Tag Archives: acceptance


I’m no worker of grand miracles. In fact, when it comes to schools, declarations of grand miracles accomplished are best left for the propagandists, movie makers, and politicians.

So with that logic, you’d likely derive that nothing miraculous happens in my classroom.

And I’d derive that you’re wrong.

It’s a miracle when the light goes on in a student’s head and she says, after doing a math procedure the wrong way 5 times, “Ohhhhh, nowwww I get ittttt!” (And she does).

It’s a miracle when a student stares at an addition question blankly, oblivious to its meaning, clueless to the steps needed to solve it, and comes in the next day willing to try again.

It’s a miracle when, two days later, he gets the procedure down perfectly and answers all his remaining questions correctly.

It’s a miracle when the student who seemed to know no high-frequency words at the beginning of the year seems to know all of them in February.

It’s a miracle when the student who ran around the room, crawled on the floor, stomped his feet, and screamed for no readily apparent reason and seemingly incessantly, drastically reduces the frequency of these behaviors.

It’s a miracle when a student who entered in December and never called anyone by their name suddenly knows the name of the teacher, the para, and everyone at his table.

It’s a miracle when people walk by the classroom and don’t think, “Oh, there’s a self-contained class,” but rather, “What a diligent, hard-working class.”

And it will be a miracle when people with misguided opinions and loud voices finally realize what matters.


Don’t Fail Kids With First Impressions

“First impressions count,” or so they say. But should they?

In my career, I’ve encountered many types of children. They’ve been funny, studious, shy, noisy, sad, boisterous, unmotivated, driven, intelligent, average, overweight, generous…

Most of us are drawn to a particular type of person. If that person doesn’t fit our vision of an ideal individual, we may be less inclined to want to get to know them. In our heads, we will form a series of incontrovertible beliefs and convince ourselves that every last one of them is accurate.

I know I have made the mistake of assuming the worst of others based on my initial impressions. You probably have done the same, maybe of your colleagues or other peers.

The great fault is not in having first impressions. The mistake is holding onto those impressions and convincing yourself they’re right.

Have you done this with students? I have. There have been kids I’ve had – and even have now – that I made my mind up about before giving them enough of a chance. I’ve written them off as lazy, rude, or beyond help.

And I’ve never been right.

We need to be sure not to hold on to the first impressions kids give us. Even if it takes months to be revealed, there is always more than meets the eye. Every child wants to learn, be successful, feel proud and have others be proud. If we understand this, then we can work past our first impressions and work toward figuring out who the child really is, instead of assuming the worst.

When we give our students a chance to let us get to know them and show us who they really are, only then do they have their chance to shine and be valued. We need to let kids show us who they are before we decide.

Look Deeper to Understand

I’m going through a lot of my old posts to remember some of the lessons I learned but may have forgotten. Courtesy of Annette Breaux, here’s one that we can’t afford to forget:

Remember: everyone in the classroom has a story that leads to misbehavior or defiance. Nine times out of 10, the story behind the misbehavior won’t make you angry. It will break your heart. – Annette Breaux

I personally believe that all kids just want people to respect, believe in, and care for them. Let’s not forget that kids are kids and their fears, concerns, tribulations and anxieties will often manifest themselves in unsavory ways. This should not be cause for punishment, but cause for us to probe deeply to understand what is at the root of the behavior. Our kids urgently need us to look deeper than just what’s on the surface.

When Are Rewards Okay?

I figured out I didn’t like giving out rewards before the end of my first month teaching. On the first day that year, I outlined a system for the class in which they would earn five marbles in a jar every time they got to the meeting area in under a minute, every time they behaved properly during a fire drill, etc. Pretty mundane, pretty conditional, pretty stupid.

There were subsequent times in which I said, to individuals and the whole group, “If you _____, you will get _____.” This, I learned, worked best when dilly-dallying was taking the place of productivity and time was running out. Not perfect, of course, because kids would soon figure out that anytime they wanted what I gave them, they could dilly-dally!

Last year, at the end of my rope with a certain student (do you remember Donald?) I wrote, for the first time in my career, a behavior intervention plan. It was based on conditional rewards, and my expectation was that, eventually, Donald would, in essence, respond to the bell regardless of whether the reward was coming. (Two rounds of sticker charts and he was set for the rest of the year).

Today, I kicked off a grand plan to help an easily distracted, seemingly unmotivated, often defiant student. I wrote it last week and presented it to his mother so she would be on board. Per the plan, the student gets a sticker from me every time he: a) focuses for five minutes; b) asks a question or shares an idea with a partner or the class; and c) accepts assistance from a peer or adult. At home, he gets a sticker for: a) allowing his parents or older sister to help him do his work; and b) reading for 15 minutes with one of his parents or his sister.

