Who’s the Adult in the Room? A defense of Two Choices Technique and the Gangsta’

Why Two Choices Technique? Who’s the adult?

This post will be written as an open letter to Mr. B. [you can see his full letter in the comments section of Two Choices and the Gangsta’]. This post and many of my writings in general are dedicated to any teacher or parent who has tried the current mainstream methods of inspiring a child (or children) yet nothing seems to work. I wrote Two Choices and the Gangsta’ [as well as other examples of Two Choices Technique in numerous other situations and posts] for those who have reached the end of their rope. I also write for those who would offer advice.

Mr. B. had read my post. He offered some very common, very sound but very unusable advice. It seems as though I did a poor job of communicating just how dangerous my situation was. I had submitted my post, in response to a Twitter post, as an example of how to defuse a very volatile and dangerous situation, and still keep the kid in class. Yet, Mr. B. (and others at other times) questioned whether or not I had achieved a worthy goal, or some measure of real success. It’s as if I were guilty of unfeeling manipulation, or had just sort of ‘lorded it over’ the kid.

The following clarification of that post and my responses to Mr. B.’s valid concerns could be written to any teacher or pundit who advises being nice and student centered. I write this to help.

Dear Mr. B.,

Thank you for reading my post and offering your polite, thoughtful, and helpful comments. Your students are lucky to have such a caring individual as you for their teacher. I agreed with everything you said. It was very good advice for a young teacher in a majority of the classrooms in America where classroom makeup remains the same throughout the year. I don’t understand why you thought it would be of any help to me. Particularly, how would it have helped in that situation of which I wrote?

If we were to critique my use of Two Choices Technique (or to offer any useful advice), I think it would be more effective to take a Socratic approach to figure out: Why did I use it at all? And: By what criteria do we determine its level of success or failure? And then I believe it would be helpful to give action oriented advice. Give concrete examples of what you believe could or should have been done.

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The Heartache of the Impossible Child

9.22.14 Screaming Child iStock_000008551025SmallThe reality and heartache of the impossible child.

Most of my kids were really great. They just needed the right opportunity to get their acts together. We adults provided those opportunities and we all got along. But, let’s face reality, I have to admit that I did encounter some kids who seemed impossible to reach. At least, that’s how it seemed.

One day early in the semester in which I began my sojourn at our CDS school a student walked into class and said, “Oh man! I should have stayed in.” So I asked him, “In where?” He replied, “In jail!”

I run a tight, goal oriented class but it’s not that hard, yet he preferred jail to school. Obviously there are some serious issues here that go way beyond the scope of this essay. I include it only to show how stubborn a child can be.

I must issue a mea culpa. The following story is about a child so difficult her classmates wanted her suspended from school. It has a sort of positive resolution but I feel I just got lucky in coming up with it. Thank God for Two Choices Technique.

The Student Progress Meeting

In an effort to improve instruction and our relationships with the kids, after each grading period all of us teachers would meet during and after lunch as a group (we were a small school). Then we would call in each student one at a time and review their progress. Some students were given high praise and told to keep up the good work. Most received a mixed bag of praise and questions about the subjects they were having trouble with. “You’re doing fine in Mr. D’s math class. Why do you think you’re failing Language Arts? How can we help you?” That sort of thing.

And then there were the hard cases, those students who could not or would not get with the program. They were unable or unwilling to help us fit the program to their needs. Each was their own version of the impossible child. No offer of compromise, no promise of reward or threat of punishment would get them to cooperate in their own success. Nadine was the most impossible of the bunch.

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Punked Out to an Authority Figure

The Lesson

8.7.16 Thirty FiveI wanted to help my kids avoid unnecessary problems with authority figures. Of course, I wasn’t so naive as to believe I could advise them so they would have no problems with authority figures. I just wanted them to learn that it is occasionally possible to de-escalate a situation. I wanted them to understand that what I was saying might keep them from turning an unfortunate situation into something much worse or deadly.

Too many of my kids had trouble with law enforcement or school officials. I have written before about the variety of kids we got at a CDS school. Some were there because they were criminals. Others were there for silly mistakes. And a few were there simply because they were teenaged idiots. They all needed advice for how to deal with the cops.

I told my kids the following true story about how I handled an encounter with law enforcement. To be truthful, I wasn’t ready for my students’ shocking response.

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Educational Expert? Who Me?

CSUN DiplomaEducational Expert?

