Learning Not To Drown

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Once again I’m feeling like a fish out of water.

I’m a special education teacher teaching two general education social studies classes.

I’ve told you about my struggles with my eighth grade class. It is just the opposite with my sixth graders.

I teach in three different classrooms. I have one room for my Read 180 remedial reading classes for special education students.

I teach my 8th grade general ed class, and most sessions of my sixth grade class in a room I share with three other teachers.

But on Tuesdays I teach my 6th grade group in their homeroom because the shared room is otherwise occupied.

My sixth graders, N61, are deeply involved in group-studies of how the geography of different countries affects the way people in those countries live.

Normally the homeroom teacher leaves when I come in to teach her class but today she stayed in the room for a meeting with our principal.

There are 28 students in the class, divided into six groups.

One group wanted to use the computers in the classroom to show me two videos they made as part of the project.

Four groups wanted to go to the school’s library to do research or to use the computers there to assemble PowerPoint or more technologically advanced presentations.

The final group wanted to go to my Read 180 classroom to work on the one Internet-capable computer there.

I know the school rules. I’m not supposed to send large groups to the library without supervision.

I’m absolutely not allowed to let students be in a classroom unsupervised.

None of that stopped me. I sent 18 students to the library and five into my other classroom unsupervised while I watched the two videos.

Then I remembered that my principal was in the room.

Uh oh.

I was running from one classroom down the hall to the other and back (did I mention that today was my first day not using a cane since I injured my knee in early September?)

Finally, my principal finished his conference with the other teacher and called me over.

I was ready to try to defend my decisions about letting students work without supervision and I was ready to get chewed out.

“I see you’re giving these students a lot of freedom. This class can handle that independence. If you try this with your 8th grade class you’ll need to keep a much closer watch on them.”

“There’s one thing I always have to teach special education teachers who move into general ed classes; the classroom management is totally different”

“Its much easier to get the attention of 12 students than when you have nearly 30. I’ve watched other special education teachers yelling at their general ed classes to get them settled. That doesn’t work, and you’re not a yeller.”

Then he taught me to use a procedure that apparently every general ed teacher in the school uses.

By that time most of the students had drifted back into the room and were noisily chattering about the work they’d done. The din was considerable.

I tried the technique.



Before I got to three the room was almost silent.


The students clapped twice and were quiet.


It works.

Why has this secret been kept from us special ed teachers?

So though I felt like a fish out of water again, I was starting to develop lungs and learning to breathe.

It was very quiet.

And the air was very, very sweet.

And I sit here wondering…

Will this work tomorrow in my 8th grade class?

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2 Responses to Learning Not To Drown

  1. npeery says:

    I really enjoy reading your blog. Your 8th grade class reminds me of my 8th period class of 6th graders when I first had a classroom of my own. I never was able to get control of that class. I began teaching in the middle of that year. What I have discovered, with the help of Harry Wong, is that if you teach the procedure and expect students to follow it, you model it and practice it until it becomes automatic, students will behave the way you expect them to. I teach Pre-K through 5th grade, so the age does not appear to matter. I have found that my biggest frustrations in regards to teaching end up being the result of the failure on my part to teach, model, and practice the procedure until it becomes automatic. Like pushing in your chair, or where to place your headphone bag, or closing the lid to their laptop. Thanks for sharing your struggles and victories with me!

  2. Michael J says:

    The level of granular detail makes me feel like I’m participating in a anthro study. Thank you and thank you … again.

    The stuff you have the 6th graders doing is awesome. Congratulations.

    My bet is that it won’t work with the eighth graders. They’re refusal to play by your rules is why they act like jerks in the first place. But I’ve been wrong many times before . . .

    Consider that the research is pretty clear that the path to dropping out of school starts mostly in the 8th and 9th grade. First acting like jerks. Then cutting school. Then ready to drop out. Then massive interventiona in the 12th grade under the pressure of getting the graduation stats where they have to be.

    My take is that sometime in middle school the hormones kick in. The kids – usually more the boys than the girls – are testing out their power. As they test out their power, they act like jerks. Once they act like jerks, it becomes harder and harder to catch up. By the 10th or 11th grade, it’s too hard. So they make up stories that are versions of “you can’t fire me, I quit.”

    Just one more kibbutz,

    it sure sounds dumb to have to fight room schedules and space. Maybe next semester general ed teachers get one room they can make a safe well lit space. I can’t think of another high stakes profession that forces the professional to waste precious time and energy running around.

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