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About the Author
Katy Ridnouer is a teacher who has taught students ranging in ages from five to fifty-five. She has taught in a public high school and middle school; at a private school for students with learning disabilities; for a community college program for high school drop-outs and another program for teacher training; with a GED preparation program on the Cheyenne River Reservation; with a tutoring center; and in private practice. She earned both her Bachelor of Arts in English and her Master of Education degrees at George Mason University. She lives in Matthews, North Carolina with her husband and sons.
The Route to Education
Educate the Population
You Have Been Given to Teach
There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a
miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
Teaching high school is a tough job. Teachers with grand illusions of
intellectual conversations and quiet classrooms, realize that these come
after much hard work, convincing, and cheerleading. You must work to set up
your classroom so students feel safe physically and intellectually. You must
convince them that you will protect them in this way, and you must cheer
them into becoming physically comfortable so that they can access their
intellect. There are many obstacles in a teacher's way: age difference,
economic difference, values difference and attitude difference. But once
they are recognized, planned for, and dealt with, everyone in that classroom
is closer to that grand illusion.
As a professional, you have to make it your job to recognize these obstacles
and bridge the gaps to bring you and your students together. In recognizing
these obstacles, you are honoring the active elements in your classroom. By
recognizing them, you help to put everyone on a level playing field where
there won't be any power plays. They'll recognize that your job is much more
than teaching a subject. Your job is teaching them to learn, to learn about
themselves. Once they know you are on their team, they will learn any
grammar rule and read any book.
An Example of a Loveless Classroom
Trust in yourself. Your perceptions are often far more accurate than you are
willing to believe.
Everyday at lunch, Ms. Hall mutters, "I can't stand them. They think they're
cute, but they're not. Not in the least."
She readily admits that one of her students, James, controls the class. If
he is absent, the loud chatter is gone. She complains that nothing works to
"shut James up." He is ADHD, comes from a troubled home, but he is really
smart. When they are checking answers to questions from the previous days'
reading, he regularly interrupts with a story from his own life that has a
Today is no different.
"Yesterday we continued our reading of The Pearl. What seemed to be
something that could bring great joy, now seems to be wreaking havoc on the
family," says Ms. Hall as she begins the day's lesson. "As we . . . ."
"Ms. Hall, I was thinking that my own life relates to this novel," James
"Well, that's no surprise, but we do not have the time to talk about that
right now," Ms. Hall reasons.
"Oh it will just take a minute," James promises.
Ms. Hall relents, and James begins.
"Well you know how in the story Kino beats his wife? Well, my mom is telling
her lawyer that my dad beats her, and that is why she wants a divorce. She
also figures it will help her alimony case. Well, I told my dad what my mom
was planning. Now he's even madder at her, and he says she will only get
half of everything now just like the law says. Well, now my mom is pissed at
me because she overheard me on the phone with my dad talking about where I'd
like to live. I made a joke about how he might hit me if I didn't live with
him. Well, my dad thought it was funny. My mom sure didn't Now I'm staying
with my dad until my mom cools off. Weird huh?"
"Yeah. Weird. I do not see how that possibly relates to The Pearl. Anyway,
let's get back to the lesson," says Ms. Hall.
After James shares a story, Cynthia feels she has a story that is just as
important to share. She raises her hand, and Ms. Hall calls on her in hopes
that someone will get the class back on task.
"Ms. Hall, what happened to James has happened to me too."
"Well Cynthia we don't really . . . ."
"It'll only take a minute. You see I was . . ." Then, she continues with her
story. Ms. Hall is frustrated, some of the students are pleased that they
have gotten off task, but other students can see Ms. Hall's anger brewing.
When Cynthia is done, Ms. Hall cannot muster the fake emotional response
that she gave to Will.
"Cynthia, you just wasted five minutes of class time to tell us about your
grandmother's lungs? Why should we care? How does that relate to The Pearl?
