Author: rreifsnyder

Blog #7: Draft CM Plan

This is a partially completed draft (about two-thirds of sections complete, no images or citations) of my final Classroom Management Plan for the F658 course, and hopefully for implementation in future years.

  • Introduction: Why CM is Important


The concept of Classroom Management — all rules, procedures, and routines for handling the curriculum, student positive and negative behavior and discipline, conflict resolution, listening to issues, time management, and engaging with parents and other stakeholders in the school and the community at large — is essential because teachers are responsible for the care and raising of children and teenagers for nearly a third of their waking life, at a child-to-adult ratio ten times higher than parent-based families; for imparting the knowledge and skills that will prepare them for independent adult life even if they themselves are unwilling to receive this knowledge, and for managing interactions and being law enforcement in a community the size of a small town.   This can’t happen by improvising; preparation, self-reflection, and active discussion with the students are required, and the teacher must be seen as a leader and an island of stability that makes the time spent in class worthwhile.


  • Preparation Before the School Year Starts

o   Organizing Classroom and Materials


My classroom of up to 22 students is normally arranged in pairs of desks in the middle of the room facing the whiteboards at the front, and the teacher’s desk and homework tray also at the front.   This gives room to walk freely and ensures that students work on assignments in pairs by default.   A countertop with storage drawers holds classroom materials; on top are that day’s supply of worksheets, pencils, pens, scrap paper, and a pencil sharpener.  At least two other tables or storage cabinets contain the same materials (except for the lesson-specific worksheets) plus paper towels, tissues, scotch tape, hand lotion, and bandages.   Bookshelves near the front contain both spare textbooks and space for binders.   These binders, one per student, will be a portfolio of completed materials.   The overhead projector linked to the teacher’s laptop will shine on one of the whiteboards.


o   Getting Off to a Good Start


Ideally, I would have time to send an E-mail blast to every student and every parent outlining my curriculum goals and expectations at least two weeks before school begins.   However, students are often registering up to the very last minute (and after) in this school.   The first week of school, Orientation Week, will be a chance to get to know one another.   I start by greeting incoming students at the door with a handshake (they don’t have to accept) and a hello.   I will ask everyone to choose a seat to which they’ll be assigned for the first month, and ask them to give each other’s name and hometown, taking attendance by that means.   I will hand out a survey of personal interests to be turned in to me, and then I’ll conduct non-mandatory icebreaker activities, including a game where each student tosses a foam ball to one specific other student and the ball makes the rounds that way; or a game where students write on index cards a favorite movie, book, beverage, activity, etc., and then re-group themselves and tell personal information that they want each other to know.


  • Routines, Policies, Procedures, and Rules

o   Rules/Procedures and How They Will Be Enforced


The first week would be for discussing the rules and why they are necessary.   I would start with five non-negotiable rules:

–                   Be ready to learn when you enter.

–                   Respect the right of others to learn.

–                   Take responsibility for your own words and actions.

–                   Do not hurt anyone, physically or emotionally.

–                   No electronics use unless specifically approved by the teacher.

From there, we would talk about procedures.   My preferred one is to allow students to speak in groups when I am playing music, then stop talking and listen when the music stops or when I raise my hand and say “I need your attention.’   All others — the handling of homework, the procedure for dismissal, etc. — are up for negotiation from certain starting points.   Students would discuss these and then draft a Student Bill of Rights, which would be drawn up by volunteers with the best handwriting, and then signed by everyone and tacked to the wall.   Since many students enroll late or transfer in, every two weeks or so there would be a few minutes for “amendments’ (if requested by the new students) and additional signatures.


o   Management at the School Level


The current Galena City School District has two schools that share students and teachers: the local Sidney C. Huntington School, and the Galena Interior Learning Academy boarding school.   Students are bused from one school to the other depending on course schedule, before 1st period, after lunch, and after last period.   Minor infractions (cell phone use, sleeping, disobedience of class rules, failing to work during allotted class times) are handled with first a quiet warning, then a one-on-one conference after the class period, then a visit to that school’s principal; while major infractions (property damage, throwing things, fighting) go straight to detention for the first offense and an out-of-school suspension for the second.   A Student Handbook available online delineates these infractions clearly.


o   Beginning and Ending the Class Period


There are only five minutes between the four class periods per day (block scheduling), so greeting at the door isn’t always feasible.   However, I call out a hello and each student’s name as they enter.   The whiteboard or projector has a list of what materials to get at the start of class — usually their binders and a pen/pencil — and what homework is due.   I start with a short and amusing or informative video, either Science in the News or a preview of the day’s lesson, and then students begin a short worksheet covering material from approximately two lessons prior to the day.


Ten minutes before the end of class I announce what homework is assigned and when it is due, then students share knowledge anonymously by filling out “exit tickets,’ index cards of as many things as they remember, and then passing them around and reading each other’s work.   By the end of that activity, three or four minutes remain, and they return their binders to the shelves (unless they prefer to take them home), clean up the space under their desks, and line up single-file at the door.   Anyone whose desk is not clean is removed from the line to fix the error; regardless of any bell, no one is dismissed without my say-so, and they hand their exit tickets at the door.


o   Transitions and Use of Materials


The end of every major activity is preceded by a five-minute warning and then a one-minute warning.   There is a five-minute break in the middle of every 90-minute class where students may use cell phones and talk, but I use this time to discuss discipline issues with certain students as needed.   Each new activity is punctuated with “When I say GO…’ and simple-as-possible instructions, then “GO.’   Evacuation emergencies (fire drills), students line up single-file on the path to the emergency exit, I grab the walkie-talkie and attendance sheet, and then everyone files out to the assembly area and stays together as a class until I hear the signal to return.


Materials needed for the day are gathered on the countertop at the front, and students do not get them until ready to use them.   Students have the right to sharpen pencils when I am not talking.   Students who wish to use the restroom or drinking fountain must sign a hall pass sheet and take one hall pass; only two students may be out at a time, and if they’re gone more than ten minutes I call the principal for a lookout.


o   Group Work and Teacher-Led Activities


Teacher-led activities are usually a lecture with students getting time to write down (or draw a diagram of) critical points on slides, but sometimes the making of a poster or a foldable study guide; watching a series of short videos and answering questions as a class; or seeing a series of “sneak preview’ images of a future topic, about which students can write or say their observations and nothing is yet answered.   Each activity is broken into multiple short steps, each step preceded with “When I say GO…’; if steps cannot be broken down easily, I will give the full instruction and then ask students to talk with each other and ask “Does anyone know of a question someone in the class might have about what you need to do?’


Group work is typically filling out worksheets together (which is why the desks are arranged in pairs), but occasionally we work on lab experiments.   We review lab safety as a class with all students responding to questions and prompts.   Then I give students numbers and tell them to move to that number of lab table, thus randomizing the groups.   I ask each group to choose one person to gather materials, one person to manipulate the materials, one person to read the data, and the remaining students to write the data.   I stop the class if students are working too far ahead, for safety reasons; then I circulate around the room to check if groups are on-task.




  • Safety and Legal Requirements

o   Discipline and Consequences


Students are allowed to work in class for a reason: I can provide guidance on a topic before homework is ever assigned.   Students who refuse to work during class are instructed to attend the 45-minute After School study session, and if they fail to show, are written up for academic non-compliance.   When I hear talking when I am talking, I pause and make eye contact with the offenders.   When I see minor infractions such as cell phone use, I call the name and glance at the cell phone until the student takes the hint.   For sleepers, I circulate around the room and whisper in their ear or tap on the desk; if they’re out cold, I call their name loudly.   Backtalk usually gets a Post-it note passed to them as I circulate the room, saying to meet in the hall during the break or after class where we discuss what’s happening outside of class and why the student feels uncomfortable doing the work or focusing on the lesson.   Refusal to talk or speak one-on-one goes to the next level of discipline, talking to the principal.


o   Safety Rules/Procedures in Place at GCSD


GCSD has monthly fire drills.   The fire evacuation routes are posted and all teachers have walkie-talkies for use during that time.   In the event of a damaged water line or other unsafe condition at one campus of the school (SHS or GILA), students are bussed to the other campus for the day and classrooms and work spaces have to be shared.


