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Julia G Thompson | @TeacherAdvice

Julia G Thompson | @TeacherAdvice

Julia Thompson received her BA in English from Virginia Tech and spent the next forty years teaching in Arizona, North Carolina, and Virginia. Recently retired as a classroom teacher, Thompson works for the Bureau of Education and Research conducting seminars geared to help teachers support difficult and challenging students. She is also a contributor/blogger for the American Federation of Teacher's site, ShareMyLesson.com.


Author of several books for teachers, Thompson's most recent book, the fourth edition of The First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide, was published on Teacher Appreciation Day, May 8, 2018, a fitting date for a teacher who spent a lifetime learning from her colleagues both near and far.


Thompson offers advice for teachers on Twitter (@TeacherAdvice), on her blog (www.juliagthompson.blogspot.com) and on her web site (www.juliagthompson.com).

Posted by on in What If?

While you may not see them, the parents or guardians of your students are in your classroom every day. As the primary caregivers of your students, they influence how your students think, feel, and react. Even though the ideal parent or guardian would be informed and supportive while providing a stable home environment and supervising homework, not all individuals meet these ideals. Instead, the parents and guardians of our students are people much like ourselves.  They want to do what is best for their children and don’t always know exactly how to go about it.

Some are overinvolved in their children’s lives and extremely sensitive to the smallest problem—real or imagined. Some will have a negative view because of unpleasant past experiences with school. Still others will be positive and supportive allies. Despite this complicated variation, one thing is certain. Creating a successful relationship with parents and guardians is the classroom teacher’s responsibility. Here are a few suggestions that can be adapted by almost any teacher.

At the start of the term send home a letter that explains the most important rules, policies, and procedures in your classroom. In particular, be very careful to explain your homework policy if you want parents or guardians to help you with this area.

Make sure that all written correspondence is neat, legible, and carefully proofread so that you appear as professional as possible. Readers should pay attention to your message, not question your expertise.

Contact parents or guardians when their children are successful as well as when you need their help in solving a problem. When they hear good news from school, parents or guardians realize you are trying to help their children be successful. When they only hear from teachers when there’s trouble, they quickly learn to dread conversations with us.

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Posted by on in What If?

4 children

One of the most heartbreaking conundrums in any teacher’s life is a student who does not quite qualify for special education services, and who is failing or almost failing. Often these are the students who struggle to learn how to read at grade level or succeed at basic math or even develop the necessary school skills to manage their learning tasks. As they grow older, these students often shut down, are disruptive, unmotivated, and frustrated until they finally become at-risk for dropping out of school.

The pattern for a student who falls through the cracks in our education system is unfortunately uniform in school after school. A frustrated teacher or parent asks for help because of growing dismay at the child’s inability to achieve even though he or she may be working diligently. Conferences are held. Discussion ensues. The child is tested (often after months of waiting for this service). Another meeting is held where the concerned adults are advised that the child is just barely missing the qualifying deficits for special needs qualifications, even though they still may have many of the same negative behaviors and failures that identified students have. 

Too often students who fall through the cracks present themselves as lazy or uncaring. And who can blame them? If you suspect that you have or can anticipate that you will have students who could fall between the cracks, there is a great deal that you can do to support them.

First, learn as much as you can about their learning styles and their school history as well as their home situation. Talk to past teachers and parents or guardians. Study permanent records. Look at test score data. Observe their work habits. Do all that you can to understand the barriers to success for these students. Research their strengths as well. Helping students learn to identify their learning strengths will increase their persistence levels and give them confidence in their abilities to succeed at school tasks. 

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Posted by on in What If?

happy kids

I once taught in a school wher we had to use a standardized lesson plan template that was a helpful guide, but was pretty limited to just the basics. What was missing from that lesson plan template—and indeed from any lesson plan template that I have ever seen--is a section devoted to adding in enjoyment. We all know that when students enjoy their work, they perform better, stay on task, learn more, forge stronger connections, and tend to stay in school longer. If these are the benefits, shouldn’t we plan activities that will allow students to enjoy their work?

