Teacher Talk: When Teachers Face Themselves

by Martin Haberman (1932-2012)

Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee           

Section I.  Teaching With and Without Self Understanding

        Teaching is a difficult, complex activity and it is to be expected that reasonable people will be engulfed by feelings of self doubt. “Why am I emotionally drained and physically exhausted?” “Can I really keep doing this?”  “I need more time and energy for my own kids and family.”  Teachers’ anxiety results from the fact that their work and personal behaviors are constantly being judged:  by administrators, by their students, by parents, by other members of the school staff and by test scores. Having one’s behavior under constantscrutiny and evaluation inevitably creates pressures. These pressures generate some degree of anxiety in anyone who assumes the role of teacher. The reason some teachers can function successfully in these highly judgmental situations while others cannot is that effective teachers have the willingness and ability to recognize and deal with their own emotions. By facing themselves they reach higher levels of self understanding. Greater self awareness leads them to understand what makes them anxious and angry. Knowing and being able to predict what makes them angry enables them to redirect impulsive negative behavior into positive responses.

At the same time that teachers are judged they are also judges. They continually judge everyone else in the school, particularly their students, their students’ families and administrators. Just as they are judged-sometimes reasonably frequently not — they constantly evaluate everything and everybody in the school community. Teachers’ evaluations of the people and the conditions under which they work are based primarily on a single criterion: “Is this person helping me or making my work more difficult?” It is an egocentric view of the world in which teachers judge administrators not on the basis of whether they are competent leaders achieving the goals of the school but on whether they support specific teacher acts, e.g.  “If I kick a kid out does the principal back me up and punish him severely or does he just talk to him and send him back?” They don’t judge parents    in terms of how much they love their children but by “Do they make sure their kids do their homework?” They don’t judge school psychologists in terms of their competence in assessing normal behavior but by “Do they support my decision to classify a kid as having special needs when I say that kid can’t be managed?”  Evaluating the people around them primarily in terms of “What do they do for me?”  is an egocentric view of the world which inevitably leads many teachers to feel they don’t get the support they need to perform their jobs. As a result, they feel they are being unfairly judged and given insufficient respect.  These defensive reactions are not surprising given the continuous judgments being made about teachers by those in schools and in the general public. Many teachers feel personally threatened by the fact that everyone not only knows what teachers should be doing but believes that they should be doing it better.

The school is, in effect, a judgmental pressure cooker in which all who participate are both victims and generators of anxiety. Unfortunately for   students, large numbers of teachers remain in teaching who cannot function under constant pressure. Such teachers cope by detaching themselves emotionally from people and from the conditions of work.  They stop seeking ways to improve and simply go through the motions of teaching. They slide from would-be professionals into job-holders into burn outs– and the goal of a burnout is to simply get through the day with the least hassle–it is not to improve teaching and learning. At the same time, a smaller number of teachers are able to function effectively under even the most debilitating conditions of work. A major difference between great teachers and the burnouts is their willingness to face themselves and improve their level of self understanding. Great teachers know two critically important things about themselves.  What makes them demonstrate anxiety and anger and   how to cope with their anger so they do not “lose it” or escalate petty annoyances into major problems that interfere with teaching and   learning.

Without a willingness to improve their understanding of themselves and their reactions to the many negative conditions of work, burned out teachers blame the administrators and “the system” for their failures.  Most of all, they blame students who are merely the victims of their feelings of inadequacy.   By defining the causes of all problems as external to themselves they never get to the point of reflecting about what situations make them most anxious and angry.   Clearly, there are large numbers of ineffective administrators, dysfunctional schools, poor parents, unreasonable demands and students with problems.  But it is necessary to recognize that teachers vary in their ability to cope with these conditions. Misguided teachers make the naive assumption that problems should not exist and that if problems do arise they should be dealt with by final solutions that resolve them once and for all. Such teachers see the world in terms of “what should be” rather than “what is” and inevitably become frustrated with having to deal with the same issues again and again. Unfortunately for such teachers, the misbehaving students they kick out of their classrooms cannot be made to disappear–they are invariably sent back.  The resources they need for more and better teaching materials and equipment are never adequate and budget cutbacks are the rule not the exception. The constant pressure to raise test scores never subsides– it only increases. The prediction about schooling that can be made with the greatest certainty is that the same unresolved issues–and the same student problems– will have to be dealt with again and again. If a teacher’s idealized vision of a satisfactory position is one that is problem free he is seeking a position in the best of all non-existent worlds.

When teachers face themselves they have taken the first step toward greater self-understanding and enhanced performance. It is the inability of quitter/failure teachers to face themselves that leads to their demise. A major benefit of facing oneself is an increased recognition and acceptance of one’s mistakes. Many beginning teachers believe they can walk into a school building with its particular history and culture and simply begin functioning effectively   from day one without making mistakes. Many experienced teachers believe they can show up every day without planning and simply make assignments which everyone will understand and complete. (Where there is no planning there is no teaching.)  The unwillingness to examine their own behaviors prevents such teachers from admitting to their own inadequacies. Teachers who do not recognize or admit mistakes prevent themselves from understanding that they are not only causing most of their own problems but that they are escalating them into even more serious dilemmas.

Teachers as well as students learn by doing. Indeed, it is the ultimate method of learning. We learn our behaviors, all our behaviors.  Every teacher action engenders reactions which are followed by assessments and corrections. Teachers become more effective by the very process of making missteps -mostly unimportant but also some major ones–then reflecting on their mistakes and engaging in a constant process of self correction. The feedback that enables teachers’ self-correction comes from not only the feedback of others but from their self examination of feelings and reactions to events. Without the willingness to face themselves teachers explain all their problems as entirely caused by others. They never come to grips with their own fallibility and their own strengths and weaknesses. Once teachers lapse into the burnout mode of going through the motions without examining themselves they no longer benefit from more experience. Such teachers may claim to have ten, twenty or thirty years of experience. What they really have is one year of experience thirty times. Teacher growth, like student growth, is the result of learning and practicing new behaviors. It is only when learning is at hand that growth occurs. In the absence of learning everything is merely a process of aging.

A reasonable amount of anxiety is helpful for teaching and learning anything.  Anxiety keeps us moving ahead and working hard. At some point however each of us crosses a threshold above which increased anxiety leads to increased anger and a need for greater control. Faced with more anxiety than they can tolerate many teachers try to calm themselves by seeking extreme levels of control.  Teachers who exceed their tolerance for anxiety demonstrate angry behaviors when they cannot achieve the level of control they feel they need.  This engenders angry student responses which in turn fuels the teacher’s anger still further.  The teacher then escalates problems which he would not have caused in the first instance if he understood the things that make him anxious enough to show anger.  If teachers cannot recognize the signs of growing angry and control it    they   inevitably escalate their interactions with students into problems.

Teacher’s most common source of frustration is student misbehavior and the perception that they are not getting support from administrators in dealing with this behavior. Frustration leads to aggression which is manifested as hostility. In a few cases teachers direct this hostility toward themselves and denigrate themselves as helpless and inadequate. In most cases however teachers’ hostility is directed at others: the students, administrators, parents and the system.  Many teachers have much undirected (“free floating”) hostility because they have not reflected on their own feelings and reactions. They do not recognize that feelings of hostility fuel their anxieties and leave them in a perpetual state of anger…ready to explode and react in disproportionate ways to minor student misbehaviors.  Because they do not admit that they ever act in anger they do not reflect on what makes them angry or on better ways to   deal with their anger.  By not facing themselves they do two things: they continually blame others and external conditions as the causes of their problems; and they let their anger escalate mundane and unimportant interactions with others into serious problems. In effect, the poorer the teacher the more likely he is  to cause an increasing number of his own problems– then make them worse by not admitting  his mistakes.

It must be noted at this point that beginning in the late elementary grades and accelerating through middle and high school, many students are engaged in goading inadequate teachers into overreacting. The subject students major in (i.e. learn the most about) is “school” –how the system works and how to game the system. Students learn infinitely more about how to get their teachers to “lose it” than they do about any subject matter. Indeed, what students study and learn the most about during their thirteen year school experience are their teachers’ weaknesses. Teachers do not know their students one-tenth as well as the students know their teachers. Students study them, know what bothers them and how to get them to stop teaching, overreact, go off on a tangent and never get back to the lesson at hand. In failing schools and classrooms  this “game” consumes almost all the class time; in most schools the degree to which the game is  played depends on the degree to which the teachers are facing themselves and  do not  fall victim to their lack of self understanding.

Effective teachers operate on an entirely different set of  assumptions. They understand that teaching will be a continuous process of problem solving and that the problems they must deal with will never completely disappear. They understand that the problems teachers face are endemic to schools and are chronic conditions.  Effective teachers regard themselves as lifelong learners and students of teaching. They know they will make mistakes. When they make mistakes they admit them and apologize. They seek feedback from others. Most of all, they recognize that a certain level of anxiety goes with the job and it will sometimes be manifested as anger. When they feel or demonstrate anger they reflect on what it was that made them angry and consider the best options available for dealing with their anger. The process of teachers facing themselves requires a continual self examination of feelings and behaviors for the purpose of gaining a fuller self understanding. As teachers deepen their self understanding they are less and less likely to demonstrate behaviors which are hurtful to themselves, their students and others.

I recently observed an example of   two different teachers responding to the very same student behavior from the very same student. This student asked an extremely discourteous, profane, personal question of a teacher who never engages in self reflection.  The teacher responded by angrily implementing the procedure for suspending him for three-days–which is exactly what the student wanted. She never asked herself what the student’s motivation was, or why the student’s intrusive profanity infuriated her, or what value her angry response would be in deterring repetitions of the student’s behavior. Earlier, the same student had asked the very same discourteous, profane, personal question of a teacher constantly engaged in the process of self reflection. This teacher’s first thoughts were “I wonder what’s bugging this kid?”  and “How might I help him?” Instead of demonstrating self-righteous anger she quickly considered what strategy might get this student to do some work.  Her response (“I’ll help you in a minute.”) was a nonsequitur and such a complete shock to the student that he returned to his seat.  Teachers who lack understanding respond to students as if it is their job to reward virtue and punish malfeasance. In effect, they operate as if they are part of the criminal justice system handing out sentences and paroles. Effective teachers, on the other hand, consider themselves educators with the clear goal of removing students’ obstacles to learning and doing what it takes to get them down to work and keep them in the classroom.


 Section II. Teacher Talk

Many if not most of the daily interactions teachers have with students will inevitably cause some student responses which are silly, off task, even discourteous. These are the reactions of normal children and youth when placed into group situations. Children and youth do not know or examine the causes of their responses and behaviors. Most behave well most of the time but others (who are perfectly normal) are motivated by the need for attention or the need to feign helplessness to get out of doing the work.  A few are motivated by a need to challenge the teacher for control of the class in order to show off for their peers. This need is especially common during adolescence.

Teachers who perceive of their role narrowly, as purveyors of subject matter and not teachers of both subject matter and children will not feel any need to analyze the causes of students’ off-task behavior. They will simply regard such behavior as things which should not be happening and which require various forms of punishment. This view of teaching will never lead them to analyze their own reactions to the minor but constant annoyances which characterize every classroom. As a result, they will inevitably escalate minor irritations and interruptions into real problems. The teachers who escalate are typically those who assume that it is normal for children and youth to sit for five hours a day following directions and if they cannot, they must be abnormal or from dysfunctional families.

Effective teachers do the reverse: they de-escalate inconsequential events into positive behavior or into actions which can be dismissed.  The teachers who de-escalate are clearly aware of how they feel as they interact with students and consciously seek to manage their feelings of anxiety and anger. They also know that the school day requires students to make unnatural responses involving low physical activity and that it is incumbent on teachers to include more effective ways of dealing with the vibrant, highly emotional nature of student growth and development. Following incessant   directions while remaining seated all day causes anxiety in everyone; the students as well as those trying to enforce compliance.

Over fifty years ago Ned Flander’s careful research found that 2/3 of what happens in classrooms is talk; that 2/3 of the time it is the teacher talking; and that 2/3 of teacher talk is devoted to giving directions.  He called this phenomenon of incessant, directive teacher talk “The Law of Two-Thirds.” Flanders also found that the kinds of talk teachers rarely engage in are 1) using student’s ideas, 2) using student’s feelings and 3) allowing for and recognizing unsolicited student ideas; that is, listening to student ideas that are not answers to teachers’ questions but students’ self initiated understandings and reactions to the subject matter.