Any student may request to see the front office or onsite school counselor for mental health issues without suffering negative consequences in the classroom.   They may also visit the front office for needed medications (the school doctor usually unavailable because she is also the town doctor), and clinic appointments can be scheduled as an excused absence, with parental approval by phone and transportation provided by the school.   Traveling off campus during school hours without staff supervision is a major infraction that can go straight to detention.


All visitors must check-in at the front desk and can only enter a classroom during school hours by prior appointment.   Galena is a town of fewer than 500 with access in and out by airplane and barge, no highways; so the risk of an active shooter is considered acceptably low that there are not currently provisions for it in the Student Handbook.


  • Planning and Conducting Instruction

o   Teacher-Student Relationships and Maintaining Student Behavior


Although I tend to be near my desk when showing a video, pausing the video and elaborating on certain points gives me a chance to pace around the room and grab the attention of students who might be wandering.   When I hear a question, I try to repeat it louder (if the student is very quiet); I thank everyone who gives any answer to a question, until someone gets it right; I listen to questions students ask about science, even if off-topic, and promise to get an answer in a lesson the following week.


o   Personal Interest in Students and Engagement Strategies


Although I’ve never been a fan of sports, most student activities are sports-oriented, so I spend time either attending a home game or reading about a team’s performance on the city’s news webpage.   I ask students coming in how their weekend was, if they got enough sleep, if they’re feeling okay, or what they did for fun last night.


o   Differentiation Needs and Strategies


My students are a mix of freshmen from multiple Alaskan villages and a few upperclassmen that may have learned the Physical Science concepts in Biology or Earth Science a year prior.   As a result, the reading skills range from high school to 2nd grade, and the math skills range from trigonometry down to basic arithmetic.   My in-class quizzes are managed by time, not completion: the questions get progressively harder until they reach concepts that haven’t even been taught yet, so the high achievers still don’t get finished in the allotted time and the struggling students work as much as they need to.   I also use Achieve3000


o   Special Needs Students


Roughly 10% of my students have an IEP, often requiring deadline extensions on assignments, clarification and rereading of directions, a flexible schedule, a calculator for all math, and sometimes preferential seating in smaller groups.


o   Withitness and Emotional Objectivity


“Withitness’ implies the ability to sense problems before they happen, and head them off by working the crowd.   My biggest concern is that my lesson plans are not polished enough for me to feel confident delivering them: when students are not writing an assignment but are expected to listen or observe, and more than one falls asleep, I can’t come up with something interesting enough to keep them awake if I rouse them.


I try very hard to assume the best in everyone:   that anyone who lashes out is just having a bad day and attacking indiscriminately.   The drawback is when the same person engages in the behavior every day.



o   Cultural Diversity


I have not had significant training in understanding cultural differences between lower-48 Americans and Alaska Natives, but I have learned from a fellow teacher that the preferred method of teaching in Native societies is for an elder to perform a task while the student observes and then copies.   Thus, many of my planned assignments are actually Guided Practice, with students passing in questions that were both asked and answered as a group.

Blog #5: Classroom Observations

During my planning periods over the past two months, I’ve observed five different teachers, most with a couple decades’ advantage in teaching over myself. They have a pretty clear idea of how to manage a relatively unruly classroom.   Each lesson begins with clear instructions what materials to get or what page to turn to; earth science teacher Donna Matthews counts as Tardy any student who didn’t do starting procedures quickly enough.   During the lessons, steps are carefully stated one at a time, and repeated.   Disruptions such as talking while the teacher is talking, or sleeping during a movie, are addressed immediately but calmly with a warning (and the second time, they are sent to the principal).   On the other hand, computer teacher Paul Apfelbeck lightens the mood with some humor (claiming the next step will be hard when it’s no different from the others; one step “for the hearing impaired’ followed by shouting, etc.).   Typically lessons are closed 5 to 10 minutes before the bell, with a discussion of homework assignment and answering questions from the students.

