Sail Your Vessel…


Why does this keep happening?  Why are children who have walked this earth only a handful of years giving up on life?  How can we tell them they’ve got what it takes to make it?  Because they CAN make it.  The human spirit is built to withstand limitless stress and pain and struggle.  So, when they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, why do they not have faith that it will be there, if they just keep going?

It just breaks my heart.

I asked my students this morning what they thought.  You may think you know what was said, but I wouldn’t put money on it.

“Hurt people hurt people.”

Yup.  And it was uttered without a giggle.  It was received without an eye-roll.  In fact, the words themselves were just a parroting of a phrase Mr. Hopkins uses quite often.  It was the seriousness with which those four words were declared that healed my heart – just a bit.

You see, the scariest part of becoming an alternative school teacher is going in with the knowledge that these kids don’t even have to know you to pretty much loathe you.

“What if they hate me?” I would whine to my friends the summer before my first year.

“They’ll love you.  You’ve got nothing to worry about.”

So easy to say; so easy for someone else to believe.  However, when you are sitting across from a student staring you down, jaw clenched and chest heaving, it takes a lot of nerve to keep calm and forge on.  I really worried that I didn’t have what it would take.  I was afraid that they simply would reject me.

Well, I must admit that some openly don’t even entertain the thought of receiving any kind of help.  Their anger at the world and its unjustices, their fear of love, their distrust of authority – all of these things aren’t so easily mended.  Sometimes their walls have taken root in a foundation of pain that will not allow them to crumble.

But sometimes, even if they don’t break, a crack will open.  That’s when we ALL have to make our move.

Don’t waste a single second!  You may not get another chance!  They will throw something out there to show you where it hurts the most.  Grandma’s sick and Dudley is worried she’s going to die.  Jillie Sue is going to see her mom tonight for the first time in five years.  Billy Joe’s brother is going to jail again, Mama’s mad at everyone, and he just can’t do anything right, so why should he even bother?

Acknowledge it.  Empathize with it.  Most importantly, tell them how freaking proud you are of how he or she is making it through.  Praise the fact that they are holding on and standing strong!  Let them knew that you “went through some ‘thangs’” yourself and are glad to know you can persevere. Teach them the beauty of self-respect and courage.

Next, challenge them to something – an extra ten math problems, five of the hardest spelling words you can find, making it through a whole week without any lunch detentions.  Finally smile, look them square in the eyes, and tell them you can’t wait to see that strength in action!

untitled  With our students we have learned it is sometimes not best to tell them, “Everything is going to be okay.”  They are savvy enough to know that there is no way we can promise this.  Carefully assess your students to know which ones need reassurance and which ones need the “hard-line”.

Mr. Hopkins and I ended Morning Meeting with our OA Avengers by sending them on a mission to show those who feel that they can’t take it anymore that not only can they take it, they can take even more, if necessary.

Tonight, I still don’t have answers to my questions.  My heart is still broken for every child who is thinking of giving up or who is considering school a scary place.  All I know is that my students made me feel better today, and that reignites my hope that the answers may soon be found.

In the meantime…

Consider the words of legendary singer Garth Brooks, who got me through a lot of “thangs” in the nineties:

(Sing it with me, now!)

“You know a dream is like a river
Ever changing as it flows,
And a dreamer is just a vessel
That must follow where it goes.

Trying to learn from what’s behind you
And never knowing what’s in store
Makes each day a constant battle
Just to stay between the shores.

I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry.
Like a bird upon the wind
These waters are my sky.

I’ll never reach my destination
If I never try,
So I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry.


Just One of Those Days…


To quote legendary 90’s hip hop singer Monica…

“It’s just one of them days, when I wanna be all alone
It’s just one of them days, when I gotta be all alone
It’s just one of them days, don’t take it personal.”

We have them, and our students have them.  So what do we do?

Here at OA we are extremely lucky to have a staffed Recovery Room.  We take great pains to explain to the kids the purpose of Recovery, and how it is different from ISS.