In the last fifty five years I have had the opportunity to observe in over 5,000 classrooms and while I agree with Flander’s initial findings in describing classrooms of the 1950’s, it is increasingly clear to me that there has been a definite trend upward. I would now estimate that 3/4 of what happens in classrooms is talk; that 3/4 of that time it is the teacher talking and 3/4 of teacher talk is giving directions. Further, that teacher’s use of students’ ideas and feelings is now so rare as to be almost non-existent. In the teacher education programs I have offered, the most common attribute of teachers who fail is their inability to praise students for their ideas. (If the teacher never creates an opportunity for   students to offer unsolicited ideas there will never be an opportunity for the teacher to praise them.) It is typical to observe in the classrooms of failure teachers for hours on end and never hear them praise any student for anything the student has thought of.  Since ineffective teachers do not see a major objective of teaching to be motivating students to generate ideas and questions, few student initiated ideas are ever expressed.  As a result, ineffective teachers can accurately claim they have little opportunity to incorporate any students’ ideas and thinking into their teaching.

It should be noted that giving direction involves much more than explaining to an individual or a class what they should do in order to complete a particular assignment.  Giving directions includes repeating and clarifying appropriate student behavior and classroom procedures.  In many classrooms the time devoted to such constant direction-giving far exceeds the time students spend actually dealing with subject matter. An even more pernicious attribute of teaching by direction-giving refers to the manner in which many teachers actually engage in instruction and in the presentation of content. Most teachers’ explanations and “showing how” are essentially a process of giving directions rather than fostering any form of thought. For example, a math teacher’s talk might be directing students to solve a math problem by statements such as the following:  “first you multiply within the parenthesis, then outside the parenthesis, and then you divide by the denominator.”  A science teacher might direct his students to replicate an experiment by stating, “First you heat the element to boiling, then add the sulfur, weigh it, then record the result.”

The examples of teachers who believe they are teaching when they are merely giving directions are sufficiently numerous to support the generalization that most teachers are not conscious of the distinction between giving directions and teaching. In effect, many teachers use the same form of teacher talk in explaining subject matter that they use in explaining the rules for going to the washroom.  Elsewhere, I have analyzed and described this phenomenon as the “Pedagogy of Poverty” and explained why children and youth have not been prepared to think, question and pursue independent learning.  Finally, it is not only teachers of upper grades or high school whose talk is primarily directive. The fact is that the most directive teacher talk occurs in kindergarten and the primary grades.

Overall, in-depth classroom observation leads to the inevitable conclusion that whether or not teachers believe they are engaged in managing or instructing, most of what happens in classrooms is teacher talk.  When we sum the teacher talk devoted to discipline, classroom management and a teaching method based on   giving directions and making assignments,  it is not hard to conclude that Flander’s Law of Two Thirds might now have expanded into the Law of Three Quarters.

Recognizing the quantity and nature of teacher talk helps us to understand why so many students are not happy campers and become increasingly jaded the longer they stay in school. They begin as creative five year olds who wanted to question and know everything. By the time they are seniors in high school they have no questions and spend most of the day misbehaving or sitting quietly detached, bored, uninvolved, and focused primarily on interacting with their peers. The notion that independent learners (or citizens, or job holders, or critical thinkers, or fully functioning adults) can be created by thirteen years of practice in following directions is an erroneous assumption of such staggering proportions that it is difficult to explain why those who work in schools become more committed to it every year.

My hypothesis is that most teachers know better but their anxieties, fed by a fear of not being able to control students’ behavior, leads them to become constant direction givers. Another explanation for why teachers who might know better lapse into giving directions, making assignments and monitoring compliance is that they believe it is an infinitely easier work load than real teaching. Real teaching requires the   teacher to think about  a dozen things at once:  constantly motivating students;  connecting the subject matter to their lives;  gathering  materials to provide hands-on instruction;  making multiple assignments to provide for different achievement levels; providing constant encouragement;  eliciting students’ ideas; providing opportunities for students to learn from each other;  rewarding students who ask better questions; involving students in helping to plan how they will go about answering their questions;   evaluating students’ progress on the basis of work samples; overcoming student obstacles developed in previous years (e.g. “I’m just not good at math.”  “I don’t like science.”); pushing students to constantly consider what knowledge is of most worth–now and in future; and learning about students’ lives outside of school so that their interests and activities can be connected to their learning. There are easily another dozen functions performed by effective teachers–and all must be performed on a daily basis.

Real teaching is an extremely difficult, complex activity requiring great ability to multi-task. Recognizing what real teaching involves makes obvious why the overwhelming majority of teachers continue to pretend that giving directions for completing the next assignment and monitoring compliance is “teaching”, even if they know better.  Their undoing is that by substituting assignment-making for real teaching they create the very problems that prove to be too much for them.

Teaching is the only profession in which the needs of individual clients are expected to be met by treating them simultaneously as a group.  We don’t expect dentists, veterinarians, accountants or social workers to deal with 30 clients at once.  Imagine 30 patients whose only common characteristic is their age, sitting in the waiting room of a physician in general practice.  For him to do what teachers do he would have to treat the whole waiting room at once. The difficulty of teaching individuals in classes causes the typical teacher to lapse into one assignment per class. (i.e. giving the same prescription to the whole waiting room.) Nevertheless, there are effective teachers in even the most dysfunctional schools whose students do learn every day. These teachers can be used as models for preparing and coaching others. This analysis focuses on just one of their major attributes– the willingness to face them.


  Section III. “All Children Can Learn” What We Say vs. What We Do

        The issue of teacher expectations is clearly related to the generation of anxiety in schools. Teachers are constantly admonished to have high expectations. Most learn that it is politically correct to claim they believe “Every child can learn.” But what does their behavior indicate they really believe?

The nature of schooling is such that the variance of student achievement within a classroom is much greater than the average difference between classes of even different years.  For example, the difference between the average achievement of a student in a fourth grade class and the average achievement of a student in a fifth grade class in the same school is approximately one year. This is much less than the differences among students in the very same class. The achievement curves overlap so much that, in the nation as a whole, ten percent of students in first grade know more than ten percent of students in sixth grade.

In every class teachers have four kinds of students: those whose skills exceed what is needed to learn the required content of that grade; some students with the skill levels needed to learn the content of that grade level; some students who lack the basic skills to learn the content the teacher of that grade is expected to teach; and a few students who are outliers and merely observe rather than participate in the class.  The most constant refrain of teachers is “How am I supposed to teach literature to kids who can’t read the books?” “How am I supposed to teach algebra to kids who can’t multiply and divide fractions?” “How am I supposed to teach history to students who don’t know the name of the county they live in?”  The high school teachers blame the lack of basic skills on the middle school teachers who blame the elementary school teachers who blame the kindergarten teachers who complain that the parents didn’t provide the environment necessary to get their kids ready for schooling.

Principals frequently direct their teachers to “cover” the grade level curriculum with all students regardless of their lack of basic skills. They justify this directive as “maintaining high expectations.”  “Covering” the curriculum by giving the same assignment to the whole class regardless of skill levels ensures that students unable to do the work will fall further behind. What happens next is the phenomenon Charles Payne dubbed the “deal” in his classic book, Getting What We Ask For. Essentially, “the deal” is an agreement between the students and the teacher that if the student does not disturb others he will pass the course with a D-. The student is expected to do nothing but show up and not cause trouble. The “logic” of the deal is quintessential teen-age reasoning: “If I never showed up I would get an F. I deserve’ something for coming.”  While Payne credits the Chicago schools of the 1980’s as the origin of “the deal,” it is now a national trend and can be found in urban, rural and even some suburban districts.  Indeed, the primary way that many school districts show they have decreased the dropout rate and increased the graduation rate is by implementing “the deal.” If teachers really believe all students can learn what explains their widespread acceptance of “the deal?”

Admittedly, teaching classes of students who vary widely in basic skills is a tremendous challenge. It requires advanced skills and a high level of commitment on the part of teachers. The problem is that neither pre-service teacher education nor in-service professional development prepares teachers to question their limited definition of “teaching,” i.e. giving the total class the same directions for completing the same assignment. Teachers know better than anyone that there is a tremendous discrepancy in the skill levels of their students. What this means in practice is that teachers know when they give their one-size fits-all assignments that some students will not be able to comply.

In effect teachers add to their anxiety because they know going into each period, every day of the school year, that their expectations will lead some students to demonstrate passive aggression (i.e. just sit there) or overt aggression (engage in disturbing behavior) in response to assignments that are too easy or too difficult. Teachers not facing themselves therefore experience increased anxiety knowing at the start of any activity or period that there will be a lack of compliance or even resistance by some students. Unfortunately they deny (i.e. prevent themselves from admitting) that it is the nature of their teaching that is causing these student responses.

The solution to this dilemma of having schools and teachers respond to student variation in achievement has never been implemented because it would require transformative changes at every level of education. Teacher educators would have to know and be skilled at how to make multiple assignments for students with multiple ways of knowing in the particular subject areas of the curriculum–and very few education faculties have the experiential knowledge base of how to do this kind of teaching.  Second, teachers in preparation programs would need field experiences with effective teachers who engage in multiple assignment making. Such classrooms are extremely rare and could not accommodate even a fraction of the 500,000 students in teacher education. (One dirty little secret of teacher education is that many teachers-to-be never even see, let alone practice with highly effective teachers who meet students individual differences by making multiple level assignments simultaneously.) Third, the existing 3.4 million public school teachers would have to discard The Pedagogy of Poverty in favor of real teaching and the cultures of existing schools would have to radically change to support these new and better forms of instruction. Fourth, principals would have to be selected and trained who know more about teaching than they currently do. Who would train them? Under what conditions? Fifth, the public would need to change their concept of what teaching is? (How would that happen?) Sixth, it would be necessary to keep class sizes at reasonable levels or provide teacher aides if class size grew.  At present I know of classes in Milwaukee with 54 students in them, including 13 special need students.  There is no way my advice to meet different student levels can be implemented when the administration of a school puts 54 students in a classroom. Finally, it must be recognized that real teaching that would reach all the students in a classroom is not only extremely hard work but requires expensive support systems for highly trained, carefully selected teachers and mentors. Between 2009 and 2012 over 4.5 billion dollars will have been spent by the federal government to improve failing schools that claim they are willing to participate in a “Race to the Top” initiative. It will be interesting to see if any these of funds even dent the dominant, widespread practice of The Pedagogy of Poverty.

Thus, although teachers may voice, indeed truly believe the shibboleth “all students can learn” common teacher behaviors obstruct that learning. Ineffective teachers unwilling to face themselves do not see the connection between   their pedagogy and the anxieties and anger it generates in many of their students–and in them as the students resist complying.  In explaining their problem of teaching classes of students with varying skill levels they inevitably admit that their typical instructional strategy is one of    giving one assignment at a time to the entire class.   They know that passing off directive, assignmentmaking as teaching does not meet individual differences and indeed contributes to the problems they face in managing the classroom.  Sensitive teachers understand the connection between an instructional strategy that assumes all students are at the same achievement level and how such teacher behavior ensures student misbehavior.  Insensitive teachers do not want to see (resist seeing) any connection between their teaching and students’ negative responses. It is only after students’ make negative responses that ineffective teachers admit there is a problem–and the problems they perceive are with the students (their families, their culture) and not their pedagogy. “Denial” is not the name of a river in Egypt.



 Section IV. Do Teacher Biases Raise Anxiety? What Is Selective Perception?

       The elephant waiting in the hall now needs to be recognized and added to the mix.  Teachers unwilling to face themselves selectively perceive examples of student behaviors which support their prejudices. How do I know this is true? I have conducted and replicated a research study which demonstrates this finding.

At the start of a field experience in the Milwaukee Public Schools we had future teachers and experienced teachers write down what they expected to find regarding the students, the principal, the parents and the conditions of the school. We then evaluated their expectations by counting the number of their statements that were positive (+) or negative (-) expectations. At the end of eight weeks we asked the participants to describe what they had actually seen in the schools regarding students, principals, parents and the conditions of work. The results at the conclusion of the experience were as follows: 1) those who  expected to see lots of student misbehavior reported seeing many examples of such behavior; 2) those who expected to see student behaviors that were positive reported seeing many positive examples; 3) those who expected to find negative attributes of principals, parents and the school conditions reported seeing many examples of such negative qualities; 4) those who expected to find generally good principals, parents and school conditions reported seeing many positive examples.

In sum, the participants did not “benefit” in the same way from their field work experience. The teachers saw what they were predisposed to see and interpreted their observations to support their existing belief systems. They merely used the experience to reinforce what they believed in the first place. Those who expected to find negative things found them. So too, did those beginning with positive expectations. These studies demonstrate that we perceive in ways that support our pre-existing beliefs and reject “seeing” behaviors that would refute what we already believe. We selectively perceive and remember those people, events and conditions that will support and strengthen whatever we are predisposed to believe in the first place.

Two other critical findings came out of these studies.  First, the number of negative expectations held by teachers before they began any observations exceeded their positive expectations by five to one. We know this number of negative expectations reflects teacher beliefs regarding diverse students in poverty since teachers knew they were about to have field experiences in the Milwaukee schools. When asked to write expectations regarding what they would find in predominantly white suburban schools their statements were overwhelmingly positive.

Second, the teacher’s observations and perceptions did not reveal any knowledge whatever of how normal children or youth develop; if they saw behaviors or conditions they perceived as desirable they assumed them to be “normal.” If they saw what they regarded to be misbehaviors they perceived them as abnormal and attributed them to the children’s ethnicity, parents or home lives. These studies replicated over several decades undergird my contention that most teachers do not know what normal development of children and youth looks like. Faced with behaviors they don’t like they classify them as “abnormal” or characteristic of a given minority group thereby revealing deep seated prejudices regarding ethnicity and class. Such selective perceptions explains why as many as 25 per cent of minority students are labeled as “special need” students in urban schools.

Moreover, teachers seeing what they are predisposed to see interacts detrimentally with their lack of knowledge of what constitutes normal behavior during the various stages of human development. To take and pass all those education courses in child and adolescent development and then demonstrate no working knowledge of the wide range of behavior that constitutes “normal” behavior for children and youth is bad enough. But to then perceive student behaviors generated by having to sit and listen to directions all day as “misbehaviors” and attribute those “misbehaviors” to ethnicity and class is a fundamental cause of why teachers perceive so many abnormal students and diverse students in poverty don’t learn as much as they can in school.

The reality of selective perception makes it critical that teachers face themselves. As Americans we are taught stereotypes in the process of our early socialization.  Only those in a constant process of selfanalysis can hope to understand and overcome these stereotypes. Effective teachers’ knowledge of growth and development enables them to understand that almost all of the negative behaviors perceived by teachers are actually typical of all children and youth at various stages of development. They are not the result of students’ ethnicity or class, nor are they aberrant.


 Section V. What Can Be Done?

Increased understanding of the causes of teacher anxiety inevitably leads us to the question of what can be done. Teachers need professional development that helps them to face themselves.  By understanding how their anxieties lead them to demonstrate anger they can stop the process of escalating irrelevant student annoyances into problems and minor student problems into suspensions and worse.  To facilitate such professional development I have collected hundreds of examples of teacher talk which escalate and de-escalate their interactions with students. These are just a few examples of each of the four student needs which lead them to misbehave in class: the need for attention, the need to feign helplessness; the need for revenge; and the need for control. The following examples of real teacher-student dialogues are accompanied by filmed examples of teachers demonstrating actual escalations and de-escalations with students.


The Teachers’ Escalation and De-escalation of Problems with Students

Is there a connection between teacher anxiety and the nature of teacher talk?  Do teachers cause most of their own problems by the manner in which they talk to classes and to individual students? Do teachers’ responses to irritations, interruptions, annoyances, and non-compliance with directions escalate minor issues into major problems? Unfortunately, the answer to all three questions is ‘yes.’ In the following dialogue consider how the teacher’s talk has escalated the student’s responses.

(A sixth grade student has her chair tipped back to the point of almost tipping over. Her feet are drawn up on the metal shelf underneath her seat. She is precariously balanced.)

Teacher:  Put your feet on the floor.

Student: Why?

Teacher: Because I said so.

Student: (Looks around.) Mario has his feet up.

Teacher: I’m not talking to Mario.

Student: Why is it always me. You never tell anyone else to put their feet down.

You never tell anyone else they’re wrong. (Does not put her feet down.)

Teacher: Because you always have your feet up.

Student: No I don’t.

Teacher: Yes you do.

Student: No I don’t

Teacher: Yes you do.

Student:  You’re always picking on me.

Teacher:    I’m going to give you one minute to put your feet down or you’re going to the office.

Student:     (Moves chair a little to keep her balance. Does not put her feet down.)

Teacher:    O.K. time’s up.

Student:     I was putting my feet down but you didn’t give me a chance.

Teacher:     I’ve given you more chances than anyone in this classroom.

Student:      (Shrugs) So, I don’t care.

Teacher:     Oh, you will care.

Student:     Why all the time is everything my fault?

Teacher:     Well, you know there are 28 other students in this classroom who want to learn.

Student:      (Shrugs) I don’t care.

Teacher:     That’s it! Pick you your books and go the office.

What has the teacher accomplished as a result of escalating this annoyance into a serious confrontation with the student? The student has clearly won. The student met her need for attention by getting the teacher and the class to pay attention to her. She demonstrated she could get the teacher angry thus increasing her importance still further. She got the teacher off task and stopped the lesson. She demonstrated that the teacher really can’t control her and make her conform since everyone knows that sooner or later she will be sent back to the classroom.

Teachers willing to face themselves would not get trapped by a student in need of attention into such an escalation.  If they did feel any anger over this petty annoyance they would be aware of it and would   de-escalate the student’s challenge by quietly talking to her out of earshot of the class. The self-aware teacher would simply ask the student to perform an errand or a classroom chore which   would require the student to regain her balance, stand up and leave her desk. In this way a sensitive teacher would give the student the attention she needs without interrupting   the lesson.  As a result, nothing would have happened. The chair tipping is de-escalated into a non-event because the teacher understood herself well enough to not demonstrate anger and because she recognized the student’s motivation as a need for attention.

Consider the following episode in which high school juniors motivated by peer pressure as well as a need to assert their independence and power are clearly quite skillful at controlling a teacher unwilling to face herself.

(The class is conducting an end-of the year review in preparation for taking the final exam.)

Teacher:    You guys need to listen. I already know the answers to the final, so I am not doing this for me.

Student 1:  Can’t you just tell us the answers. That way we can just go through them.

Teacher:      No. That’s not how it works, but what I can do is give you the information that you need to know to figure out the answers for yourself.

Student 2: Mrs. Jones, I’m not going to lie. I really don’t care about this final because this is my least favorite class.

Teacher:     Well, you are my least favorite student so that does not surprise me.

Class:          Whoa!!!!

Teacher:    O.K. calm down. We need to get through this because if we don’t we will not be ready for the final.

Student 3:  Isn’t like your job to teach us? If we are not ready it’s not our fault, it’s yours.

Student 4:  Yeah. You should let us use our notes for the final.

Teacher:     Okay, enough. If you guys don’t want to do anything, then I can’t make you! Those of you who want to study please move to this side of the room. Those of you, who don’t care, just leave.  Go home. Sit on your couch where it is a lot more comfortable. We don’t want you here anyway.

Student 1:  So we can just leave?

Teacher:     I’m sorry. I am no longer engaging in your idiotic conversation. I will be working with the students who want to learn.

Student 1:   Okay. See you guys later. (Student leaves room.)

What has happened here is that a teacher unaware of her anxiety and the anger it generates in her engages in a power struggle with a student in front of his peers. This teacher never asks herself what the student’s motivation is nor questions her own behavior that escalates this power struggle in front of the class.  This teacher’s behavior is in no way atypical.  She is buying into the mantra of many high school teachers, i.e. “I can help those who want to learn. I can’t do anything to teach kids who don’t want to learn.” This particular episode comes from a white, suburban school. When this dialogue occurs with students of color, and in various forms it occurs regularly across America, the teacher is very likely to attribute the student’s “misbehavior” to his ethnicity or to her belief that he is somehow abnormal.

Effective teachers facing themselves know that this is the behavior of a normal adolescent who is proving to his friends that he is more powerful than his teacher. After all, he not only stopped the lesson, he proved that the teacher could not make him comply. He also forced the teacher into a spur-of-the-moment pedagogy which reflects her belief that some children do not want to learn. (She divided the class into two groups of “those who want to learn and those who don’t.”) Because she was angry and flustered he got her public permission to simply leave the room, which is clearly against the rules of the high school.  In effect, this student got the teacher to publicly admit that she didn’t know what to do when a student questions her directions.  The result of teachers not facing themselves is that they cannot teach normal students going through a normal stage of growth and development. Further, if this were a student of color the teacher might not only define his behavior as aberrant but attribute it to his ethnicity and/or class.



 Section VI. What Teachers Need to Know to Stop Escalating Student Misbehavior

 What Causes Student Misbehavior?

After Freud developed his theory of the unconscious many psychologists accepted his proposition that all human conflicts are intra-personal emanating from conflicts within the individual’s personality structure. Freud believed that conflict represents an unconscious battle among our Id, Ego and Superego. Three drives–what we need to do, what we want to do and what we should do — fight it out and the force that wins determines our behavior. Adler disagreed and developed a competing theory claiming that our behavior results from our perceptions of the inter-personal relationships people have with each other.  These competing theories not only explain human behavior differently but lead to different ways of stopping conflict. For Freud, the maladjustments which cause disturbing human relationships originate within the individual as he decides to act out his feelings or behave as he believes he should. Freud’s theory focuses on understanding these unconscious inner drives. For Freud, the cure for maladjustment lay within the power of the individual to discover and change whatever is causing him to act in particular ways. In other words, figure out whether his Id, Ego or Superego is winning a particular battle. In this scheme changing behavior lay within the province of the individual. Only he could change himself. Adler, on the other hand, emphasized the significance of our interactions with others as shaping our behavior. Instead of seeking to understand the causes of behavior Adler’s approach seeks to identify the goals and motives for our behavior. If one uses Freud’s theory maladjusted behavior can be only cured by the individual working with himself to gain greater self-understanding and control. If Adler’s theory is used maladjusted behavior can only be cured by the individual reflecting on the way he is relating to others and what he is seeking to gain in his relationships with others.

Those using Freud’s theory for understanding human behavior believe that fulfillment is attained when an individual becomes self actualized and can develop into all he can be and chooses to be. Adlerians believe that the ultimate goal of the individual is to become a functioning part of the human community. Adler set three tasks for every individual in order to become part of this community: work, which means contributing in some way to the general welfare, friendship, which embraces all human relationships and love, which he considered the strongest of these relationships.


Applying Theory to Classroom Practice

Which of these theories can be most useful to teachers? Would it be more useful for teachers to try and change misbehavior by trying to find their causes in students’ personality structures or by trying to determine the goals and motives of students’ immediate actions? If the teacher were to try to identify the causes of misbehavior she would inevitably have to make intense, in-depth personality analyses far beyond her preparation and capabilities. Considering the fact that teachers deal with 30 or more in a class, (or more than 120 different students a day for secondary teachers) is it reasonable to expect teachers to be able to engage in personality analyses with misbehaving students?

Fortunately for teachers, Dreikurs has interpreted and applied Adler’s model to the classroom. Dreikurs explains students’ misbehavior in terms of the goals and purposes of their behavior, not in terms of their causes. Teachers do not have the power to change the causes of students’ behavior; they are able to alter the goals students have for behaving or misbehaving.  Dreikurs assumes that students misbehave in order to reach clearly identified goals and are not acting out behaviors which   result from some subconscious struggle. This means that teachers need not throw up their hands and say, “I’m not a psychiatrist and there would be too many clients if I were. I need strategies for redirecting misbehaviors quickly in order to keep teaching.” Using Dreikurs, teachers can readily 1) identify the specific goal of students’ misbehavior; 2) reflect these purposes back to the misbehaving students; and 3) provide students with more socially acceptable ways of reaching their goals without harm to themselves or their classmates.  Driekurs maintains that students have only four goals for misbehaving: to get attention, to exert power, to inflict revenge, or to not participate by displaying inadequacy. This last goal may also be described as “feigned helplessness.” This goal is to get out of doing the work by assuming some real or imagined deficiency that will still maintain prestige. In many cases of misbehavior students may have more than one goal.



Attention Getting Goal

When a student is deprived of the opportunity to gain status by making useful contributions he frequently seeks status in class through attention-getting behaviors. But getting attention develops neither self-confidence nor self reliance. In the early grades this child may seek attention through socially acceptable means. But this changes as the child matures since the goal is not to cooperate and learn but to elevate himself in order to gain special attention. In high school this attention is sought from peers more than from teachers. Sooner or later many of these children are no longer satisfied with the amount of attention they receive by using socially acceptable means. They become discouraged and switch to useless means of gaining attention.  As soon as recognition and praise are not forthcoming in what they regard as sufficient amounts then the good behavior stops. Inevitably such a student develops an insatiable need for attention and requires it in ever increasing amounts. For the student whose goal is attention-getting being ignored is intolerable. Rather than be ignored he will accept punishment, pain and even humiliation in order to get the extra attention he yearns for.


The power-seeking student wants to be the boss. He wants to control what goes on in the classroom. As a younger child he is acting on the faulty logic that he only counts when he can get the teacher to do what he wants. As a teenager this goal is manifested by showing he has the power to take on the teacher or the rules in front of his peers. This student demonstrates power by getting the teacher to change a lesson or activity, by getting the teacher and class off on tangents, or by bringing the class’ activity to a complete halt. In many cases teachers seek to overpower this student with threats or punishments. This will inevitably lead the student to increase his power goal the next time he comes to class. No final victory is possible if the teacher or school seeks to overcome a power goal with greater power.  And the longer the power struggle continues the more the student becomes convinced that power has value. Finally, if this goal is not re-directed it frequently leads the student to add a goal of revenge as well.



When a student feels really beaten down he will no longer seek to win the power struggle but will shift to the goal of revenge.  This student is so deeply discouraged that he feels that only by hurting others, as he feels hurt by them, can he find his place.  He views life, the school and the teachers as unfair. He feels disliked. His response to efforts to help him is an abiding distrust. Since his goal is to hurt others he is definitely not lovable.  His actions may be vicious, violent or brutal.  He is openly defiant. This student is very sensitive to the vulnerabilities in teachers and others students. He considers it a victory when he is able to exploit these inadequacies and hurt others. He sees society and even the school as his enemy and looks down on others with contempt. Underneath this facade such students are discouraged individuals with little hope for themselves.


Display of Inadequacy

Many students who have failed to get the attention they feel they deserve may eventually become so discouraged that they give up all hope of significance and expect only defeat and failure.  Such a student may actually feel hopeless or assume this pose in order to avoid any further situation which may cause him embarrassment or humiliation. This student uses his inability, or his feigned inability, as a protective shield. He does not participate. He claims he does not “get it.” In this way he avoids failing or losing.  His actions appear stupid.  By his extreme ineptitude he prevents anything being demanded or expected of him. Some who play ‘stupid’ may be quite brilliant. This goal is a mistaken attempt to cope with a world which the student regards as extremely discouraging. His ‘safe’ haven is to not try and not be involved even if the price is failure.


   Section VII. How Can a Teacher Recognize the Student’s Goal?

          The first thing the teacher must do to implement Dreikur’s model is to observe and determine what goal the student is seeking to achieve. In addition to observing, the teacher can identify the student’s goal by reflecting on her own feelings to his misbehavior. How the teacher feels when the student misbehaves is the surest indicator of identifying the student’s goal correctly.

If the teacher feels annoyed it is most likely that the student’s goal is attention getting.

If the teacher feels defeated or threatened it is most likely that the student’s goal is power.

If the teacher feels deeply hurt it is most likely that the student’s goal is revenge.

If the teacher feels helpless it is most likely that the student’s goal is a display of inadequacy.



What Is the Effective Teacher’s Response to These Student Goals?

Once the teacher has identified the student’s goal the next step is to have a private conference with the student. In this step called “Could it be…?” the teacher confronts the student and asks, “Could it be you are doing this to get attention?” Or, “could it be that you are doing this because you want to control what is going on in the classroom?” Or, “could it be that you feel hurt and are trying to get back at me or the class?” Or, “could it be that you feel you would rather be left alone rather than do the work and risk failing.?” This conference is done in a friendly manner, without criticism and not at the time the misbehavior occurs. The teacher’s emphasis is not on “why” but on “for what purpose” and leads the student to think about his intentions.  If the student is confronted with his correct goal this produces what Dreikurs calls a “recognition reflex.”  A recognition reflex need not be anything the student says but may be indicated by his facial expression or a roguish smile, a twinkle of the eyes, or a twitch of a facial muscle. Sometimes a recognition reflex is so open that the student may cover his face, burst into laughter or become agitated. Such responses are more valid and should be regarded as more accurate than even a student’s verbal denial.

Dreikur’s recommends that when teachers are unsure of a student’s goal for misbehaving that they go through these four questions one at a time and in sequence.

“Could it be that you want special attention?”

“Could it be that you want your own way and hope to be the boss of the classroom?”

“Could it be that you want to hurt others as much as you feel hurt by them?

“Could it be that you want to be left alone?”

All four of these questions are always asked sequentially regardless of the student’s answer or reflex because the student may be operating on more than one goal at a time. The teacher watches the body language as well as listening very carefully for the response in order to catch the recognition reflex.  Sometimes this conference, by itself, will lead the student to change.  The next step is for the teacher to choose and use the suggested corrective procedures.  These may include using encouragement, or finding a buddy in the class, or giving the student a special task to perform. Dreikurs believes that it is not what happens to students that are as important as their interpretation of what is happening to them.


Only Teachers Who Respect Students Can Make Corrective Actions

The key to making teacher behaviors which will be effective in changing a student’s goal is the quality of the relationship the teacher has with the student. If the teacher and student have a relationship built on mutual respect the teacher’s words and actions impart different meanings than if their relationship is one of distrust, antipathy or fear. There are no universally effective recipes for a teacher who dislikes a student, doesn’t want him in her classroom, does not respect him, has no belief in his ability to learn, or is afraid of the student, i.e. “what will he do  next to disrupt.” For teachers with such preconceived negative views about a particular student there are no magic words or actions which will transform his behavior from some form of disruption to one of compliance and cooperation. The teacher behaviors that can be recommended to ameliorate student misbehaviors are all predicated on the teacher having a positive attitude toward the student in spite of his misbehavior. Once a teacher can separate and maintain respect for the student regardless of his misbehavior there is a foundation which will make the teachers’ behaviors effective at changing the students’ misbehavior. The fact that words mean different things when spoken to a friend rather than an adversary is a phenomenon that is well known to all. The words “Please sit down.” from a teacher to a student has a positive effect if the teacher and student have a relationship based on mutual respect. If such a relationship does not exist the words are meaningless and will not generate student compliance. So too with simple admonitions such as, “What are you working on now?” or, “Please do your own work.” or, “If you’ve finished I have something I would like you to help me with.” All these phrases are used by effective teachers who have positive relationships with their students. The same phrases spoken by a teacher who has not established a positive working relationship with a student are completely useless. For this reason, teachers who demand, “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” cannot be advised. Until the teacher has established a positive relationship with her students there are no magic words which she can utter and change students’ behavior.   In the real world of the classroom, there is nothing the teacher says to a student that is not filtered through the relationship that exists between the teacher and the student. Words are not words with universal meanings in all situations. Every interaction between the teacher and student rests on the foundation of their relationship.  For this reason, ineffective teachers who do not have positive relationships with their students cannot be given phrases or actions which will resolve students’ misbehaviors. Only teachers with a basically positive relationship with their students can be taught the specific things to say or do which will change students’ misbehaviors into positive responses. The advice which follows therefore is predicated on the assumption that the teachers who might use these suggestions respect and care about students whose behavior they do not approve of.

If the student’s goal is attention Dreikurs recommends the following teacher responses: 1) never show annoyance   and 2) provide attention when the teacher has time and not in response to the student’s demand for it. This means that the teacher responds in a calm, controlled manner and that she seeks out opportunities for providing attention and recognition to the student at a time other than when the student is demanding it.

If the student’s goal is power the recommended teacher responses are to make an agreement or a contract with the student, ask for the student’s help in performing a particular task, or give the student power in situations in which it can be used for productive purposes.  It is critical for the teacher to demonstrate respect for the student, avoid power struggles (particularly in front of the class) and recognize that the student actually does have some power. It is critical that the teacher never show she feels threatened by the student’s behavior. Students’ power goal can never be changed by trying to overpower him by escalating punishment. This will lead the student to add revenge as a second goal.

If the student’s goal is revenge the teacher can involve the student with a buddy or group that accepts him. The teacher seeks peers who can demonstrate to the student that he is accepted, even liked and that he can be productive. The teacher may show that she is hurt by the student’s misbehavior and this may help provided the teacher and student have a positive relationship.  If their relationship is a negative one the student will be reinforced in maintaining his revenge goal if he sees that it hurts the teacher.

If the student’s goal is to display inadequacy or feign helplessness, the teacher must be persistent and demonstrate to the student that she will never give up trying to involve him, get him to participate, or have him complete assignments. It is only when the student is finally convinced that the teacher will never be satisfied to allow him to just sit  and merely observe life in the classroom  that there is any hope of having him give up this goal. The teacher must never show feelings of helpless in response to his behavior. She must persistently demonstrate continuous effort to involve him no matter how many times the student resists.


Section VIII. Examples of Teacher Dialogues Which Escalate and De-escalate Student Misbehavior


Attention Getting Goal

Dialogue #101 – Student Goal is for Attention


(Student is tapping a pencil on his desk.)

Teacher:  Stop tapping the pencil.

Student:   I need to sharpen it.

Teacher:  Why didn’t you sharpen it this morning.

Student:   Because my bus was late.

Teacher:  That’s not my problem. Julius came in late and he has a pencil ready to go.

Student:  How come you never pick on Julius?

Teacher:  Because Julius is always ready to go and you’re not.

Student:  I don’t care. (shrugs)

Teacher:  Oh, you will care when I call home.

Student:   Go ahead, I don’t care.

Teacher:  Your Mom will ground you.

Student:  You ain’t my Mom.

Teacher:  Thank God.

Student:   (Leaves class. Slams door.)

Teacher:   (Speaks into intercom.)  Carl Lewis left class unattended. Have him brought to the Principal’s office immediately.

Teacher:  (To class.)  Well, now that he’s gone maybe we’ll get some learning in. Jasmine, put your feet down immediately.


Dialogue #101 – Student Goal is for Attention


Student:         (Tapping his pencil on his desk.)

Teacher:         (Walks over and speaks privately to student.)

Would you please put down the pencil. I have a hard time concentrating.

Student:          I can’t write. My pencil isn’t sharpened.

Teacher:          Please take one out of the can on my desk.

I’ll know you’re ready when you’re back in your seat and your eyes are on me.



Dialogue #102 – Student Goal is for Attention


Student:   (Five seconds into the lesson Student has her hand up.)

Teacher:  What?

Student:    I left my bookbag on the bus and my homework is in it

Teacher:   So what else is new? You haven’t turned your homework in for two weeks. This is pattern for you.

Student:  Why are you picking on me all the time.  Jess doesn’t have his homework.

Teacher: Because you always have no homework. How do you expect to graduate if you never do any homework?

Student: (Shrugs) I don’t care. I’m going to a different school anyway.

Teacher: You’re not there yet.  You’ll have to work anywhere you go. You still have three months here. One more missing homework and you don’t go on any field trips for the rest of the semester.

Student:   I don’t even like this class. My Mom said I could stay home.

Teacher:  Fine!  But today you’re staying in for recess and doing your homework.

Student:   (Puts her head down on the desk and pulls her hood over her head.)




Dialogue #102 – Student Goal is for Attention


Student: (Raises her hand five seconds into lesson.)

Teacher: What?

Student:  I left my bookbag on the bus and my homework is in it.

Teacher: Take the pass. Go down to the office and see if anyone has turned it in.

Student:  (Returns in a few minutes without bookbag.)

Teacher:  No one turned it in right? I am sorry Anne. I know that bothers you. We can check again later.



Dialogue #103 –  Student Goal is for Attention


Student:       (Has her hand up.)

Teacher:      What?

Student:       Can I call home?

Teacher:       Why?

Student:        I don’t feel good.

Teacher:      You just got here.  Does your mother make you breakfast

Student:       I don’t live with my Mom.  I live with my Auntie

Teacher:       Does your Auntie feed you breakfast

Student:        We got up late.

Teacher:       That’s not my problem. You need a new alarm clock.

Student:       Can I go to the office?

Teacher:       Why?

Student:        Because I need to call home.

Teacher:        Ignores Stephanie. Continues giving class directions.)

Student:        (Hand goes up again.)  How come you never call on me?

Teacher:        Because your hand’s always up.

Student:         Because you never call on me.  That’s why it’s up. Anyone else, you call on them.

Teacher:          That’s because they don’t have their hand up all the time.

Student:           Every time Isaiah raises his hand you call on him.

Teacher:          That’s because Isaiah always has the correct answer. Raise your hand one more time and that’s it.

Student:         (Slowly raises her hand.)

Teacher:          Fine! No recess. Put your hand down

Student:        (Hand is still raised.)

Teacher:         I give you one minute to put your hand down.

Student:        (Hand is still raised.)