Why would you waste our time? I'll know better than to call on you next
Many kids would become upset by this response. After all, Ms. Hall has just
asked her why anyone would care about her grandmother, the person who is
raising Cynthia and the only person Cynthia has truly felt loved by.
However, Cynthia has developed a thick skin.
"Ms. Hall, my story is certainly more interesting than this crap by
Steinbeck," Cynthia retorts.
"You cannot talk to me like that," claims Ms. Hall.
"I just did," Cynthia says.
"I would never in my life have spoken to a teacher in the way you have just
spoken to me. You were disrespectful to me, so I'm disrespectful to you."
Ms. Hall sighs deeply. She rubs her eyes and runs her fingers through her
hair, the same hair the kids love to ask her questions about. "How long does
it take to dry?" "Why don't you ever wear it down?" "Is that your natural
hair color?" She remembers this and thinks, "Annoying, annoying, annoying."
Then she says, "You know this is supposed to be an advanced class." She now
has everyone's attention except for James's.
"Can I go to the bathroom?" James interrupts.
"`May I' you mean, and yes, you may. Get the pass off my desk," Ms. Hall
He jumps up, taps a girl on the head, grabs the pass and twirls out of the
class. The students are in hysterics. Ms. Hall is mad.
"Okay is that what you want? You want to watch a foolish child leap around
because he can't hold it for another twenty-five minutes before class is
over? You guys are on your own. Silently, that means no noise, silently, I
want you to read to page 95, and then tell me how the pearl is affecting the
decisions that the family has to make. This needs to be three paragraphs, in
ink and turned in at the end of the period. This is for an essay grade."
"Ms. Hall, you want us to read fifteen pages and write an essay in
twenty-five minutes? You're nuts!" Tommy calls out.
"That's it! Tommy, go to lock out. I'm sick of you kids being so
disrespectful. What can I do to teach you not to be so disrespectful? Never
mind, you're in the tenth grade; you should know."
Tommy still has not gathered his belongings to leave.
"Tommy, go!" Ms. Hall commands.
"Why should I? I just said what everyone is thinking," Tommy responds.
"Oh you know best," she says sarcastically while rolling her eyes. "Just
stay seated and do you work."
"I need a book," Lynda says.
"Me too," says Mary.
"Oh yeah my mom left mine on the kitchen counter," says Ronnie. "You guys
know I don't have extras. How can we do silent reading if you can't bring
your books?" Ms. Hall asks. Exasperated, she pairs the students up, ignores
the whispers and the note-writing. The class settles into a low hum that
involves three students actually working on the assignment.
Ms. Hall goes to her desk in the back of the room and just as she sits down,
James walks in saying, "You wouldn't believe what someone . . . ."
Ms. Hall interrupts James with a loud "Shhh! Sit down and do the
"What is the assignment? Oh does anybody else need the pass?" James asks.
"James, I tell people if they can use the pass or not, not you," Ms. Hall
"Oh yeah. Ms. Hall, I have to call home; it's an emergency," Tonda says
Ms. Hall hands Tonda the pass and tells James, "Read to page 95 and then
write a three paragraph essay about how the pearl is affecting the decisions
that the family is making."
"We're not going to read out loud? But I'm a good reader. Come on. Who wants
to read out loud?" James asks as he looks around for votes.
"Yeah Ms. Hall. We'll never be able to read this on our own," Latisha chimes
"You guys are pitiful," Ms. Hall says, but finally relents and continues,
"Okay, James you start on page 80."
"But I'm already on page 85. That's not fair," says Stephen, one of the
three conscientious students.
"You will just have to start over with us or continue reading on your own,"
Ms. Hall says.
Stephen scowls and pulls out his math book to start his homework for that
The rest of the class opens their books and pretends to be reading along.
James will probably finish up the class period with his reading. Ms. Hall
makes no attempt to define words the students probably do not know, and she
does not stop to ask questions to gauge how well or if the students are
understanding the novel. She keeps her eyes on the page as James reads.
The bell rings, and she yells over the ringing, "Do the essay for homework."
