Things I've Stopped Doing

After reading Cult of Pedagogy's blog post about teaching practices she is "kicking to the curb," I was inspired to write a post in the same style and address practices that I don't do anymore.

Putting a Grade at the Top of the Paper

In the past, I might spend hours grading a test, giving comments in the margin, and then carefully counting up correct answers and putting a grade at the top of the paper. If I was feeling extra nice, I might even put a sticker. Then, when I passed back the papers, I would be so annoyed that students just looked at the grade, ripped the sticker off, and I found most tests in the recycling bin at the end of class. Even my attempts to get students to save the tests in their "portfolio" were lacking in authenticity, because I knew students had only looked at the "grade" and not what they had gotten wrong or any of my comments.

Two years ago, I started grading using a color coding system and NO GRADE. Whoa, what a difference. Students are looking through the assessment to see what they got wrong, figure out their misconceptions, and ask me how they could do better. Huge difference, and honestly, easier to grade!

Making Decisions Based on Gender

I've recently been doing a lot of reflecting around gender and students that might be questioning their own gender identity. I went to some professional development provided by the Illinois Safe School Alliance. This PD really helped me wrap my head around the times that I might be using gender in my classroom to group students, make seating charts, or even allowing students to leave to use the restroom. In the past, I might only let one boy and one girl leave the room at a time to use the restroom.

After reflecting, I'm not doing that anymore. Now, it's just one person to the bathroom at a time. I would hate for a student that is struggling with gender identity to have me further cause hurt by pointing out gender in this way. In addition, if we ever play a game in class where students need two teams, I find another way to divide up the class instead of "girls vs boys." Honestly, this wasn't a difficult change, but I think it's important.

Read More: Beyond the Binary, Teaching Tolerance

Demand Compliance Right Away

T: Get out your notebook and start on the problems.
S: *nothing*
T: *more sternly* Get out your notebook right now and get started.
S: *nothing*
T: *voice starting to raise* If you don't get your notebook out right now, you are going to the office.
S: *grumble* *nothing*
--student sent to office--

The above exchange between a teacher and student is something I did myself my first year of teaching, and I sometimes see in classroom with teachers that struggle with classroom management. Demanding compliance right away turns into a power struggle. The teacher desperately wants to maintain power by demanding action by the student and the student wants to keep power by refusing.

When I realized that I am the adult in the situation and it is my job to stay calm and give the student some power in the situation. Being a good teacher is not about having absolute power all the time. Students will respect a teacher more if they are treated with respect. My new approach, when I notice a student is struggling with following directions, is to calmly give my request and then give the kid some space. I might say something like, "You need to get out your notebook so you can get started on what we are working on. I'll be back in a few minutes to see what you've done." Then I walk away. I don't stand there and watch the student. Give the student some space to do your request on "their own time." Doing this gives the student some power, and often will end in the result you were hoping for without escalating a situation.

Ask a Question I Know the Answer To

T: Do you think it was a good idea to throw that paper airplane?
S: no

T: How should we sit in chairs?
S: with all legs on the ground

T: Should you be running in the halls?
S: no

What do all of those teacher questions have in common? They aren't really questions! All of them, the teacher knows the answer-- and the student does too. It's just a sneaky way of getting a student to tell you what you want to hear. It's another way to demand compliance. It's a common teacher move, so don't feel bad if this one is a tough habit to break. It seems to be ingrained in my brain as a way a teacher is "supposed" to talk. In the end, I think it's worth breaking the habit because it's just not a respectful way to talk to someone. Can you imagine your principal talking to you this way or your significant other?

My husband: Annie, what should you do with laundry that comes out of the dryer?
Me: Fold it.

This sounds ridiculous, and it should! No one appreciates being talked to this way, so for that reason, I'm working on deleting it from my teacher voice.

Using a Student as an Example

This one goes along with the previous practice. Using a student as an example:
T: I like how Evelyn is sitting nicely with her notebook out.
T: I see Brian has his notebook out
T: Juan is ready to learn with his supplies out and ready

The problem with this way of classroom management, is, again, it's just not that respectful to students. If you want to give a student a compliment, give them a compliment. If you want to have other students get their notebook out, ask them to. But implying the behavior you want by complimenting others is manipulative of students and often the student you are "complimenting" feels awkward to be made the example. Finally, this can be confusing for students with processing disabilities or English-language learners. It's another common teacher move, but one that's worth rethinking.

Read More: The Power of Our Words


  1. 1. I'm intrigued by your color coding grading system. Thanks for sharing.

    2. Not only did this make me chuckle but you also make a strong point.
    My husband: Annie, what should you do with laundry that comes out of the dryer?
    Me: Fold it.

    If my hubby asked me that question, I'd respond w/ a sarcastic answer. I'm sure some of our students want to do the same.

    1. Agreed... if my husband actually said that, he would get a big eye-roll! ;)

  2. I think a great example of team division was on Project Runway this season. They picked teams and all the boys were on one team. It was ironic too in the last person chosen was the person who had the most experience in what became the challenge. I think Tim Gunn is holding off on the Tim Gunn Save for Ashley just because of this too.

  3. I am also interested in the color coding grading system. I will try it for daily grades. I like not putting a grade on student's tests at all and then having them compare and discuss with a neighbor. I hear the best conversations that way.

    I find myself asking students stupid questions I already know the answer to and am trying to stop that myself. It just wastes time and can turn into a power struggle.

    Teaching in an Organized Mess

  4. Hello! This post was recommended for MTBoS 2015: a collection of people's favorite blog posts of the year. We would like to publish an edited volume of the posts and use the money raised toward a scholarship for TMC. Please let us know by responding via email to whether or not you grant us permission to include your post. Thank you, Tina and Lani.

  5. Can you share more about your color coding system? Did you code the types of comments you made?


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Why I Don't Use Keywords (or CUBES)

The Low Kids and The High Kids

Lesson Idea: Combining Like Terms