Let’s Play Possum


The ring leader. Every class has one. A student who seems to come to school just to spite you. With a turn of their head, they can derail any lesson or plan no matter how organized. So how do you deal with such trouble makers? In my own classroom, I have tried a few techniques that have worked beautifully to stop the ring leader and bring the entire class back to focus. One of these strategies is to play opossum. This game consists of a few easy parts. The object being that the student who can be the most silent and still for the longest wins.

  1. I count to ten, giving the students ample time to position themselves on the floor.
  2. Once the students are laying on the floor (giving the teacher some much needed silent time), the teacher walks around looking for movement or speaking, especially giggling.
  3. One by one each student is taken out, because of a twitch here or a snicker there.
  4. They then line up silently by the wall until a winner is chosen.

This game is wonderful. I use it during those times when I have had enough or the ring leader has fought and won. This makes being quiet a game and one where my ears can take a quick break. By the time the students finish playing possum they are ready and willing to sit quietly in their seats. It makes being quiet and still a game. In my own classroom the students beg to play opossum. Let me know what techniques you have used in your classroom!

First-Year Teaching

Don’t Forget The Little Things

Ever heard of the “Phases of a First-Year Teacher”*? If you haven’t, I’m sure you will. According to the studies, I am in the disillusionment phase. This means at this point I am more likely to get sick from being highly stressed and I’m beginning to feel inadequate as a teacher. How right they are! I am exactly at that point.

Every day, I come to my classroom with renewed zest for teaching and try to think positively about the day. Lately, it seems no matter how much I plan or stress, I still am dissatisfied. My parents and husband would say this is because I am a perfectionist, but I’m going to blame this one on the disillusionment phase.

I heard one of my colleagues say in a meeting, “I just don’t understand how I am supposed to do this. I put everything out there, put all of myself into planning for these kids, and it still doesn’t seem to make any difference.” One of the senior teachers wisely responded with, “What are you talking about, you are making a difference!” She then went on to explain that sometimes we don’t always realize the difference we are making.

I have found it so helpful to take time to notice the little things in my classroom. Maybe I’m just an emotional and stressed teacher, but I find myself tearing up over the littlest things that happen in my classroom. These things remind me that I am not a failure and that these kids are learning from ME! Let me share with you a little of the sunshine that I have noticed in my otherwise stormy and stressful days.

About a week ago, one of my students looked into his desk and could not find his tickets (tickets are a reward system in our classroom and throughout the grade level. You would think they are equal to gold…). This student frantically started tearing through his desk to find them. He then began sobbing uncontrollably. Before I could step in, my tough-guy, football-player student walked up, patted him on the back, and asked what was up. Tough guy returned to his desk, took out his tickets, and then put them on the other student’s desk and said “Keep ‘em.” Next thing I knew, this little boy’s desk was piled with tickets from our class.

So it turns out that they were listening during our kindness lesson! And these acts of kindness haven’t stopped! I hear daily from my students things like, “Mrs. Lyon–I did an act of kindness today!” or “Mrs. Lyon! Charlie did an act of kindness for me today!” We even had a chance to sit in a circle and share compliments we have for one another. Here are a few of the highlights:

“I really like Ariel because she never gives up and she tries really hard.”

“I think Hector needs a compliment because he is smart and a great friend.”

“Karl is a good example to me because he is nice to everyone.”

and of course…

“Mrs. Lyon needs a compliment because she is a good teacher and works really hard for us.”

Push me to tears why don’t ya!?

So when you are teaching, whether in practicum, student teaching, an internship, or in a career, take the time to notice the little things. Look over at the one kid that is on task and breathe a sigh of relief that at least one kid listened. Celebrate that 53% your low student got on their test, it’s an improvement from the 30% last time! Really listen to those sweet compliments your class gives you, kids don’t lie! If they say they love you, they really do!

Get a calendar and write down a quote a day from your students that made you remember why you are teaching. When you get down, look back on those quotes. In teaching, it isn’t the big breakthroughs you’ll remember, it will be the little things.

Rainbow Sentences

Do your students start with the same word at the beginning of each sentence? Are you struggling trying to find new ways to teach sentence variety? Help students with their sentence variety by doing Rainbow Sentences!

When your students are done with the rough draft of their story, have them read through it underlining each sentence with a different color depending on what word the sentence starts with.

If they have a lot of one color, they try to change some of those sentences to a different color to add sentence variety. If they are lacking a color, have them try adding some sentences that start with that type of word.