Caring as an Avenue to Teaching
It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare;
it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.
Ms. Hall could have used the information given by the kids to enrich the
lesson plan and strengthen the relationship between the students and her.
James was the first student to cause a disruption in the class. He obviously
has a lot going on in his life. As is often the case, when a situation is
overshadowing a person's life, that person can see it in every crack and
crevice-even in English class. James is a garrulous kid and needs to talk to
understand his feelings.
Ms. Hall hears the story, but she does not hear the desire to feel
understood beneath the telling of the story. By listening attentively to the
story, she is telling him that his use of class time is valid, but she does
nothing to make it connect with the lesson. Then, she gets mad because he
does not make it relevant to her lesson. Instead, he becomes even more
popular with the other kids because he has just thrown the entire class off
task for five minutes. This reduces the chance of homework because everyone
knows that Ms. Hall will not assign homework if the class does not have time
to get to the right point in her lesson. That is, unless she is mad at the
class. She is only mad at James at this point.
She could meet James's needs by actually listening to his words and the
energy he uses to tell the story. If she would have taken the time to
actually listen, the situation might have gone like this:
"James, I sense that you feel torn choosing between your mother's side and
your father's side," Ms. Hall said. "It's really hard. I'm an only child. I
don't have a brother or a sister to talk to."
"So it's easy to see your home situation in every part of your life such as
when you read that Kino beat his wife, you thought of your mom."
"Yeah. I do that a lot when I read. Whatever goes on in my life I can
connect it with the story that I'm reading. Is that weird?"
"Class, what do you think? Is it weird to connect your own life with what
In this scenario, Ms. Hall has connected with James and has turned the
discussion back to an English-related topic. The discussion that has begun
is one that would've been very difficult for a teacher to raise, but the
students understand the question because of James's concrete example of how
life and literature mix. They are also more likely to respond honestly to
the question since Ms. Hall responded sympathetically to James.
This same sort of approach could be used with Cynthia. Cynthia sees a
connection between her grandmother's life and the main character's life, but
she cannot quite verbalize it. Ms. Hall sees her as a time-waster instead of
someone who has a story that truly connects to the novel. She could respond
this way to Cynthia's story for a positive result:
"I understand that you're grandmother is a really strong person who didn't
give in when she was a child. I'm having a hard time seeing how Kino is like
your grandma," Ms. Hall says.
"My grandma had such a hard life for such a long time, and she made it even
worse by smoking," Cynthia responds.
"Did she lose out on anything by smoking?"
"Yeah! She cannot go anywhere without an oxygen tank, and nobody will hire
her in that condition. She's been on welfare for over twenty years."
"How do you feel about welfare?"
"It stinks. My grandma talks about the fifties and the sixties like they
were the only happy time in her life."
"How is her life like Kino's?"
"Well Kino's life was never great, just like my grandma's wasn't great, but
she could breathe at least. Kino loved his wife. He didn't beat her I mean.
That is, until the pearl came along and ruined everything."
"What is similar to the pearl in your grandma's life?"
"The cigarettes. The cigarettes ruined her life just like the pearls ruined
Kino's. She thought she would look glamorous and attract wealthy men by
smoking. She spent her time trying to look good instead of educating
herself. The knight in shining armor never came, but the lung cancer sure
did," Cynthia explains.
"Now I see your connection with the book. Kino allowed the pearl to dictate
his actions just as your grandmother allowed the cigarettes to dictate hers.
What are some things in our own lives that are like the pearl? This question
is open to the class," Ms. Hall says.
In this situation, the student is validated emotionally and intellectually.
The rest of the class has benefited because again they have a real life
example of a situation similar to that in the novel. They can relate
personally to the story.
Another problem in this class is that the teacher is not steering the class;
students are steering the class. People become bored when they are lectured,
and students today have mastered the art of manipulation by changing the
subject quickly. It is easy to be sucked into a situation where the teacher
wants to express something, but the kids do not want to hear it. They say
something that will knock you off track making it difficult to get back to
what you want to say.