I would love to see a lesson plan template with a space dedicated to activities that students can enjoy.  It would be easy to add in activities that are enjoyable if a space for it appeared somewhere between the opening of class activities and the close of class activities. If this was a part of a lesson plan template, the implicit message would be clear: it’s important to consider the fun factor when planning lessons.

If you are fortunate enough to make up your own lesson plan template, consider adding in a space for fun in each lesson. You don’t have to devote lots of time each class to fun-filled activities but do consider formalizing your plans for it. Even just a quick little reminder to yourself to add a bit of joy into the school day would make a difference. Luckily for teachers everywhere, it’s not hard to plan classroom activities that students enjoy. Here are some simple, low preparation activities that you can adapt to make syour students smile as they go about their work:

Writing with markers

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Posted by on in What If?

There's bad news and there's good news about classroom discipline. The bad news is that sometimes we are the cause of the discipline problems in our classes. We cause them because we inaccurately assess our students’ needs, fail to plan adequately for emergencies and daily activities, misread our students’ reactions, or unknowingly commit any number of mistakes that challenging students are quick to capitalize on.Discipline problems that we do not cause ourselves are just not as easy to manage.

The good news about the mistakes we make in our classrooms is that we have control over them. in fact, most of the time, we can usually prevent the ones that we cause. In the following list of  teacher-made mistakes, you will find some of the reasons why you may have inadvertently caused the discipline issues you've had to manage. With each mistake listed here you will also find a way to avoid making it into a discipline problem.

Mistake 1: You refuse to answer or give a poor answer when students question you about why they should learn the material you want them to master.

Solution: We need to be careful to provide students at the start of a unit of study with the reasons why they need to learn the material in the unit. Start each class with a review of the purpose for learning the information in the day’s lesson. Also, make sure students are aware of the real-life applications for the learning you require of them.

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Posted by on in What If?

Whenever I conduct workshops to help teachers support challenging students, by far the most common concern that I hear is always about students who are defiant and disrespectful. For some, the defiance is overt and loud. For others, the defiant act is less obvious: eye rolling, heavy sighs, mumbling under the breath, extremely slow compliance, or significant glances to classmates that seem to signal "our teacher is being unreasonable again."

No matter the form of the defiant action, the toll that student defiance takes on teachers can be harsh. After all, few teachers go home at the end of a successful and productive school day worried about what will happen next class. Even the most stalwart of us find it hard to leave the emotional problems caused by defiant students at school. These tend to be the problems that cause us to sleep poorly and to contemplate changing careers.

Unfortunately, many of us do not handle defiance as successfully as we could. It's easy to just react out of anger and dismay instead of taking a systematic approach geared to actually resolve the problem and prevent it from happening again.

Instead of just reacting, take a few minutes to determine the cause of the problem instead of the general effect the disruption has on the class. When you take the time to do this, several positive effects happen at once.

You treat the defiant student with respect despite the bad behavior.

You send a message to the other students that you will not lose your cool.

You preserve the dignity of the misbehaving student.

You will be far closer to resolving the situation than if you just reacted to it.

The cause of defiance is usually something that the student has been seething about for a while. Given the nature of the modern classroom, there are plenty of opportunities for students to have wounded feelings or a sense of frustration. And it is often this frustration that causes students to react impulsively and to lash out.

To find the cause, first talk gently to the student who has been defiant. This is best done in private. If you both need a few moments to cool down, then be sure to allow that time. No one can hear even a reasonable explanation when they are stressed and upset.

As you talk, don't be accusatory. Keep your language as factual and dry as possible. Describe what you saw and heard. Then, tell the student that you want to listen carefully to what he or she has to say.

Listen carefully. Ask a tactful question or two. Figure out what caused the incident.

Try not to be preachy. Do not induce guilt. Your relationship with the student has no place in this discussion. Stick to the facts at hand. Determine the cause and act accordingly.

Once you have had this conversation with the student, then you can make the decision about how to proceed. Not every defiant act deserves a harsh consequence. Your innate teacher's judgement will allow you to make the best decision that you can make now that you are informed about the cause.

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