Upon receiving 20 stickers, the student has the opportunity to choose something he enjoys: computer time, art supplies, time playing with ocean animal toys, etc. Wouldn’t you know that today he earned 22 stickers and went home with a set of watercolors?

These are all items in which the child needs to improve. He is frequently disengaged and hardly ever interacts with other students. With the guarantee of something tangible for engaging in positive behaviors, my expectation is that this student’s attitude and achievement will improve.

This is not something I would consider for all students. For those who say it’s unfair, I ask if it’s something they really need in order to focus and do well. Universally, they say it isn’t.

I am hopeful that as more positivity comes from this plan, the student in question will exhibit the desired behaviors regardless of the positive reinforcement, and that, at least for the rest of the year, he will be set up for more success than he has ever had.

This is the text of the behavior plan I wrote. It is stapled into a notebook in which I can write notes home. The notebook also has the sticker charts stapled in s we can monitor progress. The names of concerned parties have been changed.

School to Home Behavior Plan for Eduardo

Teacher: Mr. Smith

Parent: Mrs. Sanchez

April 30, 2012

Goal: To establish a plan for Eduardo to improve his academic achievement by: maintaining focus, accepting assistance from adults and peers, and working with others.

Analysis: Eduardo maintains focus in whole-group settings for less than 30 seconds at a time, requiring frequent redirection. He is disengaged for the majority of lessons. Because of his disengagement, he must have directions repeated for him and concepts retaught. He rarely works with a partner or in a group, regardless of whether the grouping is created for him to act in a supporting or supportive role.

At home, Eduardo refuses assistance from his parents and older sister, and therefore does not always satisfactorily complete his work.

Specific goals: In school, Eduardo will maintain focus in a whole-class setting for a minimum of five minutes. He will actively participate by responding to questions and sharing with a partner. He will accept assistance from others without shutting down.

At home, Eduardo will allow his parents or older sister to work with him when he does his homework. He will read with his parents or older sister at least 15 minutes every night.

Ideas: In school, Eduardo will sit in front of the meeting area, closest to the teacher. A paraprofessional will monitor his ability to focus for 5 minutes. He will receive a sticker for every 5-minute increment in which he focuses consistently. He will receive a sticker for raising his hand to participate and when he participates in a prompted situation and socializes with a partner (by sharing an opinion, answer, idea, or appropriate information).

At home, Eduardo will complete his homework with the assistance of his parents or older sister. He will receive a sticker upon completing the homework. He will read 15 minutes with his older sister or parents. He will receive a sticker upon completing the reading.

When he earns 20 stickers (between school and home), Eduardo will receive a reward of his choice from the teacher: a special pencil, time playing with a fidget toy, a sheet of stickers, 15 minutes of computer time on Friday afternoon, 15 minutes in the science center, art supplies, etc.

The sticker checklist will remain in his homework folder so it can be transported between home and school.

Communication: The teacher will provide short daily notes summing up Eduardo’s day. His family will praise him for doing what he was supposed to do in school.

Eduardo’s family will provide short daily notes summing up how Eduardo did at home.  His teacher will praise him for doing what he was supposed to do at home.

The teacher and parents will periodically communicate after school and via written notes to monitor Eduardo’s progress.


Fits and Starts

The Kid I Never Sent Out

And just like that…we’re back.

This morning, it’s back to school and therefore, for me, it’s back to the blog. I took a mental vacation from everything school-related this week. No Twitter, no blogging, no reading others’ blogs. I focused on myself instead. Can’t blame my students if they did the same.

The NYS English Language Arts test begins tomorrow (with rounds two and three coming the following two days). Despite that, I’m kicking off my return to blogging and school with a nice story from right before the break. Surely, by the end of today, testing will be the only topic on our minds, but I want to share something positive and exciting that’s been on my mind all week!

The Thursday we went on break, I wanted little more than to just get out of school and go home. I was required to be at school an extra two hours, however, because I teach after school. So by the time I dismissed the after school kids, you can be sure I was on the verge of a crabbiness that threatened to sully my otherwise cheerful demeanor. Why were the parents so late? Didn’t they know we had a vacation to start?

As these surly thoughts were throbbing against my skull, I heard my name called from across the yard, and bounding through the crowd of teachers, students, and parents came a gawky-looking teenager who I couldn’t immediately place as someone I might know. As he drew nearer, though, I could see behind the oversized glasses and braces and underneath the closely shaved head that it was not only one of my former fifth graders, but indeed, one of my greatest success stories.

