February 17, 2014

Teach Like a Champion

If you've been around here for a while, you already know that I taught some tough (in every sense of the word) students last year in Baton Rouge. I can say this now with a smile, but trust me, the tears ran freely as I learned time and time again how little I actually knew about behavior management.

I didn't realize that the reason my classrooms always operated so well was because my students had been well-trained, since kindergarten, on how to behave at school. They were raised in a system that taught them to respect their teachers and peers.

Did fights happen? Of course. But they were few and far between. In fact, when I broke up a fight in the middle of my classroom on my first day teaching in BR, I was completely shocked and appalled. I hadn't even gotten through my syllabus, and already there was so much "mess" over trivial things like vanishing pencils and "looking hard" at each other.

Did my previous students always like me and my lessons? Of course not. But the most sass I ever got out of a student was an under-the-breath "whatever" and eye-roll. Imagine my surprise the first time a student cussed me out and told me he was going to "flash" on me for marking him 10 minutes tardy.

If you've been around for a while, you've already read how we tried to combat these situations with a school-wide mentoring program. This program was aimed at our heaviest hitters in the ISS room, which was pretty much always filled to capacity. Mentors met with their students one-on-one to identify the behaviors that needed to change and set up trackers for progress-monitoring. I can honestly say that these trackers were very meaningful in identifying triggers (hungry and irritable before lunch) so we were able to combat the root of the issues. We also agreed on appropriate short-term and long-term rewards and consequences for not meeting the daily goals. I can say that our trackers did not magically erase all bad behavior, but there was a definite and immediate improvement. Every student is different. Some needed small rewards (usually candy) at multiple intervals throughout the day and others were working toward larger rewards (free dress day was a popular choice here) at the end of the week or after 15 days of meeting all goals (off-campus lunch with me, a trip to LSU). Additionally, this program helped develop lasting, positive relationships between the mentoring teacher and student.

I love the mentoring program. It helped me gain some control of my unruly children... but what about the rest of my students? Please don't make the mistake of assuming the rest of my students were angels. No. For them, I knew I needed some guidance on classroom management. Like... how to manage kids who don't want to be managed.

Enter Teach Like a Champion. Our administration purchased this book for our entire staff, and mentor teachers selected specific chapters to help their teams based on their goals for the year. I knew how much I needed this resource, though, and read the whole thing over Winter Break. As Joel drove us back to Chicago, I sat in the passenger seat, reading and flagging a bajillion pages in this book.

This is the kind of stuff no one teaches you in college. Well, to be fair, it covers that stuff (how to write a lesson plan) too, but I was focused on the management pieces. I remember being super overwhelmed my first year teaching because I didn't really understand what it meant to establish classroom procedures and expectations. I just wanted them to turn in their homework and listen when I talked. I think this book should be required reading for all teachers. And I will go on record saying that this is especially applicable for those who teach at charter schools.

My last little tidbit for today is a warning: Don't forget about your all-star students. You know who I'm talking about. The ones who ALWAYS do the right thing. I wrote this post here my conviction to make sure I was rewarding these students for consistently making the right choice. It's unfortunate that the negative behaviors can sometimes monopolize our attention in the classroom, and I know I have to be intentional about expressing my gratitude for those who make good choices. I never want these kids to feel ignored.


  1. I love this book! I actually read an excerpt before it was available and preordered it! It's the book I always recommend to first year teachers. It still did not make my first year of teaching which was at an urban school much of a success but it did get me through it!

  2. This book sounds interesting. Teaching in an urban school is tough, although the urban you describe is very different from where I am. I have books and reading on my mind as I read your post, and it reminds me that convincing kids to love reading is crucial to creating a positive learning environment and building intrinsic motivation. I'm your newest follower. :)

    Not very fancy

  3. Thank you for sharing this book, I hadn't heard it until now, but I am very interested in checking it out. I also liked that you mentioned not ignoring your star students, because sometimes others take up a lot of our time and focus. This post was a good one to read before going back to school for the week. Thanks for the inspiration.

  4. I totally agree with the value of this book. Two things that stuck with me were his recommendation on setting up desks in a classroom which is exactly how I set mine up; and answer all questions in complete sentences since all students are off to college. It's always interesting to hear what tidbits people remember from all the books we read.

  5. I am so glad you reviewed this book. I read it a few years ago and I always go back to it when I'm in a rut. I like to set goals for myself and work on a few strategies at a time. Most recently I'm working on NOT giving kids credit for the wrong answer. I'm so guilty of that. I'll indicate that the student had the answer right, rephrasing it and changing their answer enough to be right, when I should just say "You're close, but not quite. I need more" or something. Still working on that one.
    :) Erin

  6. My VERY first week of teaching Kindergarten...as a sassy 22 year old, a precious little baby cussed me out and told me to "F" off. I about flipped my lid. I didn't know what to do but stare. I pushed the little white button on the wall and big people came filing in. I will never as long as I live forget that moment.
    Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin'