An Open Letter to U.S. Senators & Representatives

August 16, 2017

Tags: Trump, Congress, Representative, patriot, shame

Dear Senators and Representatives:

As a military veteran, retired high school teacher and American citizen, I urge you -- I beg you -- to search your soul and ask whether your current position is worth sacrificing your integrity, your soul and your country. You don’t need me to tell you that Donald Trump’s crude language, immature behavior and lack of dignity are an embarrassment to office of President. Far worse than that, he is hazardous to the health of this country. He is destroying the fabric of our society by encouraging misogyny, bigotry and profound disrespect for the Constitution and basic foundations of our government. He is a clear and present danger to the millions of people around the globe who are powerless to prevent him from starting a nuclear war just to prove that he can.

You, our elected representatives, are not powerless. You have the means to stop the de-evolution of the United States. The citizens who voted for you placed their trust and faith in your integrity, your intelligence and your patriotism. Please don’t betray us. No true patriot can stand by and watch the person who is charged with upholding the highest office in our country behave in the lowest possible manner. No patriot can accept the degradation of our nation and the chaos created by the very people whose duty is to lead us higher.

Mr. Trump is a master manipulator. He convinced millions of people that he cared about the country. Perhaps you were among them. If so, you made a mistake. There is no shame in that. But there is shame in allowing a vindictive, childish bigot to dismantle our government and our society. There is shame in watching the cruelty and violence that are a direct result of Mr. Trump’s volatile behavior and words -- and the violence that is sure to come in the future.

Right now, I am ashamed of my country and many of our governmental leaders. I am ashamed of those politicians who clearly place a higher value on their own personal positions than on the future of our country and the safety of our citizens. There is no honor in holding a high position in a government that is corrupt, ineffective and disrespected.

But I am proud, as well. I’m proud of the growing number of elected leaders from both parties who have demonstrated their courage, integrity and compassion by speaking out, by telling the truth, and holding the President to a higher standard. Please continue to stand up for honor, integrity and basic decency. Please continue to conduct yourselves with dignity.

You hold our future in your hands. Please do the right thing.

With respect and hope,

LouAnne Johnson

Obama's Chances...According to Bob #1

December 18, 2012

Tags: Obama, President, Democrat, Republican, Election

This blog is something I wrote when Obama was first running for President. I thought people would like it...but wasn't sure how to go about trying to publish it since it was so time sensitive. I wasn't writing a blog at the time. But enough about me. Let's get to Obama, from theperspective of my father who is now 84.


I placed my weekly check-in call to my father, Bob, a week before the 2008 Presidential Election. Everybody calls my father Bob, including his children, because he’s too ornery for Daddy, too distant for Dad, too blue-collar for Father.
After the standard chitchat about the weather and his blood pressure, Bob said, “Guess who called me this week?” He didn’t wait for me to guess. Patience isn’t Bob’s forte.
“Bocefus called me.” “?”
“You know, Hank Williams, Junior.”
“Well, maybe it wasn’t him personally. It might have been a recording.”
“What did he call you for?” Selling a new self-titled album, I expected.
“He wants me to vote for John McCain.”
“You can’t do that,” I said.
“Why not?”
“For one thing, the woman he’s running with is ignorant and dangerous.”
“Is that right?” Bob challenged. “ Well, I think she’d be good for the country.”
“In what way?”
“Well...” Bob cleared his sinuses with a snort and a cough.
“Because she hunts moose?”
Bob is a big hunter. He shot a deer every year for the eighteen years I lived in his home, and we ate every bite of those poor animals. We had venison steak, venison chops, venison sausage, venison jerky, venison stew, venison meatloaf. Just thinking about it brings to mind the gamy smell, the tough, stringy flesh. Eating all that venison led directly to my becoming a vegetarian during the ten years following my escape from my hometown in the depths of the Allegheny Forest.
“I just think she’d be good."
“She believes that Jesus is going to surprise us with a visit and she is going to ride straight up to heaven on a white horse, leaving you and me and millions of others behind.”
“Is that right?”
“I don’t think it’s right, but it's apparently what she believes.”
“Hmmm.” All right, I thought. He’s actually considering an alternate idea.
“Well, she’s entitled to believe what she wants.”
I started thinking of exit lines, convinced that I had done my daughterly duty. I had checked on Bob’s health and happiness, and tried to correct his false political assumptions. But Bob’s next comment held me hostage.
“Well, what do you think would happen if we had a nigra president.”
“Nigra?” I tried not to scream. “Where are you?”
“I meant what planet are you on? Did you just say nigra?”
“If we had a nigra president, what do you think would happen the first time the colored people got upset about something? Why, they’d probably burn down the country the first time something happened that they didn’t like.”
Bob was a big kidder, but this wasn’t his kind of joke. He prefers Swede jokes (he’s Swedish), with an occasional Pollock or Dago joke thrown in for ethnic variety. And never in my life, as a child or as an adult, had I heard Bob or anybody else in my family express any racial bigotry. Belatedly, it occurred to me that perhaps I hadn’t heard it because everybody in our town, in fact most of our county, was white, so the subject never came up.
“You can’t burn down a country the size of the U.S. Not without some kind of nuclear bomb. Besides, if black Americans were going to riot, I think the would have rioted sometime during the past eight years, not after they have a black President.”
“You never know,” Bob said. “They’re violent. Nigras and Mexicans. It’s genetic.”
I held the phone away from my face and peered into the receiver as though it might be responsible for converting my father’s words into bigoted gibberish.
“You sound like a raving lunatic,” I tried not to yell. “Can you hear yourself?”
“Don’t you watch the news?” Bob yelled. He likes yelling. It makes his words sound so much bigger. “Who do you think is filling up the jails in this country? Coloreds and the Mexicans. They’ll tear up anything. You have to lock them up.” I put the phone down and stormed around the room for a moment, before I pointed out that many young black and Hispanic males are in jail simply for being brown in the wrong place at the wrong time. I asked Bob if he was aware of the many studies and projects that were proving, though DNA and other evidence, how many innocent minority males are incarcerated in the U.S.
“Well, the white man is the minority down here in Florida,” Bob shouted. “There’s more Mexicans down here than us now.”
“They’re probably Cuban,” I suggested.
Then, I suggested that maybe we should lock up the multi-millionaires on Wall Street who are personally responsible for ruining the lives and retirements of so many working-class Americans.
“That horseshit is the American people’s fault,” Bob said. "Yessirree. The people should of voted those sons of bitches out of office a long time ago.”
“Wall Street brokers aren’t elected politicians, They’re investors and CEO’s.”
“Well, we’re still the minority.” Bob said, less forcefully. He was starting to sound more worried than angry.
Bob is 82 and his girlfriend, Fran, is 78. She lives in Canada. He lives in Pennsylvania. They spend the winters together in a RV park in central Florida. Suddenly, I pictured Bob and Fran, he with his high blood pressure and she with her hip transplants, sitting in their mini-van at a busy intersection in the sunshine state. A lowrider filled with young cocky Cuban boys pulls alongside, windows down, music thumping, elbows jutting out into the humid air, fingers tapping a sexy staccato on the doorframe. Bob and Fran glance over, then quickly face forward, staring through the windshield, willing the light to change. Bob grips the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles turn white and Fran sighs, wishing there was something she could sayto make Bob see that the boys beside them are no threat. They are not the least bit interested in the boring old white folks in their boring old mini-van with the country music crackling from the cheap factory speakers.
Bob mistook my long silence as disinterest.
“Well, you're the busy one, so I’ll let you go.”
As soon as I hung up the phone, I called my sister, who lives about 30 miles away from me in Las Palomas, New Mexico.
“We’re going to have to have Bob put to sleep,” I said. I reported the Bocefus-nigra conversation and the news that Bob planned to vote for McCain. “Well, me and Charlie weren’t going to vote,” my sister said, “but we are now. We’re going to vote just to cancel Bob out. He’s a lunatic. I don’t know why you bother calling him up.” She doesn’t understand why we should forgive our father for being a macho, violent, bad-tempered tyrant just because his father was one. In her opinion, if you get knocked around by your father, you should know better and do better.
I didn’t call Bob again for a month, but I thought of Bob on election night, as I watched Barack Obama give his eloquent, articulate acceptance speech. If I did call, I wouldn’t know what to say to him. I didn’t want to gloat. I didn’t want to damage his fragile ego. Years ago, I would have delighted at the thought of hurting him. But now that I’m in my 50’s, I feel tremendously sad at the realization that I so easily could.
Bob is intelligent, but he is a product of our school system, one that values obedience over analysis, verbal agility over manual dexterity, where boys like my father don’t thrive, boys who can build houses without blueprints, who can fix heavy equipment without reference manuals, who can repair the plumbing or the electricity or the roof by themselves don’t thrive in a standardized-testing atmosphere.
When I was growing up, Bob and I were not close. He was a strict disciplinarian who believed in belting kids who had opinions of their own. Arguments were settled by his red-knuckled fist hitting the top of the big oak dining table, clattering all the plates and glasses as he bellowed, “Because I said so, goddam it!” If a child persisted in arguing, he’d raise his hand, palm facing in, and holler, “You want a backhander in the teeth?” Occasionally, out of pure obstinacy, I’d holler back, “Yes!” And he’d deliver.
I left home at 18 to go to college, dropped out after a month, joined the navy and spent the next eight years as a journalist, traveling around the world. When I calledhome, I spoke to my mother. I never asked to speak to my father and he never asked to speak to me. We had nothing to say. I never thought of my father as a person until after my mother died a decade ago. At the memorial service, I realized Bob was a lonely old man who didn’t know his own children. So after I returned to New Mexico, I started calling him every Sunday. For about a year, our conversations consisted of weather reports and a detailed list of what he ate for lunch that day -- usually something involving baloney, apple pie or mashed potatoes.
A month after the election, I realized I couldn’t abandon Bob to Rush L. and Fox News. I decided to call him come Sunday. But Bob called me, instead.
“You still alive?” he asked when I answered the phone. Happy to hear that he was in good spirits in spite of the election results, I ventured a mild inquiry about the current political situation. “Oh, they’re all crazy,” Bob said. “Republicans and Democrats. Bunch of looney yay-hoos. You can’t trust any of them.”
The following week, when I asked how he was doing, Bob said, “Well, I’m doing okay right now, but if they keep this shit up, I’ll be flat broke.”
We chatted some more about the economy, and I restrained myself from pointing out that the country was not yet on fire. Instead, just before we hung up, I said, “So, what do you think of Obama now?”
“He’s just as crazy as the rest of them,” Bob said. “Did you hear about his new plan? He wants to give 700 billion to those crooked jaybirds over on Wall Street.”
“I don’t think that was Obama’s plan,” I said. “He hasn’t taken office yet.”
“It’s his idea,” Bob said. “It was in the papers.”
The following weekend, Fran called me from the hospital where Bob was recuperating from a bout of emphysema which he maintains has nothing to do with his having smoked two packs of cigarettes every day for the past sixty-five years.
“I’ll be fine if these bastards don’t kill me,” Bob assured me. “I laid in my bed for forty-eight hours before anybody bothered to come and check on me.”
I suggested a new doctor might be in order.
“Oh, I got a good doctor now,” Bob said. “I raised holy hell and they sent this young doctor in to make me shut up. Turned out to be a pretty good fella. Smart as they come. And he makes house calls. Gave me his cell phone number.”
Just before we hung up, as an afterthought, Bob said, “He’s a colored fella, that new doctor. What do you think of that?”
“What do you think?” I countered.
“I got not complaints. So far.”
January 2009

“Yell-oh.” Bob’s traditional greeting.
“Happy new year. How about that Inauguration?”
“Oh, hell, It’s gonna be a mess. I read in the papers where they’re going to close the main highway so they can park 10,000 buses. What the hell are they gonna do with all them people? I don’t know. They just want to say, ‘Well, I was there.’ Well, I’d just as soon be here and watch it on the television.”
“It’s certainly going to be a memorable day,” I said.
“That’s for damn sure,” Bob agreed. “Well, I hope Obama does good. I wish him well.” “You do?”
“He’s got one hell of a job ahead of him. Sure as hell isn’t anything I’d want. I say, if he wants to be President, let him have it. I wouldn’t want that job. Hell, people down here keep telling me, Bob, you should run for President of the residents’ committee. They got a president and a vice president and a secretary and all that crap, to oversee the activities in the RV park. People say, why don’t you run? And I say because I couldn’t get along with the owner. He’s a real piss-pot and we don’t see eye to eye on one damned thing. He’s one of them southern Baptists. Real religious up to a point and that point is when it stops benefiting him. I couldn’t take his B.S.” Tact and diplomacy never were Bob’s strong suits. In fact, I remember as a child when he enrolled in the Dale Carnegie course, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
“That shyster’s got an RV park here worth eight or ten million and he doesn’t put a penny back into it. But he’s always looking for a way to make a penny. There was this one old guy, a retired barber. He put a chair out on his patio and was cutting guys’ hair for five bucks a pop. The owner come by and said, ‘If you’re running a business or my property, then I want a dollar a haircut.’ Shoot, he’s worth millions and he can’t let the little guy make a dollar unless he makes one, too.”
“If I was president, he’d kick me out. He kicks people out if they go against him. There was this other Bob Johnson here. I'm Bob Johnson Number One because I was here first. Well, Bob Johnson Number Two had a wife who was real outspoken. I don’t remember what the hell happened, but the owner went over and knocked on their door and said, ‘Bob, you can stay but your wife will have to go.’ So they had to pull their trailer out of his park.”
I agreed that heading the residents’ committee would not be a good idea, considering the circumstances.
“It’s flattering that people urged you to run for president, though,” I said.
“I guess so,” Bob said. He sighed. “Oh, well. I didn’t want to be president anyway. Being president is nothing but a pain in the ass.”
“I’m sure Obama would agree with you at times,” I said.
“You betcha he would,” Bob said. “Well, like I said, I wish him well. And I hope he gets after some of these crooks we got running the country. Put of few of them in jail. That’s what he ought to do. Don’t you think?”
“Yes, I do.” Imagine, Bob and I agreeing on something political. Gives me hope for peace in the Middle East.
“I wish Obama well, too,” I said. “I think he’s going to be a great President.”
“Well, you never know, do you?” Bob mused.
You never know.