When this young man was in fourth grade, he was made to visit my room (via the walk of shame) a multitude of times. Each time he came in with a purpose, sometimes expressed by his teacher: “He needs to refocus.” Who was I to deny? I welcomed him each time and each time he returned to his room “refocused” (and maybe not feeling quite as horrible about himself).

The next year, I was elated that this guy was on my register. Unfortunately, several days passed and he didn’t show up for school. I was very disappointed because he and I had struck up a rapport the previous year and I knew he was going to flourish in my room.

I had just given up hope after marking him absent for the umpteenth time when an assistant principal appeared at my door, seemingly displeased, with the young man in tow. A singsongy “Good luuuuuuuck” was wished, and I hastily arranged a makeshift desk for the boy, quite glad to be inconvenienced by his arrival. (I gave him a hearty pat on the back as he entered).

When he approached me last week, this memory came back to me. He truly was a favorite student and I reflect on his growth with quite a bit of pride. As we conversed, I was impressed by the purpose and politeness of his speech. He wanted to reminisce, asking me to remind him of the names of the teachers around us. I also wanted to reminisce, and the friends accompanying him offered me the opportunity.

Friend 1: “He always got in so much trouble.”

Friend 2: “He had to leave the room every day.”

Former student: “The assistant principals always used to yell at me.”

Me: “Ha, you never had to leave my room.”

Former student: “That’s right.”

Friends 1 and 2: “REALLY!?”

Me: “Of course. He was an excellent student, one of my best ever.”

Friends 1 and 2: “REALLY!?”

You get the picture. And I’m glad I got a picture of this guy as a middle schooler. I’ll allow myself the belief that I must have done something right with him. I’m thrilled he gave me the opportunity.


You came to my class last year, a few days after the first day of school. You were petrified and in tears. You barely spoke to me that week and only had the confidence to do so when with your best friend.

You awkwardly danced through our play practices. You stared pleadingly at me when asked to come up in front of the class or answer a question. You glued yourself to a chair when there was any type of physical activity that permitted you to think about how you might be perceived.

You are in my class for the second consecutive year now. You have been chattier with me and other kids. You still don’t participate in the physical aspects of our enrichment programs. (You won’t stretch, you won’t jump. You will, however, retreat to a corner). You still don’t like to come up in front of the class, but you inch slowly and do so. You often whisper when answering a question.

You wouldn’t  – you couldn’t – possibly want a speaking part in our play. You would, as a result, be the only student without one.

You told your speech therapist you wanted a part. You told me you wanted a part. You had me feeling skeptical. You realized it would involve speaking into a microphone, on a stage, in front of a lot of people. You nodded, unconvincingly, when I asked if you really wanted to do it.

You were assigned the role of introducing the play. You practiced and practiced and memorized your lines. You walked to the front on cue when we rehearsed. You spoke your part without pauses and without clarity. You rushed. You concerned me and made me question my decision.

You listened when I told you you had to be louder, slower, clearer. You practiced and practiced. You improved. You spoke louder, slower, clearer. You didn’t let your voice rise like a question. You asserted yourself. You gave me goosebumps.

You started to accept yourself in your own skin. You let your shyness inhibit you less. You began to believe in yourself.

You amaze me. You.


What is Behind That Nervous Smile?

To You Who Cries

Jeremy Lin Goes to School

Jeremy Lin began his tenure as Knicks starting point guard with quite a flourish, averaging about 25 points and 10 assists while, most importantly, leading a floundering team to 7 straight victories and an even number of wins and losses on the season.

The reaction was swift as this undrafted Harvard product showed he could play and win games in the NBA. Linsanity spread through the league and around the world to Lin’s ancestral Taiwan. It was Lincredible. The Knicks were Linning night Lin and night out. Pundits were even wondering aloud if Lin’s addition to the Knicks’ lineup put the Knicks on the path to a champiLinship.

And then for the first time in Lin’s tenure, the Knicks lost a game. In fact, now they have lost two of their last three.

Lin has continued to be good, but we Knicks fans are seeing that not everything he touches turns to gold (or even wins against teams that are among the worst in the league). In his maturation as an NBA player, he has experienced the first of what will be, we can only assume, several rough patches. All players go through them. They do their best to keep faith in themselves as their coaches continue to assert that they can learn from every opportunity.

As we help our students get on their own personal winning streaks, we have to remember that they will not progress in a linear fashion. They will lose some games in which they try valiantly to win. They will lose games in which it seems they never have a chance to win. They will lose the same games today that they won yesterday.

