For me. living an authentic life is living a life that honours what I value. Shakespseare said it best when he said ” Know thyself and to thine self be true”.

By now, I have a pretty good idea what I value in life. I also know that if I do not live my life according to what I value, life soon starts to suck.

For the most part, I love teaching. But, every once in a while I start to hate it. When I realize I’m starting to hate teaching, I’m always surprised.  I love teaching, especially teaching the academically at risk students I usually teach, so why am I starting to hate it?

I’ve learned to ask myself what is it about teaching my students that I love, and am I doing that? Invariably, the answer is that I am not teaching according to what I value. By not honouring what I value in my teaching practice, I’m  disconnecting  myself from my teaching practice and from my students. Once disconnected from my teaching practice and my students, life starts to suck. Once I realize there’s a problem, I start to reconnect to my teaching practice and to my students. I’ll do this  by asking  myself what it is  that I value about my students, and what is it at I value about my teaching practice. Once I’ve identified what I’m doing that doesn’t honour my values, I can change what I’m doing and start to be more authentic.  Soon, life  becomes good again.

Just a thought here: Can someone be more authentic or is being authentic one of those absolute states wherein you are authentic or you are not authentic- there’s no more or less.











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What’s it take for good teaching to happen?   I think good teaching happens when teachers connect to their students and when teachers get their students to connect to the subject matter (Parker J. Palmer, 2007). For me my best teaching moments happen when my students and I connect on a person to person level. Let me explain what I mean.

As some of you might know, I’ve been a special ed teacher for a long, long, long time- some days it seems longer than others.  Quite a few semesters ago I had these two young lads (I’ll call them Sam and Dwayne)  in my grade nine learning strategies class who were extremely proud of their reputation for being bad. The first few days of the semester, as we were getting to know one another,  Sam and Dwayne told me they had been the best of friends since kindergarten and that they were proud of their reputation for were really bad. They  enthusiastically shared all kinds of stories of what they had done to teachers in the past. Scary, to say the least. Oh, did I mention they told me hated teachers and school?

The first three weeks of the semester did not go well. I  realized Sam and Dwayne could make this class this semester a living hell for me if I didn’t do something fast. They were a very dynamic duo, let me tell you.  I figured although they hated teachers maybe if they got to know me as a person who is a teacher (emphasis on person), things might not go so badly. I often tell my students that teachers are just people who teach. I don’t want them to lose track of the person in the teacher, and I try not to lose track of the person in the student.  I knew I needed to connect to Sam and Dwayne on a person to person level fast.

When I was thinking about strategies I could use to help make that person to person connection between Sam and Dwayne and myself,  the word Scrabble popped into my head. So I took out the Scrabble game, and I sat down at a table between the two of them  and started to set up the Scrabble  game. Sam told me he didn’t play any games with teachers. Oh, great ! Now what.  I just ignored what Sam said, mainly because I didn’t know what else to do. Pretending not to hear what Sam had said, I continued to set up the Scrabble game and surprisingly, to me at least, both boys proceeded to play Scrabble with me. I think I told them that day any words they made that were verbs got double points, another day the bonus words might be adjectives or adverbs. I liked using Scrabble to help my student  improve their vocabulary and grammar  skills. We played Scrabble together for part of each class for about eight days and got to know one another as people as we talked about “whatever” during the games. To my relief,  Sam and Dwayne became more and more cooperative in class and d hardly  disruptwd the class. We continued to play Scrabble from time to time throughout the semester because,  as it turned out,  they did like to play Scrabble with a teacher.

Although, I used playing Scrabble to help me make a positive connection with Sam and Dwayne, there are countless other  ways to make positive connections with students. It all depends on the teacher and the students. I like playing Scrabble, so I used playing Scrabble.  I was able to play Scrabble in my learning strategies class because the learning strategy class it isn’t really content driven like my math classes are. If Sam and Dwayne had been in my math class, I would have had to come up with another strategy to use to help me make a positive connection with them.  Making that the positive connection is the important thing. There isn’t just one way to create that positive connection.

From time to time, Sam and Dwayne came back to visit me after graduation  to tell me about the positive things that were going on in their lives now.  I had to chuckle when Dwayne told me during one of these visits  “Miss, I remember one day  in grade nine you just changed  and everything was better after that”. That day was the Day of Scrabble. That day was the day I made a positive connection with Sam and Dwayne.


I’ve found Parker J. Palmer’s book The Courage to Teach  (1998) very useful in helping me to continue to refine my philosophy of teaching.


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I think it’s crucial to have a positive classroom climate so that I can do my best as a teacher and my students can do their best as students. For the moment, I’m going to set aside the question of what is it that teachers and students are supposed to do in the classroom. I’ll explore those questions another time in another post.

I have seen many different types of positive classroom environments. I’ve come to the conclusion after all these years a positive classroom environment is a function of the teacher’s personality and the students’ personalities; consequently, there are different types of positive classroom environments.

What do I think is a positive classroom environment? Well, for one thing I think it is a classroom environment that enables me to teach in an authentic manner so that I can be myself and not try to be someone I’m not. Consequently, one of the first things I need to do is to really know myself as a person. If you’ll like me you’ve probably taken some type of personality test during your undergrad or grad courses so you might already have a good idea what makes you tick. If not, you can always go online and find some tests that will help y6ou do that.

