Teaching Outside the Box: How to Grab Your Students By Their Brains / Edition 2

Teaching Outside the Box: How to Grab Your Students By Their Brains / Edition 2

by LouAnne Johnson
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Teaching Outside the Box: How to Grab Your Students By Their Brains / Edition 2

From the psychology of seating to motivating reluctant learners, the second edition of Teaching Outside the Box contains ideas, suggestions, and practical strategies to help both new teachers and seasoned veterans create welcoming classrooms where learners thrive.

This indispensable book contains:

  • Checklists for preparing your classroom, your paperwork, and yourself
  • Proactive strategies for preventing misbehavior
  • Practical suggestions for effective classroom management
  • Activities that foster positive teacher-student connections
  • Ideas for addressing student brain-dominance and learning preferences
  • Tips for incorporating higher-order thinking skills into lessons

Praise for the Second Edition of Teaching Outside the Box

"The first edition of Teaching Outside the Box was like a bible for my teacher trainees. This revised edition is even better."
Mark Phillips, professor emeritus of Secondary Education at San Francisco State University

"This book will always be on my top ten 'must read' list because it's a practical text complete with the requisite skills and strategies that will help students believe in themselves—an essential ingredient to guarantee academic success."
Lori V. Quigley, Ph.D., professor and dean of the School of Education, The Sage Colleges

"LouAnne Johnson offers real solutions for teachers. She includes all the 'things' I remember thinking, 'No one ever prepared me for this?' when I first started my teaching career."
Anne Marie Geckle, adjunct instructor and associate director, Online Programs, Notre Dame College

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780470903742
Publisher: Wiley
Publication date: 03/22/2011
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.82(w) x 9.16(h) x 0.86(d)

About the Author

LOUANNE JOHNSON is the author of nine books about education and the YA novel Muchacho. She is the author of The New York Times bestseller Dangerous Minds (originally My Posse Don't Do Homework). At present, she teaches high school full-time in rural New Mexico.

Read an Excerpt

Teaching Outside the Box

By LouAnne Johnson

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7879-7471-4

Chapter One

Are You Teacher Material?

How can I tell if I'm really teacher material?" a teacher candidate asked me in an e-mail. "Can I learn to be a good teacher? Or is it something you have to be born with?" She went on to explain that she had recently abandoned a well-paid position in advertising in order to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher.

"I know I will make a lot less money as a teacher," she wrote, "and I have accepted that reality, but now I'm wondering what will happen if I get my degree and get a job, and then I hate teaching. What if I find out that I just can't do it? I have a feeling that teaching is going to be very different from being a student teacher or observing experienced teachers. I guess what I'm asking is: do you have any advice that might help me make the right decision about becoming a teacher?"

"To teach or not to teach?" is a question that stumps many people. Far too many of us know bright, energetic people who spent five or more years earning a bachelor's degree and teaching credential only to quit after one or two years in the classroom. New teachers give up for a long laundry list of reasons, but the most common complaints include disrespectful and disruptive students, apathetic or ineffective administrators, overwhelming stacks of paperwork, lunchroom politics, parental pressure and pestering, and mental or emotional exhaustion.

Thosecomplaints are valid. Teaching is very demanding and difficult work. Children today suffer from a host of emotional, mental, and physical challenges that affect their behavior and ability to learn. And unfortunately, many of their role models encourage them to treat themselves and others with extreme disrespect. Dealing with children requires abundant reserves of patience and tact. An indestructible sense of humor also helps. Government regulations have created a testing and accountability monster that consumes mountains of money, paperwork, time, and energy-and teachers have the task of feeding the monster. The monster is fickle too, so if last-minute changes upset you, teaching will tax you to the limits of your flexibility. If you don't bend, you will definitely break. Of course, you already know that the pay is atrocious, primarily because people outside of education view teaching as baby-sitting with books. Subsequently, if wealth and prestige are important to you, teaching will be a disappointment. And teaching can be physically painful: hours of standing on your feet, bending over to read small print on small desks, and lugging boxes of books and papers to and fro can send you home with tired feet, an aching back, and a headache.