The start of class is certainly the biggest “transition,’ and begins in every class with students immediately receiving work — either getting calculators and opening notebooks to solve problems written on the board; being told to open a specific page of instructions in the textbook; or being handed a worksheet.   In the case of multiple worksheets or assignments in one class period, the next transition, between assignments, comes with a five-minute warning, a one-minute warning, and then instructions how to clean up and put materials away; art teacher Katie Galauska handled this well.   Finally, Mr. Apfelbeck offered two-minute restroom breaks every half hour, and in one case, he led all his students to the gym and told them to race the length of the basketball court and back.

Mr. Apfelbeck told me an interesting story that I may apply to my class at the start of this next semester.   A class he was teaching in the past, writing or journalism (I forget), he greeted students at the door on the first day with a copy of the final.   They did the best they could and got full points for the day.   The last week of class, he handed them the same final (a fresh copy), and they took it again.   Then he showed them both versions and they got to see how they’d improved over the year.   Some students cried, that’s how moving it was.   (I’m not expecting that level of emotion, but it made me realize I’d never given a beginning-of-year assessment to figure out what my students already knew.)

Blog #6: Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection

The New York Times article “Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection’ discusses the enormous stresses placed on high academic achievers to compete with each other to reach even higher, as they move on to college and graduate school.   It can be disconcerting for the valedictorian of a small high school to move to a place where everyone is valedictorian and his/her prior straight-A’s become “below average’ based on the intensity of new curriculum (it was disconcerting for me); but this effect has existed for as long as the concept of college.   Two additional recent factors, however, have exacerbated this effect: helicopter parents constantly explaining to their children how to solve their problems (or “lawnmower parents’ clearing away administrative obstacles) and the artificial public displays of social media, where posts and images only show other students at their best.

My current teaching position is a college-like environment already, as students move away from their parents and are suddenly self-responsible.   Moreover, the schools throughout Alaska have such wide variation in curriculum that many of the high achievers in each town suddenly find themselves completely in over their head.   I’ve learned techniques to disguise the different paces of learning, and to enable students to compete with themselves rather than noticing how fast anyone else is doing: worksheets and quizzes too hard for anyone to turn in within the allotted time (but graded on a curve); fill-in study guides with the answers on the back so students are memorizing as they flip back and forth; Password-style trivia where the students pair up and quiz each other so the class is not competing as a whole.   Hopefully these methods can show that learning is an unending process, and give the high achievers a sense of the pace of college without demoralizing them.

The start of next year, I’ll need to teach the meaning of responsibility and how to manage tasks without adult supervision.   (The fact that I will have a better classroom management plan of my own should help with organization, and show students the nature of responsibility by example.)

Letting Care Shine Through

I write this on a week that I struggle to grade ninety mid-semester exams, revise a week’s worth of lesson plans based on the pace students are learning, try to do chores at home for my family, order clothing and car parts to endure my first Alaska winter, and catch up on overdue UAF assignments. I sit down to read the articles “What I Wish My Professor Had Told Me’ and “Let Care Shine Through’ and realize an unfortunate truth: It may not get any easier.

Well, okay, once I have a curriculum built for my first year I can use it in successive years, and I will be finished with graduate school two years from now, and I’m told that the reputation I build with students this year will be passed by word-of-mouth to next year’s freshmen. But “Let Care Shine Through’ reminds me that I need to address the class with the understanding that the world has been cultivating negative perceptions of the students and wearing down their sense of self-worth, and it’s up to their teacher to turn that around for them. (For each student, I share that responsibility with seven other teachers, but for 90 minutes every two days that student counts on me.)

“What I Wish…’ explains that there’s no such thing as the “perfect’ lesson plan, and that the content is actually of secondary importance to forging relationships with students and understanding what they need but are unwilling to say. That intimidates me more than anything. I mean, I think I can be honest about my own personality, goals, shortcomings, and aspirations when a student inquires, but I won’t claim that the ability to connect and empathize with someone on a deeper level comes naturally to me. It’s nice to know, however, that my unofficial mentor at the school sees in me the desire to help every student, no matter what it takes.

The methods I’ve learned from training with PEAK Learning Systems (Performance Excellence for All Kids) are meant to make kids feel completely safe in learning. Most people, of all ages, are almost paralyzed by the fear of being publicly wrong or appearing stupid, which means (for example) that calling on an overachiever to answer a question shuts down everyone else who doesn’t want to put themselves out there. I use systems where students work in pairs and share answers with each other, where students swap cards anonymously containing the things they remember from a lesson, where no answer is ever called “wrong’ but it informs what the teacher feels the need to clarify.