It's About Time!

May 6, 2012

Tags: Native American, Indian, Indian tribes in the U.S.

Use the URL below to read the news story referred to in this blog:

This web link will take you to a news story about the United Nations urging the U.S. government to do more to heal the wounds caused by centuries of oppression and discrimination againstnative peoples of this country. This is an important issue and one that is largely ignored by U.S. citizens. Unfortunately, a lot of people believe that all Indian tribes in this country own casinos and are "raking in the big bucks." Note: I use the term Indian because a friend of mine, a member of the Navajo tribe, asked me not to call him Native American. He said, "If you have to label me, please label me by my tribe's name, although would rather not have a label. And if you have to call me something, call me an Indian."
After living in New Mexico for nearly 20 years, I firmly believe that the U.S. needs to practice what it preaches when it comes to human rights. We're always interfering in other country's policies, making recommendations as though we got it right when the opposite it true. We got it wrong. Very wrong. Many Indians in this country still live on reservations (after their lands were stolen) where they have dirt floors, no heating, and outdoor plumbing if any plumbing at all. Every year, many people die from smoke inhalation after burning open fires inside their houses to keep from freezing to death. And the list goes on and on. Yes, there are casinos, but gambling is just a method to try to raise money for people who have been impoverished by government policy and continue to be impoverished and disrespected. For example, Navajo is an unwritten language, but instead of encouraging Navajo children to learn their language so it doesn't disappear from the planet, our government requires that those children be assimilated into the mainstream (whether they want to be assimilated or not) and learn English in school, while their heritage is ignored -- in the hope that it will disappear, perhaps? Oh, yes, teachers and school administrators come to the rescue, along with members of the community. They try to bridge the gaps created by education policy. They try to instill self-esteem and pride in the children and sometimes they succeed, but the children are smart enough to see that what the school values is not what the society and the government value in daily life. And then, the government creates conferences where people get together to talk about how to motivate those unmotivated Indian students. Why are the dropout rates so high?

Shy People Aren't Broken...We Don't Need to Fix Them

February 14, 2012

Tags: shy people, shyness, students, personalities, teaching, public speaking

I was born a shy person. For years, teachers pushed me to talk when I preferred to watch and listen. I could read, but they wouldn't let me read in peace. I had to interact. I had to learn social skills. Why? Even as a small child, I asked that question. "You have to get over being shy," everybody said -- everybody except my mother who accepted me and my shyness. "You're perfect just the way you are," she would whisper. Her reassurance gave me the courage to face school and eventually I was able to talk enough to satisfy my teachers. After high school, I went on to college but lasted only a month before dropping out. Once again, my shyness had made it difficult for me to cope with an environment where shyness was considered a fault, a detriment, a handicap. Surprisingly, instead of suggesting that I find a job close to home, my mother encouraged me to enlist in the navy and become a journalist. She knew I had always dreamed of becoming a writer. I took her advice and eventually became a radio-tv broadcast specialist. The cameras and microphones didn't scare me. They had no eyes. They couldn't laugh or criticize. They simply accepted what was in front of them and broadcast it without comment. Later, when I became a teacher, I worried that standing in front of a classroom filled with teenagers might be too much. But I soon learned that there is a huge difference between giving a speech and teaching a class. Teaching is a very intimate encounter whereas giving a speech is not. Even when I faced students who weren't receptive, or who were outright disruptive, teaching didn't scare me. It challenged me to do better. To listen. To observe. To think about the things people do and the reasons behind their actions. In other words, to teach more effectively, I needed to act like a shy person does!

In my classes, I never forced students to read aloud. Ever. I knew that many of my students, especially the struggling readers, and especially the boys, would be so focussed on avoiding embarrassment and humiliation that they would stop learning as soon as they realized they had to read aloud. Many of them would become aggressive, hoping to be sent out of the room. Better bad than stupid, in their young minds. Because they weren't forced to read aloud and because those who were brave enough were assured of a respectful response from the listeners, many of my shy students eventually made the leap from silent reading to reading in front of the class.

But Danny Robertson never made that leap. In fact, he sought me out after school one day to tell me that if he was required to stand in front of the class and recite a poem or quotation, as all the seniors were, he was prepared to flunk English and drop out of school because he would not be able to graduate without those credits. "I'm not playing," he said. Danny was a tough kid, a hard-muscled auto mechanic with a quick temper and fast fists. But he was also shy. As he spoke to me, his face flushed a deep red. So did his neck and his hands. I knew that his feet were red, too, inside his dusty work boots.

"If you walk to the front of the class and say your name, I'll give you a D," I promised Danny. He did and I did. When one of the other students complained that Danny didn't do the assignment, I explained that he had requested a modified assignment. "And he was the only one who felt strongly enough about it to come and see me privately after class," I explained. That was good enough for the other kids. They knew Danny was shy. They knew speaking in public would be torture for him.

"But students need to learn to become comfortable with public speaking," one of the other English teachers insisted. "Why? Because it's part of life. They will be called upon to address a group at some time in their careers."

Danny Robertson never did. He chose to become a big rig driver. He spends hours on the road, listening to the radio, enjoying the solitude of his job. He speaks to other drivers, of course. He handles pickups and deliveries. He speaks to waitresses and waiters and customers. But he doesn't have to give speeches. He never has to stand up and read a report. If he did, he would find another job. How do I know these things? Because he sent me an email once, to thank me for not making him recite a poem, and letting me know how much he enjoyed his job.

There is a huge difference between being agoraphobic, terrified of leaving one's house, and simply being shy. Shyness isn't a disease or a mental illness. It's a personality characteristic, just as having a good sense of humor is, or remaining calm in the face of disaster, or having an optimistic outlook in spite of the world's troubles. People don't choose their personalities. They may opt to try to change specific traits, for specific reasons. But there is nothing wrong with being shy, with preferring to listen and observe. Not everybody needs to stand on stage. In fact, if everybody stood on stage, there would be no audience.

Shy people aren't broken. They don't need to be fixed. They need to be loved and accepted for who they are. If they ask for help in overcoming their shyness, just as some people ask for help in managing their anger, then we need to help them. But if they are satisfied with their shyness, then why can't we be satisfied, too? Why do we feel so compelled to force them "out of their shells?" What do we gain by forcing them? And, more importantly, what do they lose?

If you are a teacher and you routinely require students to take turns reading aloud, I'd like to make two requests of you. First, please ask your friends and family -- not teachers -- how they felt as children (or how they feel as adults) when they had to read aloud in front of their peers. I predict that they will tell you how frightened they were and how much they wished they could disappear before their turn came around, how they were self-conscious because of their hair, their clothing, their acne, their lisps and accents and so on.

My second request - find a book such as How the Brain Learns and read what happens to the human brain when the human feels threatened -- physically or emotionally. The brain automatically switches to survival mode. It's primary job becomes protecting the person from harm, or from perceived harm. Acute embarrassment is perceived by the brain as dangerous and threatening. The brain prepares for Fight or Flight. Not the best state of mind for learning. Not a state of mind we want to encourage in our classrooms.

I'd like to see a special week where we truly welcome diversity and Celebrate Shyness.

Give Me Three (excerpt from new book)

January 3, 2012

Tags: Kick-Start, classroom rules, classroom discipline, teaching rules, classroom management, positive discipline, LouAnne Johnson, Kick-Start Your Class

Happy 2012! To start out this year, I would like to offer a free excerpt from my new book, Kick-Start Your Class, which will be published by Jossey-Bass in April. You can read about the book on where it's available for pre-orders. Basically, this book contains activities designed to start your class outon the right foot - activities that engage students without putting anybody on the spot or making them speak in public. These can be used by teachers or any other group leader. I had fun writing and illustrating this book and I hope people have fun using the activities in it to enhance their classrooms.

You can click on the PDF document that says Give Me Three to see a page from the book. I scanned it in just for you. Happy New Year.

J-A-Y-C-double E: The Messiah Formerly Known as Jesus

December 9, 2011

Tags: Jesus, Messiah, JC, LouAnne Johnson, Christmas newsletter

This month, my blog is a newsletter I received from Jesus. I'm serious! But I can't format it on my blog, so please visit my website and you'll find an icon for a PDF document titled J-C-double E. That's it. Cheers.

Teachers Talk: Q&A

October 10, 2011

Tags: teachers, teaching, classroom management, problem students, power play, education, motivating students, at-risk students, classroom discipline, bullying, Louanne Johnson, Teaching Outside the Box


Sorry I missed a month there...moving cross country takes so much time and energy. But I am back at the keyboard. This month I am including some letters from teachers, with my answers, that were included in the first edition of Teaching Outside the Box but were deleted from the 2nd edition because there just wasn’t room to include everything. I don’t have all the answers, but I know it’s important for teachers to ask their questions of somebody who has empathy and who will support them in their efforts to help students.

Q: I'm a 3rd year, 8th grade English teacher at a middle school and people keep telling me to give up on particular students, that I can't save them all. I know this but I can't give up on Joey. He came to my class two years ago, a tall, skinny kid with spiky hair and an easy smile. He was a fairly good kid in class, the girls loved him but he wasn't a player. Often he would miss my class so that he could stay home to babysit while his parents worked. When Joey left middle school, I felt confident that he would continue his education, at the very least, getting his GED. Fast foward to last week. I hadn't seen this kid in two years and he sauntered into my room during open house. I hugged him and then inquired about school. He dropped his head in shame, then told me a story about how he failed because he stole a car and had a gun. I suspect he is in a gang. When I told him that he had talent and could do anything he wanted with his life, he looked at the girl he was with and said, " I told you someone thought I had talent." I cried for this kid. Then I sent a letter to his new principal at the high school, enrolled him in a special program, and sent a letter to his guidance counselor. I just found out that he is back in jail and I don't know what to do. I absolutely refuse to give up on this kid. He has talent -- I mean true talent. Please give me some advice (other than you are sorrybut we can't save them all). -- L.F. Charlotte, NC

Dear L.F:
I would never tell you that you can't save them all, because I believe we can save young people, if they are still alive. I have had so many students like this boy and they broke my heart again and again. But going to jail isn't the end of the world. He will keep thinking about your opinion of him. Clearly, you connected. He just has to work out his own perception of himself. This is my theory: kids have a script in theirheads of how they see the movie of their playing out. Then they meet us and we see a different script. We try to change the script by telling the kid he/she has talent and choices in life. But they don't understand because they have always felt powerless and they really believe their script is their destiny. So, we can't change the script by trying to rewrite it. But we CAN help them change their perceptions of themselves as people, by telling them how we see them: we see them as intelligented, talented, capable, etc. This doesn't change their script, but it changes their perception immediately and it keeps on changing the more they have contact with us. Even when those students are far away, those new thoughts keep crowding out the old ones until they decide that they can, indeed, change their scripts. This can take years. I have had many students who believed they would end up in jail (and most of them did), but I encouraged them to use their time in jail to study and learn and think. Many of them got GEDs and good jobs afterwards. Sometimes we can intervene early enough to change a student's perception enough for him to change his script before he goes to jail. If not, we can continue to try to change the perception by calling, writing letters, etc. If you can get an address, write to this kid every week. See if you can go visit at least once. Whether or not he answers, whether or not you see him, whether or not he ever comes to see you again, your belief in him may be the lifeline that keeps him going. I spoke to a psychiatrist about this once and he assured me that finding one adult who offers unconditional love and acceptance is enough for many kids. That acceptance will be the lifeline they cling to until they are able to stand on their own feet.
I hope this helps. Never give up. Even when you don't see the flower, if you plant the seed of hope in a child, it will grow. So many people write me letters to tell me about teachers who tried to help them when they were young. They never thanked those teachers, but they write to tell me how much they appreciate what those teachers said and did -- and sometimes all the teacher did was say something nice. You have given much more than that to your young person. I'm sure as long as he is alive there is hope for him. I'm so glad you are a teacher!!!!
I would like to say something about the people who tell you go stop worrying. They are not heartless people. They simply can't afford to make the kind of emotional investment that you are willing to make. Just as we all have to decide how much of our income we can afford to donate to charity, we have to decide how much emotional energy we can afford to expend trying to save students. Some of us can afford to give more and some of us can tolerate the loss when our investment shows no return. Just be careful you don't bankrupt your supply. Find some way to recharge periodically.

