Responses to E-mail Letters

Letter to Fatemeh

Dear Fatemeh,

This might not seem to be a practical suggestion for you, but there is no way to keep order without it: somehow, you have to know the name of each student. They can write their own names on a piece of masking tape and put it on desk or shirt, or you can walk around the classroom with a seating chart. Somehow, you have to get their names.

Regarding cell phones: write on the whiteboard/chalkboard a notice: “Cellphones, etc., not allowed in class.” Then, if you see one, give the student a piece of masking tape, have him/her label the cellphone with student’s name, and put it in a drawer, to be returned at the end of class.

Getting students to work requires keeping records – you write down the names of students cooperating/not cooperating. You keep a record of students who have completed their work/have not completed their work. Write down a lot of names during the class period with information about them.

Disobedience is not allowed. You make a serious issue of it.

In addition to the school’s curriculum, you have a curriculum of your own. Read a biography of Barach Obama in Wikipedia, and ask questions: what college did Obama graduate from? Michelle Obama? Law school? First job? Etc.

Same with Abraham Lincoln. (These are just examples – you can use anybody in the news – Biden, Geithner, Burris, Blagovitch, A-Rod, etc.) Try to get across some basic information about the figure(s) that you have chosen and give a quiz about him/her/them at the end of the class period. Make sure that the student’s name is on the quiz paper, and collect them.
All best wishes,

Letter to Katty

Dear Katty,

Students (or anybody else) are always interested if the talk is about them personally – “My Favorite Food,” “My Favorite TV Show,” “My Favorite Automobile,” etc. You can also get into values – “My Idea of a Good Mother,” “My Idea of a Good Father,” etc. However, here you can easily run into unwanted revelations – “My mother isn’t a good mother. She’s an alcoholic,” etc., so you have to preface any such discussion with a discussion of “Why It Isn’t a Good Idea to Reveal Somebody Else’s Secrets.”

My idea of a good school, my idea of a good town, my idea of a good book, etc., are also fruitful topics.

Maybe the school librarian could visit your study hall to give a pep talk about taking out books.

A search on the Internet for “100 most” or “10 most” or “100 top” or “10 top” will bring up some interesting information.

You can ask, what do you know about Barack Obama? (I love Wikipedia. There are all kinds of interesting information there about political figures.) You can ask, does Obama have enough experience to be a good president?

All best wishes,

Letter to Shannon

Dear Shannon,

I must applaud your heroism in dealing with this awful situation. It is really terrible that unruly students are a commonplace.

I am not critical at all of what you did. You made it through to the end of the period!

Just a few thoughts. One is, body language. Hand on hip and a disgusted look can do quite a bit. Or a sneer.

Another thought. When a girl gets wild, I believe that it pays to get as close to her as possible, not in a threatening way but in a calming way, as if to say, “You’re out of control, and I’m here to help calm you down.” Go right up to her and maybe (maybe! tentatively) lay your hand on her arm, calming her. Look her in the eye, as if to say, “Let’s get along.” Maybe whisper to her.

You can also say to the class, “Class, we have a problem here. What advice do you have for me? What should we do? You are seniors. You must have some constructive thoughts.”

As you indicate, the racial terms do have to be dealt with. “Let’s discuss this problem of racial differences, class. We are into something important here. Do we have the courage to be real with one another? Here is our chance for making this day count.”

I think that you did better than teachers who give up. You didn’t!

I’d be glad to hear back from you.

All best wishes,

Letter to Heather

Dear Heather,

My suggestion is that you get to know the textbooks and other learning materials in your classroom really well. Use textbooks right from day one. Depend on the learning materials instead of on yourself.

All best wishes,

Letter to Amy

Dear Amy,

There are so many rules that students already know – don’t throw paper on the floor, don’t throw anything at another person, don’t yell, plus hundreds of others – that it hardly seems worthwhile to list them publicly in the classroom. However, for specific activities rules are worthwhile. Before leading a discussion, for example, you would want to establish rules – don’t interrupt another person, don’t hog the discussion, respect everybody’s contribution, etc. At the end of the day students should understand that everything should be clean and in order.

Most important, it seems to me, is the teacher’s demeanor – ideally, calm and assertive, brooking no nonsense.

All best wishes,

Letter to Lorie Anne

Dear Lorie Anne,

How the principal handles a bad situation in a classroom depends on the school. In one school, if a teacher calls for help, a whole team arrives. In another school, the principal is too busy to be called away from his or her work. You might ask the office for information about the policy of handling unmanageable students.

In general, it seems to me that the principal should not be called. If a student becomes unmanageable, he or she can be sent to the office to sit for a while, or you can ask the office to telephone the parent to come get the student to take him or her home.

It makes sense to me to have a preprinted letter that you can give to an unmanageable student outlining the steps that you take when a student is unmanageable, such as:

Dear (name),

I find your behavior to be unmanageable. These are the steps I take in such a situation:

1. Student sits in the office until the beginning of the next period.
2. Student sits in the office until bus time.
3. Parent is called to come take the student home.

I am ready for Step #( ). Please write out for me any thoughts that you might have on this situation.


Student’s response:


It would be a good idea to have such a letter approved by the principal in advance.
All best wishes,