The Worst Phone Call I’ve Made to a Parent

My hands were shaking as I picked up the phone. I was about to make a phone call to a parent of one of my best first-grade students, a call that I never thought I would have to make during my time teaching, especially during my very first teaching experience.

“Hi, Mrs. Johnson, it’s Mrs. Ross, your daughter’s teacher right now while her regular teacher is on maternity leave. I’m calling about your daughter, we had an incident today that I need to let you know about. While we were doing an activity with scissors, a boy in the class took a pair to your daughter’s braid and cut off the end of it. It was about an inch of hair and she is devastated. Do you mind talking to her for a little bit?” 

When the phone was handed back to me a few minutes later, I apologized over and over to her. I couldn’t believe that something like that happened in my classroom. All of the reminders of procedures and the rules we had in place for using scissors, it all went out the door the second the little boy put the scissors up to her hair. I felt like a failure as a teacher. 

Her mom came to pick her up from school early, she was too upset to make it through the school day. Proper action was taken on the situation with both students, and at the end of the day when all of them filed out of my classroom, I finally let my emotions show. I sat with other teachers in the copy room while we prepped for the next day and I told them how awful I felt about the situation. All of them helped me feel better by swapping their own stories of situations they have been in with students throughout their years of teaching, it helped me realize I wasn’t alone, others had been in this boat before too. 

What really helped most was my conversation with this little girl’s mom the next day. She dropped her off at school in the morning with a fresh new haircut and I continued to apologize to each of them again. Her mom responded by letting me know that she wasn’t upset in the slightest, either at me or the other student. These kids are seven years old, they are unpredictable and emotional human beings and it would be impossible for me to keep my eyes on each of them at all times, it wasn’t my fault. She even ended the conversation by asking if she could volunteer for anything, even if it was just cutting up things for me (since we had a new classroom rule of NO SCISSORS ALLOWED until I could get over what had happened). 

I expected her to be more upset with me, blaming everything on me, so to have her be understanding and in my corner was refreshing and uplifting. It really made me realize how much we as teachers need parents. They can be your advocate in bad situations. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve dealt with my fair share of difficult parents too, but that doesn’t mean they are all that way. Even though I was only in a long-term substitute teaching job, I wish I could have gone back and utilized parents more from the beginning. They really can be your best tool, if you let them in. 

I truly am curious, what is one of your worst teaching memories that you can hopefully look back on and laugh now? 

My #OneWord2019 Almost Broke Me. Carefully Choosing My #OneWord2020

Hi, all! Mary Wade here again for a couple of posts as I wrap up my winter break. It has been a much-needed time, filled with family snuggles, house projects, and even potty training. I am feeling ready to jump back into the kindergarten fray on Monday. But first, I’d like to start with my one word goal for 2020.

I have loved my one word goal journey.

2017’s year of synthesis brought clarity and connection.

2018’s year of power brought hope and resolve.

And 2019’s year of flexibility has brought, well…more than I bargained for.

Choosing flexibility has yielded tremendous growth and opportunities. But the truth is, that discomfort nearly brought this planning-centric TeacherMom to a breaking point. Accepting a last-minute kindergarten teaching position, trying daycare for the first time, stepping into the spotlight on an sharp local political issue–none of these are arenas I would have imagined for myself. And all had me exclaiming out loud a few times, “I take it all back on growth mindset being a good thing!!

Of course, this is exactly why flexibility was exactly what I needed. Both figuratively and literally, by the way–I’m pleased to share that I can now touch my toes after a year of trying to stretch as often as possible!

But as I ponder the intensity of this last year’s one word goal, and the seriousness of all my one word goals thus far, I think the time has come for a year of…joy. Not that these previous years have not brought joy, and not that I want to retreat from the stretching and growing that has been so valuable for me.

One of my favorite photos I took last year.

It’s that I recognize that for me, the exercise of identifying joy–especially amid difficulty–will yield at least as much growth as might the weightier-sounding endeavors like “discipline” or “grit.” My strength in planning can quickly become my weakness as I’m prone to excessive regimentation and delayed gratification, pushing aside frivolity if I feel like it will stand in the way of productivity.