Q: I am a first year teacher of English and Speech at an urban high school in Indiana. I am 25 years old. I love teaching with all my heart, and I feel that after much soul searching and unsuccessful jobs, I have found my true calling. However, I have been very stressed out recently over some evaluations filled out by my one of my classes. One student, a sometimes hard-working, independent young man, wrote on his evaluation that I should quit my job and find another…that I need classes in listening..."if I were to receive a grade, I would be given a U for uncomplete." I was disturbed by this, mainly because I feel like such things should NOT bother me or else I shouldn't be a teacher. This incident has forced me to reevaluate my teaching and content area skills. What advice can you possible give a first year teacher experiencing these types of feelings and stress? A.J., New Albany, IN

Dear A.J.,
Perhaps it may help to know that I have faced a similar situation and so have many successful teachers. In most cases, your teaching isn't the real issue. If 75% of your students make the same complaint about your teaching methods, then I would really think about making some changes. If a few kids say something, I consider their comments and decide whether they are just whining or whether I may have done something to merit their criticism. But if you have an isolated example where only one student criticizes your teaching, then that student probably is talking about his own personal needs.
This boy wants you to listen to him. He can't know whether you listen to anybody else. Perhaps there is somebody in the class who torments him and you don't hear it, so he thinks you don't listen. Perhaps he has some personal problems and he has given you hints (such as refusing to answer when you ask him a question - you were supposed to read his mind). Or, most likely, he wants to see if he can push your buttons, take away some of your self-confidence, and make you feel a little more the way he feels -- scared, uncertain of the future, and insecure. I know it isn't easy to ignore this boy's remarks. Many teachers (including yours truly) have difficulty handling criticism that is clearly intended as a personal attack. But I have learned to differentiate between students who have a serious concern and students who are making a power play. Your young man sounds like a power play kind
of guy. My suggestion is: ask him to come in after school; tell him you want to be able to take the time to really listen to his comments. If he won't come, then you will know he was just trying to upset you. If he does come, he still may be playing. Don't begin by asking him to evaluate your teaching -- he has already done that. Keep the power in your court. Tell him that you appreciate his comments and that you would like to listen to whatever he has to say. If he says he has nothing to say, then thank him and tell him that in the future, you would be glad to schedule a meeting to listen to any concerns he may have, but that critiques of your teaching are not appropriate and will not be permitted during class time. Stress that teaching is your job and how you choose to approach your job is up to you, that you are interested in his concerns, but you must also consider the concerns of all the other students. And most importantly, remind him that the final decision about how and what you teach is up to you, keeping the best interests of all the students in mind. If your student does have something to say, then listen to his concerns and thank him for sharing his opinions. Tell him you will consider his comments carefully. Don't apologize unless you have honestly done something to offend him. Tell him you hope that if you ever offer him some constructive criticism about his performance as a student, you hope he will treat your comments with the same respect you have treated him. Then, before you conclude your conference, ask your young man something he doesn't expect to be asked -- something interesting that may surprise him into actually talking to you. Tell him you've been reading some recent research on education and you would like to hear his opinion about age-based grouping. Does he think classes would be better if kids were grouped by ability instead of age? Or suggest that he check out a website that you find particularly thought-provoking.

One way I have successfully avoided the power player student -- after I encountered a few -- was to start passing out evaluation sheets that don't evaluate me, but evaluate what we have done during a given time period (usually a month). For example, I list grammar, spelling, literature, videos we have watched -- and I ask students to evaluate each activity or assignment as too hard, too easy, just right. If students really complain about something required on the curriculum, I say, "I am prepared for you to be angry with me right now because I know that when you are older you won't be angry; you will realize I am truly making the choice that is in your best interest. I want you to be well-educated people so you can be successful in your professional lives and your personal lives as well." Always, always, I remind them that I care about their input but that I am in charge of the classroom. I am not in charge of them or their behavior because they are responsible for that. But I am responsible for making the decisions in my classroom -- that's why they pay me so much. (We all laugh here.) Most of them "get it."

Here's one more thought. Perhaps your critical young man really likes you and he would like to have more attention from you, but he doesn't know how to ask for it in a positive manner. If he wrote you a glowing evaluation, you would just thank him and smile. But now you are thinking about him. Try to think of some role he could play in your classroom that would make him feel important. He could pick up mail from your staff mailbox, if students are allowed to do that. You might ask him to take a note to one of the secretaries for you (you could arrange with her ahead of time to find something important to tell her). If you are planning to show a movie, ask him to set up the VCR and cue up the video so that it is ready to start when you want it and students won't have to wait for opening credits. Explain that roll sheets may seem simple but that they are legal documents and can be used as evidence in court - then ask if he would mind taking roll for you once in a while.

Okay, enough. You didn't ask for a novel. Please remember that the reason you care so much about what people say is that you are a caring person --and that more than anything makes you a good teacher. Anybody can be educated, but not everybody can teach. Give yourself the gift of tolerance for your birthday this year: allow yourself to be human and less than perfect.

Q: I heard you speak in Albuquerque once and you seeemed to be totally against any kind of medication for ADHD. I have some kids who really seem to respond to meds. And I even know a few adults who swear by Ritalin. Don't you think maybe you are a little bit close-minded about this? --S.M. Albuquerque, NM

Dear S.M.,
Yes, I will admit that I am a bit close-minded on the topic of medicating children, but I also believe there is a huge difference in medicating children who have no choice and medicating adults who are responsible for their own choices and their own health. If adults chose to take a medication that affects their brains, they certainly should be given all the information available about possible side effects and documented case histories. Drug companies, newspapers, and magazines don't report the entire story when a new drug is introduced. For example, on August 19, 2004, the Philadelphia Business Journal printed an article about a pharmaceutical corporation's report of preliminary results from three clinical trials of a new once-a-day medication that "significantly improves symptoms of attention deficit hyeractivity disorder in children and adolescents." The CEO of Cephalon, Inc. is quoted as saying, "We expect this product, once approved, to command a substantial presence in this large and growing market that today exceeds several billion dollars." Clearly, money is an important motive in the manufacture of this drug. There is no mention of possible side effects in the article, and no reference to sources of further information. A quick visit to the U.S. government's National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health web site warns "you should know that Modafinil may affect judgment or thinking. Do not drive a car or operate machinery until you know how this medication affects you." Then it lists side affects including: headache, upset stomach, nervousness, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, dizziness, depression, diarrhea, runny nose, dry mouth, loss of appetite, vomiting, neck pain or stiffness, confusion or forgetfulness. Those are just the regular, every day possible side effects. Serious side effects, although uncommon, may include "chest pain, irregular heartbeat, rash or hives,fever, sore throat, chills, and other signs of infection." To me, this sounds like a potentially dangerous drug, but the Business Journal article reports that "studies involved 600 children and adolescents between the ages of 6 and 17." Unless a condition is life-threatening, I can see no valid reason for subjecting young children to clinical drug trials.
I have spent a great deal of time researching ADHD diagnosis, symptoms and treatments and I am convinced of three things: money is a key ingredient in this mix, the U.S. uses over 80% of the world's supply of drugs intended to treat ADHD, and people don't have enough objective information. I believe anybody who even considers giving a child medications should visit the Drug Enforcement Admin. and National Library of Medicine web sites and readthe information, especially the court testimonies concerning methylphenidate and amphetamine treatments. I devoted an earlier blog to this very topic, so I won't go into complete detail here.

Children's bodies and brains are not yet formed and we don't know the effects of long-term drug use on their development -- look at the number of cases of parents who reported stunted growth, lack of appetite and depression among their children who are on medications. And some medications cause insomnia which in itself may exacerbate ADHD symptoms. Also, I have seen too many situations where school staff members immediately recommend medication for children who have trouble sitting still or concentrating. And, worse yet, some parents have been threatened with having their children taken away from them if they do not agree to medicate their children.

I do agree with you that there is a small percentage of children (and adults) who truly benefit from medication, but I still believe that medication should be the very last resort. The first resort should be to change the diet to add fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fiber, and reduce or eliminate caffeine, artificial sweeteners, fried or packaged foods that contain trans fats and hydrogenated oils, and high fructose corn syrup (witch cause severe mood swings and fuzzy thinking). Agaves nectar and fructose are natural sweeteners that don't cause dramatic rises and dips in blood sugar. Next, check the sleep patterns. Children especially need at least eight hours of sleep per night. Sleep deprivation has the exact same symptoms as ADHD. Third, add at least 20 minutes of daily exercise, followed by deep breathing, meditation or yoga. And finally, investigate the teacher-student personality dynamic. Many students misbehave because they believe (sometimes correctly) that the teacher doesn't like them or does not know how to teach them. I firmly believe that if those four steps are followed, most symptoms of hyperactivity will disappear; if not, then I think an extremely cautious approach to medication might be in order. When children report uncomfortable side effects and plead to stop taking medications, however, I believe parents and doctors are ethically and morally obligated to suspend the medication and search for alternative methods to help those children. Here’s the website I mentioned:

Q: I spend more than half of my class time refereeing arguments and fights among students and redirecting their attention to their work. I am so tired of fighting the same battles every day. What can I do? --- S.E. , Boston, MA

Dear S.E.,
First, I would announce to your class that verbal abuse will not be tolerated in your classroom. Tell the students that they are in charge of their own behavior, but you are in charge of your classroom. Anybody who wants to stay in the room must follow the rule of treating everybody in the room with respect -- including themselves. Name-calling, insults and rampant disrespect were the reasons that I devised my only classroom rule: Treat everybody in this room with respect-- no put-downs of other people because of race, religion, ethnic background, native language, gender, sexual preference, intelligence, body shape or body size. (Students are entitled to their personal opinions and prejudices, but they are not permitted to publicly express those opinions in the form of insults or attacks on other people.

In spite of my rule mandating respectful behavior, sometimes one particular group of students seems to include a high percentage of instigators, hot heads and/or bullies. When I encounter this situation, I frequently remind them of my rule and I post it in very large letters in the classroom. Also, I suspend my instruction temporarily for a lesson in psychology. I explain to the students that psychology can help them understand how other people "play" you or "psyche you out" (or whatever term they will understand).
First, we discuss why people tease each other: Some people are trying to make themselves feel better by making other people feel small. Some people are afraid they are stupid themselves, so they try to get smart students in trouble. Some people are bored and they want to create problems just to make life interesting. Some people are unable to do the work in class, but they don't want people to laugh at them, so they try to distract the teacher and the other students.
Some people just get a kick out of controlling somebody else's behavior -- and this is the motive that kids find most interesting. When they understand that by paying attention to or responding to verbal insults, they are doing exactly what the person wants and they are being controlled and manipulated, a lot of kids will stop playing the game. For some students, this is a difficult concept to grasp. You may have to restate it in various ways, and perhaps stage an example in your room.
Helping your students understand themselves and each other isn't enough. You need to help them learn how to withstand the peer pressure and verbal assault. Teach them what to say and role play some situations so they can practice. I teach them power statements -- just calling them power statements makes them sound attractive. Your power statements will have to be worded to suit the age level of your students, but some of my favorite power statements include:
* You can say what you want but it isn't important to me.
* I know you want me to get mad, but I control my own mind.
* You are not the boss of me. I don't want to fight with anybody.
* You have your opinions and I have mine. We just don't agree.
* Doing mean things doesn't make you strong.
* We are all human beings. I think we should try to get along.
* You can think whatever you want. I think for myself.