Ms. Hall has fallen into this trap. More than likely, James does not have to
go to the bathroom, but he is on auto-pilot. When the classroom gets dull,
he gets out. It works; he gets out of class, leaving Ms. Hall simmering, but
she is too angry to recall what she was saying prior to James's
When a student does this, first we have to recognize it for what it
is-control. Students want to feel as if their environment is controlled. I
do not mean dictatorship type of control, but control where reasonable,
logical thinking reigns. If the teacher is not controlling the class, the
class will control itself. Ms. Hall needs to recognize this. She can stop
and assess the situation. "This is Will. He always asks to use the restroom,
but I need to finish what I'm saying." She could then just look at James and
raise her pointer finger to indicate, "One minute please." This acknowledges
that she has heard him, but he will have to wait until she has a spare
This sends the message to everyone in the class that interruptions are not
acceptable and that the teacher is in control. This helps her to maintain a
calm classroom where the students feel they can relax and listen to what the
teacher is saying.
When she does return to James and allows him to go to the restroom, he will
have had time to calm down enough so perhaps he will not act out as he did
initially. If he does, Ms. Hall can inform him that she needs to speak with
him privately in the hall when he returns. This tells him that his behavior
is unacceptable but not that he is unacceptable. It also tells the class
that she will not tolerate this unacceptable behavior.
The teacher can eliminate the off-task behavior from the other students by
monitoring the class. Ms. Hall could walk around the class once she has
given the assignment, but she needs to give them a minute or two to get out
their books and become settled. Then she should insist on quiet from then on
out if that is what is needed for this lesson. As Ms. Hall walks around, she
needs to look for notes and ask the students to put them away. Students who
are talking can be squeezed on the shoulder or be given a steady look in the
eyes. This lowers the chance of embarrassing the student, and they usually
show appreciation for it by cooperating. She can read silently with the
students or make herself available by being in their direct line of vision.
Both enable Ms. Hall to monitor the class. This monitoring also sends a
message that she is serious about the assignment.
By the time James makes his noisy entrance, Ms. Hall can simply direct him
to go back outside. As she speaks to James, she can monitor the class
through the door. They feel secure that she will deal with James, so they
can do their work. She should keep the door propped open a crack so she can
peek in but keep it closed enough to ensure privacy during the meeting.
James needs to know how his behavior makes her feel. Often, students are
unaware that they are irritating someone else. The dialogue could proceed in
"James, the way you interact in my class tells me that I've given you the
wrong idea about how I want you to behave while you are in my class."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I've told you not to interrupt me or anyone else, but I haven't
always ignored your interruptions as I should. If I would've, you'd know
that you were interrupting. Maybe you would learn to think before you speak
and perhaps raise your hand when you have something to add."
"I never thought about it like that."
"I also must be too tolerant of you goofy behavior because otherwise you
wouldn't make such a scene entering and exiting the class."
"Oh, I always do that."
"It frustrates me when you do it because instead of the students working on
English, they are laughing at you."
"True. I didn't mean to make you frustrated. I was just in it for the
"I know, and that's normal. Could you try to be calm and quiet when I do
allow you to leave the classroom? I would appreciate it."
"I'll try but I might need a reminder."
They quietly walk into the room.
In this conversation, James is validated that he is a normal person, but he
just needs to tone down his behavior. He has also had the opportunity to
hear Ms. Hall as a person-not a ranting teacher who is annoyed that yet
again James is controlling the class. The other students see James walking
in quietly and they see a calm look on Ms. Hall's face, so they know
everything's okay. They have nothing left to do but get back to work.
Posted December 8, 2005
I was amazed by how I could not put this book down! This book is not only a great resource for new teachers, but for all teachers! The author provides insight about a topic that we all need work on. The interventions are user friendly and can be used for all age groups. I myself want to make a difference! I can't wait to see what this author has to offer next!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.