And then there are the students. It might seem facetious to say that you should like children if you plan to teach school, but apparently many people overlook this obvious fact. Every staff lunchroom has at least a few (and most have a large handful) complainers and groaners who spend their breaks and lunch hours plotting against "the enemy," sharing their strategies for revenge, nursing their wounds, and displaying their battle scars. These are not necessarily bad people, but they are people who grew up and immediately forgot their own childhoods. Like people who fall in love with the idea of owning a dog, dreaming of the unconditional love a dog will offer, forgetting that puppies pee on the carpet, vomit on the bath mat, chew your slippers, and poop on the lawn, some would-be teachers envision themselves standing in front of a quiet, orderly classroom, facing a sea of silent, adoring, obedient, angelic little faces. When those angelic faces turn out to belong to noisy, messy, occasionally ill-mannered, selfish, and obstinate little stinkers, those teachers go into shock. Some fail to recover. They become bitter, humorless, and overly strict; and they spend the rest of their years in the classroom making themselves and their students miserable by trying to make reality fit their impossible fantasies.

All right, that's the downside of teaching. If you're still reading, still thinking you might like to be a teacher, then you are persistent and optimistic-two very helpful attributes for would-be teachers. And you are right to be hopeful, because the upside of teaching is so much bigger and so much more important than the downside.

Teaching is the most wonderful profession in the world. As a teacher, you make a direct, tangible contribution to the future of our country and the world by helping young people acquire knowledge and skills. You know that you are spending your life in an honorable pursuit and that your life has a purpose. Teaching provides endless challenges and opportunities for growth. Every day, teaching tests your interpersonal communications skills, your academic knowledge, or your leadership ability. On a good day, you'll be tested in all three areas, and you'll pass all three tests. You have the opportunity as a teacher to share your passion for learning with young people. If you are a good teacher, you will also inspire, motivate, and challenge those youngsters to develop their individual strengths and talents; and you will feel the incomparable joy when one of them (usually far more than one) realizes how much you have given and makes his or her way back to your classroom to give you a hug and a teary thank-you. And you will cry your own tears. And when you go home, you will share that student's thank-you with your family and friends, and they will all cry a few tears. When you go to bed that night, the last thing you will think before you go to sleep is, I did a fine thing. I helped a child become a successful adult. And that night, you will dream the sweetest dreams.


Teachers come in three basic flavors-super, excellent, and good. Which flavor of teacher you decide to become depends on your personal strengths, intimate relationships, professional goals, and individual priorities. Before you begin teaching, seriously consider how much time and emotional energy you can afford to spend on your work outside the home. Take a long look at your life, your relationships, your financial and emotional obligations, your personal and career goals. If you find it hard to view your own life objectively, discussing your situation with a friend or close relative may improve your perspective. If your sister points out that you like expensive clothes and your husband reminds you that you become impatient and overly critical under stress, for example, you will need to decide whether you are willing to trim your wardrobe and do the hard work required to develop more patience.

Decide what is important to you and which aspects of your life should take priority. Will your children, parents, spouse, or partner feel neglected if you spend some of your free time creating lesson plans or counseling students? How much emotional energy will you need to conserve during the day in order to have enough left over for your family at night? Will you feel comfortable counseling students about their personal problems, or would you rather leave such things up to their own parents or guardians?

There is no right or wrong answer to these questions, but if you know the answers before you begin teaching, you will be a happier, more successful instructor. Not everybody can or should be a super teacher. It is perfectly acceptable to be a excellent or good teacher. (Poor teaching, however, is never acceptable.)

Super teaching requires the highest amounts of physical, emotional, and mental energy. Super teachers usually arrive at school early and stay late. They also attend seminars and continuing education classes, volunteer for student activities, and make themselves available to students who need extra help, both in and out of the classroom. Because super teachers enjoy a solid rapport with their students, they don't have to focus as much time or energy on discipline in their classrooms. Instead, there is a give-and-take, an ebb and flow, the teaching equivalent of the runner's high that so many athletes find addictive. Unfortunately, unless they are extraordinary people with impressive reserves of natural energy or unless they make an effort to rejuvenate themselves regularly, super teachers may find themselves in danger of burning out.