Some children really don't understand why they tease other people; these children need to be taught other ways to get attention from their peers. They usually don't have any real friends because they don't know how to be a friend. We talk about this, too, in class. I ask students to write in their journals what they think is important in a friendship, what they look for in a friend, how to make friends, etc. Then we have a class discussion and we write our thoughts about friendship on the board. Many students have reported that after our discussion on friendship, they feel more confident about being able to make friends. (During the discussions, you may hear some disturbing reports of parents' behavior and actions which may give you some insight into student behaviors-- try not to criticize the parents, but do explain that parents may have learned behaviors when they were young that don't work very well for them, either.)
Of course, you still have to have a discipline policy that works for you, but in my experience when you face a serious problem in your classroom, it pays off to take some time to talk about the cause of the problem and possible cures, instead of simply trying to treat the symptoms.

Above & Beyond: 5 Lessons Students Really Need to Learn

August 21, 2011

Tags: teaching, problem-solving, motivation, school, teenagers, effective arguments, arguing, louanne johnson

ABOVE & BEYOND: 5 Lessons Students Really Need to Learn

Some teachers struggle just to juggle all the balls they are handed when they accept their teaching posts. They simply don’t have the time or energy to do anything above and beyond the call of duty. But sometimes your situation does allow a bit of leeway. If so, here are some topics to teach in your copious free time. (I hear that hysterical laughter!) Seriously, I have found that squeezing these five topics into my curriculum, even one bit at a time, often helps to move the most reluctant students to a higher level.

Students who misbehave often have poor problem-solving skills. Instead of thinking through a situation, they react and do the first thing that comes to mind. Until they can deal effectively with their personal problems, students won’t be able to concentrate on your lessons, so it is to your benefit to teach them problem-solving skills. The model I use in my classes is a combination of models I learned during military training and later at corporate seminars. Basically, problem solving is a cycle, much like goal setting. We can teach children how to solve problems logically by showing them the steps involved in the cycle and providing a chance for them to practice. Some teachers like to present a problem that their students face: gang violence, peer pressure to use drugs, bullies, or ways to deal with parents’ divorce. You may elect to use something less personal and more universal during your introduction to problem solving so that your students have a chance to practice the model without erupting into arguments over personal issues. I like to use these sample problems: (1) my friends always want to copy my homework; or (2) a few students disrupt the class and make it hard for everybody to learn.
Brainstorming is often students’ favorite step in the process, but often they forget that the key to successful brainstorming is to make no judgments about others’ suggestions during the brainstorming session, no matter how outlandish or silly the suggestions may sound. A silly suggestion may spark a truly innovative and effective solution to a problem, but the spark will never ignite if people laugh at each other’s ideas. You may have to make the first crazy suggestions in order to encourage your students to think creatively. Another thing to keep in mind is that brainstorming in a large group tends to disintegrate into a series of smaller conversations, leaving one or two people working with the group leader. Smaller groups, with three to five people, are more effective for brainstorming.
Because children tend to act first and think later, the next step, analyzing the possible solutions, is the most important for them to practice. Students also need frequent reminders that simply choosing a solution doesn’t mean they have solved a problem. They must implement the solution, evaluate its effectiveness, and select an alternative if the first choice isn’t successful. At first they may complain that this process is too detailed or time-consuming, but with practice it becomes a quick and easy habit and one that will help them effectively handle problems that arise in school as well as their future careers and personal lives.
Below, you'll see a brief outline of the problem-solving process, followed by some sample problems that my high school students suggested. Undoubtedly, your students will be able to suggest additional problems. Again you may need to simplify the instructions, but young children are excellent at brainstorming and making suggestions. When you solve a problem involving your own students, ask them to focus on solving the problem and not on assigning punishments.
After we teach the model and solve some sample problems, we are not finished with this topic. We need to refer back to the model frequently and demonstrate our own problem-solving skills during the school year as we encounter problems in our classroom. Some classroom problems can become class projects, but you may choose to keep others as a “teacher problem.” If a student plagiarizes a term paper, for example, you would not be likely to publicize the incident. Even when you don’t allow students to participate in solving a problem in your classroom, however, you can emphasize the importance of logical problem solving, by explaining to your students how you brainstormed, selected, and implemented a solution and how you evaluated the effectiveness of your solution.
After you have done the problem-solving activity, you will be able to refer back to it when students misbehave. Instead of assigning consequences or punishments, ask them to step outside or sit at their desks and see if they can think of a way to solve a particular behavior problem. A solution-seeking approach will change the dynamic between you and your students. Instead of you taking responsibility for what happens to them, you are placing the responsibility for their behavior on their own shoulders, where it belongs. Further, many students actually enjoy learning how to monitor, assess, and alter their behavior.


Step 1) Identify the problem. Focus on one problem at a time. Often several issues surround one central problem. Pinpoint the primary problem. For example, perhaps you fight all the time with one of your brothers or sisters, and your parents ground both of you. The problem isn’t being grounded; it’s the constant fighting between you and your sibling.
Step 2) Brainstorm possible solutions. Don’t edit yourself or stop to criticize. Just shout out solutions or write them down as fast as you can. Be creative. Often a silly idea will lead to a truly ingenious idea that you might never have considered if you hadn’t come up with the silly idea first. Take ten minutes to write down every solution that comes to mind.
Step 3) Select the three best solutions. Consider the possible effects of each solution. Choose the one that seems most likely to be successful and make a plan to enact it.
Step 4) Implement your plan. Put your best solution into action, making adjustments as necessary
Step 5) Evaluate the effectiveness of your solution. If your solution worked—good! If not, make some changes to your chosen plan and try it again. If changes aren’t possible or just won’t work, go back to your brainstorming list and choose a different solution.
Repeat steps four and five until you find a solution that works. Even if you don’t solve the problem completely, you can make it a much smaller problem.


In your small group or working with a partner, choose one of the problems below to tackle. First, brainstorm for 10 to 15 minutes, then discuss possible solutions and choose the best one. Draft a plan to put your solution into action.

Problem A: It seems as if everybody has friends except you. You are too shy to introduce yourself to kids you don’t know. You never know what to say. You’re tired of feeling lonely.
Problem B: One of your teachers doesn’t like you. It isn’t your imagination; your friends have noticed it too. This teacher is giving you bad grades on assignments.
Problem C: Some older boys at your school grab kids in the hallway and steal their backpacks and belongings. Lately, those boys are after you.
Problem D: Every time you go out with one of your friends, he shoplifts small items such as candy bars or sodas. You really like this person and don’t want to lose him as a friend. But you don’t want to get arrested for shoplifting.
Problem E: One of your best friends always asks if she can copy your home work. When you say no, she gets really mad. You have been friends for a long time, and you don’t want to lose her friendship. But the teacher has warned your class that if two papers are identical, both students will get Fs.
Problem F: Your stepfather is mean. No matter what you do, he finds reasons to fight with you. When you try to talk to your mother about the problem, she defends him and says to give him time.
Problem G:  Two or three kids constantly disrupt your math class. Your teacher gets mad and punishes the entire class by assigning extra homework or pop quizzes. You and your friends are tired of this.

A good way to demonstrate to students that you want to help them succeed, which in turn motivates them to try, is to teach them to read their report cards and transcripts. In spite of all the guidance that counselors give, many students blunder their way through school without knowing what their report cards really say or how to read their own transcripts; and a surprisingly high number don’t know their school district’s requirements for graduation. Even those students who do understand how to read their report cards and transcripts are often at a loss when it comes to correcting errors in their records.
I realized that my own students knew very little about their own records when one of my seniors arrived on my doorstep in tears one day because a counselor had just informed her that she couldn’t graduate with her class. She was missing one-half of a credit for math. I was as upset as Stacey was because the counselors had visited my classroom at the start of the semester and distributed official transcripts to all the seniors. When the counselors collected the transcripts after their presentation, they asked whether anybody had questions. Nobody had questions. I assumed that my students had followed the counselor’s instructions to review their records and would report any mistakes or missing information to the office immediately. Stacey not only failed to read her transcript, she forgot that she was missing one quarter of credit from a course she had failed during the second semester of her freshman year. She forgot, and nobody in the office noticed the missing half-credit until it was too late to make up the work. Fortunately for Stacey, one of the math teachers agreed to create an independent study course for her and administer the necessary exams. Thanks to that teacher, Stacey was able to wear her cap and gown and graduate with her class.
When her classmates learned of Stacey’s dilemma, several of them admitted that they hadn’t read their transcripts either or hadn’t understood what they had read, in spite of the counselors’ offers of assistance. So when the counselors scheduled their presentation at the start of the following school year, I asked them if I might make copies of all my students’ transcripts so that we could keep them in our classroom and update them each quarter. They agreed, and I created a form on my word processor that listed the specific graduation requirements for our district. After I made a copy of the graduation checklist for each student, we spent a class period learning how to read the transcripts, comparing them to the checklist, and marking every requirement that students had successfully completed. If there was an incorrect or missing grade, I showed students how to write a memo to the guidance office and track the memo until guidance staff made the correction.
Guidance office personnel are among the most overworked people in any school system, so I don’t blame them for making an occasional error. As I explained to my students, “It may be the counselor’s job to make sure you have the right classes, but they are people and they can make mistakes. They want you to graduate, but it’s your responsibility to make sure that you do. If your transcript isn’t accurate or you don’t have all the credits you need, the counselors will say they are sorry, but no one will be as sorry as you when you don’t graduate with your class. Don’t expect somebody else to be responsible for your success in life.”
I gave each student a file folder to label, and we filed their transcripts in a file cabinet near my desk. After each report card, we spent a few minutes recording the new credits on the graduation checklists. With the transcript reviews, the graduation checklists, and the progress charts posted on my classroom’s walls, many students who had once shrugged and ignored their disastrous report cards became convinced that they could graduate—and most of them did. Seeing visible proof of their progress gave those students the hope they needed in order to believe in themselves.
Even elementary students can benefit from listing the requirements they will need to move to the next grade, to middle school, and on to high school. And it’s not a bad idea to give them a list of graduation requirements to take home and ponder at their leisure. It might provide some motivation and in some cases it might be the wake-up call some of them (or their parents) need.

Few students know how to talk to any adult, but even fewer know how to hold an effective conversation with a teacher. Some children can’t seem to talk to any adult without getting into an argument that makes both parties want to scream. In those cases I don’t think the kids are trying to be irritating. They don’t possess a shred of tact, and they don’t know how to discuss or argue without putting people on the defensive. Therefore, they think adults are ill-tempered and unreasonable.
Bad timing is the primary cause of student-staff communication problems. The worst time to argue about grades or request help is exactly when most students demand attention—just before or after class. Teachers have a hundred little tasks to perform during those three or four minutes, and student demands may irritate or exasperate them.
We can teach students to approach a teacher and say, “I would like to talk to you. When would be a good time?” When the teacher names a date or time, the student needs to write that time down to confirm the appointment and as a reminder.
Making the appointment is the first step; the second step is gathering information. If a student wants to discuss her grade on an exam or report card, she needs to bring the exam or report card to the meeting. If the student wants to request help on a difficult lesson, he needs to bring the textbook or worksheet with him and be able to pinpoint the place where he is having trouble.
The third step is the most important. Students need to use tact in their discussions with teachers. Instead of insulting or demanding action from a teacher, students need to request information. We must explain to students that stomping into a teacher’s room and announcing, “You made a mistake on my grade,” is not likely to inspire a warm welcome. The teacher isn’t going to say, “Why, certainly, Johnny, let me just grab my grade book and change that D to an A.”
Students often think that they have license to be rude when a teacher makes a mistake in grading. But we must make students understand that nobody likes to look foolish, and teachers are in a particularly vulnerable position because they have to safeguard their authority in order to be effective in the classroom. When a student accuses a teacher of making a mistake in grading, he or she is very likely to say, “I gave you the grade you earned.”
Role playing is a good way for students to practice these new skills. Have your students approach you with a real or practice problem. Here are several suggested conversation starters:

“I really want to earn a good grade in your class. Could you tell me what I can do to bring up my grade?”
“I really studied for this test, and I don’t understand some of the answers. Could you go over them with me and explain where I got confused?”
“At home I’ve been trying to keep track of all my grades in my classes, and I must have made a mistake because I thought I had an A [or a B or C] in your class. Could you go over my grades with me and show me where I went wrong?”
“I thought I did a really good job on this assignment, but I got a low grade. Could you tell me what I could have done to improve it, so that I can do better on the next assignment?”