Teacher:          Fine! No more field trips this year.

Student:         I don’t even like this school. (Leaves room.)

Teacher:         Now we can learn in here.



 Dialogue #103  –  Student Goal is for Attention


Student:      (Has her hand up five seconds into the lesson.)

Teacher:     What’s up Stephanie?

Student:      Can I call home?

Teacher:      Why?

Student:      Because I don’t feel good. I didn’t have time to eat breakfast this morning

Teacher:       I know what that’s like. What can I do?

Student:       I don’t know.

Teacher:      Here’s a granola bar to tide you over.

Student:      (Takes bar.)   I guess.





Dialogue #104   – Student Goal is for Attention


Student: (Raises his hand and says Someone’s throwing crayons. I just got hit.)

Teacher:  All right. Who’s throwing crayons?

Someone shouts “Manual”

Manual:  (Slams book on his desk.)  Why is it always me?

Teacher:  Because you’re the one always throwing crayons.

Manual:   But you didn’t see me throw any crayons.

Teacher:  But David saw you and he doesn’t lie.

Manual:   I hate this school.

Teacher:  Take your crayons and go to the office and write “I will not throw crayons 100 times.”  Now we can get down to business



Dialogue #104 – Student Goal is for Attention


David:    Someone’s throwing crayons at me.

Someone shouts, “It’s Manual.”

Teacher:  Did you actually see Manual throw the crayons?

David:     Yes

Teacher:   (Addressing Manual privately) You know the class rule about throwing crayons. I know you can stop it.  Here, help me pass out the art supplies?



Dialogue #105 – Student Goal is for Attention   


Student:   (Addresses teacher in front of whole class.)   Martin says I’m gay.

Teacher:   Do you actually value his opinion?

Student:   People always picking on me.

Teacher:  Well, why do you think everyone always picks on you?

Student:  I don’t know.

Teacher:  Well, maybe you ought to think about it.  Seems like you’re not making any new friends.

Maybe you ought to go play football with the boys instead of watching

“American’s Next Top  Model.”

Student:   Shut up. (Leaves the room.)


 Dialogue #105 –   Student Goal is for Attention   


Student:      (Addresses teacher in front of whole class.)  Martin says I’m gay.

Martin:     Well, he said something about my Momma.

Teacher:   Let’s have lunch together and we can figure  out what we should do to get along better.




 Dialogue #106  –  Student Goal for Attention  


Setting:  (Students are writing an original ending to story in reader. Jerald is disturbing several of the students seated around him.)

Teacher: Jerald, would you turn around and pay attention to your own work.

Student: What?  I’m not doing anything.  (Slowly turns his body toward the front of the room.)

Teacher: Right now you’re interrupting the lesson and you are making it difficult for others to concentrate with your moving around.

Student: What did I do?  I didn’t do anything!

Teacher: Why don’t you come up to the front and sit.

(Jerald drags his feet as he approaches the front of the classroom. He sits at the front of the room complaining about why he is being moved.)

Teacher: Jerald, you really need to focus on your work and stop thinking about what others are doing. Do I have to listen to your whining the entire time you are sitting up here.

Jerald:  You need to let me go back to my seat. Then you wouldn’t have to look at me and pick on me.

Teacher: Jerald, you are right!  I don’t have to look at you.  In fact, you can gather your personal items and go for a timeout in Ms. Gee’s room. Get your things.


Dialogue #106   Student Goal is for Attention


Teacher observes Jerald not doing his work and annoying those around him.

Teacher: Jerald, please come up here a minute.

Student: I’m not doing anything.

Teacher: I just need to ask you something.

(Jerald approaches the desk.)

Teacher: What do you think would be a good ending to the story we just read.

Student: I don’t know. (After a pause)  Maybe he wakes up and finds lots of good things to eat.

Teacher: That would be a terrific way to end the story. Why don’t you go back and write it down so I can read it to the class when we share our endings. (Jerald returns to his seat and writes his ending to the story.)



Dialogue:  #107  – Student Goal is Attention    


Setting:  In response to teacher’s directions for completing an assignment, Student raises his hand but teacher does not immediately call on him.)  Student: I’m sick of this s—.

Teacher: You constantly refuse to follow the rules of courtesy regarding the use of profanity during class. You’re disrespecting me and your peers.

Student: So f—ing what, nobody respects me.

Teacher: That’s your opinion but I don’t want to hear that language in my class.

Student: That’s the point.  It’s not your class.  You get paid to teach us, so teach and leave me the f— alone.

Teacher: You have to earn respect to get respect. If I could make the millions I deserve I wouldn’t  be dealing with kids like you.

Student: There you go again talking about kids like me. You want a piece of me, stop talking at me. Teach me.

Teacher:  Pay attention and try to learn then.

(Teacher ignores student and starts talking with class about the lesson. Student walks out.)



Dialogue:   #107 –  Student Goal is  Attention                     


Setting: In response to teacher’s directions for completing an assignment, student uses profanity.

Student: I’m sick of this s—.

Teacher:  You constantly refuse to follow expectations from me regarding the use of profanity during class. You’re disrespecting me and your peers.

Student: So f—ing what, nobody respects me.

Teacher: That’s your opinion but I don’t want to hear that language in my class. Class lets continue with  your research, I’ll address this later but understand that being respectful to yourself and others takes you a long way in life.

Student: There you go disrespecting me again.

Teacher: (Approaches student’s desk.) I understand what you’re feeling. Let’s talk about this. (Teacher gives instructions for class to continue assignment. Teacher asks student to come out into the hall for a moment. Classroom door is left open but class cannot see or hear discussion.)

Teacher: Is there something you’re angry about that you want to tell me?


Teacher: Go ahead. I’m really listening.

Student:  You’re not fair. You’re always on my case.

Teacher:  O.K. I understand you feel that way. Is there some way you can tell me I’m not being fair without cursing?


Teacher:   Let’s try this. Anytime you feel I’m not being fair just raise your hand with two fingers and I’ll listen to you. Are you willing to try this signal?

Student: OK.





Dialogue #201 – Student Goal is Feigned Helplessness


Sara:          Teacher, I don’t understand what to do.

Teacher:    What is it exactly you don’t understand?

Sara:          None of it.

Teacher:    Hold on. I’ll explain it after school.

Sara:          I can’t stay after school. Can I call my Mom?

Teacher:    Just wait till the end of the lesson and I’ll answer any question you have.

Sara:           But I don’t get it.

Teacher:    Right. (Raises voice.) I realize that. Can someone please tell Sara what I said? Ronaldo can you repeat what I said? Sara doesn’t seem to understand simple directions.

Sara:         I don’t want Ronaldo sitting by me.

Teacher:    Fine! Then just sit there and don’t understand. Thanks Ronaldo. She doesn’t want any help.



Dialogue #201 – Student Goal is Feigned Helplessness


Marie:      I don’t understand what to do.

Teacher:  What is it exactly you don’t understand?

Sara:         None of it.

Teacher:  Everyone needs a little help sometimes. Ronaldo would you move your chair next to Sara?

Sara:         I don’t want Ronaldo’s help.

Teacher:  OK. Just circle the problems you don’t understand and I’ll help you during recess.

Sara:         I don’t understand none of it

Teacher:  I know that’s not possible because you always ask such smart questions. Just copy the problem and circle the part you don’t understand and we can look at it later together.




Dialogue #202  –  Student Goal is Feigned Helplessness


(During a class discussion Jenny sits quietly staring out of the window, showing no interest in participating. At the end of the discussion the teacher makes an assignment. Jenny just sits.)

Teacher:  Jenny do you have a question? Why aren’t you getting started?

Jenny:      Can I use this notebook, I don’t got no other paper?

(Jenny waves the notebook in the air)

Teacher:  No, you can’t use that type of paper. You need lined paper.

Jenny:     I don’t got any other paper.

Teacher:  I don’t got no’ is not standard English, Jenny.

(Jenny makes no response.)

Teacher: By the way Jenny, people will appreciate you more as a serious student when you use Standard English.

(Jenny sits and does nothing. Teacher ignores her.)




Dialogue #202 – Student Goal is Feigned Helplessness


Setting:  (During a class discussion Jenny sits quietly staring out of the window, showing no interest in participating. At the end of the discussion the teacher makes an assignment. Jenny just sits.)

Teacher: Jenny do you have a question? Why aren’t you getting started?

Jenny:    Can I use this notebook, I don’t got no other paper?  (Jenny waves the notebook in the air.)

(Teacher hands student a piece of lined paper.) “Please use this.”

(Jenny proceeds with completing her assignment quietly.)



Dialogue #203   –  Student Goal is Feigned Helplessness


(Teacher has asked students to read their responses to a story the class has read. Alexis has her head down on the table. Teacher walks over to Alexis who has her head down and lightly taps her on the shoulder.)

Alexis:    Did you touch me?

Teacher:  Alexis please pick up your head and pay attention.

(Alexis does not raise her head.)

Teacher:  Alexis we need you to participate.

Alexis: (Does not raise head.) I’m tired.

Teacher:  Everyone needs to participate in this lesson.

(Alexis does not respond.)

Teacher:  We’re waiting for you Alexis.

(Alexis does not respond. Keeps her head down.)

Teacher:  If you’re not going to participate there is no reason to stay in the room.

(Alexis makes no response.)

Teacher:  OK. If you don’t want to learn take this note and go see Mr. Greene (the Assistant Principal).

(Alexis doesn’t respond or move. Teacher walks over to her desk and physically raises her from the chair.)

Teacher: Jordan, please take this note and Alexis down to the office. Now let’s get back to work.


Dialogue #203  –  Student Goal is Feigned Helplessness


(Teacher walks over to Alexis who has her head down and lightly taps her on the shoulder.)

Alexis:   Did you touch me?  Don’t touch me.

Teacher: Keep your head up please.

(Teacher continues the lesson without looking at Alexis. Alexis puts her head back down on the table.)

Teacher:  Alexis, please read your response.

(Alexis raises her head but does not read her paper. Teacher slides Alexis’ paper from under her head and reads it to class.)

(Alexis raises her head while teacher reads her paper then puts her head back down.).

Teacher: That was great Alexis. I like the way you gave three reasons in order.

(Alexis sinks lower in the chair but keeps her head partially raised.)



Dialogue #204  –  Student Goal is Feigned Helplessness


(Tina is sitting in the front row of the classroom turning toward her neighbor who is sitting behind her. She is giggling and not doing any work.)

Teacher:   Tina, I need you to turn around and stay focused on your work.

Tina:          It ain’t going to make a difference anyway.

Teacher:   Excuse me, what did you say Tina?

Tina:          I said it ain’t going to make a difference anyway.

Teacher:   Well, since it will not make a difference, why don’t you work at the back table so that you won’t be distracted or disturb other people.

Tina:         Why?  I don’t want to go back there and I ain’t going to sit down.

(Tina storms to the back of the room without books or paper. She remains standing.)


Dialogue #204 – Student Goal is Feigned Helplessness


Setting:  Student sitting in the front row in the classroom is turned toward her neighbor sitting behind her. She is giggling and gesturing.

Teacher:  Tina, please turn around and stay focused on your work.

Tina:         It ain’t going to make a difference anyway.

Teacher:  Do you have a question about the assignment?

Tina:         No.

Teacher:  Let me know if you need help when I come around.

Tina:         (Silence)

Teacher:  Just get started. I will be coming around to help





Dialogue #301 – Student Goal is for Power/Control


(The teacher has placed the morning’s assignment on an overhead.)

Student:  (Raises hand)

Teacher:  What?

Student:  You misspelled a word.

Teacher: When you’re a teacher you can tell me how to spell words but right now I’m telling you that’s how we spell communicate.

Student:  I have a spell check on my laptop. Let me try it

Teacher:  We are not going to waste valuable time while we look up a word that we know is spelled correctly.

Teacher:  (To class) I want to apologize on behalf of Devon for wasting valuable learning time with his silly attention-getting antics.

Student:   I checked it. You’re wrong.

Teacher:   No, you’re wrong. Go to the office



Dialogue #301 – Student Goal is for Power/Control


(The teacher has placed the morning’s assignment on an overhead.)

Student: (Raises hand)

Teacher:   What?

Student:   You misspelled communicate.

Teacher:  Thanks Devon. Could you spell it correctly for me?

Student:  (Spells the word correctly.)

Teacher:  I’ve noticed you’re really a good speller so from now on if I’m in a hurry and misspell a word feel free to step up and spell it correctly for me. And right after lunch I’d like to talk to you about doing some editing for me. Thanks.