As we coach our students, we must help them understand that they will win some and they will lose some and that losses can be used as learning opportunities. Most importantly, we need to make each individual believe s/he has the ability to be a champion.


That Kid Who Gets Under Your Skin

Certain kids just have a way of creeping under our skin…

They don’t do their work…

They get angry for no apparent reason.

They don’t pay attention.

We start to give up on them.

Certain kids have a way of getting under our skin…

We start to believe in them.

They start to pay attention.

They start to seem happy for no apparent reason.

They do their work.

Certain kids just have a way of creeping under our skin…

…and touching our hearts.

The Continuing Story of a Boy and His Paper Clips

One student in particular this year has provided me several grief- and angst-riddled experiences, promoted a multitude of conversations with others who work with him, and generally caused me a lot of distress. Because despite whatever impression people might have from reading this blog, the truth is, I, like most, do sometimes run up against what feels like a brick wall – unyielding, inflexible, and wont to stay the same for a good, long while.

Among other dalliances, this student has found particular joy in tiny objects – like paper clips. That is to say that if he has one – or any other similarly-sized object –  in his hand, it is likely to occupy much more of his attention than anything else that should be occupying his attention (like, say, his work). He has been known to angrily fold his arms and pound his fists on the table, wordlessly, in an expression of dissatisfaction with whatever isn’t going exactly his way. In weeks past, I’d lost my cool with him more than once, even, I admit, multiple times daily, to the point that I knew kids were beginning to categorize him as a certain type of kid (and not in a good way).

Based on what you’ve read here, perhaps you’re also beginning to categorize him, assigning him labels of varying severity and intricacy. Whatever you have in mind, perhaps you can suspend that judgement and consider where he was a week ago and where he is today.

One of the big takeaways from Annette Breaux’s presentation last week is that every child needs to feel they are the favorite. This involves being positive with all students and smiling at them bunches.

I thought about the majority of my interactions with this student and realized just how negative they were. So, I’ve gone in completely the other direction with this guy and have turned on the happy, bubbly positiveness.

Every day when he walks in, I tell him how thrilled I am to see him, saying things like, “I am SO happy to see you!” I always make sure to give him a high-five or fist-bump when he comes in. (Originally, I thought I might choke on the words. Now, I am genuinely excited for him and his Angry Birds hat to walk in each morning). In exchange he might give me a salute or a, “Yeah!” He comes in now and gets right down to business. Instead of being among the last to unpack, he is among the first.

In one week, he has gone from frequently being angry to frequently being happy. He is more invested in his work and more receptive to what I say. He seems to be focusing more, and I’ve noticed him looking to me in times of distress, finally understanding that I care and want to help him. I am taking a special interest in him when he does his work. Since he often is reluctant to write, I have made arrangements with him wherein we can take turns writing on his paper. He now puts my initials to show where I’ll write and his to show where he will.

Periodically, he has pulled a gift from his pocket and said, “Mr. Ray! This is for you!” Invariably, it’s been a paperclip. I always thank him, as if it’s the greatest gift I could ever receive, and say, “I always need more paperclips!” and ask him to place it where I keep mine. He usually says, “Yeah!”

I am truly excited by the change in this young man, and it is plain as day how grateful he is for the way I’ve changed. I’ve allowed myself to accept him as he is and be thankful for the fact that he’s in my class. In turn, he is beginning to flourish.


What Parent Doesn’t Want the Best for Their Child?

Meet your new cousin!

This week, our family was blessed when the stork delivered a beautiful bundle of joy to my cousins. Seryn is the first baby produced by my generation and in her three days in our lives she has brought much joy to everyone from her mommy and daddy to her great-grandpa.

This was the first time I went to a hospital to meet a baby, and I was struck by the amazing optimism and joy. I wondered if it’s like that for every family when a baby is born.

See, I know every family wants the best for their children, but sometimes the world throws curveballs that parents can’t handle and the children suffer.

How many of our students’ parents brought their babies into the world with joy and optimism, only to have that all replaced by situations they can’t handle effectively (poverty, health issues, disabilities, etc)? Do we assume too quickly that certain parents have given up on their children?

I know Seryn will be surrounded by oodles and oodles of love (oodles = a lot). She’s already been in the arms of so many, and she will always have support.

Not all families are as attentive and loving. Maybe they don’t have the resources, human or otherwise. But their children are their children, nonetheless. We must be sure not to quickly pass judgement and must try to assume the best of every parent. What parent doesn’t want the best for their child?

Creative Commons License
Meet your new cousin! by Matthew Schreiber is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at photomatt7.files.wordpress.com.

Creative Commons License
Baby's Feet by Matthew S. Ray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at photomatt7.files.wordpress.com.