  1.  Recovery can be assigned by the teacher or requested by the student.  This occurs when tempers are flaring, stress levels are escalating, and/or learning is disrupted.  Basically, when redirection, explanations, and consequences are not going to do any good.  When we are in what we refer to as “brain stem mode” we are in fight or flight mode.  Nothing is going to be accomplished.
  2. Once in Recovery, a student is allowed the time he/she needs to get out of “brain stem mode”.  To do this, the student must be left alone with his or her thoughts.  A major difference between this and ISS is that no work should be sent with the student.  Also, there should be little to no engagement with the adult in the room.
  3. When the student feels confident that he or she is ready to rejoin the class, a request is made to the teacher via walkie-talkie.  If the teacher feels that it is not a good time to rejoin, the student may be asked to stay in Recovery until the appropriate time is reached.
  4. When the student does rejoin the class, it is without comment or reprimand.  The teacher will later engage the student in a quick “repair”, which consists of discussing the circumstances that led to Recovery, and what led to the student successfully completing the Recovery process.

Here is an example of how Mr. Hopkins and I use Recovery in our room.

I could see the look in Jillie Sue’s eyes as she stepped off of the bus.  She was ready to roll.  As she entered the cafeteria she proceeded to trip Bobby Joe, steal a biscuit off of Bernie’s tray, and tell me that Hillary Clinton was a “lesbo”.

Me:  “You seem a little out of sorts today, Jillie Sue.  What’s up?”  (seeking first to understand.)

Jillie Sue:  “Yup, I sure am!

Me:  “Well, what’s going on?”

Jillie Sue:  “Nothing.  I just don’t feel like being here.”

Me.  “I understand.” (empathy first) “However, you are here. You know that only students who are ready to learn can come to my class.  Perhaps you’d be more comfortable in Recovery for a little bit?”

Jillie Sue:  “Maybe…”

Me:  “Well, you be sure to come back just as soon as you’re ready.  I’ve got some special stuff planned for the day, and I don’t want you to miss it!”  (Make sure you tell them to come back soon.)  

Now, in this instance, Jillie Sue decided she’d rather see what was happening in class that day than spending time in Recovery, but about once a week, we do have students that utilize it.  The trick is to make sure they know they are welcome back and that it won’t be thrown back in their faces when they return.

So what if Recovery doesn’t do the trick? Well, our students know that Recovery could eventually turn into ISS if it is not used properly and doesn’t seem to be effective. That’s a whole other bridge to cross, and another post to come!

untitled If your school doesn’t have room for a designated Recovery space, you can make one in your classroom by blocking off a corner with a rolling screen or any other type of barrier.  You can also use another teacher’s room for the space.  Ask your colleagues for suggestions on how to create this space for your hall – it is worth it!

When the going gets tough…

Wow!  This was quite a week at OA!  Our rather large high school population decided to try the old “strength in numbers” routine in an attempt to take over.  And let me tell you, these kids are very talented disrupters indeed.

We were questioned and defied at every turn.  Inappropriate comments flew from mouths like kamikaze pilots.  Tempers flared and tears flowed.  However, I am more than pleased to say we persevered, and Friday morning arrived with all the sweetness that comes from facing a battle and surviving it.

We live to fight another day.

You may want to know how we did it.  You may think, “Oh, Lord – here comes another Love and Logic sermon.”  Nah.  We just all stuck together.  Like glue.

I really can’t fully express how thankful I am to work with a faculty and staff that is “all in”.  At the beginning of last year, we playfully nicknamed each other after the Avengers superheroes ruling the box office.  I am proud to answer to She Hulk, and my teaching partner, Adam Hopkins, is otherwise known as Captain America. The other members of our team include Storm, Scarlet Witch (just Scarlet for short), Spiderwoman, Pepper Potts, and, of course, Director Fury.  This may seem silly, but it really does feel like we are a team working together towards a greater goal.  When Fury calls for She Hulk on the radio, I know I am on a mission.  When Scarlet calls for assistance from Captain, he flies to the rescue.  And when the Avengers assemble, there is no obstacle that we can’t face together.

All I’m trying to say is this: do everything you can to create a team amongst the teachers at your school.  It takes a village to raise a child, as well as to teach one.  Don’t try to go it alone.  This job is too unpredictable, stressful, and challenging for that!

So squad up,  fellow educators! Even Frodo couldn’t have saved Middle Earth on his own!






Names have been changed…

I’ve decided that the best way I can illustrate a Love and Logic classroom is to share the experiences I’ve had – both the successes and the failures.