Here are some more strategies, both long-term and quick-fix, to help students get interested and stay engaged in class:

Thoughts on Personalized Learning

In the article “Let’s Celebrate Personalization: But Not Too Fast’, C. A. Tomlinson discusses the questions that teachers and administrators need to ask before reforming their schools according to the broad category of personalization. Personalization covers any method or instructional tool intended to adjust the direction, pace, and even subjects taught, to the level of the individual student. The end goal is to make each student enjoy school by making him/her feel the learning methods were designed just for her/him. At the furthest extreme, students design their own curriculum, and study whatever they want at the fastest pace they can handle.

Intuitively, the resources required to tailor an entire curriculum to each student would be staggering, and this is why schools formed a one-size-fits-all approach to begin with: there aren’t enough qualified teachers for every student to have a private tutor, and most jobs have a certain set of skills in common, starting with reading, writing, and arithmetic, that would benefit from a group of students listening to the same teacher. Usually, personalization is considered feasible using computers and the Internet, with a teacher simply monitoring students’ progress and trying to grade according to loose guidelines set by the online tools.

The biggest concern I have is whether personalization can truly be taken to the level where students make all their own choices. A cynical part of me suspects that many students, given the option to learn “whatever you want,’ will choose “nothing.’ If every child grew a desire to learn as much as possible, schools would never have needed to exist, as everyone would be self-taught. It’s not that they don’t necessarily have an idea what they want for their future; rather, their interests might be too specialized for a full career, or suited only to a career with very limited available jobs, like film actor, pop musician, or professional athlete.

Teenagers aren’t always prepared to make lifelong career decisions at their age, which is why education is structured in America to keep the curriculum as broad as possible through the end of high school, and not allow students to narrow their focus until they are in college (and legally adults). But it’s difficult, for example, to convince my ninth graders that they need to understand chemistry and physics, if they hadn’t already been inspired by an earlier influence to work in engineering or research.

If the goal is to help every student succeed, teachers will always encounter students who resist learning. Then the goal should be “You’re required to be here and required to know these things, so we might as well make the process as painless as possible.’ Personalization then is a matter of providing the tools to assist struggling learners with the standardized topics we tend to fall back on.

This more understated method of “personalization,’ differentiated instruction, is being pursued at my school through Achieve3000, an online tool that supplements our in-house curriculum by rewriting nonfiction articles to different approximate reading grade levels. This allows students to learn the same concepts to a depth proportional to their pace and comfort level. Upper-level science and social studies classes have used it to apparent success, but I haven’t had a chance to use it yet. I’m working on presenting the concepts of my lessons visually for struggling readers, but with advanced formulas for the high-achieving reading and math students; and offering quizzes with a mix of very simple questions (the concepts I need everyone to know) and challenging math for the high achievers.

Congress — and the voters who hired them — should take action to protect DACA registrants

In 2001, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and Democratic Senator Dick Durbin introduced the bipartisan Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.   This would grant a pathway to permanent US residency for current residents who immigrated illegally as minors.   If they are between 12 and 35 at the date of enactment, have proof of entry before age 16 and residence for at least five consecutive years, have a high school diploma or GED, and pass criminal background checks, they are eligible to remain for six years, during which time they must complete two years of higher education (college) or military service, and not commit a felony or drug-related misdemeanor, in order to gain permanent residency status.

The DREAM Act has been reintroduced several times but failed to pass.   In the meantime, President Barack Obama signed an executive memorandum, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), under which immigrants younger than 31 who arrived before the age of 16, have lived in the US since 2007, and passed background checks, are deferred from deportation for two years and allowed to apply for a work permit, which may be renewed.

Although officially only Congress can pass laws, Article II Section 3 of the Constitution grants the President power to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,’ with executive memoranda used to delegate tasks to government agencies, and the stronger executive orders required to cite the constitutional authority behind them.   Memoranda and orders carry the force of law, and although Congress can vote on a bill to nullify them, the President can veto the nullification.   The Supreme Court has the power to rule a memorandum or order unconstitutional, just as it can with Congressional laws.   President Obama asserted that DACA enhanced the enforcement of existing immigration laws by placing a lower priority for deportation on immigrants who are working or attending higher education.