This year, I will choose to embrace messy interruptions and the bouts of silliness that come with raising and teaching children. I will choose to deliberately linger on moments of wonder and delight, seeking out new ways to document, savor, and share. I will also choose to notice when pressure to perform threatens to swallow the joy from my days.

I look forward to this year of joy and the new and different ways I hope to grow!

What If Inquiry-Based Teaching Isn’t Always The Right Answer?

Inquiry-based learning has become more of a common practice throughout schools. It encourages asking questions, thinking deeper, and applying the material to personal lives. Inquiry-based learning is flexible because the student is the leader for where the conversation and learning leads. It can have higher engagement because the student can take the material where they want it to go. 

This type of learning is so beneficial in some studies. However, are there times when inquiry-based isn’t best? What are the parameters for inquiry-based versus direct instruction? 

Teamwork and group projects are where inquiry-based flourishes, students can collaborate, ask questions, and use the skills developed in inquiry learning to look deeper into the subject. 

Science lessons based on experiment and discovering new ideas is also a great platform for inquiry. 

Discussions on subjects are where inquiry-based can blossom. Promoting questions with long or different answers can assist in deeper inquiry, instead of direct, one-word answer questions. 

However, are there times inquiry-based learning isn’t the best way? Where does direct instruction fit into the school day? Here is a great rule of thumb- throw out inquiry-based as soon as you see a student struggling. It’s important to note that struggle is good when using inquiry because it can lead to more learning breakthroughs for the student. The struggle that causes red flags is the kids who are constantly struggling, the kids on a lower reading level than their peers, or the ones who cannot seem to grasp the concept enough to participate in these discussions. This is where direct instruction needs to happen. 

Imagine a struggling child who is constantly poked and prodded with questions about letters and sounds in order for them to inquire more about it, eventually leading to them knowing what the letter names and sounds are. If they are already behind, more inquiring isn’t going to help them. It’s a powerful tool to directly tell them what something is and how it functions over and over until it clicks. Once they can grasp this complex concept, they can continue to move up and work on each concept until eventually, they can participate in inquiry discussions. 

Sometimes, kids don’t need more questions, they just need direct information. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate for inquiry-based learning, and plan to write more on the subject matter. But I am also an advocate for doing what is best for the student. 

What is your rule of thumb for direct versus inquiry learning? 

Be Firm and Be a Friend: How to Handle Those Difficult Students

I have stepped into many different classrooms with countless students over the years. Each room of kids seems to follow a similar pattern. The students that just want to help, they do everything they can to be the favorite. Then there are the students who sit in the back, keep to themselves, and try not to draw any extra attention. The ones listening intently to every word, but maybe not saying much. There’s always the students lost in their own thoughts of Minecraft or Fortnite, and the students fidgeting with things in their desks. There are so many different kinds of students you will run into in any given classroom, but there is always one student you will find no matter what. The kid that pushes your buttons and limits as far as he or she possibly can. 

I still remember the first encounter I had with one of these students, it was only a few years into my undergrad. I was in front of a fourth-grade class teaching a writing lesson, one of the very first full lessons I had ever taught. I was nervous as I stood in front of them, then took all of my excitement in me to exclaim, “Today we are going to do some fun writing!” 

A few students tuned me out, I knew it. Others paid a little more attention. One student, sitting on the front row smack in the middle as if he was purposely placed there to torment me yelled out, “WRITING SUCKS!” and had the whole class laughing within seconds. 

My little, tender, pre-teacher heart could not handle this. I choked back tears as I continued on with the lesson, ignoring his comment like I had been taught in my classroom management courses. “Class, who can tell me how many sentences make up a paragraph?”

“NONE BECAUSE WE DON’T WRITE ANYTHING FOR ANYONE.” 

His words crushed my soul. I made it through the lesson without crying, but their teacher could tell I was struggling because she pulled me aside at recess and asked if I was okay. I told her I struggled with this particular student and his comments. She sat me down and explained how he was testing my limits, what he was allowed to get away with around me. She told me the most important thing was that I needed to be firm, but also, be a friend. 