Rainbow Sentences

Rainbow Sentences 2


Well…. It depends.

Dedicated to the BYU Professors and mentors who have shaped me into the teacher I am.

As I near the end of my BYU experience, I have taken a lot of time to reflect on what I’ve learned. It is incredible how unprepared I was for my own classroom, even after three years of schooling. Now with that being said, that doesn’t mean I didn’t richly benefit from my education here at BYU. Looking back, I wish I would have engaged more in my classes and realized my professors actually knew what they were talking about. ;)

Over and over in class after class at BYU, one of my classmates or I would present a situation and our teacher would always respond with a sort of “heh” sounding chuckle, a slight smile, and say, “Well… it depends.” How could it depend?! Why couldn’t they just tell me “If [fill in the blank] happens in your classroom, you should [fill in the blank]”? But it NEVER happened. My cohort (group of students that attend the same classes) used to joke that we should make t-shirts that said “Well… it depends.” I couldn’t begin to count how many times I heard that phrase. I thought once I started teaching I would be able to fill in those blanks for my fellow teacher candidates. And here I am saying that the answer to everything in the classroom is… “Well… it depends.”

How could any of my professors have prepared me for the twenty-eight unique children that walked through my doorway on the first day of school? They couldn’t have. No one could have. Each child not only had successes and struggles prior to coming into my classroom, but also had a story behind it all.

How could my professors have prepped me for a child that walks in with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that receives Special Education services but is also a ward of the state with no home support and is struggling to learn English? You’re right, they couldn’t have.

Back in my classes at BYU I would ask, “What is the best way to deal with misbehavior in the classroom?” Time after time I’d hear, “Well… it depends.” My teachers taught me that misbehavior in the classroom is never because the child is inherently bad. It always has a reason. In my five weeks of teaching, here are some experiences I’ve had with misbehavior.

One student was throwing pencils at another student. When I asked the poor child that was being attacked by a barrage of pencils to come talk to me, he became belligerent and argumentative. The perpetrator had no problem coming to talk to me. Why? After many tears and much confusion and frustration, I figured out it was all because the student who was being attacked thought I was going to get upset and punish him. His misbehavior was an attempt to avoid punishment. Not very logical, but to a 3rd grader, it was the best option he thought he had. So he misbehaved.

The other day, a little girl in my class told me to straight out “stop it” and started to yell at me when I took her out in the hallway to sort out an issue. Why in the world would she think that was appropriate? Turns out she figured out in prior classes or through home life that when she argues with an adult, she gets attention. Negative attention mind you—but attention nonetheless. In her mind, misbehaving is her way of fulfilling her need for attention.

A boy in my class called out constantly, refused to take his reading test, and continually argued with me. I could not figure it out, so I called him out in the hallway. As I talked with him, I felt prompted to ask him if he had been called a “bad student” in the past. The big, tough, tackle-football-playing third grader teared up and nodded. He could barely get his words out. He was acting up because he was already labeled as a trouble maker. Simple as that.

Now what do all these experiences have in common? All the students were argumentative and didn’t listen to me. Imagine if my professors had said “When a student gets argumentative, you need to…” and gave me a formula for stopping the behavior. In three similar situations, one I simply had to take the student aside and explain I wasn’t mad. Another one I needed to ignore her until she behaved, then give her attention and praise once she complied. My last one is still a work in progress, but he just needs a reminder to behave and be given constant positive reinforcement.

The best advice I ever received was from Jerrie Reader, a first grade teacher (my first mentor teacher) at Westridge Elementary. One day she turned to me and said, “You know, as a teacher you never really get there. As soon as you stop learning as a teacher, it is time to retire.” I’m here to tell you, NOTHING stays the same in my classroom every day. Nothing. Not even me. And that is how it should be. So when it comes to anything in my classroom, “well… it depends.”

I have learned so much the past few weeks. But with that being said, my BYU experience has completely shaped my responses to all that happens in my classroom. When a student misbehaves, I can hear Sister Jill Shumway (my classroom management professor) calmly saying, “Now why is this behavior happening?”

How grateful I am that they told me in my classes that when it comes to all things in the classroom, “well… it depends.” Because truly. It does. I am glad they challenged my thinking and forced me to answer my own questions. That has made me the teacher I am today.

So to my fellow BYU students, don’t tune out, don’t disengage, and from the wise words of one of my 3rd graders: when you get bored in class, remember “boredom is a mental thing. You can make yourself not bored.”