President Donald Trump announced his intention during the campaign to repeal DACA on “day one’ of his presidency.   His own executive memorandum for the repeal was announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on September 5, 2017, but said repeal would be deferred by six months, allowing work permits to be renewed if they expired before March 5, 2018, and allowing Congress to pass the DREAM Act or similar legislation.   Congress failed to come to an agreement in time, but a Supreme Court ruling postponed the effective date of the repeal until October 2018 — less than a month from now.   At that time, “Dreamers’ will be in danger of being deported — after willfully giving personal information when applying for DACA.

The worn-out argument, repeated by Sessions, that immigrants take the jobs of native-born citizens is called the “lump of labor fallacy,’ a notion that there’s a limited number of jobs available; in fact, increased residency means increased consumption, leading to increased demand, and hence more employment in industries supplying goods.   A path to legal citizenship means that immigrants start (or continue) paying taxes.

My reasons for supporting the continuation of DACA, as well as the proposed DREAM Act, are similar to my reasons for supporting publicly funded education: the proposals affect minors, who have very few legal rights to make decisions on their own.   Usually they arrived here illegally because of decisions made by their parents, often beyond their control.   Dreamers have spent their formative years in the US, absorbing the culture, learning English as a primary language, having no memory of the country they’d be forced to “return’ to.   Many Dreamers wouldn’t even realize they are here illegally until they apply for a job or college.

In short, minors who arrived as immigrants, illegally or otherwise, are among those who have best used their time in the US to advance the well-being of our society.   They have demonstrated that working in the US has helped rather than hurt the US, and for that reason everyone should give their support to Congressional and state candidates who support legislation for the legalization of these Dreamers.

Rich’s Introduction

Greetings, all!   My name is Richard Craig Reifsnyder, a.k.a. “Mr. Rich,” and I’m thrilled to be entering the realm of teaching science up in Alaska!

I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and lived most of my childhood in Louisville, Kentucky.   For most of my life, I’ve been excited by space exploration, ever since reading Bruce Coville’s  My Teacher Is An Alien and a reference book on the Solar System published just after the flyby of Neptune by Voyager 2.   My time at Space Camp in junior high school convinced me to become a rocket scientist.   I got my Bachelor of Science at MIT (Class of 2003) and my Master of Science at Georgia Tech in 2005, both in Aerospace Engineering.   Straight out of graduate school I was hired into NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to work on the Space Shuttle’s Orbital Maneuvering System and Reaction Control System (the engines on the Orbiter that operate after External Tank separation).

When the Shuttle retired in 2011, I worked on the ground systems to load propellants into the Crew Exploration Vehicle, while considering a number of other directions my career could take, such as private rocket startup companies.   At the same time I met my amazing wife Karita, who was born and raised in Kenai.   Her mother has taught special education in Fairbanks for many years, and informed me of Alaska’s desire for math and science teachers.   I came to realize that this could be a grand new adventure, which would spread my love of science to a new generation of brilliant minds!

I am pursuing the Teaching-While-Training certification option, and have already begun teaching Physical Science at the Galena City School District.   I now live in Galena, 200 miles west of Fairbanks on the Yukon River, with Karita and our wonderful kids Liana, Aislinn, and Vincent.   In Florida I had the un-scientific hobby of acting at a community theatre, but I’m not likely to have time for that again until I’ve earned my Master of Education from UA Fairbanks, two years from now.   I do want to enhance my curriculum (once my teaching methods are smoothed out) with extracurriculars like national math and science exams, model rocket launches, and Quiz Bowl matches.

There are many fields of scientific study, but the term  science refers to the process for understanding the nature and behavior of the universe.   It enables us to see the sublime beauty and poetry of the world around us as it  is, not just as we wish it could be.   If I can get students to look at a little piece of the giant puzzle, to make a connection no one has made before, then they would have expanded humanity’s horizons in ways we can barely even speculate today.