I took her advice and applied it the very next day. During the second part of my writing lesson, he thought it would be fun to hop onto his chair and dance for the class. I had to stand my ground and tell him that behavior was not appropriate in my classroom and that he would need to sit down. 

He didn’t listen right away, it took days and days of me repeating my expectations, removing him from the classroom, and calling on other teachers to assist. But slowly, we made improvements, he saw where I stood and started respecting that. Once we had somewhat mutual respect for each other, the friendship started. 

“Hey, Mrs. Ross, do you like football?” 

I can still remember him asking me that question in the hallway after school one day because it was the first interaction we had that wasn’t a power struggle between us. 

We proceeded to have a full discussion about football and he told me about his favorite college football team, BYU, and his favorite player, Taysom Hill. I asked questions and learned more about his passion for watching this game that I had never quite understood myself. 

He and I would chat often about recent games or the latest news with the team and even broaden our conversations beyond football at times. He would ask me about the latest news with my dog we were trying to convince our landlord to let us keep. At home, I would ask my husband the latest news on BYU and brush up on the current events with Taysom. Once we started building a friendship, the respect towards each other grew even further. 

This particular little boy was known throughout the school to be a tough student. Teachers in the hallways would try to reprimand him for bullying, running, and yelling to distract ongoing lessons, with no success. Eventually, I could give him one look, and he would know his behavior was not acceptable. Teachers throughout the school would ask me often what my secret was, how was I bribing him to behave? 

The truth was, no bribery was needed. This little boy needed one thing. Friendship. His teacher was in tune with him and knew which is why she advised me to do two things. Be firm, and be his friend. 

As I continued through my teaching career, I quickly found out that he wasn’t the only student like this that I would encounter.  I met many other students who attempted to push my limits and nearly bring me to tears, but at the end of my time with them, they always ended up being one of my favorite students because I spent extra time building a relationship with them. 

So next time you’re frustrated by that one student that always has a mean comment, or thinks it’s okay for her to crack inappropriate jokes during lessons, remember that it could be their cry for attention and love. 

Find out what they are interested in and truly care about it too. Ask them questions about the games they play and the friends they have. I’ve learned about college football, famous YouTube stars, Fortnite, JoJo Siwa, and more. They are all topics that have never been on my radar and most likely would not have if I hadn’t talked with them for a minute. Dude Perfect turned out to be more interesting than I ever would have expected!

At first, they’ll push you away and resist any relationship, it’s their defense mechanism because deep down they know they cannot continue to be the class clown if they start respecting you. But keep trying, be persistent, and just truly care about them and each of your students. 

I look back and think about these students often. I wonder how they are doing in school and genuinely hope that they have been passed along to other teachers that care about them as much as I do. I hope that they have someone to talk about BYU football and famous YouTube stars, because I know that’s the conversations they need to be having in order to learn about Shakespear and y=mx+b. I truly hope they are successful and that my short encounters with them made the smallest difference in their lives. In the end, that is the reason we are all teachers, right? 

I Am Not a Crafty Teacher and I Accept That

During my long term substitute teaching job, the first-grade team I was working with had started Fun Fridays. This is becoming a more and more common practice in schools, where the students who are caught up on work can participate in fun activities on Fridays, while other students take that time to work on assignments they may be missing. 

The four classes were intertwined and mixed into four different groups from all of first grade, allowing everyone to be with friends and peers from other classes. The doors to our rooms were opened up, and every Friday, chaos ensued. However, no matter how chaotic it seemed, it truly was a fun Friday to switch everything up just a bit and have a change of schedule. 

Each teacher had a responsibility to come up with a game or activity for the students in their classrooms for that week. We would repeat this every week with a different group until we made our way through the four groups, then move on to the next activity of teacher choice. 

On my first Friday I took over the class, the teacher had left me with the moving fish craft she had done the last two weeks prior, leaving me with two more groups to finish it with. 

