Two Blog Posts, Both Alike in Dignity

Blogging here has taken a bit of a backseat recently due to the newest freeloader at our house, but I’ve found time to Twitter and comment elsewhere. Two posts that have piqued my interest recently are from Kate Olson and Dan Meyer.

After receiving (and responding to) an email from one of her students, Kate evidently had second thoughts and asked her readership if email contact with students is OK. She received the expected litany of voices (including mine) affirming her, but one dissenting comment took me a bit by surprise:

I have to take a position that says this is not a good idea. I also caution against phone contact for the same reason.

This communication is different than a hallway greeting because it is 24/7 access outside of school parameters.

In an effort to explain, let’s say student tells you they are involved in or considering any of the following:
– self-harm
– abuse
– going to an underage drinking party
– they are not going to the underage drinking party that’ll be happening this weekend

I think believe the best route for both teachers and students is to maintain boundaries.

My response:

@Ellen: Boundaries, I can agree with. Walls? Not so much.

When I think of boundaries on email communication, I think about communicating on school-related topics – i.e., keep it professional. My students email me to ask questions about projects, assignments, and scheduling issues. Sometimes, students who are out sick email me to get info on what happened in class, and what they need to do to be prepared for their return. We do not email to talk casually about drinking, partying, etc., nor would I ever condone it.


Boundaries are set in this forum just as they are in my classroom: in a professional context. How we as professionals conduct ourselves, both in face-to-face interactions and online communication (email, Twitter, IM, etc.) can set good (or bad) examples for students. Many schools across the US give all their teachers e-mail addresses for just this purpose – to facilitate communication between school and home. That doesn’t mean teachers have to check their email and respond 24/7; it just means they can be sent a message 24/7.


If a student was to email me to disclose suicidal ideation or report abuse (or, you could argue, drinking/drug use as well), then clearly they are calling for help, and I would act on that email the same way I would act if they told me in person: by putting them in touch with someone who is better trained to do so than I. I would also be thankful that they felt they could reach out to me and get that help instead of suffering through their problems alone and/or potentially harming themselves.

Even the most technology-resistant teacher at my school uses email to correspond with students and/or parents in a professional capacity. Unless I completely misread the original commenter (or was being trolled), I think this sort of thinking goes beyond issues of technology and speaks more to a teacher’s willingness to engage with his or her students.

Speaking of engaging students, Dan wants to know why no one’s blogging about classroom management:

Is It Because:

  • you’d rather talk about something flashier like tech integration or master scheduling?
  • you teach in a predominantly white, mid- to upper-ses district where a threatened phone call home is all the muscle you need?
  • you’ve worked at your school so long your legacy is all the muscle you need?
  • you figured it out so long ago, committed these movements to muscle memory so long ago, you’re useful to your students but useless to a student teacher trying to put it all together?

For what it’s worth, here’s what’s worked for me in my teaching environment:

  • Demonstrate compassion and respect daily. Note the verb: not “have”; demonstrate. That doesn’t mean “be a pushover”, but be the kind of person a child can respect. Treat them with the dignity and respect you expect from them.
  • Plan well. To me, this means both planning interesting lessons/activities AND minimizing downtime.
  • Be flexible. As Jeff noted, deviation from the plan isn’t always a bad thing, and it reminds students that you’re human, too. Goes a long way to helping them treat you like one.
  • Give clear expectations, and stick to your guns. Sometimes we say one thing, and kids hear another. It’s our responsibility to make sure we communicate expectations (behavioral and academic) clearly; this takes practice. Having said that…
  • Choose your battles. Does it REALLY matter if this one’s got gum, or that one’s tapping a pencil? In some cases, yes, I guess. Just be smart about what you’re willing to go to the mat for, and what you can let slide in the name of harmony.
  • Be proactive always, reactive when you must. In my limited experience, proactive planning has gone a long way to preventing problems before they even start. I ask myself constantly, “Where can this go wrong?” and try to plan accordingly. Sometimes, though, you just can’t plan for every variable. If something goes awry, deal with it immediately with whatever resources you have available.
  • Don’t swat a fly with a bazooka. Remember that teacher you had in school who overreacted to everything? Remember how much fun it was to provoke him? Don’t be that guy. Keep a level head and let punishments fit crimes, so to speak.
  • Laugh. Laugh with your students. Laugh at yourself. Laugh when every last main character in Hamlet dies. Laugh when you say “hypoteneuse”. Laugh at history’s absurdities. Laugh at celebrity gossip. And while you’re laughing…
  • Take your job and responsibilities seriously, but get over yourself. I’ll leave this one wide open to misinterpretation.