Super teaching demands huge amounts of physical and mental effort; depending on your budget, it may absorb some money as well. If you are single, childless, and unattached, you may choose to devote the bulk of your energies to teaching for some period of time. However, if you are a single mother with three young children and have a close friend or intimate partner, you may not be willing or able to devote the amount of emotional energy that being a super teacher requires. Having children doesn't disqualify you from becoming a super teacher, it simply means that you will need to make sure that your family understands and supports your teaching. If your children are well-adjusted, self-motivated, and respectful of you and your partner; if your partner supports your career goals; and if you have a high level of energy, then you may be able to handle the stresses involved in super teaching. But don't beat yourself up if you can't be extraordinary. Being an excellent or good teacher is a true achievement.

Excellent teachers enjoy their work, but they limit the amount of time and energy they devote to teaching. They care about their students and do their best to help them-but not at the expense of their own families. Excellent teachers do work overtime because teaching well requires a certain amount of unpaid overtime (grading papers, making lesson plans, and supervising field trips), but excellent teachers put a limit on the amount of overtime they are willing to work.

Excellent teaching requires less energy expenditure than super teaching, but excellent teaching may still wear you out if you aren't careful; make time to nurture yourself and your family. And you may have to explain more than once to your friends and family that your job is a high priority and that you need to spend some time in the evenings and on weekends developing your lessons and skills. Again, don't be too hard on yourself if you find that you can't juggle as many teaching balls as you thought you could, especially during your first few years. Mastering just the basics of sound teaching is a major accomplishment, and students still thrive in the classrooms of good old everyday teachers.

Good teachers do their jobs well but know their own limits. They make a very clear distinction between professional and personal time. They treat their students with respect and do their best to make sure that all students learn the material required for the next level of education, but they don't feel obligated to save every single student. Good teachers arrive at school early enough to be prepared, but they don't hold open house before school or during lunch hour. And they don't spend hours in their classroom after school for informal chats or counseling sessions. They lock the doors to their classrooms at night and focus on their own lives, their own educations, their hobbies, their friends, and their families. By creating a distinct division between their personal and professional lives, good teachers conserve their emotional and mental energy. As a result, they often enjoy long and successful teaching careers; they are the ones who sadly wave good-bye to those excellent and super teachers who overestimated their personal resources and burst into flames after a few years of mach-speed teaching.

Regardless of whether you choose to be a super, excellent, or good teacher, you will still be contributing to society, performing honorable and necessary work, and helping to shape the future of our country. Aside from yourself, your students, and a few supervisors, nobody will know how much energy you devote to your job. But we don't become teachers out of a need for public recognition or reward. We don't teach out of a desire for prestige; we teach because we believe it's important. Teaching superbly is like running a marathon by yourself in the dark. Few people even notice what you're doing, and those who notice don't pay much attention-but their oblivion doesn't slow you down. You still enjoy the thrill and satisfaction of finishing the race, and you are definitely a winner.


Let us assume that you have a strong desire to help young people, a passion for your subject, a solid education, and a license from an accredited teacher-training institution. Are passion, motivation, education, and training enough? My answer is a very loud "No." Those attributes can create an excellent foundation, but teaching requires much more than knowledge and the desire to teach. Teaching requires a solid grasp of motivational techniques, leadership and conflict resolution skills, human psychology (child, adolescent, and adult), computer literacy, the ability to whittle an impossibly huge pile of paperwork into a succinct and teachable curriculum, and the ability to think on your feet (a pair of extremely comfortable shoes for those feet will help).