Explain to your students that these new, polite approaches give the teacher an opportunity to correct an error without losing face. The teacher’s grade book may contain a mistake; the teacher may realize that a test question was confusing or that the student turned in work that the teacher failed to record in the grade book.
If the teacher responds graciously, the student should say thank-you and be proud of acting like a responsible and polite young person. If the teacher responds in a grouchy, rude, or unhelpful manner, the student needs to ask a parent or the principal for help.
The same conversational rules apply to other adults. We must teach our students to begin the conversation by asking for assistance or information. Write some negative comments on the board, such as, “Miss Jones is a crabby old fart,” or “Mr. Smith is jerking me around with my grade.” Then, ask students to come up with comments that will demonstrate their tactfulness and good manners. You might have to suggest something to get them started. “I have a problem, and I wondered if you could help me,” is a good beginning.
Students need to learn one more thing about communicating with teachers: how to ask teachers for help. Students usually say, “I don’t get it,” or “I can’t do this.” Then they expect the teacher to help them. This is especially true in math classes where the teacher then repeats the instructions, and the student repeats his or her complaint. The teacher thinks the student would understand if he or she did the homework and solved the problems in class, but the student insists that he can’t do the homework or problems because the teacher hasn’t properly explained how to do them. If you find yourself involved in one of these conversational cycles, this is a heads-up that you need to teach, or remind, your students how to ask for help.
Students must learn to articulate their needs. We can teach them to do this by teaching them how to backtrack in their textbooks, workbooks, or notes to pinpoint the exact place where they got lost. We must insist that they show us the point from which they can’t continue, so that we can see what the student needs to understand (one pre-algebra student who asked me for help didn’t understand what a negative number was; another didn’t understand a number line).
When you are certain that your students know how to ask for help, you can identify serious problems more easily. If a student can’t do even the first problems or questions in an assignment after repeated discussions with you, the student needs a comprehensive review session, remedial classes, a tutor, or perhaps a visit to the school nurse for a hearing and vision exam (even if he or she has already been tested because an illness can affect vision or hearing after the student has been tested).

Unsuccessful students are rarely good goal setters. They blame their failures on other people, circumstances, or luck. One of the most valuable lessons you can teach your students is how to set realistic long-term goals, divide those goals into a series of short-term goals, and make a list of steps that they can take immediately to get started. Goal setting doesn’t have to be a separate lesson. Regardless of your subject, you can incorporate goal setting into your curriculum by asking students at the start of any grading period to set a goal for their grade in your class. Ask them to write down their goal for the grading period and then list three things they can do that day to get started. Collect your students’ goal sheets and file them in a handy location. At regular intervals (I’d suggest weekly to keep them on track), take out the goal sheets, ask students to evaluate their progress, make notes, and revise their short-term goals if necessary. Don’t worry about the handful of students who will refuse to set goals. Focus on those students who appreciate that you are teaching them a valuable life skill.
If you have the time and inclination, you might expand this exercise to include personal goals, such as setting a target weight for bench press, losing fifteen pounds, finding a job, improving a relationship with a family member, becoming a published writer, performing as a dancer or singer in public. For students who seem lost and unable to think of a single goal they’d like to achieve, you might consider researching John Goddard, author of Kayaks down the Nile (Brigham Young University Press, 1979). At age fifteen Goddard made a list of 127 goals that he wanted to accomplish in his lifetime. A voracious reader, he listed many unusual adventures in exotic locales, including mountain climbing in Peru and New Zealand and studying primitive cultures in Borneo and Brazil. His list also included less taxing feats such as typing fifty words per minute, owning an ocelot, building a telescope, learning to play polo, and lighting a match with a shot fired from a .22 rifle.
Goddard’s story and his list of goals make an attention-getting introduction to goal setting. After reading his list, students who couldn’t think of a thing they wanted to do often create long lists of goals for themselves. Your own list of life goals might be just as intriguing and inspiring to your students, especially if you check off the ones you have completed. How you approach the topic isn’t as important as providing a model for students to follow. Children who have no experience in setting goals often throw their hands into the air and give up when they face new and challenging concepts or school subjects. After you teach them how to break a long-term goal down into manageable parts, they no longer feel so unable to cope. For example, several of my students admitted that they feared they would flunk geometry after the first day of class because the textbook looked “really hard.”
“I’ll never be able to learn all this stuff,” one boy said in a trembling voice.
“You aren’t going to learn all that stuff in one week or even in one month,” I said. “Let’s open the book and take a look.”
Everybody who had the class pulled out their textbooks. We looked through the table of contents and read some of the chapter titles. Then we counted the number of chapters and divided that number by the number of weeks in the semester. The result was about one chapter per week. So we looked through the first chapter and read the examples.
“Maybe it isn’t that hard,” the boy said.
“Don’t you think you could learn this in one week, if you have a teacher to explain everything to you?” I asked.
The boy and his classmates agreed that they just might be able to. So we pulled out their goal-setting sheets and wrote, “Read and understand Chapter One in the geometry book.” By the time they reached Chapter Three, they insisted that they didn’t need to write down each chapter as they finished it. After all, they explained, anybody could do one chapter if they had a whole week.

Unfortunately, many students (and even more unfortunately, many of their parents) believe that an argument is a fight, with a winner and a loser. They have learned their arguing skills from watching talk shows and undignified TV courtroom dramas and comedies. Reminding them to be polite, considerate, or respectful isn’t enough for most students, because they honestly don’t know how to maintain a respectful attitude while arguing with somebody else.
After reading a number of articles about effective arguing, I designed some handouts for my students that describes successful and unsuccessful behaviors during arguments. Before I distribute the handouts, I ask students to think about the last time they witnessed or were involved in an argument. I don’t ask them to discuss their personal lives, but I ask them if they can describe some of the behaviors they saw, including their own. They usually list all the unsuccessful behaviors on my handout, although they may use different terminology. Next, I ask, “What is an argument?” Nearly always several people say, “It’s a fight.” I ask if they can think of another definition. Usually they can’t. If you encounter a group who can, you have the foundation for a good group discussion.
After we talk about arguments, I write this on the board: “An argument involves two or more people, each person expressing an opinion with the hope of changing the other people’s minds about a particular subject. The point of an argument is to exchange ideas and opinions—not to win or lose. At the end of an argument, we have several possibilities: (1) all of the people involved change their minds and accept another person’s ideas; (2) some people change their minds while others stick to their original opinions; or (3) nobody changes his or her mind.”
I ask students to think about what happens when somebody “loses” an argument. They respond with a variety of answers, all basically stating the same thing: people who lose arguments want to regain their dignity, seek revenge, or get even. Losers are determined to win the next round. Sometimes a loser will start another argument just to see whether he or she can win. And this cycle goes around and around and around, but nobody ever really wins. Instead of an argument, the people become involved in a power struggle.
After we’ve had our discussion, I provide students with some handouts. The first one discusses poor arguing techniques, ones we often use, and then lists effective techniques for conducting an argument effectively. The second offers two scenarios to consider. Students love to read the dialogues because we can all relate to them. Most of us have been there, or have at least visited the neighborhood.


An argument is successful when everybody involved respectfully expresses his or her opinions and respectfully listens to the other people’s opinions. When an argument escalates into name calling, insults, threats, or violence, it’s no longer an argument; now it’s a fight.
Civilized and educated people prefer to argue to solve their differences. Uncivilized and uneducated people prefer to fight. In our classroom we will try to follow the example of civilized and educated people when we argue.

Shutting Down: Turning up the TV or stereo to drown out the other person, stomping out the door in an angry huff, slamming doors, shutting yourself in your room
Physical Force: Hitting, throwing things, breaking things, threatening to hurt people or animals. Very childish
Ignoring the Obvious: Insisting that the issue isn’t important. Refusing to face the problem.
Blaming: Trying to place blame instead of taking about what happened and our feelings about it
Tantrums: Crying, screaming, shouting to shut the other person up or drown them out. Very childish and it makes you look week. People respect us more and listen better when we speak calmly.
Manipulation: Making jokes, acting sexy, tickling somebody, doing anything to distract the other person and stop him or her from expressing opinions
Nuking: Listing everything you can think of that the other person has done wrong, even far in the past, in order to make excuses for your own behavior or avoid talking about the current situation. Stick to the topic. If somebody ran over your dog, stick to the dead dog. Tackle the other problems later.
Rejection: Withholding love, affection, conversation, or sex unless the other person gives in; giving somebody the silent treatment or saying that you no longer love them

Be fair. Don’t kick people when they’re down. Don’t say cruel things just to hurt somebody else.
Stick to the Topic. Focus on the current situation. Don’t bring up old problems. Save them for another time.
Ask. Ask why the other person behaved as he or she did. Don’t assume you know why.
Listen. Listen closely. Make eye contact. Don’t watch TV or listen to music while somebody talking to you.
Cool Down. If you need to take a walk or sit quietly in your room, say so. Don’t just leave.
Own Up. If you did something wrong, admit it. You may have a good reason, but that doesn’t erase the behavior.
Feel Your Feelings. Don’t try to tell the other person how he or she feels. Don’t say, “You don’t care how I feel,” or “You’re selfish.” Do say, “I feel bad when you tease me,” or “I feel disrespected when you keep me waiting.”
Smile. If you think it will relieve the tension, make a joke. But don’t make fun of the other person.
Offer a Truce. If things come to a standstill, offer a truce so that you can both think things over. Agree to talk later.
Shake Hands. Don’t go away mad. You may disagree, but don’t carry a grudge. And don’t go to bed angry. You may not wake up in the morning, and you don’t want your last words to be cruel and angry ones.

See if you can spot the unsuccessful arguing techniques in these two scenarios.

Ty has been waiting an hour for Tiffany to arrive at the restaurant. Tiffany rushes in and tries to kiss Ty. He turns his head and gives her a cold look.
Tiffany: Sorry, sweetie. I forgot my purse and had to go back and get it.
Ty: So you’re late again. What else is new?
Tiffany: I got here as soon as I could. Aren’t you glad to see me, you gorgeous hunk? (She kisses his cheek.)
Ty: You always have a good excuse, but you don’t care how long I have to sit around and wait.
Tiffany: Well, at least I don’t flirt with other men right in front of you.
Ty: What’s that supposed to mean?
Tiffany: Duh! Everywhere we go, we run into an old girlfriend of yours. Or else you stare at the waitresses and drool.
Ty: And I suppose you never dated anybody else. Plus, I’ve seen you checking out the waiters.

As you know, this argument can go on forever and nobody ever wins. What’s the real problem here?

Monique comes home three hours after curfew. Mom and Dad are waiting.
Dad: Well, young lady. I hope you have a good excuse for making your mother and me worry ourselves sick.
Monique: As a matter of fact, I do.
Mom: Do you have any idea what you put us through?
Monique: I’m seventeen years old, but you treat me like a baby.
Dad: You act a baby.. You know the rule: if you’re late, you call.
Monique: I tried. The phone was busy. You must have been on the Internet.
Dad: I checked my e-mail twice—I wasn’t online for more than fifteen minutes.
Monique: More like an hour, I’d say.
Dad: What’s the difference? You should have tried again later.
Monique: I tried at least ten times.
Mom: Don’t exaggerate, dear.
Dad: You could have called the neighbors and left us a message.
Monique: Whatever.
Dad: You’re grounded for a month.
Monique: But the homecoming dance is next week.
Dad: You should have thought of that when you were acting so irresponsibly.
Monique: But I bought my dress and shoes, and Brett rented a tux and a limo and everything.
Mom: Maybe we should let her go. After all, the arrangements have been made . .
Dad: Go ahead. Spoil her. No wonder she acts like a baby. You baby her. And I guess I don’t count around here.
Monique: Can I go to bed now while you two fight?
Dad: You’d better watch that smart mouth of yours—or else!
Monique: Or else what? You gonna give me a knuckle sandwich?
Dad: You’re grounded. Period. End of discussion.
Dad sputters and stomps out of the room and upstairs, where he slams the door to the bedroom.
Mom: So what happened? You’re not going to bed until you tell me.
Monique: Brett got a flat tire and his cell phone died, so I had to walk to a pay phone to call. I kept going back to help him. I was holding the flashlight so that he could see. And the phone was pretty far away.
Mom: Well, why didn’t you tell your father that? He would have understood.
Monique: He doesn’t understand anything. He never listens to me. He’s a jerk. I hate him.

What could this family, especially the daughter, have done differently to make this argument more effective?