So hold on tight, you are about to get an inside look into the alternative school.

MTI3OTk4NTYzNTQ3NDAwMjAyKIDDING!  But isn’t that a great movie?  And Bender DEFINITELY would have been with us!

First of all, help me spread the word that Code Academy no longer exists. Doesn’t that seem kind of petty?  I get it – it’s just a name.  But if you saw the sighs of relief we get from parents and the glimmers of hope we get from our new students when we explain just how different we are…well, you’d get it.

Secondly, we feel your pain.  We all remember what it was like to teach students that we’d pray got sent to the alternative school so that we could keep on teaching. Please know that a major focus in all of our classes is teaching how to be a productive member of society – and that includes your classroom.

With that said, I am going to start by sharing with you our little “flowchart” for our kids to go through whenever they are about to flip out, along with how it looks in my class.

*While my students are rarely described as “innocent”, names still have been changed to protect them.

1.  Is this the TIME and PLACE?  My middle-schoolers simply LOVE to make an inappropriate comment.  There is not just one class clown, it is a whole circus.  This is a “Time and Place” issue.  When Billy Bob played “shit” while we were playing Scrabble, I was a little surprised. This is not a student I would expect to do that right in front of his teacher.  I looked at him and so no trace of a sneer or a suppressed giggle.  He was looking as confused as I was.

“Sweetie, you can’t play that word.”

“Why not?  It’s a word!”

This type of question is information-seeking, as opposed to attention-seeking.  I have found that my students want justification for everything.  Many times, when they ask why they have to do something, they really do want an answer.  It’s all in the tone of the question, and we’re working on it – promise!

So, Billy Bob and I had a brief talk about time and place.

“It’s a word, but not one you use in front of a teacher.  That’s how you let the teacher that respects you know that you feel the same way.  Same thing goes for your parents, your boss, your bus driver, etc.”

“But what if I don’t respect them?”

“Then it’s how you let them know you win.  You’re better than they think you are.”

Billy Bob took the word off of the board, and we went back to playing.  Now when I call out, “Time and place?” the students know that it’s time to make a choice.  Whether it will be a good or bad choice will be up to them.  More on that later…

2.  Is it WORTH it?  And if it is…don’t complain about the consequences! Our students get practice in deciding if the momentary satisfication they will undoubtedly experience by cussing us out will be worth having to sit at the conference table off our main office and listen to at least three of us turn their PE time into a two hour “teachable moment”.

untitled I make it a point to memorize the mothers’ first names (shout-out to Andrea Moss of Seneca Middle for this trick!).  A well-timed, “Should we go call Betty?  I’d love to hear her opinion,” gives great practice on this technique.

3.  Don’t make it PUBLIC!  If a student believes that it is the time and place, and that what is coming around the turn is worth it, they are required to remove themselves from their audience.  We have a Recovery Room for some cool-down time, distinct from ISS, which I will be discussing in detail in an upcoming post.  Students may also ask to speak to us in private.

untitledDon’t do this in your classroom, if at all possible.  Take them to the library and sit at a table, or ask the guidance office if you can have a private room.  It makes them feel like they are about to be taken seriously. I’ve had students tell me that it feels “official” when we take them to the conference room to talk.

4.  Communicate WELL.  If the student is set on taking it all the way to the end, then his or her last step is communicating well with us.  This is made much easier after the time in Recovery.  If they start by telling us that everything is bulls&*t, or that we suck, or everybody can kiss their…fill-in-the-blank here; we’ve heard it all…then he or she is simply not ready to communicate well.  Perhaps more time in Recovery is warranted.  Perhaps things have escalated to an ISS level.  Either way, it is NOT time to lecture, question, or try to explain anything.

We promise our students during their intake meetings that we will never insult, degrade, or belittle them.  We take that vow seriously, and that is a huge part of a Love and Logic classroom.  We let them know that they can tell us absolutely anything, just as long as they communicate well.  They have to see how that can work.  I admit, it takes a lot of self-control on my part to allow a student to call someone an  b*@ch without a reprimand, but if she is in the conference room with me, sobbing and wringing her hands, telling me that her aunt beat up her mom last night, I don’t interrupt.

Well, that’s it for today.  Please let me know if you have ANY questions – even if you are just curious as to how we run things here.

I look forward to continuing this discussion!