Readers respond

Substitute teaching has been said to be the most thankless job. I started subbing just after I had come off active duty in the Navy. I still carried with me the lessons I learned there. In the classroom, despite my very laid-back manner, I let students know where I stand with them. I advise them that I have no problem when someone does what she or he is supposed to do or even when someone doesn't know what she or he is supposed to do, but I have a very big problem with someone who knows what to do but doesn't do it.

In boot camp, the recruit company was linked. If one recruit failed to measure up, his bunkmate, section leader, and even the whole company would pay.

I do things the same way. If one student presents me with any problems, I warn him that if he goes out of line with me, not only will he face the consequences, but also those in proximity to him. I respond to their complaints of being "unfair" by saying that life is unfair, and if that isn't enough or I deem it appropriate to elaborate on that, I tell them that if those around him would keep the recalcitrant student in check, I wouldn't need to castigate the rest of them.

It has almost never failed in any of the classes I ever subbed. For those who might look on this as militaristic, try it and see the results. "Discipline is not the enemy of enthusiasm." As for matters of courtesy and politeness, not only do the kids positively respond, I actually feel their trust. R. Lee

I spent more than five years studying the systems: writing my classroom discipline plan, rethinking my "extreme clause" (behavior that results in immediate disciplinary intervention), analyzing the sequence of activities that constitute different lesson types in music class.

Some of this I did during the school year, because I was desperate: I had been physically and verbally attacked, systematically and over a period of more than one school year, and I was ready to learn how not to be a target. Over three summers, I took various workshops. Most important, I wrote the recommended "philosophy" and practical exercises that accompanied the text. I tried to implement what was illustrated - and it started to work.

I need to teach more than content: I teach values. I set goals for the students, and they think it is a game: How quickly can you learn X so that we can spend more time on the computer? Students know their learning styles, and they know who will have difficulty with most topics, and who will shine. Set them to work, and allow flexibility in how they can show what they know, and you will see young people "rise to their highest heights."

Many of us who choose to teach in the inner city do so for a reason: mine is being a visible minority person who is grateful for what I have been given. I am now teaching the children of the young adolescents I taught. Once learners (and their families) recognize that you are there to stay, there for them, teaching and classroom management get easier; much, much easier.

Gail Teixeira, Nova Scotia, Canada

The disintegration of families in the United States is the main problem as I see it from having taught in Quertaro, Mexico, for 4-1/2 years.

At the high school and university where I teach, ITESM, Campus Quertaro, students for the most part come from strong families who raise their children to exhibit strong social skills.

When the boys greet each other before classes, for example, they shake hands. When boys meet girls, and when girls meet girls before classes, they give each other besitos or little kisses. In the four years I have taught here, there have been no fights, and I have seen students raise their voices in anger at one another not once. [T]he tide will not turn in the US until parents and school administrators provide the love and support that their children and their students need.

Erlyn Baack, Mexico

I retired more than six years ago from 38 years of teaching in public schools around the world. I started out in the Los Angeles city schools ... and was tried by fire. I spoke no Spanish and yet had Spanish-speaking children in my first-, and most treasured, seventh-grade class. I loved its challenges and jumped in with both untested feet.

I found the first item I needed to address was ... earning the respect of the charges I had. Once I had earned this respect, I had them the rest of the year. (Each year's agenda was different and approached differently, even to the point of riding my motorcycle to school one year in the fall. My being a more "experienced" female teacher grabbed attention.)

In each new situation, whether in L.A., on a military post in Germany, a New York suburb, or a rural New England town, I found that my love of the children and my willingness to be flexible helped earn their respect. I taught fourth grade through high school English, and coached a high school girls' varsity basketball squad....

The administrative expectations changed drastically ... maintaining discipline became the chief emphasis just so you could teach the expected curriculum. We had to work 10 times as hard to keep order, yet with a firm code that every child understood from the first "teacher-speech" of the year, a blueprint for the year was drawn and we tended to follow it.

As in any walk of life or job, it's the mental approach and discipline of oneself first, then this carries over to the unfolding of the teaching style....

Liz Cahoon-Jackson, Buena Vista, Colo.

Generally, all behaviors communicate one or more of the following needs: attention, avoidance, control, revenge, play, and self-regulation. Each one of these needs that a behavior communicates has one or more strengths that can be built upon.

For instance, the need for attention could indicate that a student cares about what others think of him or her. Perhaps that need could be filled by giving the student a high-status job in the classroom. The need for control might be channeled into leadership skills.

The downside is that this process takes time, especially since the behaviors that the student was using to meet his or her needs were successful in achieving that end with near 100 percent accuracy. Replacement behaviors are not initially that successful, and may never be. So how do we engage the student until the process takes effect? We gain their trust by building a positive relationship with them in a caring but structured environment where they are always treated with dignity.

Andrew Parker, Vermont

There are two functions of a public school. The primary function is socialization. The secondary function is academic preparation. You want to help children master the essential skills and develop habits which will benefit them academically and throughout life. Instead, your time is directed - sapped away might be a better term - by socialization problems.

My advice? If you want to teach rather than be a social worker and disciplinarian, look for a charter school or a private school that deals effectively with both major issues and ... where you can be effective as a teacher of subject matter.

Ed Berger, Sedona, Ariz.

I work at an alternative middle/high school that uses courses that are packeted, and where students do individual work on no more than two courses at a time. We have many entering students who are below necessary skills. We assess reading as students enter the school and assign elective reading as needed to bring students up to passing scores. Because elective high school credit is given for these classes and all our students are doing individual programs of study, the remedial work seems not to carry a stigma....

Discipline problems are far fewer when students have the skills to do the work they are assigned.

Jan Campbell, Ketchikan, Alaska

To gain respect, he should be prepared for each day's subject matter. This means being there and ready when the first student [arrives].

If he is bogged down by daily bureaucratic paperwork, he should weave it into class time, giving priority to the students and the subject matter.

He should set minimum standards and enforce them: No bargaining. His task is to bring them up to reasonable behavior, not to have them pull him down. He should grade all work with the standard, "You'll get it back no later than the next class day." He should tell them what he is looking for and do it.

He should also ask his custodian which teachers leave their classrooms in the best condition. That short list should become an interview list.

Howard H. Dudley Jr., Garden Grove, Calif.

Children come to us with little parenting, lots of video games, a wide range of skills, junk food for nutrition, and not enough rest.

By using a student-directed inquiry approach, with lots of student-to-student interaction and topics relevant to the students' lives, I created curious learners of even the most difficult behavior challenges.

Another thing that worked with the behavior problems is calling at least one parent each day to tell them something their child did that was admirable or compassionate. You'll be amazed at how the parents respond and how much the students want a call.

Junardi Armstrong

Always stand your ground. Stick with your rules. If you don't have any, get some. Most teachers try to be the students' friend first. If a teacher respects a student, the student will most likely respect the teacher.

Evelyn Olivieri, Lake Kiowa, Texas

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