t speak any more.  After the unit, at least three women in the class no longer spoke to me.  Speaking to the professor after classes yielded nothing more than that made good points in class.  It felt like both a responsibility and a burden to speak, because when I didn’t, no one else did — not even the professor.

Maybe this is a forced introduction into the “real world,” where unpopular opinions can lead to shunning and aggression.  At the end of the class, everyone got a postcard from the professor’s collection, and mine remarked that the image was of a “strong woman, just like you!”  It was a nice sentiment, but didn’t make up for one of the most uncomfortable courses of my academic career.

On the other hand, when we discussed perceptions of and barriers faced by LGBTQ individuals in my Adolescent Pschology II class, the professor had a slightly different handle.  He too let it fall primarily to student discussion, calling on people to speak, sometimes letting us regulate ourselves — it was an even smaller class than the writing at the other school and we were familiar enough with one another to fall into respectful patterns of sharing.  Then, somehow, the conversation turned to several students in the class swearing that literature and research backed up the idea that gay men were most likely to be pedophiles, that the AIDS epidemic was primarily the fault of the gay community and was a good thing, etc.

The professor stepped in, pointed out some faulty logic, helped divide (or tried to help divide) the fact from the opinion for students who cited one as the other.  Students on both sides had to concede some things — it wasn’t a matter of a liberal agenda or the forcing of opinions on others (actually, the professor is a devout Catholic who helps oversee, at a local institution, who does and does not advance from their studies to the priesthood).

I felt awful at the end of the class, but I wasn’t dreading going back, because I felt like the professor was taking some kind of responsibility for making it a place where anyone was welcome to learn.  He didn’t give his own opinions on the matter, he didn’t silence anyone, he didn’t tell anyone they were wrong — he simply noted that some things were actually factually inaccurate, misconceptions perpetuated by a popular culture of misinformation.  It wasn’t a debate class, it was a class about fact and theory — and when opinions got in the way of either of those two things, he believed it was his job to clear that up.

And I am of the opinion that even higher education students need that.  So maybe it isn’t a matter of preparing other educational materials, or even giving students additional resources, when it comes to a higher level of learning — I concede that.  I’m used to the responsibilities of Elementary and Secondary Ed, and of being a general advocate for marginalized groups in environments where what needs to be resolved is a lack of information.  On the college level, students are supposed to, to some degree, be able to learn for themselves — though one should still keep in mind that everyone comes in at different levels.

Maybe it’s just a matter of being sure to moderate discussion, as would be done in any good debate at any age, to be certain that people know the difference between good information and misinformation, opinion and fact, and to be sure that conversations do not become so inflamed that learning cannot happen.