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As good as a linebacker


I’m 5’4”, 112 lb., and I look like a 15-year old.

There is nothing about me that drives fear into the hearts of 13-year olds on the Navajo Nation.

Some days, I wish I were a 250 lb. linebacker foaming at the mouth. Like days when I have 10 middle schoolers mimicking the rapper Lil John over my attempts to teach the silent-e sound. Or days when a student is trying to catch my attention by swatting the arm of a sweatshirt into my face. And especially on days when I really do have a 14-year-old football linebacker trying to ram past me out of the classroom.

But luckily for my delicate frame, being scary isn’t my job. And luckily, I’m (a little) older than 15. I’m the adult in the room. And while adults aren’t always calm, rational characters who put logic ahead of emotion, I’m the teacher. I get paid to be calm, rational and to put logic ahead of emotion. Because as any teacher knows (especially us young, inexperienced things), poor behavior management will destroy the best lesson plan.

The teaching gurus of the world have actually put together rules to keep us teachers in line when it comes to behavior management. Now, it’s easy to tell someone to “Have only a few rules. Repeat them. Be firm.” It’s much harder to actually execute when you’re scrambling to figure out what to teach the next day.

I’ve learned countless bits from my surrogate mothers at work, like my assistant, the other Special Ed teachers, and the teachers with decades of experience under their belts. I watch them and learn. Speak in low tones; don’t yell. Stay calm and don’t take it personally. Be logical and rational and explain it so it makes sense why you’re not supposed to hit someone with a book. And sometimes, admonish them in Navajo.

But really, as a second-year teacher with a little more confidence in the classroom, I have to give credit to my students for really teaching me those lessons.

They taught me my first year that if you aren’t clear with your expectations, they’ll make up their own, and it’ll often involve profanity and very little completed work. They taught me that if you don’t stick to the promised consequences the first time they break rules they’ll interpret that as encouragement to spew more profanity and do even less work. It took a good number of days in the classroom when students were rolling around on the ground making barnyard noises while I stood by wringing my hands. But I finally learned.

I learned to take deep breaths and give sharp teacher’s looks across the classroom. I learned that it’s well worth it to lose out on my lunch break (which doubles as my only prep period) so that a student will feel the anguish of lunch detention when he/she earns three or more warnings in class. I learned that lecturing is a waste of time. I learned that you need to address problem behaviors fast, and make sure they know you love them faster. And I learned that like with everything else in life, people need to be taught appropriate behaviors. Just like how teachers need to be taught how to teach them.


Glad you're back for another year. I read several of your entries last year. Keep up the good work! Your district & students are lucky to have you.

I work in an american high school in Pakistan. It was interesting to read your observations and struggles with your students and here we thought because our teachers were not trained in behavioral management, they were the only ones struggling with classroom disruptions. It seams its a common phenomenon, and you only need to use common sense. I am going to discuss the lessons you learn't from second graders with other teachers and get their feedback. Thanks.

Hi Shyu,

Im an ESL teacher and Ive just arrived here in Guangzhou, China. I've been teaching around the world for the past few years. I just wanted to say I love New Mexico and I used to hang out around there in the early 70's. I also want to tell you that I can relate to your teaching experiences even though I usually teach college or adult students.

By the way, I'm from Cleveland, Ohio.

Good luck with all.

Cheers, Jeff

I am a high school/former elementary special education teacher in central Iowa. I LOVE the way you put the lessons you have learned from your students, and they are so true! If you are like me, you "heard" many of these things while in school, but living them is a total different story!

I also applaud your willingnes to try something so different from what you were use to.

Although I have just found your blog, I look forward to reading your future blogs!

Continue the great work!



Can't tell you how much I enjoy reading your blog about life in a Spec-Ed classroom. Teaching kids is not one of my long suits; I much prefer the adult learner. That's why I am in awe of your talents, skills and humanity that let you see the potential in the boys and girls you deal with every school day.

My prayer and best wishes:
With wisdom as your weapon,
You'll proceed;
And with God's grace,
You'll ever succeed.


the law requires that students be in school 180 days, but those are not full days, so when you take the time spent in the classroom, and the rest of the time students are not in an formal setting, we as educators are only taking about 9 percent of their time. The time even becomes less when this concept is applied to student homework. Understanding what influences student behavior is interesting. Behavior is cognition, emotional, and executive. It has length, breadth, and height as to any object. It like the demensions of space and each can be treatd conceptually and individually.So what is the child learning from his or hers informal education?, What traditions influences those behaviors?, Is free Will affecting those behaviors? Is violating the nature forces of the World affecting those behaviors? What teachers do is difficult to some who think so, commendable, tiring, and fullfilling, especially when you think of how much time teachers have with students. To me it seems like teachers are at the intersections of student behavior, like a bipolar intersection, but no one is bipolar. Teachers are at the center of all this, teachers have to take that deep breathe to become focused, and become that central point for children to have, its a challenge for us all.

I just read your entries and wanted to thank you for making me laugh and cry over your stories. I too teach special ed and I've been through a very rough week, with a fistfight in an integrated class that came a hair's breath away from being an arrest, a psychotic break in my own self-contained class that haunts me now, a runaway situation where the child came to school the next day to get something to eat, a legal attack in one of my afternoon meetings that left me reeling, and a late night shooting that put my student in flight from prosecution. Being a special ed teacher yourself, you know how much I love each of those kids. And you know how much paperwork that I must generate to cover all the documentation, Notice of School District Actions, IEP invitation letterss and IEP Revisions, updated Functional Behavioral Analyses, and Manifestation Determinations that I have to write! But that's the other side of special ed, and I really care about the part you write about, so reading your posting was like coming home to a warm fire and a good husband on a Friday night.
So I want to thank you for the kind words about kids. I am glad to know there is someone like you doing what you do because you see the hope and faith these children have in their teacher --you and you alone -- and you rise to that expectation willingly every different day. Your articles made me think of the gifts my own students bring me with their tentative hands, and the way they look in my eyes for an unconditional love and melt when they see it there, because it was a test they may not have even know they were giving me that I passed. Thank you--and back to my paperwork.

All your entries are interesting. You are so right about our students teaching us(teachers) and learning takes place vice-versa. Thanks for teaching our Navajo kids. I am a secondary Navajo teacher in Farmington New Mexico and a grad. student in Special Education.
Keep up the good work.

Barb. S.

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Recent Comments

  • Barb. Sorensen: All your entries are interesting. You are so right about read more
  • Ruth Rossi: I just read your entries and wanted to thank you read more
  • Anthony Ross: the law requires that students be in school 180 days, read more
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