Dialogue #302 – Student Goal is for Power/Control


(Class returns to the room after recess.)

Teacher:  Joan, you know we’re not supposed to take a drink without permission.

Joan:        Bobby did it.

Bobby:     So. I was thirsty.

Teacher:  Well, I really don’t care Bobby. You know the rule.

Bobby:     I don’t care about the rule. I was thirsty.

Teacher:  Leave it alone.

Bobby:     You leave me alone.

Teacher:  Why is it that you always have to have the last word?

Bobby:     Why do you always have to have the last word?

Teacher:  That’s it! Someone walk Bobby to the office.

Bobby:     So. I don’t even like this dumb class.




Dialogue #302 – Student Goal is for Power/Control


(Class returns to the room after recess.)

Teacher:  Joan, you know we’re not supposed to take a drink without permission.

Joan:        Bobby did it.

Teacher:  You know it is hot outside.  Let’s everyone get a drink of water. You each have three seconds.




Dialogue #303 – Student Goal is for Power/Control


(Student is out of his seat walking around classroom.)

Teacher:   Quentin! Sit down now.

Quentin:   I’m not hurting anybody.

Teacher:    I didn’t say you were. Sit down!

Quentin:   But I don’t feel like sitting down.

Teacher:  Since you like to walk so much why don’t you walk down to the office with this suspension notice.


Dialogue #303 – Student Goal is for Power/Control


(Student is out of his seat walking around classroom.)

Teacher:  (To Quentin) Please find your seat. I need your help to pass out materials.



Dialogue #304 – Student Goal is for Power/Control


(Student leaves the room without permission. When he returns the teacher addresses him.)

Teacher:    Where were you?

Student:     I thought I left my backpack on the playground after recess.

Teacher:    Well, if that’s true you should have asked for a pass but since you didn’t I’m going to give you a     pass to see the vice principal.  And don’t come back without a pass.

Student:    (Leaves the room.)

Teacher:   Now where were we?



Dialogue #304 – Student Goal is for Power/Control


(Student leaves the room without permission. When he returns the teacher addresses him.)

Teacher:     Where were you?

Student:      I thought I left my backpack on the playground after recess.

Teacher:     You know the rules. You can’t be outside the room without a pass. Next time ask me and I’ll give you a pass.





Dialogue #305 –  Student Goal is for Power/Control


Setting:  Students are in small reading groups except for Jimmy. He is leaning back with his feet up on the legs of desk. His assigned  book is faced down on his desk.

Teacher:  Jimmy, you really need to start reading with the others. Please go to your group.

Jimmy:   I’m just taking a break.

Teacher:   This is our reading time not break time.

Jimmy:      I’ll get there in a minute.

Teacher:   Please move over to the reading group now.

(Jimmy starts to hunt for things in his desk.)

Teacher: We’re all waiting for you.

(Jimmy continues to look for things in his desk.)

Teacher: Well, Jimmy maybe a new setting will help you concentrate better. Take this pass to the Asst. Principal’s office.

Jimmy:    I don’t care anyway.

(Jimmy gathers his things, refused to wait for his pass and walks out.)


Dialogue #305 – Student Goal is for Power/Control


Setting:  Students are in small reading groups except for Jimmy.  He is leaning back with his feet up on the legs of his desk.  His assigned book is faced down on his desk.

Teacher:   Jimmy, you really need to start reading like the others.

Jimmy:     I am reading.  I’m just taking a break.

(Teacher walks over to Jimmy and asks him privately.)

Teacher:  Is there some reason you don’t want to join your group?

Jimmy:    They don’t want me in their group.

Teacher:  Jimmy, if you and I work on this assignment together I’ll see about you working in another group.

(Teacher sits down next to Jimmy and they begin.)




Dialogue #306   Student Goal is for Power /Control


Setting: A guest resource person is visiting the room and showing the students some basic words in sign language. Nick continues to work on his computer.

Teacher:   Nick why don’t you shut down the computer and listen to our guest speaker?

Nick:          I don’t care.

Teacher:   Stop what you’re doing and move upfront and follow class rules.

Nick:          I don’t give a damn about this crap.

Teacher:    Stop using profanities. We have a guest.  (Teacher walks over to Nick and shuts down his computer.)

Nick:          F— you. I ain’t doin’ that!

Teacher:   This is what I was talking about to you before. Disrespectful  behavior will harm you.

Nick:          F— you!

Teacher: That’s it Nick, either you shut up and comply with the rules of this class or you get out.

Nick:         You can’t make me.

Teacher: (Addressing class.) Sorry for this outburst of anger form Nick. He  doesn’t know any better and needs to correct his behavior.

Nick:         We don’t want to hear about it.

Teacher:  That’s it! You are going to listen or I ‘m calling your foster mom.

Nick:         I don’t care.

Teacher:  Leave my class and report to the office.

(Nick refuses to leave. Continues to curse. A few of the other students giggle.

Nick looks around the room for support from the other students.)

Teacher :  (Calls safety aide.) I have a student who needs to be removed from my class now.

(Nick is removed and suspended for one day.)



Dialogue: #306 Student Goal is for Power/Control


(A guest resource person is visiting the room and showing the students some basic words in sign language. Nick continues to work on his computer.Teacher speaks to him in a quiet voice.)

Teacher: I know you are working really hard on your assignment.

(Nick looks at teacher and says nothing.)

Teacher: I really need your help here.

Nick: I want to stay on the computer.

Teacher: I think our speaker will provide information that will help you with your project. I need you to ask her some questions. Please join us and listen in.

Nick:  OK. (Slowly gets up and returns to his seat.)



Dialogue #307  –  Student Goal is For Power/Control


(Teacher is standing at overhead. Teacher explains how to outline a paragraph on overhead.)

Teacher:  In this paragraph I want you to write about something that made an impact on your life. It can be something good or bad.  Someone  give me an example.


Teacher: OK. I’ll give you one. When I was in college I was stood up on a date  with a guy I really liked. We were…

Student: What did he look like?

Teacher:  He was very good looking. Now, under Roman Numeral I. I would write the main idea, and under that…

Student #1:  Did he have money?

Student #2:  He kicked you to the curb.

Student #1:  He wanted to hit it and you wouldn’t let him would you?

Teacher: (Getting upset) I’m trying to share an example of a personal story with you and you behave like this?

Student #2:   I’ll bet you dressed like a hootchie. What did you look like?

Student #1:   Did your husband kick his ass?

Teacher:     This is very inappropriate. I can’t believe you are behaving this way. We just got done with a really cool assignment and this is how you treat me?

Student #3: Who cares?

Student #1: This assignment sucks.

Student #2: Tell us what happened.

Teacher: No! You don’t care. I’m done. You can do this on your own. (Returns to desk.)



Dialogue #307  – Student Goal is for Power/Control


(Teacher is standing at overhead. Teacher explains how to outline a  paragraph on overhead.)

Teacher:  In this paragraph I want you to write about something that  made an impact on your life. It can be something good or bad. Someone give me an example.


Teacher: OK. I’ll give you one. When I was in college I was stood up on a date with a guy I really liked. We were…

Student: What did he look like?

Teacher:  He was very good looking. Now, before you ask any more questions let me tell you the story behind my date. Then, you’ll have to tell me how to write my paragraph and also share some of your experiences.

(Teacher tells her story quickly answers a few questions and moves on with the lesson.)




Dialogue #308  – Student Goal is for Power/Control


(The teacher is a long-term substitute. She is disrupted by a student who is rocking noisily in his chair.)

Teacher: All right everyone, please get started on the map activity and I will walk around to help you.

(Student keeps rocking noisily in his chair.)

Teacher: Stop rocking in your chair. You’re going to fall and hurt yourself.

(Student doesn’t stop rocking.)

Teacher:   Didn’t I tell you to stop? Now, when you fall and crack your head, don’t say a word.

(Student ignores the teacher and continues to rock in his chair.)

Student:   Oh Shit! (Ralph has fallen backward and the class has gone into an uproar.)

Teacher:   That’s what you get! I bet you won’t lean back in your chair again.

Student:   Shut the f— up!

Teacher:   Who are you talking to?

Ralph: I’m talking to you ugly a–.

(Class goes into another uproar.)

Teacher: Well, my ugly a– is about to write your a– up.

(Teacher writes a referral for the student and sends for a safety aide who escorts him to the administrator.)



Dialogue #308   –  Student Goal is for Power/Control


(The teacher is a long-term substitute. She is disrupted by a student who is rocking noisily in his chair.)

Teacher: All right everyone, please get started on the map activity and I will walk around to help you.

(Student keeps rocking noisily in his chair. Teacher walks back to Michael and speaks in a quiet voice.)

Teacher: Michael, I need you to stop rocking in your chair. I would be very upset if you fell and got hurt. How can I help you so that you stop rocking? Do you need to walk around a bit?  Here come with me.

(Michael goes to the front with the teacher and they begin talking about the activity.)




Dialogue  #309   –  Student Goal is for Power/Control


(Two students are sword fighting with rulers.)

Teacher: (Shouts) Stop that right now!

Student:  (Smiles and laughs)

Teacher:  That’s not funny. Someone could get hurt.

Student: (Smiles and remains silent.)

Teacher:  (Approaches student and in an angry voice) Did you know that you could be written up for using a weapon?  If you had  hurt him with that ruler you could be in big trouble.

Student: (Smiles and remains silent.)

Teacher: (Shouting) You better wipe that smile off your face!

Student: (Remains silent)

Teacher:  OK. That’s it. You’re going to the office.


Dialogue #309  – Student Goal is for Power/Control


(Two students are sword fighting with rulers.)

Teacher:  Mark and Scott, I need those rulers for the next activity.

Mark:  Oh, we’re just having fun.

Teacher:  You know sword fighting could be a great topic for your research paper. Go on line and see what you can learn about real sword fighting.





Dialogue #401 – Student Goal is Revenge


(The math lesson has been interrupted by recess.  When the teacher and class return the teacher looks at the overhead on which the assignment was written and notes that it is blank.)

Teacher:  (To class) What happened to the math problems on the overhead? They were here before lunch.

Jack:          I saw Frank erase them.

Teacher:   Is that true?

Frank:       Yeah.

Teacher:   Why did you do that?

Frank:       You did that to me.

Teacher:    I never did that. What are you talking about?

Frank:      Yes you did…on my story yesterday.  I spent all night on that story and you crossed half of it out.

Teacher:   I was trying to help you.

Frank:        Well don’t unless you want me to help you.

Teacher:    That’s it! Take this note and report to the Asst. Principal.




Dialogue #401 – Student Goal is for Revenge


(The math lesson has been interrupted by recess. When the teacher and class return the teacher looks at the overhead on which the assignment was written and notes that it is blank.)

Teacher:  (To class) What happened to the math problems on the overhead?  They were here before lunch.

Jack:         I saw Frank erase them.

Teacher:   Is that true?

Frank:        Yeah.

Teacher:  So we don’t have any confusion in future, I’ll assign someone to wipe the overhead after lessons and Frank you can do it today.


Dialogue #402   – Student Goal is for Revenge


(The teacher discovers the class’ field trip money is missing.)

Teacher:  Class, I need to talk to you about something serious. There was a manila envelope on my desk and it had $90 for our field trip to Funworld. It’s now missing. Did anyone see anything suspicious?

Russell:     I saw Harold stay back. He didn’t come to lunch with us.

Teacher:   Harold, is that true?

Harold:     Why all the time is everyone lying on me?

Teacher:  Because every time we’re missing anything I find it in your backpack.  Bring your backpack to me now!

Harold:   (Leaves room)

Teacher:   Fine. He can discuss it with the principal.



Dialogue #402 – Student Goal is for Revenge


(The teacher discovers the class’ field trip money is missing.)

Teacher:  Class, I need to talk to you about something serious. There was a manila envelope on my desk and it had $90 for our field trip to Funworld.  It’s now missing. Does anyone know where it is?

Russell:    I saw Harold stay back. He didn’t come to lunch with us.

Teacher:  Unless I saw Harold in the room I can’t say that he did or didn’t stay back. I don’t know that there weren’t others in the room.  We need the $90 for the field trip. I hope it ends up on my desk by tomorrow morning.  If not, we can’t go on the field trip.




Dialogue #403 – Student Goal is Revenge


Setting: John’s fists are clenched and he is power walking down the hallway toward the playground exit.  Students enter the class shouting, “Fight, fight.”

Teacher: Everyone get inside the classroom. (repeats) Everyone get inside the classroom!

Class:      A fight, John is going get somebody.

(Twenty minutes later John enters the classroom.  After giving the students their assignment, teacher address John.)