This list is neither complete nor specific, but that’s by design. So much of learning about classroom management comes from OJT that some of it has to be fine-tuned by the individual teacher as they go along; I think that’s unavoidable. I also think, however, that a noob teacher could do a lot worse than to take some of these concepts as starting points.

Thanks for getting me back in the saddle, Kate & Dan.


  • Since Dan doesn’t listen to me (like my height, my comments be too short and underdeveloped), I’ll explain that writing about classroom management is like writing about digestion. At some level, the process is universal, but upon closer examination, we all go through it differently.

    Anecdote: First year of teaching. Tough class. Ask dept. chair for advice on keeping control. Response: snap loudly. Next day I snap. No improvement. Tell dept. chair. His response: “That’s what I do. You got to find your own way.”

    Anecdote #2: Sixth year teaching. Had a student teacher. Older fella, second career. Tough time with management. Tough time ‘relating’ to kids. His two went to private school, both in chess and debate clubs. Asked for my advice. Said: watch MTV, surf the internet, try to relate to them, show some pop-cultural literacy. Following day, student teacher starts class with: “Alright, listen up or you’re out of here. I’m tired of your shenanigans.” He never taught again.

    On another note, I didn’t read Olson’s post, but I coach a lacrosse team and gave them my home and cell numbers. To each his own.

  • there are just some things that twist my intestines too much.

    both of these topics qualify.


  • @ken: It is impossible to use the word “shenanigans” non-ironically and expect to be treated with anything other than scorn and derision. It’s one of those words that you hear someone say, laugh, and then realize, “Oh wait, he was serious??”

    As a young(er) teacher, I got a lot of unexpected mileage out of pop culture references; that was enough to partially fill in some of the gaping voids in my classroom management style.

    I’m with you; I think there are some bases from which we can all start, but at some point, you’ve gotta become your own teacher, and part of that involves developing your own management style.

  • Damian:
    Classroom management is near and dear to my heart, but I didn’t have it in me to post at Dan’s blog (what a discussion going on there).

    Each year of the last six, it is something I improve upon. This past summer, I took a Harry Wong online course in classroom management. It was well worth the price of admission. I like his book and also one by Fred Jones. I linked to them on a wiki that (I think) Dan either started or added to ( It is a very important topic and one that takes years and years of practice. I look at my sixth grade teacher who teaches fifth grade here at my school and see what 30+ years does in the classroom management arena. She’s spectacular.

  • Damian –
    I’m honored you chose one of my posts to write about in your re-entrance to the blogging world after that new baby girl entered your life 🙂

    Just a follow-up: I had several email exchanges with my student over the past weekend and even made a point of mentioning this to my administrator. She treated this as a non-issue, as will I. I will continue to have PROFESSIONAL email contact with students in the future.

    Remember, I’m a new teacher, so things that may seem like no-brainers to others make me think a little more. I’m coming to teaching after being in the business world and during our teacher-prep courses we were bombarded with sessions on minimizing liability – the reason for my initial hesitation. Do you KNOW how many times we were told never to have a student in a car with us, or alone in a classroom with us, etc? It’s insane.

    The reason I love my learning network so much is that I can blog about an issue such as this and get almost instant response. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with me, I really value your input.

    As for your classroom management techniques, I think it’s simply your coolness and overall hipster attitude that helps you out 🙂

  • @ann: Yeah, it’s getting a bit hectic over there, alternating between ugly and a lovefest in the comments. Thought I’d spread out a bit over here; thanks for sharing those resources.

    @kate: Cool and hip, yes, but don’t forget my boyish good looks! Seriously though, liability is always something of which we should be wary; I just didn’t see a liability issue in this particular case. While I have never driven a student anywhere (nor do I think I ever would, barring some extraordinary circumstances), I have supervised and waited around for parents to pick up their kids. Also, I prefer to keep doors open whenever I’m in a classroom alone with a student. Like I said in your initial post, for me, it’s about boundaries, not walls.

  • First: I agree that using technology to interact with your students should be a very important part of the curriculum. I don’t mean to use it on a personal level, but use it professionally with students. It is a must if we expect our students to learn how to use technology for communicating on a professional level. I NEVER use it to have a personal relationship with students, that would be inappropriate, just as seeing a student outside of school personally would be.

    Second: Classroom management…respect, flexibility, comfort. I think that my students feel that I respect them and their opinions, I can change my direction in mid-sentence if I need to and I feel comfortable with my students. I have been teaching for 14 years and these things took a bit of time to figure out…but I really do not have any “shenanigans” in my room at all! LOL.

  • @pam: I agree; I think so much of classroom management comes down to respect. It’s not the only thing, of course, but I’d say a good 90% of problems can be avoided when the kids respect you, each other, and know that you respect them (and won’t tolerate disrespect).

    I’m relatively shenaniganless m’self, too.

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