Some teacher-training programs include excellent components in some of those areas, but based on the e-mails and letters I have received and the conversations I have had with teachers throughout the country, far too many teacher-training programs are heavy on theory and light on practical skills and techniques that teachers must have in order to teach effectively. Knowing how to design worksheets, lessons plans, and exams is an important skill. Creating intriguing bulletin boards, art projects, and group activities can make the difference between a stuffy classroom filled with bored underachievers and an exciting classroom buzzing with the electricity that motivated little learners can generate. But even the most enthusiastic, creative, accomplished, and intelligent new teacher will struggle if he or she doesn't have a firm grasp on the basic concepts of human psychology and behavior: what motivates people to act the way they act, how to convince people to change their behavior voluntarily, how to challenge and inspire people to attempt difficult tasks, how to develop a solid rapport with people from diverse economic and cultural backgrounds, and how to quickly and effectively convince people to follow your lead.

Look for teacher-training programs that focus on successful leadership techniques instead of ineffective punitive disciplinary approaches. If possible, opt for a program in which teacher candidates do their student teaching during the first part of their education program instead of the last. Some people realize after just a few days in the classroom that they weren't meant to be teachers; it's a shame when those would-be teachers have to face the choice of continuing in a teacher program in which they don't belong or changing to a new major and spending thousands of dollars preparing for a different career. And heaven help both the students and the teachers when those teachers who know that they have chosen the wrong field decide to teach until they can afford to go back to school or find another job. Everybody loses in that situation.

If you have the choice, opt for a full year of student teaching (I would recommend two years), preferably at a number of different schools where you will have the opportunity to work with students at different age levels and from different backgrounds. (An Internet search for schools of education will allow you to review and compare different programs across the country.) You may find that although you thought you would enjoy teaching kindergarten, high school is where you belong. Or you may find that the squirrelly sophomores that everybody complains about are the ones you enjoy the most.


Excerpted from Teaching Outside the Box by LouAnne Johnson Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

The Authorxi
1Are You Teacher Material?1
2Do Your Homework9
3The Big Three: Preparation, Preparation, Preparation35
4Make the First Week of Class a First-Class Week71
5Discipline Is Not a Dirty Word107
6Motivation and Morale Boosters137
7The Three R's: Reading, Reading, Reading189
8Teachers Talk: Q&A219
9Yo! Miss J!251
10Time and Energy Savers285
11Twenty Years from Now297

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Each teacher must have a toolkit of time-tested strategies that are effective with all types of students. Teaching Outside the Box is the unique resource that also acknowledges the importance of each teacher’s personal attitudes and beliefs about teaching. I am recommending this book to every teacher I know!"
—Gayle Robertson Jones, Safe and Drug-Free School Coordinator, Oklahoma State Department of Education

"LouAnne Johnson is an exceptional teacher who is unafraid to grapple with the untidy human realities of teaching and learning, and who is willing to share the secrets of her success with others. Teaching Outside the Box offers a wealth of important questions and answers that all teachers should seriously think about."
—Edward Pajak, director, graduate education, Johns Hopkins University

"As a student, I wish all teachers would read this book. If they put these strategies to use, school would be more fun. Teaching Outside the Box shows how you can be an awesome teacher if you just use some common sense, a little creativity, and a lot of caring."
—Liana Carsner, age 11, Tipp City, Ohio

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Teaching Outside the Box 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read many books on teaching strategies and classroom management and this book is an easy read and most of all, it assures teachers that we all go through similar struggles sometimes. It tells us to keep it real with our students and allows you to better visualize a personal and unique approach to dealing with your students on a more meaningful and compelling level. Each chapter is streamlined and cuts to the chase.
JAN53JN More than 1 year ago
Love this book. Good ideas to readily use. Have already used some of the techniques with some of my students and I have already connected with some of my more wary students. This book is an absolute gem.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After finishing what proved my most difficult year as a teacher, I decided I needed to re-think my approach and tweak my skills. Johnson is matter-of-fact, motivating, and hands-on common sense about the teaching profession. She, too, has had classes of students whose hunger for knowledge has been skeward by everyday poverty, violence, and apathy. I know that my classroom and my teaching strategies will be fine tuned and refreshed by end of August when classesstart up again. Thank you, LouAnne Jonhson!
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