Teacher: What happened?

John:       That boy wanted to fight me.

Teacher:  What boy?

John:       Marc, upstairs.  I took care of business.

Teacher:  You’re telling me you were out of class without permission and you beat somebody up?

John: (Silence)

Teacher: You know the rules. Too bad. This will affect your participation on the basketball team as well as being suspended. (Teacher goes to the intercom and announces: ” I’m sending down John Dugan for fighting on the playground.”)

John:       I don’t care what you do. (Leaves room.)




Dialogue #403   – Student Goal is Revenge


(John’s fists are clenched and he is power walking down the hallway toward the playground exit. Students enter the class shouting, “Fight, fight.”)

Teacher: Everyone get inside the classroom. (repeats) Everyone get inside the classroom!

Class:       A fight, John is going get somebody.

(After giving students their assignment teacher pulls John out of the classroom and talks to him privately.)

Teacher:  What happened?

John:        That boy wanted to fight me.

Teacher:   What boy?

John:         Marc, upstairs.

Teacher:    What happened?

John:         I took care of business.

Teacher:   You have more to lose than this other boy. Fighting will get you kicked off the basketball team as well as suspended. How do you think we ought to deal with this?

John:         (Shrugs. Silence.)

Teacher:    After class today I will go to the Asst. Principal with you and we’ll see if we can  get things straightened out. In the meanwhile go to the Boys Room and wash your hands  and face. When you come back to the classroom get down to work and don’t start any  conversations with anyone about what has happened. Is that clear? Can you do that?

John:         Yes I can.



Dialogue #404 – Student Goal is Revenge


(Setting: Hallway after the bell, students are leaving for home. Mario is pushing and punching a female student from a different classroom. This incident is being recorded on hallway camera.)

Teacher:   Mario stop hitting her and come with me.

Mario:       I am just playing.

(Teacher grabs Mario’s hands.)

Mario:      Let me go!

Teacher:  No. We will have to wait for the safety aide to pick you up.

Mario:      I need to call my mother.

Teacher:  Go ahead dial the phone. We both know you’re Mom’s not home.

Mario:      F— you b—-!

(Mario throws the phone against the wall. Phone ricochets and hits assistant teacher.)

Teacher:  That’s it, you are going to jail.  Look what you did to Ms Smith.

(Teacher restrains Mario’s arms and pulls him toward the office.)

Mario:      I swear I will shoot you b—-, I will kill you. I got a piece.



Dialogue #404 –  Student Goal is Revenge


(Setting: Hallway after the bell, students are leaving for home. Mario is pushing and punching a female student from a different classroom. This incident is being recorded on hallway camera.)


Teacher:   Mario stop hitting her and come with me.

Mario:       I am just playing around.

Teacher:   I know but sometimes playing around can be misunderstood and the camera is on. I really don’t want you to get into trouble.

Mario:     I won’t.

Teacher:  How can we make sure?  Can you come with me and talk about it? I need you in class this afternoon for your presentation.

Mario: OK.

(Note: If teacher really believes that student has a gun she must take the appropriate emergency action, e.g. immediately summon a school safety aide.)




Dialogue #405 –  Student Goal is Revenge


(Teacher is standing at the door greeting students. Franklin who has been suspended for three days returns after one day.)


Teacher: What are you doing here?

(Franklin says nothing and moves to enter classroom.)

Teacher:  Why do you insist on irritating me every day?

Franklin:   Cuz I don’t like you.

Teacher:   I don’t like you either!

Franklin:   So what.

Teacher:   Why do you waste your time and my time by showing up here?

Franklin:   This is my class.

Teacher:   You can’t come back until Thursday. Anyway, you don’t do anything  in this class and you’re going to fail. It makes no sense for you to continue coming.

Franklin:    I can come if I want.

Teacher:    Not until Thursday you can’t.

Franklin:    I’mma tell my momma.

Teacher:   Tell her. She probably doesn’t want you at home either.

Franklin:    I’m going to Ms. Liam’s office to tell on you.

Teacher:    Go and don’t come back.

(Student walks out and the teacher slams the door behind him. Outside in the hall,  the student begins yelling obscenities.)



Dialogue #405 –  Student Need is for Revenge


(Teacher is standing at the door greeting students. Franklin who has been suspended for three days returns after one day.)

Teacher:  Franklin, it’s good to see you back. I thought I wouldn’t see you until Thursday.

Franklin:  This is my class! (Said with some anger while looking around at the other students.)

Teacher:  Of course it is. Take your seat and let’s get started.

(Later, teacher checks on the actual status of Franklin’s suspension.)



Dialogue #406  –  Student Goal is Revenge


(Ralph arrives in the office of the middle school administrator. This is the second time  the AP has seen this student that day.)

AP: This is your second time in this office today. Why are you here?

Ralph: My teacher just cussed at me.

AP: What did you say to her?

Student: Nothing. I fell out of my chair and she laughed at me. I told her she was ugly an  she said she was going to write my ass up. I going to tell my momma when I get home.

AP: Well, you’ll be able to tell her in a few minutes because you’re going home for three  days for using profanity toward an adult.

Ralph: That’s bogus. I’m bringing my momma up here with me tomorrow. She’s gonna’  whoop all your asses.

AP: Tell her to come in three days.

Ralph: Fuck this school!

(Ralph walks out of the administrator’s office and starts kicking lockers. No one says anything to him. He kicks a classroom door sending a panel flying into the classroom. He is apprehended  by a safety aide and escorted out of the building.)



Dialogue #406 –  Student Goal is Revenge


(Ralph arrives in the office of the middle school administrator. This is the second time the AP has seen this student that day.)

AP: Ralph, this isn’t a good day for you.

Ralph: No, that teacher just cussed at me.

AP: Wow! It sounds like you had a real problem in your classroom.

Ralph: I fell out of my chair and she laughed at me. I told her she was ugly and she said she was going to write my ass up.  I’m gonna tell my momma when I get home.

AP: I think you should tell your mother but I would like to have you sit down, relax and tell me about what happened.

Ralph: Yeah, OK.




Section IX.  Can Anything Be Done To Help Teachers Change Their


Thus far we’ve discussed a variety of external and internal factors that cause teacher anxiety. External pressures come from administrators, from constant student testing, from the public, and from the need to teach large groups of students with wide ranging achievement levels. Anxiety caused by teachers themselves compounds the problem still further: a pedagogy characterized by constant talk, incessant direction giving and assignment making that doesn’t recognize individual differences. These external and internal causes push teachers’ anxiety to levels that explain why half of the beginning teachers quit or leave in five years or less. In urban districts half are gone within three years. The research on burnout indicates that for even the most effective teachers in urban schools, burnout starts as early as the fourth year and affects them all to some degree. For teachers in all schools the average “career” length is now down to less than eleven years. Clearly, there are other causes for teachers (who are predominantly women engaged in child rearing) to leave teaching, but these decreases in length and quality of service are primarily attributable to the anxieties which have come to increasingly characterize teaching.

Teachers’ beliefs and values also keep the cauldron of teacher anxieties constantly stirring.

The 3.4 million public school teachers represent the diversity of values found in the general American public. Teachers do not share a common value system that distinguishes them from society at large. For example, corporal punishment is legal in twenty two states. There are teachers on both sides of the issue: some see it as child abuse while others see it as a viable, educative practice. Just as in the general public, there are teachers on both sides of issues such as: Should pregnant students be allowed to graduate? Should intelligent design as well as evolution be included in the curriculum?  Should the school library be able to ban books circulated in the public library? Should students with special needs be mainstreamed? The teaching force not only represents the public’s views of debatable issues, it also represents the public in terms of personal qualities, values and predispositions. The teaching force, just as the general public, includes individuals who do and do not understand their own biases and prejudices. The teaching force, just as the general public, includes individuals who are highly creative, critical thinkers and others who avoid thinking about anything. The teaching force also includes teachers with the range of emotional problems found in the population at large.

This variability among teachers must be understood as a starting point in any effort to help teachers face themselves. Getting teachers to face themselves is not a panacea.  Some will be able to develop new ways of interacting with students. Others, for a variety of reasons including selective perception, will not be able grow and develop new perspectives on their role and behaviors as teachers. Nevertheless, efforts to  help  teachers  reach new levels of selfunderstanding and channel their anger in ways that stop escalating problems for themselves and their students is always worth the effort. Improving the effectiveness of just one teacher affects all the students with whom that teacher interacts for all the years he remains in teaching. The slogan “every kid in America deserves a good teacher” means much more than a teacher who knows the subject matter. Teachers’ knowledge is a necessary but not sufficient condition. By relating positively to students effective teachers gain access to students’ on both a cognitive and emotional level. Positive relationships with youngsters in the throes of development inevitably require teachers facing themselves.

The primary thing that can be done is to select the people with the right beliefs and values out the outset. Since this is not always possible it will be necessary to coach in-service teachers in ways that change them in important ways.  The section which follows focuses on the specific means coaches may use that will actually change teacher beliefs.



Section X. Coaching Teachers to De-escalate Why is there a need for teacher-coaches?


Approximately half of the teachers in the major urban school districts serving diverse students in poverty are quitters/failures who should have never been hired. This churn in the teaching force results from the fact that   quitter/failures graduate from teacher education programs which are not powerful enough to change their inappropriate belief systems. Quitter/failures could have been identified by the Star Teacher Selection Interview and should have never have been admitted into preparation programs in the first place. Fortunately for the children and youth of America substantial numbers of these Education graduates, fully certified by their respective states and dubbed “highly qualified,” do not even seek employment because most of the available positions are in districts serving diverse students in poverty and not in small towns and suburbs within commuting distance of their homes.  Because they are desperate, urban school districts serving diverse students in poverty continue to recruit a majority of their beginning teachers from this never-ending supply of unqualified graduates of teacher education programs. School principals then face the daunting task of trying to change the rigid, fixed, inappropriate belief systems of these quitters/failures after they are already on-the-job miseducating children and youth.

School principals understand that once they are stuck with quitter/failure teachers they must do everything possible to improve their effectiveness.  Research and experience support the use of coaches as the best way to improve beginning teachers as well as experienced teachers in need of improvement. Even satisfactory and good teachers can improve their instruction with coaching.  But just as there is a shortage of effective teachers there is a shortage of effective coaches.  Unfortunately, teaching is a

“profession” in which getting out of the classroom is considered a promotion in status and salary.  In school systems which all claim that “children’s learning is their highest priority,” the truth is that the further away one works from children the higher one’s status and salary. This drive to get out of the classroom results in many teachers who are burned out or who are themselves quitter/failures seeking jobs as coaches.  Two problems must be dealt with: first, to identify large numbers of coaches for substantially larger numbers of teachers who are miseducating children and youth; and second, to select effective coaches from pools of teachers many of whom have no concept of what makes a coach effective and who may be individuals merely seeking to escape the classroom. To “promote” a teacher out of the classroom and make him/her a coach of others if s/he has no skills of coaching and does not share the belief–system required of teachers in schools serving diverse students in poverty is to make the currently failing system of teacher development even worse.

What is needed is a means for identifying individuals who can coach   teachers.  to become more effective in even the most challenging situations.  Using the Star TeacherCoach Interview it is possible to select individuals who will be able to evaluate classroom teachers’ degree of potential and will then have the skills and belief-system needed to help them reach their next level of instructional effectiveness.


What are the six models of coaching?      


The Star Coaches Interview is based on research that has identified six coaching models.  Fifty six years of experience in observing classrooms and conducting over 5,000 conferences with teachers has enabled us to clearly identify not only the patterns of coaching commonly used but their effectiveness in changing teachers’ behaviors.  Each model represents a set of behaviors that a teacher-coach performs and the under girding belief-system held by that coach.  These models of coaching are not equal in power for changing teacher behavior. Some models are significantly more powerful than others. Many coaches incorporate features of several models; others are entirely committed to following just one model.  It should be noted that even in instances in which a coach uses more than one model every coach has a tendency to emphasize one approach that comes to dominate the relationship of that coach and the teachers s/he is trying to change. The Levels, from 0 – 5 indicate the power of the coaching model to influence teacher behavior.