The ADD/ADHD Dilemma

July 29, 2011

Tags: ADD, ADHD, Ritalin, Methylphenidate, classroom behavior, classroom management, parenting, medication, schools, teaching, LouAnne Johnson, Teaching Outside the Box

by LouAnne Johnson
            A student in my "regular" junior English class, Joseph was tall, thin, quiet and very well-mannered, with a string of good's following his name—good attendance, motivation, attitude, cooperation, peer acceptance. But his spelling was atrocious and from his first writing sample I realized that Joseph was severely dyslexic. He did write in his journal along with the class and he struggled to complete a few paragraphs while the other students wrote the two-page essays required of all my juniors. Joseph's writing was difficult to read, but the ideas expressed in his illegible essays were good ones. After working with Joseph for a brief time, I waived the requirement for spelling tests and began quizzing him orally instead of asking him to complete written exams. It was clear to me that Joseph was learning the required material and mastering all of the skills that didn't involve writing.
            During the second quarter of that year, I assigned a major project for all my juniors. They were to read a novel (half of the reading to be done in class so I could monitor their progress and make sure they were reading and not simply searching for literary critiques and book reports on the Internet). Upon completion of the reading, they had to develop and write a thesis on the book, and then create some sort of visual to present to the rest of the class along with a brief description of their novel.
            Joseph worked harder than any of the other students on the assignment. Often, he spent the entire 50-minute class period reading. But unlike many of the other students, Joseph didn't choose a short novel or an easy one. He read The Hobbit. And because he finished ahead of so many of the other students, he read The Lord of the Rings as well. I knew he was reading the book because he often stopped before or after class to discuss the books with me (this was in the early 1990s, long before the movie adaptations were made). When I realized we had a mutual love for J.R.R. Tolkein's writing, I had brought in my own set of the trilogy for Joseph to borrow.
            When we finished the novel project, the students moved on to short stories. In small groups, they were assigned to read four short stories, compare and evaluate them, design some sort of system or rubric to demonstrate their evaluation criteria, and create a visual for a group presentation to the class. Joseph participated in his group's discussions and he submitted his own painstakingly written literary criticisms. When called upon to present their evaluation, the other students in his group shrank into their seats, so Joseph presented and explained the poster showing how they had evaluated the stories. He was so proud of his efforts and even prouder of the B he earned on his first semester report card.
            One afternoon, a week after report cards were issued, Joseph's mother appeared in my doorway after school. I could hear Joseph outside whispering, "Mom, you're embarrassing me." She tried to pull him into the room, but he refused to come.
            When I invited Joseph's mother to sit down, she sat in one of the student desks and frowned at me. She demanded to know why her son had received a B in my class. I assumed she was disappointed, as many parents are, that her child hadn't earned an A.
            "B is a very good grade," I said. "I wish I had more students like Joseph. He never misses class. He does every assignment. He works very hard. He's intelligent. And he's very likable. He has excellent manners and you deserve the credit for that." She nodded to acknowledge the compliment, but the frown remained.
            "How can he earn a B when he can't spell?" she asked.
            "I don't give him spelling tests," I said.
            "But you teach English. Don't you have to give him spelling tests?"
            "I don't know whether I have to or not," I admitted. "I just don't. He can't spell. Making him take a spelling test would be like making a kid with one leg run a race. He can't win. So why make him do it in the first place?"
            "Well, I suppose," she said. "But I don't see how he could pass the other assignments."
            I described his efforts on the novel project and showed her his journals and essays. I explained that he took his exams orally because he had difficulty writing the required essays and thesis papers. I told her how he had single-handedly made his short story team look good.
            "I don't know how he could read a novel," she said. "You know he's ADHD. He's so jumpy, he can't sit still and focus on anything for more than a couple of minutes. He just can't concentrate."
            "Well, that's not true in my class," I said. "I have watched him sit here and read for 45 minutes at a time. And sometimes I had to remind him to stop reading because the bell was going to ring."
            She sat back and crossed her arms and looked at me, clearly trying to decide whether to believe me. Finally, she smiled.
            "Well, he's been refusing to take that medicine. But I just thought he was being a teenager."
            As a new teacher in the early 1990’s, I had limited knowledge of ADD, ADHD and other acronyms to describe conditions and learning disabilities. After Joseph's mother left, I went to the public library and searched for more information on Attention-Deficit Disorder and learned that it could be present without or without hyperactivity, hence the ADHD. Some kids can't pay attention and some kids can't sit still. Big news, I thought, nothing has changed since I was in school a hundred years ago.
What I Read
            I soon learned that things had changed very much, indeed, since my own school days when aspirin was the strongest stuff the school nurse had in her medicine cabinet. Joseph was the first of many kids who came into my classroom with the ADD/ADHD label hovering over their heads. And, like Joseph, many of those children insisted that there was nothing wrong with them, they didn't need to be medicated—and in my classroom they proved that they could sit down and study, although the effort exhausted some of them. Because so many children defied their labels, I continued my research.
            The more I read, the more concerned I became that there was so much ambiguity and so much conflicting information. The diagnosis of ADD/ADHD is very subjective and based on a list of symptoms that all children exhibit at one time or another. At some point, those normal behaviors apparently became abnormal, but nobody could agree at what point. One expert claimed ADD was a mental illness while another asserted that it was the result of a combination of environmental factors. Each resource led to other resources and after a few years, I had gathered a fat file folder stuffed with journal articles, abstracts of research results and links to web sites, support groups, medical doctors, mental health practitioners, scientists, authors and grass roots organizations—all with their own arguments for or against medicating children who struggled to pay attention in school.
            During the early 90s, most of the information published about ADD and ADHD concerned diagnosis and medication. In the mid-90s, alarms began sounding from a disparate array of sources who expressed concern (or outrage) over the large numbers of children being diagnosed and questioning the safety of pharmaceuticals such as methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta) and amphetamine (Dexedrine and Adderall). The United Nations issued a warning in 1996 concerning the dramatic increase in use and the marketing of methylphenidate. I read documented reports of children having seizures, heart attacks, suicidal or homicidal episodes, depressions, stomach and head aches, stunted growth, sleep problems, uncontrollable tics, rashes and a host of other ailments all attributed to ADD/ADHD medications.
            In December 2000, Impact Press published an article by Gemma Hughes entitled "Have You Had Your Ritalin Today?" that hit hard at the heart of the controversy ( Hughes explained how Ritalin works, quoted The Merrow Report's "A.D.D. A Dubious Diagnosis"  that was aired on PBS, and suggested that many kids who are diagnosed as ADHD are actually gifted—a concept that I encountered again and again from teachers and counselors. Hughes cut straight to the heart of the problem, I think, when she expressed her concern that the very people who are called upon to treat disorders are the same ones who officially define those disorders. Ask an orthodontist if a child needs braces.
            In 2002, I came across the abstract from a research study conducted by a group of scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory (NY) entitled "Methylphenidate and cocaine have a similar in vivo potency to block dopamine transporters in the human brain," I was incredulous.
            Could this possibly be true? I wondered. Would we spend incredible amounts of time, energy and money trying to stop people from using cocaine, only to turn around and prescribe something similar to our school children? As a former military journalist, I knew that in order to find facts, I needed to go to the original source and not rely on other people's presentations of "truth." So I went to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration website ( and did a search for methylphenidate on July 12, 2002. What I read on the DEA website increased my concern. Here's what I read:
            "Methylphenidate, a Schedule II substance, has a high potential for abuse and produces the same effects as cocaine or the amphetamines."
            I subsequently learned from the DEA site that Schedule II substances are those that have a high potential for addiction or abuse; that the U.S. manufactures and consumes five times more methylphenidate than the rest of the world combined; and that methylphenidate production increased by 600% between 1990 and 2002. Further along in my reading, I came upon the following statements.
            "Extensive scientific literature spanning over 30 years of research unequivocally indicates that both methylphenidate and amphetamine have high abuse liabilities. . .they will substitute for each other and for cocaine in a number of paradigms in both animal and human subjects; in clinical studies they produce behavioral, psychological, subjective and reinforcing effects similar to cocaine; chronic high dose administration of either drug in animals produces psychomotor stimulant toxicity including weight loss, stereotypic movements and death."
            The evidence began to fall heavily into the "con" side of the ADHD controversy, supporting the claims of the alarmists. Then, I found the May, 16, 2000 Congressional Testimony of Terrance Woodworth, DEA Deputy Director, Office of Diversion Control, before the Committee on Education and the Workforce: Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families. After explaining that only two controlled substances are widely used by American doctors to treat young children (methylphenidate commonly known as Ritalin or Concerta and amphetamine marketed as Adderall and Dexedrine), Mr. Woodworth stated, "In 1995, in response to a petition by Children and Adults With Attention Deficit Disorder (CHADD) and the American Academy of Neurology to lower the regulatory controls on methylphenidate, the DEA conducted an extensive review of the use, abuse liability, actual abuse, diversion and trafficking of methylphenidate. The CHADD. petition characterized methylphenidate as a mild stimulant with little abuse potential—this is not what our review found and the petitioners subsequently withdrew their petition."
            Mr. Woodworth said that a summary of the DEA data gathered about Ritalin and similar drugs showed:

+studies to determine the long-term effects of these drugs are very limited
+no other country in the world uses these drugs to address childhood behaviors the way we do here in the U.S.
+a number of "questionable practices" have led to the widespread abuse of stimulants prescribed for ADHD, including improper diagnosis, lax handling of the drugs, and lack of adequate information to youth, parents and schools

            Further in his testimony, Mr. Woodworth presented statistics and figures about production, distribution and prescription of methylphenidate and amphetamine. Between 1991 and 1999, domestic sales of methylphenidate increased by 500 percent while the sales of amphetamine increased by more than 2000 percent. And 80 percent of the prescriptions for both substances are written for children with ADHD, half of those prescriptions written by pediatricians. The number of methylphenidate prescriptions rose sharply in the early 1990s and leveled off at about 11,000,000 per year for the four years preceding Mr. Woodworth's testimony. Amphetamine prescriptions (primarily Adderall) increased dramatically after 1996 to approximately 6,000,000.
            Perhaps the most alarming of many alarming statements in Mr. Woodworth's testimony were these two: "In 1998, IMS [a national prescription auditing firm] estimated that about 40 percent of all prescriptions for ADHD were written for children three to nine years of age and 4,000 methylphenidate prescriptions were written for children two years of age or less. It should be noted that methylphenidate is not approved for use in children under six years of age because safety and efficacy have not been established."
            Now, after more than two decades of research, I have become a little cynical (and more than a little frightened about the future of the children who are currently being medicated). So many people with so much to gain seem to be willing to use an entire generation of innocent children as guinea pigs. In 2005, when I read that the government intended to approve the use of growth hormones for children, my first thought was—Is this approval for the benefit of children or for the benefit of pharmaceutical companies whose products stunt children's growth?
            Shortly thereafter,  I heard a television ad that touted Strattera (a brand name for atomoxetine)as the first non-stimulant medication for ADHD. I was excited. I thought that the medical and pharmaceutical industries had finally listened to the millions of parents and children who were frightened by the side effects of methylphenidate and amphetamine. But when I did an Internet search, the first website I visited ( listed the following possible side effects for atomoxetine: upset stomach, vomiting, weight loss, constipation, mood swings, irritability, dizziness and sleep problems. The second site, hosted by Dr. Lawrence Diller, included an article entitled "Strattera: Now Playing Everywhere" in which he criticized the pharmaceutical industry for launching this "new" drug which has been marketed and promoted to doctors for two years in the hopes that the publicity would create a box-office hit. And so on and so on. Sigh.

What I Still Don't Understand
            My initial question has been answered: Yes, Americans are giving their children drugs as potentially deadly as cocaine. And now I wonder: Why? An after visiting the Center for Disease Control website in June 2010 ( , I also wonder:

Why are boys twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD as girls?

Why is ADHD diagnosis “significantly higher among non-Hispanic, primarily English-speaking, and insured children”?

Why has diagnosis of ADHD increased 3% during every year from 1997 to 2006?

Possible explanations suggested by various authors, philosophers, teachers, parents and concerned citizens include the following:

            Money. Do the math. It’s staggering. Statistics vary, depending upon the agency issue them, but there is general agreement that nearly 5 million American children between the ages of five and seventeen have been diagnosed with ADHD. An FDA press announcement* issued in 2007 cites an estimated 1.3 billion spent on ADHD medications in 2004. Given that the rate of diagnosis has risen by 3% every year during the past decade, we can add several million more to the current estimate. That doesn’t take into account adult prescriptions or the money spent diagnosing, testing, counseling, and creating individual education plans for children. As a teacher, I can't help but wonder how many of those children would have thrived if those billions had been spent on classroom materials and aides for teaching them instead of on drugs for medicating them. As a citizen, I wonder how that money could have been used for breast cancer research or literacy programs. (*
            More money. Many school districts receive funding for children who are diagnosed with any learning disability or deficiency. And various experts make good money from testing, diagnosing and treating children who are labeled ADD/ADHD.
            Guilt. Parents and teachers don't have to feel guilty about not being able to handle difficult children if those children are diagnosed as ADD/ADHD. Parents don't have to feel guilty about not providing a balanced, nutritious diet or ensuring that their children get enough sleep. Teachers don't have to wonder whether they are boring or deficient in leadership and management skills.
            Publicity. CHADD, the largest ADD support group, produced a pro-medication videotape that was widely distributed and viewed by teachers—before it became public knowledge that CHADD had received over $800,000 in funding from the pharmaceuticals giant that manufactures Ritalin, Ciba-Geigy (now Novartis). When this potentially biased business deal was exposed, many organizations withdrew their endorsement but nobody sent out a video suggesting alternative treatments. The pharmaceutical ball was already rolling fast.
            Ignorance. Many parents are uneducated or miseducated about the drugs various experts recommend for their children. And many parents trust doctors and school personnel above their own instincts, just because those people are “experts.” Sometimes parents are even threatened with legal action if they refuse to administer medications to their children. They don’t know how to fight back, legally.
            Convenience. Teachers don't have to spend so much time on classroom management. Administrators don't have to deal with so many unruly students being sent to the office by teachers. Parents don't have to spend as much time meeting and working with school personnel.
            Power. Many people believe that children's energy, creativity and imagination must be curtailed for the good of society; they believe the maverick must be tamed. (Fortunately, Einstein's teachers didn't take that approach.) Some school districts resent parental interference and requiring those parents to medicate their troublesome children gives schools the upper hand. Some parents have even been taken to court in order to force them to medicate their children or risk losing them.