Moving Fish


They are cute crafts and fun for kids to make! However, from a teacher’s standpoint, it’s actually a nightmare to conduct this craft with 30 first-graders, each needing individual help with 80% of the steps. Maybe I’m just not a crafty enough person, but this was not working out for me. I needed a change. I tried the fish craft for one week before I gave up and switched to a new craft for the last week of the month. This is what I chose: 

Origami Flowers


Why did I think for one second that I could pull off an origami craft with 30 students when I couldn’t pull off the moving fish craft, to begin with? That’s a very good question, because needless to say, I failed yet again. 

There are probably countless teachers that exist in schools all over the world that are great at crafting and teaching students cute origami and paper making crafts. I am not one of those teachers. I tried to be, I gave it my best effort, and I even felt obligated to because teachers are supposed to be crafty, aren’t they? I felt like they were known for that, and I was failing if I wasn’t crafty as well. However, at the end of the day, it wasn’t me. 

The biggest takeaway from my long term sub job was that being genuine as a teacher is the key to success. I had to fully accept that I was not a teacher that provided fun paper folding activities but instead prompted creativity in other ways. 

I found success in my Fun Friday activity the day I handed out a two-foot piece of yarn to every student and left a bowl of fruit loops on each table. I left no instructions beyond that, turned on classical music, and watched the magic happen. 

Many students walked away with fruit loop necklaces. Others with multiple bracelets because they cut the string into smaller pieces. I saw different weaves with the string and cereal pieces from kids, as well as some who simply just played with the string in their fingers and munched on dry cereal while they talked with friends. No one did it the right way, no one did it the wrong way, they simply just did it their way. 

This is the teacher that I am, and as soon as I learned and embraced it, it made the rest of my teaching experiences much smoother for myself and the students. All it took was a little life lesson from a simple cereal and string activity. 

How did you find yourself as a teacher? What helped you to create the culture in your classroom that flows and works for you and your students? 

Featured Image: pexels.com

How Vulnerability Lead To My Greatest Breakthrough

Graduating with a teaching degree in December can be a tricky thing. For me, I was in an area with too many teachers and not enough classrooms. While it may be an ideal situation for a school district, it was hard on me for finding work, so my solution was to sign up as a substitute teacher. Within the first few weeks, a principal from a nearby school called offering me a job as a long term sub for a first-grade classroom while their teacher was on maternity leave. I was overjoyed! The job wouldn’t start for a few months, but the teacher requested me to come in a few times to get a feel for the classroom and learn their daily schedule. 

I spent the next two months visiting the classroom about once a week, helping here and there, and getting to know the students. Right away, I could tell they all really loved their teacher, and even though they were excited for her to have her baby, they were sad to see her leave. 

I didn’t know it at the time, but immediately, I was intimidated. I felt like these kids already knew I was less of a teacher and that they would resent me for taking her place. Without even realizing, I started promoting myself to them, trying to prove that I would be a sufficient replacement. 

Every time I visited the classroom I promised them new things. “Guys, when I come to teach you we will do fun things!” My list grew and grew with promises. 

You love legos? Great! I’ll bring legos!

We can color ALL OF THE TIME. 

I have some super fun books that I can read to you guys! We can do read alouds all day long! 

Do you play the violin? We should find a day for you to play it for us! 

This was me showing them that I could be a fun teacher too. I was doubting my abilities, so obviously they had to be doubting them as well. 

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this would backfire. In fact, it only took one day. 

I walked in on my first day with the highest hopes and walked out at the end of the day in tears. Four kids had been shuttled to the principal’s office before lunch. During reading time we didn’t even make it through the text because there was too much side talking for anyone to concentrate. And walking through the hallways was a joke. I could not keep enough order to keep them in line, let alone quiet enough to not disrupt other classrooms. In fact, another teacher stepped into the hallway and yelled at the kids as we walked by because they were losing control. I was losing control. I knew I was failing. 

I had a 25-minute drive home to think about what went wrong and how I needed to fix it. As I pulled into my driveway, it all dawned on me. I never tried to be their teacher, I only tried to be their friend. And even though I truly believe in having a good relationship with your students and teaching to their needs, I also know that my prime role in the classroom is a teacher. 