Level 0. The Lecturer/Exhorter  It cannot be emphasized enough that conferencing with teachers can be an effective coaching strategy if it is followed by other actions which implement the ideas laid out in the conference. Conferencing with teachers can be an important and necessary first step in planning new behaviors that the teacher will demonstrate.  The Lecturer/Exhorter Model however refers to coaches who limit their responses to only conferencing without any follow-up activities they would perform. It is highly unlikely that any teacher will be changed using only this Lecturer/Exhorter model. Indeed, this mode of coaching will reinforce the notion that the coach is all talk.  In some cases teachers respond to this model of coaching by agreeing with the coach but not implementing any of the exhortations. In other cases teachers might debate and argue with the coach regarding the applicability of their suggestions because of particular conditions in this classroom or the nature of particular students. In either case there is little or no impact of this model on teachers’ beliefs or behaviors. Coaches’ lectures on the nature of individual differences among students, or the need for becoming more sensitive to cultural diversity are examples of general admonitions which do not lead to any changes in teacher behavior.  The model is most characteristic of school systems in which there are “teacher development days” given over to just telling teachers rules and procedures or explaining a new curriculum they will need to be following.


Level 1. The Critic/Observer     This coach believes that the most powerful influence s/he can have on teachers’ behavior is by observing them teach and then criticizing their behavior. In essence, this is the classic model followed by teacher supervisors since the first schools were started. It has proven over a century and a half to be of   little value in transforming poor teachers into satisfactory ones or in helping any teachers move to the next level. The usual complaint of traditional supervisors is that there are not enough of them so that they have sufficient time to visit more teachers more often. The fact is that even following this modality in depth will have little impact on teacher behavior. Teachers prepare for supervisory visits. If supervisors drop in unannounced then teachers offer many reasons, some valid, of why what is going on in the classroom at a particular time  is not a typical lesson, or that it  is not a typical day, or that this is not a time of day or day of the week to that is conducive to observation.  The history of traditional supervision as the basic means of helping teachers to become more effective simply has not worked; it has neither transformed failing teachers’ behavior nor changed the beliefs and attitudes of poor teachers.

In this model of traditional supervision the coach observes teachers then meets them afterward to tell them their strengths and weaknesses.  Unfortunately, teachers are typically focused on “How well did I do?”  not on “How might I improve?”  The reason for this is twofold.  The coach is in the role of judgmental critic observing things that the coach thinks are important. The teacher, on the other hand, is focused on dealing with the problems she perceives in the classroom not on demonstrating the ideal teaching behaviors the coach has in mind.  In the follow-up conference the coach is focused on reviewing for the teacher the strengths and weaknesses of her lesson. The teacher is focused on explaining why what the coach saw was reasonable or that the particular lesson was atypical. The teacher justifies her behavior by citing the nature of the pupils—pupils that the coach doesn’t know anything about. The teacher has the upper hand in defending herself in such a meeting.  “You haven’t seen that child’s cumulative record.” Or, “I had a meeting with that child’s mother yesterday …” Or, “That child is being evaluated as a special need student.”

If a coach employs only this model the teacher sees the coach as a judgmental supervisor who is not on her side.  This form of coaching may be of some modest help if the coach explains that s/he plans to do other things in addition to observing and criticizing after an observation. For example, the coach following this model must also show she is on the teacher’s side and eager to provide help as well as assessment.  Typically, this model has the coach use a lengthy checklist of teacher behaviors which supposedly constitute good teaching. It is difficult (impossible) to demonstrate all the items on these lengthy observation guides in any one lesson. Also, these observations guides never indicate which teacher behaviors are absolutely required in every lesson or activity and which are not. If this method of supervision worked there would not be as many ineffective teachers since it is still the prevailing mode.


Level 2. The Coordinator of Conditions of Work and Learning Activities   This coach believes that the most powerful influence s/he can have on teacher behavior is by making arrangements and connections for teachers to see or work with other teachers.  In this model the coach connects teachers with learning opportunities such as observing in other classrooms, visiting other schools, observing teachers conferencing with parents, attending a workshop led by a teacher, or teaming with other teachers for various activities.  In essence, this type of coach understands the value of creating conditions that will help improve teachers rather than only working directly with those teachers.  This type of coach also believes that teachers will learn most from other teachers who are currently teaching. In this model it is assumed that little that can be learned from experts and outsiders will have much positive or lasting impact.    In this coaching model the coach also focuses on improving the conditions under which the teacher is working in her/his classroom.  This coach will intercede with the principal if s/he believes there are too many students in the classroom, or too many special need students, or insufficient supplies and texts. This coach manages, makes arrangements and tries to make the conditions of work more positive for the teachers s/he coaches. S/he provides opportunities for other teachers to provide ideas and suggestions to the teachers s/he is coaching. In this model the coach does not seek to only exert direct influence but to work through other teachers and by improving the conditions of work.



Level 3. The Data User   This coach believes the most powerful influence she can have on teacher behavior is to help teachers use data to guide their teaching and interactions with their students.  This coach’s ideal situation would be to have achievement analyses in specific content areas for every student in the classes of the teachers she coaches. This coach would like to be able to sit down with the teacher and show precisely where the data indicates that the teacher she is coaching is doing well or poorly with each individual student in her/his classes.  This coach understands the power of such a feedback loop: from analysis of student achievement to precisely how the teacher can improve the teaching of specific areas of content.  This coach also uses other forms of data to guide her/his coaching; for example, students’ attendance records, students’ completion of classroom assignments and homework, students’ scores on teacher made tests, how students use class time when given choices and the number and quality of parental contacts.  This coach basis her/his suggestions for teaching improvement on real data regarding the effect the teacher is having on students’ achievement, interests and effort.


Level 4. The Cooperative Planner and Materials/Equipment Gatherer   This model requires that the coach will not only use existing data but that the coach might also be conducting some action research with the teacher in her/his classroom. For example, What teacher strategies keep most students on task?  What strategies generate most student involvement This coach believes that the most powerful influence s/he can have on teacher behavior is by focusing on how to gather materials/resources and how to plan for individuals and subgroups in the next lesson or activity. This coach does not meet with teachers after they have taught and tell them strengths and weaknesses.  In this coaching mode, the coach meets with teachers before they teach and helps them to plan and set up the classroom. The coach and the teacher then agree on precisely what the coach will be observing and evaluating during the subsequent classroom observation.  There are no surprises. As a result, the coach and the teacher become a team working together on the next   lesson or activity.   In this coaching modality the coach spends a great deal of time and effort helping the teacher gather materials and  equipment,  access on-line sources, and gather teaching materials, books and possible activities.  The coach is not above actually gathering materials and ideas and bringing them to the teacher.  A coach who merely informs teachers about materials and resources and who does not believe that gathering resources and bringing them to the teacher is part of her/his job has not reached this level.  Essentially, this model of coaching is focused on enlarging the teacher’s tool kit.  The assumption under-girding this model is that less effective teachers offer one lesson or activity per class and that student problems arise from the fact that the students’ individual differences prevent them from following a  one-size-fits-all strategy.  Effective teachers take account of student differences in ability and learning style. Teachers with more tools to choose from have greater potential for meeting the individual learning needs of students.  In this model therefore it is the coach’s job to increases the strategies and actual materials and equipment made available to the teachers being coached.


Level 5. The Activist Demonstrator  This coach believes that the most powerful influence she can have on teacher behavior is by “showing how” and encouraging teachers to replicate what they see the coach actually doing in their own classrooms with their own students.  In this model the coach might teach a subgroup or an individual while the teacher is teaching the rest of the class.  This enables the coach to engage in observing and evaluating the teacher anytime throughout the school day in all activities. The reverse is also true. The coach might teach the whole class while the teacher works with a subgroup or individual. The coach and the teacher, in effect, function as a team as far as the students in the class are concerned.  The power of this model is great since the coach is succeeding, or failing, with the exact students, offering the exact curriculum that the teacher is expected to offer.  Because the coach is working under the very same conditions as the teacher the teacher will not be able to offer excuses about why s/he cannot replicate what the coach is doing.  In this model, the coach not only shows how to teach but how to conduct a conference with an individual student who is misbehaving, or one who is gifted, or one who has special needs. The coach might show how to do specific acts of teaching as well as conduct a whole lesson; for example, how to introduce a lesson, or how to connect lessons, or how to utilize the interests of the students.

This model of coaching also extends to participating with the teacher as s/he works with other adults and parents, participates in committee meetings and engages in other activities that are part of the teacher’s job definition. This coach uses showing how as the basis of his effort for changing teachers’ behavior. Each demonstration is followed by an analysis in which it is the teacher who criticizes and analyzes the teaching of the coach.


The implications of these coaching models should make it clear that coaches must themselves be highly effective teachers with sufficient confidence to show how, team with the teachers they coach, help gather materials and be willing to advocate for the teachers when necessary.

Section XI. Controlling Teacher Talk with children who are not management problems

The Haberman Educational Foundation has trained educators in over 250 school districts to select star teachers and principals. In the course of this training HEF has worked with several thousand educators from across the nation. One of the questions which the trainees are asked in the course of their training is the following: “Looking back on your own K-12 schooling, has any teacher ever said anything to you that  hurt your feelings that you remember till this day?” We have never had a single educator who could not remember one or more of these hurtful comments.  These teacher comments are worth noting because they were made to children and youth who were trying to do the right thing and who were not disruptors. It is not our contention that all or even most teachers say these things to students. At the same time it is important to recognize that some teachers say these things and that they stay with children and youth for the rest of their lives. Following are just some of the responses. It is important therefore that our examination of teacher talk include not only the things teachers say to students who have the goals of attention-getting, revenge, control or feigned helplessness but also the teacher talk that hurts students whose goal is to cooperate and do the right thing. As you consider the following teacher talk ask yourself the following questions: Is it likely or unlikely that the teachers making these remarks are monitoring or are

in any way sensitive to the way they speak to students? Is likely or unlikely that the teachers making these

remarks are aware of the fact that they may be causing problems that need not exist? Is it likely or unlikely that the teachers making these remarks believe that denigrating students is a form of motivation?


Teacher Comments That Were Never Forgotten


You’ll never graduate.

You don’t normally get 100%. Did someone help you?

You’re never going to learn the multiplication tables! What are you good at?

You’re tantamount to nothing.

You’re not so smart. A lot of people can spell that word.

You’ll never amount to anything.

You’ll never be able to do math. You just can’t do it.

You can’t learn algebra because you’re pigheaded. Your daughter will never be successful. (To my mother) You’ll never amount to much.

(She looked at me and said 🙂 The natives are restless today.

  You’re never going to be anything. You’ll be dead before you’re twenty.

  You’re the lowest reader in the class.

  You might go to a two year college but not a four year college.

You had to be cheating. No Negro student in my class has ever done this well.

Don’t cross your legs. You live in the projects and women in the projects have no manners.

You’re not as smart as your sisters.

(Teacher to class) Look how terrible her clothes fit her.

You’re a wimp.

You’re not going to college. You need to be in home economics.

You’re just going to get married and have kids.

I wish you put forth the effort in class that you do fooling around.

Too bad you forgot your lunch but you’ve got enough fat on your body to last.

Don’t sing. Just hum.

She’s in her own world. She just doesn’t get it. (To mother)

You and your silly friends are worthless.

You deserve to get hit. You’re a behavior problem.

I’ve got mine. Now you get yours.

You’re just a liar.

You’ll never go to college. Take homemaking.

This is something girls don’t have to learn.

You’ll waste your money in college. Join the armed service.

You may be a good housekeeper. You’re not college material.

How did you ever get into algebra class?

There’s a thin line between genius and idiocy.

You’re not capable of passing this class.

You can’t write poetry.

You’re a “schmeterling.”

You’ll never learn to sew.

There are too many Mexicans in this group.

There’s no reason for you to go to college except to find a husband.

(Kindergarten) It’s too early for you to be reading.

Your child sucks at math. (To mother)

Your child can’t keep her mouth shut. (To mother) Just do what you do best. Go out barefoot and get pregnant.

Folks from the ghetto don’t go to college.

You’re nothing like your sister (brother).

Teachers who talk this way to students are burned out or on the way toward burnout. They must be identified and learn to control their talk. The means for changing them is specified in the coaching models outlined in Section X.



Adler, A. Individual Psychology

Dreikurs, R. (1971) Maintaining Sanity in the Classroom. New York:  Harper and Row Flanders, N. (1970) Analyzing Teacher Behavior. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Gay, P. (1988) Freud: A Life for Our Time. London: Papermac. p.76.

Haberman, M. (1991) The Pedagogy of Poverty Versus Good Teaching. KAPPAN, 73(4) pp.290294 December.

Haberman, M. (2005) Star Teachers of Children in Poverty. Houston: Haberman Educational Foundation.

Hermann, R. (2009) Dialogue- Teacher Review for Final. Milwaukee County.

Payne, C.M. (1984) Getting What We Ask For. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.   Smith, D. (2009) Dialogue-Student’s Chair Tipped Back. City of Milwaukee.