Over the years, I’ve taken oddles and oddles of professional development sessions and have found that I like having a classroom where students help create the positive environment. The Tribes training I took was especially helpful.

I’d like to share my way of helping to set a positive environment where I can teach in an authentic way. In a future post, I’ll talk about what I mean by being able to teach in an authentic way.

I begin by having the class create classroom agreements. I used to call the classroom agreements rules, but rules seem so top down, and I don’t want that. Some kids see red when they see the word “rule”. I want them to see green instead. I want students to buy into the classroom code of conduct, not rebel against it.

At the beginning of the semester we establish our behaviour agreements. Basically it boils down to attentive listening, appreciation, mutual respect and right to pass. You can view my PowerPoint for elaboration. I have written about my classroom agreements in an earlier post, but I’ll include it here for you.


I want the classroom agreements to be a result of collaboration so that the students will be more likely to buy into the code of conduct.

This is what I do
1. Tell students that since they are in grade 9, 10 or whatever, I know they’re experts at knowing what makes a classroom work because they’ve been in many so classrooms

2. Set up a placemat group activity that will ellict the students’ expertise

3. Ask students to take a few minutes to think about what makes a classroom work and then jot those things down on their section of the placemat.
4 Have students share their thoughts with group members.
5. Place four pieces of chart paper on the wall labeled mutual respect, attentive listening, appreciation, and right to pass. It’s amazing , everything seems to fall into these four categories.
6. Have each student choose two or three things that they think are the most important and write each one onto a separate sticky note.
7. Ask students to place their sticky notes onto one of the four pieces of chart paper according to where they think it belongs.
8. Discuss the results of the activity with the class noting how everything falls into one of the four categories.
9. Add my own stickies if I see that something has been omitted. I’m part of the class too.
10. Thank the students for their expert input and tell them that I think that what we have here will make our classroom work and ask them if they agree. Most will say they agree and that’s what I want.
11. Have students create posters illustrating the classroom agreements.
12. Review the agreements next day using the powerpoint presentation I made. That’s when I make sure everyone understands what kinds of behaviors each agreement includes.
13. Ask students if anyone would like to display their posters. I let them choose where, but ask that they make sure that each wall has some posters on it.

It’s interesting to see and hear what happens. Students will start to remind each other of our classroom agreements by saying things like no put downs, attentive listening , mutual respect and right to pass when someone is behaving inappropriately. It’s much more effective to cite the classroom agreements than to say stop talking while I’m teaching or stop calling him names etc. I even hear my students cite the agreements outside of the classroom when they’re walking in the halls . I love that because I want them to be proactive and advocate for themselves in and out of the classroom.


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I’d like to share the following article written by Tara Fisher, conflict resolution specialist,  regarding the important difference between teasing and bullying . I hope you find it useful. Thanks for the article Tara.

Teasing or bullying?

How special needs teachers & parents can identify and resolve a range of student conflicts.

By Tara Fishler

Bullying has become a buzzword. It also has mistakenly become a catch-all description for what actually can be a wide range of student conflicts.


Children, parents and school special needs personnel often jump to the conclusion that when a conflict develops between children, it must be a bullying scenario. However, although true bullying does happen in most schools, the vast majority of conflicts actually fall under teasing or disagreement situations.


It’s important for school personnel to know the difference between bullying and teasing. Bullying is defined as behavior that is intentional, aggressive and negative; carried out repeatedly against one or more targets; and occurs in a relationship where there is an imbalance of power between the parties involved. If one or more of these elements are missing, it is generally a teasing situation.


In the United States, at least 1 in 4 kids is bullied on a regular basis. Direct bullying, more common to male bullies, includes physical aggression such as punching, kicking, slapping or embarrassing remarks or actions, such as knocking over books. Indirect bullying, also known as social aggression, is more common to female bullies and young children. Indirect bullies force the victim into social isolation using techniques such as spreading gossip, refusing to socialize with the victim, bullying other people who wish to socialize with the victim, and criticizing the victim’s clothing or other socially significant markers. Evaluating the balance of power in a conflict often is the best way to identify bullying versus teasing. If one party is afraid of the other, it’s more likely to be a bullying situation. 


Most special needs student conflicts can be handled effectively by well trained and supervised peer mediators. However, true bullying, which can have extremely negative short and long-term effects on their targets, needs the attention of a trained adult. When handling a bullying situation, the adult should speak to each child privately.  Adults need to understand that targeted children often have a very real fear of escalation of the bullying as a result of the adult’s involvement, and significant efforts must be made to ensure the safety of the target, both on and off school property. Some bullies benefit from being made aware of the effects of their behavior and can truly reform themselves. Others have deeper emotional needs that must be addressed before any positive changes in behavior can occur. 


Reducing teasing and bullying in special needs classrooms requires educating the entire school community, particularly bystanders, about the various forms and aspects of bullying. Educated and empowered bystanders have the potential to remove the power from the bullies and protect the targets. Conflict resolution programs that teach empathy and perspective also are helpful in changing a school’s atmosphere from one of fear, to one where children can grow and learn to be responsible citizens.


Tara Fishler is a conflict resolution specialist and founder of Customized Training Solutions, a New York-based provider of conflict resolution, training and strategic management services. Visit to learn more.


Contact:  Lekas & Levine PR, 847.327.9530,

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