Classroom Turnaround Plan

Welcome to my blog, where I’ll be sharing experiences, ideas, and resources that contributed to my classroom success and that of teachers I’ve coached—failures included, since what works in the classroom often comes in response to what doesn’t work. 

And almost nothing worked for me as a first-year teacher at Chicago’s Manley High School in 1993. Just six weeks in, and with my classroom already up for grabs, injury to insult came when I was decked by a stray elbow while trying to break up a fight. Yet that physical blow was far less staggering than the emotional one I sustained just five minutes later. As I walked downstairs for an icepack, I looked out the window and saw a young man’s body in a pool of blood. I never felt more hopeless.   

There’s more to the story, but the point is that I hung in there and eventually turned things around in my classroom. It’s with that turnaround in mind as well as those early struggles that I devote this first post to offering hope and help for teachers whose own classrooms are now up for grabs. And I start with some great news: it’s your fault.  Now before you click out of here or send me a nasty reply, I’m not alone on this, as Martin Haberman points out in his book, Star Teachers: “Discipline experts are unanimous in their agreement that teachers cause most of their own classroom problems and then escalate them further rather than defuse them.”

So how is this great news? Think about it—it’s a lot easier to solve problems you’re causing than those beyond your control. To accept more popular explanations for your classroom woes—“it’s the students” or “the parents” or “the administration” or “the system”—is to accept powerlessness. So I’m not trying to blame you, but rather empower you. You don’t deserve classroom chaos now any more than I deserved an elbow to the face in ’93. But it’s only when we accept responsibility for what’s wrong in our classrooms that we’re able to make things right.

And when it comes to making things right, there’s no time like the present. So click here for a turnaround plan that’ll help you survive this year and, hopefully, thrive in future years.

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3 Responses to Classroom Turnaround Plan

  1. David,

    You were a superb math coach in Chicago Public School System. You worked hard; were creative with and inspirational to the teachers; practical and realistic about the constraints teachers were under; and loved what you did.

    Your website will be valued by anyone who senses that you have a genuine interest in helping teachers hone their skills. You will offer useful information.

  2. Alan G. Spector says:

    David, thanks for this wonderful guidance. What really comes across, loud and clear, is your integrity, commitment, passion, and ability to see a path through complex and difficult situations. You obviously have a gift for teaching and coaching others, and I enjoyed reading your work, finding the advice helpful in all sorts of situations. Thanks again and continued success on your journey.

  3. Devin says:

    Although I have zero experience in your industry, your ideas resonated with me and seemed to make a lot of sense. The idea of accountability of the teacher is not one I have heard too much as a “solution” for improving schools. That sure is a lot easier to implement than most of the other zeitgeist ideas that receive far more press (e.g. starting magnet schools, throwing more state and federal funding at schools, getting parents more involved, etc). I know there is no magical solution and really the ultimate solution is probably a combination of many ideas. But just about no solution seems easier and faster to implement than asking the teacher to focus on what they have control over (their actions) rather than what they don’t (e.g. the amount of funding they receive, parental involvement, etc).

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