Continuing on in my reflecting, I also came to realize that I actually didn’t have to prove myself to them. All of these inadequacies I was feeling came only from me, not from them. That night I sat down and made myself a plan for day two. Something needed to change in order for us to make it through the next 9 weeks together. 

Tuesday morning I started off different than their teacher ever had. I stood by the door, which immediately caught them off guard. I instructed each student as they entered to head to the rug for a meeting, to which most students gave me weird looks or protested because it was so out of the norm for them. 

Once we were all seated, I apologized to them for how the day had run previously. I apologized that I didn’t have better control of the class, that we were not able to learn much from the lack of management, and for the disruptions that hindered our day. I felt vulnerable in front of these first-graders apologizing for my mistakes, but it was a great learning moment for all of us. 

After apologizing to them, I laid out my expectations clear and simple for them. Talking while I am talking would not be tolerated. Walking through the hallways would look like quiet, respectful students who walked, not ran. Further expectations followed but ended with a powerful statement that I repeated to them for the remainder of my time there. I told them that they were the BEST class in the whole entire school and that they only sent me to be their teacher because of their exceptional behavior, and that I expected them to uphold this. 

Most of them did not believe me at first, they were known as a hard class throughout the school and they knew that. But I can promise you, I changed their minds by the time I left them. 

By the end of day two, I cannot say that we had a miraculous change. But I can say that there was an improvement. I took on the role of a teacher and it made a big difference. Little by little, we had better and better days. They were quietly walking through the hallways and raising their hands to speak more often. We still had our struggles and I still worked hard to maintain their confidence that they were the best class in the entire school, even when I was doubting it myself. 

I finally realized I had corrected my mistake a few weeks in as I walked my class to the library. They quietly filed in and followed the instructions of the librarian. Our school librarian looked at me in amazement and congratulated me. I asked what for and she said, “I have never seen this class behave so well, you are doing an incredible job with them! You must have been exactly what this class needed.” 

I had a little smile on my face as I walked back to the classroom. Little did she know, our first days together were chaotic and we hadn’t learned a thing, and it wasn’t necessarily the student’s fault, it was mine. 

I learned so many things from my long term sub job. One big takeaway that has helped me in my teaching is that classroom management is key and that relationships with students thrive after expectations are set. I couldn’t connect with them because I couldn’t gain control long enough to know them. 

I ended my 9 weeks of teaching with some of the greatest student relationships I have ever made. I may have taught them phonics and how to add two-digit numbers, but they taught me how to be the best teacher. And the most satisfying moment was when another teacher commented on how my class was one of the best in the whole school. I knew the potential was there all along, we just all needed to believe it a little more. 

What does your classroom management look like? How do you establish it with each new class? 

Cover Photo: deathtothestockphoto.com

A Lesson We Can All Learn From Mr. Meyers

I had a teacher in 6th grade named Mr. Meyers. He taught at the school across town for years, then transferred to our elementary school the year I was in his class. As sixth-grade students and especially sixth graders in an elementary school, we were determined to run the classroom that year, since we had a new teacher in a new environment. I’m sure all of you teachers out there know exactly what I am talking about. 

We were constantly testing his patience by requesting irrational things like, let’s only do math once a week! And, let’s have extended recess during our lunch recess since we are the last kids to go inside anyway! He was always working out deals with us so that we were both satisfied, such as, if we worked really hard all week on our math lessons, we would have Fridays off during math for free time instead. 

We all felt so in control. Little did we know, he had complete control and was also teaching us life lessons that I still carry with me today. 

One situation that sticks out so vivid in my mind was our seating chart. He created groups of 4-5 throughout the classroom and somehow planned it so perfectly that not a single person had a friend in their group. After making my fair share of seating charts years later, I am still baffled at how he managed to plan this one so strategically. Every single student was angry about the arrangement of the seats. 

I can still name every student that was in my group. David, Kelsey, Houston, Mitchell, and me. All of us had gone to school together for over six years now, some of us even back to preschool. And growing up in a small town, our parents even knew each other on a personal basis as well. 