            Today, I have newer, more difficult questions:

Is Attention Deficit Disorder the result of brain disorder or is it caused by environmental factors such as improper nutrition, sleep deprivation, food allergies, sensitivity to food dyes and chemical preservatives, outdated teaching methods and overcrowded classrooms?

Why isn’t there as much research into the idea that people diagnosed as ADHD might actually be gifted as there is research into methods of changing people’s behavior?

How can we help children who can't seem to sit still, listen effectively or control their own behavior—without harming them?

Is medicating so many children really the best we can do?

Is it even possible to stop the money-making ADHD machine now that it has become so powerful and lucrative?
Why I Still Have Hope
            When I began my research back in 1990, I admit I was searching for information to back my own bias against medicating children. As a proponent of natural holistic health practices, I didn't believe any child should be medicated, especially against his or her will. But after a decade of reading, listening, watching and thinking, I have joined the ranks of the perpetual questioners who believe that a very small number of children can benefit from medications. Those children should be monitored closely to make sure that the drugs they are required to take are helping and not hurting them. But I agree with the throngs of doctors, mental health practitioners, scientists, teachers and parents that medicating children should be our very last resort—instead of our very first. There is too much evidence that environmental factors are responsible for many of the problems that plague our children to believe otherwise. Researchers have identified food dyes, chemical preservatives, toxic metals, pesticide residues, vitamin and mineral deficiencies as major contributors to brain function and children's behavior. Nutritionists have proved that changing children's diets can cause significant differences in how well—or poorly—children think and behave. Therapists have produced truly amazing and heartening results using biofeedback and neurofeedback. For example, the educational research institution EGG Spectrum International maintains a website that highlights case histories that are impressive and encouraging, although they are actual clinical cases and not large-scale controlled studies (
            Some states have introduced or passed legislation that prohibits schools from forcing parents to medicate their children. Some, such as Colorado, have passed resolutions that discourage teachers from recommending medical evaluations for ADHD. Citizen groups such as Texans for Safe Education are taking a stand.
            I believe that enough people are now aware of the dangers of medicating so many children and interested in finding alternative solutions that we are going to see more safe and effective approaches to helping students focus on learning.

My Two Cents
At an education conference, a teacher approached me. “I know you are anti-medication,” she said, “but I am ADHD and I take meds and they really make me feel better.” My first thought was to reply, “Yes, and cocaine would make you feel better, too.” But I knew she would interpret my answer--as most people would--as flippant or disrespectful when that is far from the truth. I am concerned that so many people have been persuaded to consider powerful drugs as their first option, instead of seriously reconsidering and revising their sleep habits, eating and exercise habits, and the factors in their lives that affect their mental, emotional and spiritual health and happiness.
I asked my fellow teacher if she had visited the Food and Drug Administration website and read the literature about the medications she was taking. She hadn’t. She had glanced over the insert in the package the first time she picked up her prescription. I asked her to visit the government website that provides information about side effects and risks:

In February 2007, the FDA issued a press release directing manufacturers of all drug products approved for treatment of ADHD to provide medication guides for patients providing information about risks of adverse psychiatric symptoms and possible cardiovascular risks associated with medications. The medicines that are the focus of the revised labeling and new Patient Medication Guides include the following fifteen products:

• Adderall (mixed salts of a single entity amphetamine product) Tablets
• Adderall XR (mixed salts of a single entity amphetamine product) Extended-Release Capsules
• Concerta (methylphenidate hydrochloride) Extended-Release Tablets
• Daytrana (methylphenidate) Transdermal System
• Desoxyn (methamphetamine HCl) Tablets
• Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine sulfate) Spansule Capsules and Tablets
• Focalin (dexmethylphenidate hydrochloride) Tablets
• Focalin XR (dexmethylphenidate hydrochloride) Extended-Release Capsules
• Metadate CD (methylphenidate hydrochloride) Extended-Release Capsules
• Methylin (methylphenidate hydrochloride) Oral Solution
• Methylin (methylphenidate hydrochloride) Chewable Tablets
• Ritalin (methylphenidate hydrochloride) Tablets
• Ritalin SR (methylphenidate hydrochloride) Sustained-Release Tablets
• Ritalin LA (methylphenidate hydrochloride) Extended-Release Capsules
• Strattera (atomoxetine HCl) Capsules

I did visit the government website. I visited as many as I could find in my search for information. And I found another surprising bit of information when I checked the patient medication guide for methylphenidate, the most commonly prescribed ADHD medication. The list of common side effects didn’t surprise me: headache, stomach ache, decreased appetite, nervousness, dizziness, heart palpitations, nausea, insomnia. I had heard about possible serious side effects, too: seizures, stunted growth, vision problems. Under the section labeled “Clinical Pharmacology” was the statement “Ritalin is a mild central nervous system stimulant.” Nothing shocking there.
But the next two paragraphs made me stop and re-read and think. Here’s what they said:
“The mode of action in man is not completely understood, but Ritalin presumably activates the brain stem arousal system and cortex to produce its stimulant effect. There is neither specific evidence which clearly establishes the mechanism whereby Ritalin produces its mental and behavior effects in children, nor conclusive evidence regarding how these effects relate to the condition of the central nervous sytem.”
In other words, they know Ritalin is a stimulant. That’s all they are confident enough to state unequivocally. How does it work? Does it work? If the drug companies don’t know the answers to those basic questions, how can they recommend the use of a medication -- especially for young children? It’s unconscionable at best, unethical at worst.
I should mention here that there is a medication guide at the website listed above for each of the fifteen medications in the list. As new side effects are discovered, those guides will most likely be updated. But the current warnings would be enough to deter me from taking methylphenidate. In addition to the list of side effects including , here’s what the guide says about risks, following the word WARNINGS printed in bold capital letters. More bold letters warning of Serious Cardiovascular Events, then:
Children and Adolescents: sudden death has been reported in association with CNS (Central Nervous System) stimulant treatment at usual doses in children and adolescents with structural cardiac abnormalities.
Adults: sudden death, stroke, and myocardial infarction have been reported in adults taking stimulant drugs at usual doses for ADHD...stimulant medications cause a modest increase in average blood pressure and average heart rate, and individuals may have larger increases.

My point isn’t that we should be frightened of medications, but that we should seriously consider other options when sudden death is a possibility since most people aren’t aware of potential heart problems unless those problems have caused some concern in the past. My brother, for example, was an athlete who liked to sleep a lot, or so we thought. It turned out that he had a “leaky valve” that went undetected for years until he reached his mid-twenties and unusual fatigue finally sent him to the doctor. Had he been given ADHD medications, he might very well have become one of the “sudden death” statistics.
The Rest of the Story
Here my Top Twenty Picks—the most thought-provoking, informative and intriguing websites, studies and books I encountered in my search for answers to the ADHD dilemma:
            Born to Explore! The Other Side of ADD is a good place to start. Teresa Gallagher, an environmental scientist who homeschools her two children, posts information "about creativity, learning styles and giftedness to counter the idea that all those kids labeled with attention deficit disorder actually have something wrong with them." This site has nutritional and scientific information presented in everyday language, links to an array of resources, book reviews, inspirational quotations, articles and essays including one entitled "The Problem with CHADD" that provides one of the more balanced critiques of the organization.

Left-Brained Children in a Right-Brained World (Fireside, 1998) by Jeffrey Freed and Laurie Parsons.
            If parents read only one book about ADD/ADHD, I would recommend this one. Freed is a former teacher who now works exclusively with ADD and gifted children as an educational therapist. His perspective is logical, humane and adaptable by parents who want to help their children. Freed is not completely anti-drugs. He believes that a small number of children can benefit from medication, but his focus is on finding other solutions, if possible. He discusses different medications and diets, but as the subtitle of his book implies, he is more concerned with helping parents unlock the potential of their ADD children.
            The Feingold Diet was originally designed for people with allergies until people noticed that putting children on the diet reduced or eliminated ADHD behavior. One of the major culprits, according to the Feingold Association is salicylates, a group of chemicals related to aspirin. You don't have to give up sugar or snack foods on this diet, but you do have to read the labels before you buy. The site provides a list of acceptable foods you can find in your local grocery store, from ice cream and cereal to frozen waffles and chips. Success stories are heartening and many parents swear by the diet. (Many people find it difficult to follow the diet consistently, but I believe that even eliminating a few or the worse food culprits will help children.) The website includes scientific research, testimonials, a list of symptoms, materials available, a newsletter, resource links.
            Direct link to the PBS Frontline documentary "Medicating Kids: a report on parents, educators and doctors trying to make sense of a mysterious and controversial medical diagnosis: adhd." The program interviewed children on medication, their parents, teachers, and experts with vastly diverging opinions. This was the program that publicized the connection between CHADD and the pharmaceutical corporation that funded the group's pro-Ritalin videotape. As of June 2011, the entire program can be viewed online in five separate chapters. There is also a follow-up posted about the four children and their families who were the subjects of the documentary.
            The ADD Action Group is a non-profit organization (with IRS 501c status) that helps people find alternative solutions for Attention Deficit Disorder, Learning Differences, Dyslexia and Autism. Their website offers some things that others don't, such as a 26-page catalog of video and audio tapes. The FAQ section is helpful and there is a good list of recommended articles and books.
            Hosted by Dr. Alan Greene, this website provides a wealth of good information and a list of research studies linking sleep deprivation and ADD. Greene is on the Clinical Faculty at Stanford University and President of Hi-Ethics (Health Internet Ethics). In addition to information about ADHD, the website contains a long list of related articles about childhood health concerns, from acne to wheezing
            An excerpt from the website: "We know, based on common sense, that inadequate sleep makes kids more moody, more impulsive, and less able to concentrate. . .Recent research has verified that chronic poor sleep results in daytime tiredness, difficulties with focused attention, low threshold to express negative emotion (irritability and easy frustration), and difficulty modulating impulses and emotions (Seminars in Pediatric Neurology, Mar 1996). These are the same symptoms that can earn kids the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity."
            For people who want to stay informed about the latest biotechnology, the National Center for Biotechnology Information, The National Institutes of Health and the National Library of Medicine can all be accessed via this free website—no registration or fee required.
            Information and entertainment combined. This is a link to Policy Review's excellent article (20 pages) by Mary Eberstadt "Why Ritalin Rules" that details the rise of Ritalin and the backlash against it. Very readable account with a lot of interesting side notes and addendum, such as the test scores of a variety of people who took an ADD questionnaire—the quiz is reproduced so you can see how you would score.
            This link goes directly to the PubMed (a service of the National Library of Medicine) citation for a journal article published by three New York researchers in March 2003. The abstract for "Nutrition in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a neglected but important aspect" reads, in part:

"Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is multidetermined and complex, requiring a multifaceted treatment approach. Nutritional management is one aspect that has been relatively neglected to date. Nutritional factors such as food additives, refined sugars, food sensitivities/allergies, and fatty acid deficiencies have all been linked to ADHD. There is increasing evidence that many children with behavioral problems are sensitive to one or more food components that can negatively impact their behavior. Individual response is an important factor for determining the proper approach in treating children with ADHD. "
            Recommended readings, assistance in finding a physician who will help with natural alternatives, information about food and environmental sensitivities, yeast, the effect of specific vitamins and supplements, and prescription medication side effects.
            Dr. Thomas Armstrong is the author of several books, including The Myth of the A.D.D. Child: 50 Ways to Improve Your Child's Behavior and Attention Span without Drugs, Labels, or Coercion. I was impressed with his argument that the current diagnoses are too often simplistic and negative. Many of his articles are available free on his website. His latest book, as this one goes to print, is titled Neurodiversity: Discovering the Extraordinary Gifts of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Brain Differences.
            Website of the Columbia University-educated physician Lawrence Diller, author of Running on Ritalin and Should I Medicate My Child? who now practices in California. If you check the reviews of Running on Ritalin, you'll find that most parents applaud this doctor who asked the same hard questions they were asking themselves about the medications they were giving their children. Although Dr. Diller believes stimulants are over-prescribed, he is not anti-drug. An intelligent look at the ADHD situation in America. Also, on his website, he offers phone consultations.
            Website hosted by Dr. Mary Ann Block, author of No More Ritalin (Kensington Books, 1996). Block is a licensed osteopathic physician who entered medical school in a desperate attempt to learn how to help her own sick child when traditional treatments failed. Her method is based on the belief that treating the symptoms won't cure the problem. She focuses on underlying causes of ADD/ADHD such as hypoglycemia, allergies, environmental factors and hyperthyroidism. She provides actual case histories, provides dietary guidelines, gives a good list of resources and explains how to enhance the learning process. Block has developed a series of programs and materials people can purchase for in-home use. She also provides a bibliography of scientific research on ADD/ADHD.
            I included this link because it takes you to the website Death from Ritalin. The name seems a little melodramatic until you learn that it was created by a couple whose young son died after taking Ritalin. They include the date of death, the doctor's name, and this statement from their son's death certificate: "Death caused from Long Term Use of Methylphenidate, (Ritalin)." They list a number of important items of information that they believe are being withheld from parents who must decide whether to medicate their children. Worth a quick read, at least.
            Dr. Peter R. Breggin, author of Talking Back to Ritalin (1998) is one of the most outspoken, well-educated and articulate opponents to the use of Ritalin and other stimulants for ADD/ADHD. Breggin has been practicing psychiatrist for over thirty years (his subspecialty is clinical phsychopharmacology) and has written dozens of scientific articles and professional books, many dealing with psychiatric medication, the FDA and drug approval process, the evaluation of clinical trials. Breggin founded The International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology (ICSPP) in 1972 as a nonprofit research and educational network. The Center is concerned with the impact of mental health theory and practices upon individual well-being, personal freedom, and family and community values. 
  Dr. Breggin's background includes Harvard College, Case Western Reserve Medical School, a teaching fellowship at Harvard Medical School, a two-year staff appointment to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and a faculty appointment to the Johns Hopkins University Department of Counseling.
            This website, titled What Your Doctor May Not Know, Psychiatric Drug Facts, has an extensive array of well-documented information about neuroleptics, stimulant side effects, jury verdicts in cases involving pharmacology, Congressional investigations into Ritalin and ADHD, etc. Unlike many web site hosts, Dr. Breggin provides the address and phone number of his office in Ithaca, New York where he still practices.
Check the Center for Disease Control website for the latest statistics about how many children have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD and how many are currently on medications.


A Conversation about Discipline

July 3, 2011

Tags: Classroom management, teaching, discipline, disruptive students

Do Teachers Have the Right to Remove Severely Disruptive Students from the Classroom?

This month’s blog is taken from a discussion board in an online course called Effective Teaching that I am teaching online this summer. The topics this week are discipline and motivation. The exchange below isbetween me and one of the students, an intern teacher who has some experience teaching, but does not yet have a teaching license.

Subject: Discipline and motivation Author: T.C. Date: Thursday, June 30, 2011

I agree with chapter 6 title that discipline is not a dirty word, but it is a necessary one that should be used properly and only when necessary. I never bought into my parents and teachers saying “this hurts me more than it will hurt you “ before I got swatted in school and then again at home a few hours later on those same dreadful nights in the 1970s. No, it just hurt me and made me want to get even. I associated school with physical pain. Not good and it wasn‘t until college when I got past this mistaken belief.
My students today are stunned when I tell them about how discpline was dished out in my middle and high school a few decades back. There was little concern for the safety or pain threshold of students. I, along with many other white male, middle-class, suburban, public-school classmates, were paddled, slapped on hands with rulers, grabbed and thrown against walls or occassionally picked off the floor by the collar of our starched white shirts by our teachers whenever we disrupted class or showed disrespect toward the teacher. Back in that day, my World War II and Korean War-era veteran teachers, who when I was a kid were middle-age, did NOT politely and respectfully put up with improper conduct from long-haired, pimply-faced students. Humilation and physical pain were the negative reinforcements to remind one to behave better next time.
Obviously based on my recent readings for ED 204 Effective Teaching, much research has gone into proper disciplining of students during the past 30 years. That is good for the students. At least they won’t have the physical scars of being disciplined in school. I like how the textbook recommends “positive discipline” techniques that get a student to address his behavior and own up to it. I agree that identifying early bullies and their victims (outcasts) is important because in the long run those outcasts without proper support and encouragement for dealing with difficult people will unfortunately continue to have a tough time in life. Meanwhile, the playground bully needs to grow up because the tough-guy stuff won’t get him beyond middle management in his future business career. It is my experience that No. 5 “have a quick chat” from the textbook’s 12-Step Program works well. I will go outside with the unruly student and in private ask politely and respectfully what is going on with his attitude and subsequent behavior. Most will answer honestly and often it is about something that happened earlier in the day with someone in my class and it is not even related to me. Just don‘t get too physically close to him (about a handshake distance apart) and don ‘t speak with him in front of his “posse “ or “homeboys.” This type of boy has a tough-guy image to protect.
No. 12 Remove the Perpetrator is my favorite on the list. Good luck. I‘ve tried this many times and at best I‘ve had the student removed for the remainder of class. But he is back the next day and angrier than ever. Also, we are responsible for all our students during the period, so if little Johnny leaves your room at your request and decides he is going to leave campus and break into nearby houses (happened to me already), you will have a lot of explaining to do to his parents, police and principal as to why you “can‘t control your class.”
I recommend reading twice the “Emergency Meltdown Disaster Plan “ p. 164-168 because this list gives some options when things go really bad and helps you reflect on if you really want to be in this profession. The “12 Motivational Tips” is a terrific chapter. Please read it. It is an upbeat and a refreshing read after the discipline chapter.

Subject: Re:Discipline and motivation Author: LouAnne Johnson

T.C. - I wanted to address your comments about removing the perpetrator. You wrote: “we are responsible for all our students during the period, so if little Johnny leaves your room at your request and decides he is going to leave campus and break into nearby houses (happened to me already), you will have a lot of explaining to do to his parents, police and principal as to why you “can ‘t control your class. “ I hope I didn ‘t suggest in the book that teachers are not responsible for students. But if a high school student is asked to step outside the room to consider his behavior and instructed not to leave the area, and the student chooses to cut school and engage in criminal activity, it is not the teacher ‘s fault. It is the fault of the student for choosing behavior that he knows is wrong; the fault of the parents for not instilling better values when the student was younger (high school is too late to start); and the fault of a school system that expects teachers to teach effectively when there are truly disruptive students in a classroom that prevent others from learning.
Administrators and fellow teachers have to support each other in making a safe place and a plan for disruptive students -- and not a detention room where the “bad kids “ have a “babysitter “ to watch them. Students who act out severely either have personal problems (abuse, neglect, lack of coping skills), learning problems, brain trauma, or some other factor that teachers cannot be expected to fix. And teachers should not be expected to allow such students to impede the learning of an entire class.
I ‘m not talking about minor misbehavior here. I ‘m talking about kids who truly do prevent teachers from teaching and prevent others from learning. We have all seen them. Teachers must continue to request support from administrators who should be helping us find ways to teach effectively, not blaming us for the bad behavior of children who have been permitted to misbehave for years because it ‘s easier and cheaper to tolerate the misbehavior than to take the time necessary to meet with families, counselors, mental health experts, etc.
I like to imagine if these students were in a work situation. Would the supervisors tolerate people who disrupted the work of an entire office or company ? Would their aggressive behavior be tolerated in a public library, a theatre, a shopping mall ? No. Other people would report them and they would be stopped.
So, my question is: why do people expect teachers to tolerate this behavior, or make it stop when the people whose job it is to stop it can‘t do it ? That ‘s why I say, when you have a serious disrupter who isn ‘t interested in learning and who is determined to make sure nobody else can, we should have the right to remove them from our classrooms. And we must protect the rights of all those children who do want to learn and who deserve the right to have a safe and effective classroom.

Subject: Re:Discipline and motivation Author: T.C.

LouAnne, I agree with every word you wrote in this post. I will print it out and place it in the top draw of my desk. You put into words what I ‘ve been stumbling verbally to say for a long time. High school is too late to begin instilling values (morals and ethics as well). But much to my shock and dismay, I found it something I had to do. I want to keep these students out of prison or graveyard whichever comes first. Both of my students who got shot used to openly brag that they can ‘t be hurt. They found out the hard way they were wrong. Every one of my students should outlive me, but I ‘m not sure that is going to happen in too many cases. As far as having a disruptive student exit the room, I was sternly told by my principal to never order a student to leave the room. I was instructed to push a white button on the wall and wait (and wait ........) for security to escort the student out of the classroom (if security even shows up). In the meantime, we both know a lot of bad things can happen to the student, classmates and me. TC

Subject: Re:Discipline and motivation Author: LouAnne Johnson

This is one of the biggest issues in teaching. There are some good administrators who really support their teachers. I have had the pleasure of working with a few. But, sadly, far too many administrators either don ‘t have classroom teaching experience, were promoted because they were terrible teachers, they wanted the bigger paycheck, they ‘re interested in power and politics, or the lawyers have scared them into cowering in front of parents and students instead of standing tall and insisting that everybody, including parents and students, accept responsibility for their behavior.
That said, I think there is a huge difference (and I think lawyers would agree, if it came to that) between ordering a student to leave the room and asking a student to step out into the hallway with you for a quiet chat and then asking the student to remain there to calm down before coming back into the classroom. If students really are so untrustworthy that they can‘t stand outside the door, then they certainly can‘t be trusted not to jump up and attack people in the classroom. I know exactly what you mean about keeping them from prison or the grave. That‘s something I struggled with for years. And then I finally realized that in many cases, they have a vision of themselves as criminals or dead people. And we can‘t intervene in another person ‘s vision of him or herself. It‘s like going up to an adult and saying, “Look, you really need to stop eating junk food or quitting smoking or drinking.” It doesn ‘t work.
But what we CAN do, I have found, is to create quiet times when we can talk to students one on one - make them stay after school, call them in during lunch, whatever we have to do to get more than two minutes with them. Then, sit and look at them, calmly and clearly so that they see you are “seeing “ them. Then ask what they want out of life. Ask how they would describe themselves. Many times, they can‘t answer, but those questions will continue to ask themselves. Then, I tell them what I see in them that they can ‘t see themselves. I see talents or abilities or charm or wit or intelligence or physical coordination or musicality or color sense or intuition or humor -- I see something that they can‘t see. And I ask them what they envision for their futures. If they shrug, they may not being just teenagers, they really may not see a future. We can‘t create a future vision for them, but we can tell them what we see in them and what we think some of their options are. Real options. Not “you can do anything you choose to do “ which may be true but they can‘t believe that yet.
The idea is that you present yourself as a human being trying to connect to another human being. They may not be able to allow the connection or acknowledge it, if they are intent on maintaining their “cool “ reputation of not caring about anything. But I always say to them, “If you really didn t care about getting an education, I don’t think you would be here. So I think you care about yourself. I think that maybe you wonder what kind of chances you have in this world. And I truly believe that we may not be able to choose the circumstances of our lives, but we can choose the kind of people we are. And we can change our lives by changing the way we think about ourselves.”
Then I thank them for giving me the respect of listening to me, even if they don‘t feel comfortable talking. And I try to use private journals to communicate more about these ideas.
It ‘s like lion taming in a way. You have a bunch of big old dangerous cats in a small room, intermingled with a bunch of innocent kitties and a few potentially dangerous youngsters and you have to try to navigate your way through this group, training them to do things that don’t come naturally to them, and you want them to know that you love them -- but you also know that given the right circumstances, such as one of the old cats attacking another old cat, that whip and chair aren ‘t going to do you much good. So, you try to find a way to keep those old cats in a passive mood -- but at the same time, you want to engage their brains. I make it sound scary. I can ‘t remember being scared more than once or twice in six years of teaching gangsters and wannabes. They really are mostly bark and no bite, but you can ‘t assume that is always the case.
So, why keep trying to teach those disruptive students? Because it‘s important and statistically, it ‘s not any more dangerous than driving or flying or getting married (spouses kill each other all the time). And if you can connect in even a small way, you can change a life. And every life changed starts a ripple in a family chain that never stops.
Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now. Thank you.