Yet, until that day, none of us had spoked a word to each other. The same was true for the four other groups scattered throughout the room. The second each of us realized what had happened, we retaliated. We boycotted the seating arrangement, moved our desks on our own to create the new groups that we liked. We refused to learn or listen to what Mr. Meyers was teaching. 

I’m certain at this point, our teacher had felt like he lost control and probably panicked a little as well. But in time, he pulled himself together and called a class meeting. We discussed concerns and issues in a mature (sixth grade) way, then finally came to a resolution that we didn’t love, but we were pretty sure we could cheat the system on. 

Mr. Meyers told us that if we learned how to work together and be friends, he would move our seats. We whispered to one another that all we had to do was act like friends and he would move us. Simple. 

The next day the class put on our fake smiles and acted like best friends. 

“Hey, Kels! Cuuuuute shoes! Wow, you are SO LUCKY to have them, I wish my mom would have bought me the exact same ones! You’re so cool!” This was a very similar sentence I really did say to the other girl in my group. Kelsey and I were not friends. We were different in every way and I truly did not like her shoes. But we had to convince our teacher that we were friends! 

Our overdramatic talking and fake bright eyes were definitely noticed by our teacher. But not in the way we hoped. He knew better. He knew we didn’t just become friends overnight, but that smart man did not say a word. He continued on to let us speak to one another in chipper voices, pretending like we have been besties from day one. 

Slowly, over time, our attitudes changed. Our group would always ask Mitchell for help with math because we realized he was really good at it. And of course, Mr. Meyer had to be noticing that we were using one another as a resource! Look! We’re friends! 

Eventually, we found out that David was excellent at storytelling, although sometimes we questioned how much of it was true. Houston had a unique sense of humor that constantly had us laughing out loud, sometimes even when we shouldn’t have been. And although Kelsey was so opposite from me, we ended up finding out that we both loved to dance. 

The day came when Mr. Meyers announced that we would be moving seats. For a few seconds, the room was still. Silence hung heavy in the air as the class processed what was happening. We were supposed to cheer and be happy! This is exactly what we wanted! But what followed was everyone exclaiming, NOOOO! Please don’t! This isn’t fair! We love our groups! And the kicker is, this was all genuine. We really did come to love the people we were around and the friends we truly had made. 

Mr. Meyers pulled a fast one on us. 

He told us to become friends, so we pretended to be. In the process, we did find great friendship and positive aspects of each and every person. 

The rest of the school year our seat assignments continued to change over time, but our new friends were still there. Even continuing into middle and high school, they remained. 

David, Houston, and Kelsey eventually moved away before high school graduation. But Mitchell and I were still there. After the ceremony when the hugs and pictures commenced, Mitchell and I gave each other a look from across the way, because while we didn’t stay close through the years, there was always a little light of a friendship that never quite burnt out. And we owe that to Mr. Meyers. 

So why am I telling you this? Because my teacher my sixth grade year taught me crucial lessons that I have carried on to this day. 

First, I am capable of working with anyone. I have worked with my fair share of co-workers in a school setting and unfortunately, we didn’t always see eye to eye. But because of one situation in my elementary school days, I remember to look for the positive in others and can make a friend. 

I also learned how to be a better friend, because friendship goes both ways. 

The most important lesson, however, was that he was aware of us. He saw our strengths and weaknesses, then placed us in groups that strengthened each other. He wasn’t just there to make it through the math textbook with us, or make us write over and over. He looked beyond the standardized testing and taught us how to become better humans. Mr. Meyers sent us into 7th grade not only smarter, but more compassionate, more empathetic, and with more friends. 

He taught me what a difference one teacher in my life can make, and how influential they can be to students. Each student I now come in contact with I think to myself, will I make a positive impact in their lives? Or will I just be another adult that gives them a test at the end of the year? How I treat them is ultimately the deciding factor.

Let’s all keep a little Mr. Meyers in us. Let’s send our students on with not only the tools they need to solve problems and take tests but to make and keep friendships, even the unlikely ones.  Let’s make a difference in our student’s lives.

Cover Photo: Pexels.com