Yes I am an educational expert. How about you? If you’re like me (or Rodney Dangerfield) you put in the time and still get no respect. I put in the time going to University classes. I earned a Masters degree in Education. I became National Board Certified in Algebra. I attended colloquia and seminars and extra classes. I put in the years in the trenches of the classroom. There are legions of former students who attest that I was a positive influence in their lives. So why don’t parents and the school district listen to me?

It’s simple. Parents want an easy fix and the school district wants support for their way of thinking. Part of the reason the powers that be don’t listen to me is that I don’t always spout the party line. For other reasons we may look to the Bible and Matthew 13:57

And they were offended in him. But he said unto them, “A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house.”

So why does this matter? I’m tired of people saying, “You’re the educational expert. You should have known what to do.” I know what to do, but too many times those involved don’t want to go along. What they really mean is, “You should have known to do something different which didn’t upset anyone or involve the parents.” Here’s an example:

The dreaded “N” word and the call home

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Consequences: Parents #4

F does not equal BConsequences

What are the consequences of your actions? What are the results? Is it valid or appropriate to use the word consequences when talking about a child’s behavior or achievement in school? I used the word. You be the judge of the results.

The IEP Meeting

I got called into the IEP (Individualized Education Program) Meeting for Pablo. He hadn’t been previously identified as Special Ed. but his performance at school had been so dismal (failing grades in all his classes) his mother was certain that he needed to be labeled Special Ed. and given drugs to improve his grades. I disagreed.

I felt sorry for Pablo. He was lazy not Special Ed.. Yet here he was being hauled over the coals by four stern females (his mom, the school guidance counselor, his mom’s lawyer and a children’s advocate his mom also brought) while his mom insisted he needed medication. I was the only male in the room other than Pablo. I was the only one who saw his side of it.

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Spring Valley High: What I would have done to avoid the assault.

Spring Valley HighYou’re not asking the right questions.

I have worked in some very violent, dangerous and/or stressful school situations. Most people just don’t know how tough it can be. Therefore I was saddened at the naive, hysterical reactions of the public, the news media and the commander of the officer in the Spring Valley High video. Why do I call the outpouring of anger and outrage at the video hysterical? It is hysterical because there was a rush to judgement without enough of the right questions being asked or answered. The following will be an examination of what I believe to be the most important and relevant questions as well as an examination of possible alternative actions and outcomes.

In each of the following segments I want you to ask yourself, ‘What are my cherished beliefs? What do I know about child rearing, discipline and teaching? Before I judge the Resource Officer at Spring Valley High, what would I have done differently?’

These beginning questions are important because too many times, whether talking about school discipline or law enforcement, people have the tendency to say, “You should not have done that.” But they can’t say or can’t demonstrate what should have or could have been done that would have been more effective or less stressful. I will.

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Working to Misunderstand: The Fire

10.27.15 Yes & NoFire

The fire alarm was sounding. Then the familiar voice of our Principal came over the P.A. system, “This is not a drill. This is not a drill. There is a fire in the the cafeteria so have your classes assemble by room 5 to avoid the fire and to stay out of the way of the firefighters.”

And we all left our classrooms in a safe, orderly fashion. NOT!

There are set guidelines for teachers to follow and the kids don’t really give a damn about my guidelines. They want to get out, check out the action and shoot the breeze with their friends. Seriously, who can blame them? But I always conducted myself with one eye to the future when I’d be sitting on the witness stand getting grilled by the D.A., “So tell the jury Mr. D., where were you when your student, that poor ignorant uh innocent child was being consumed by the flames? Didn’t you know where your students were? Didn’t you have control of your class?” Control of the class – there’s the rub. How do you control a kid who doesn’t want to be controlled without extreme behavioral management?

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Busted for Shouting!

8.6.15 Shout.jpegI got busted by the police for excessive force!

Yes, a cop… busted me!!! for excessive force.  And when law enforcement complains of a teacher using excessive force, you’d think, ‘Wow that teacher must be out of control.’  Or would you?

Officer Bradshaw was talking with the Principal out on the P.E. field when they heard shouting coming from outside a classroom.  They turned to see a white male teacher shouting at a black female student.  (Start the body camera now) Bradshaw turned on his ‘body cam’, he couldn’t make out what was being said but it was obvious that the teacher and the girl were yelling at each other.  Then they stopped yelling and stomped back into the classroom (stop the camera).

Outraged (and probably feeling like he had the moral high ground), Bradshaw turned to the Principal and demanded, “Is THAT how your teachers talk to your students?”  The Principal said, “I don’t know what that was about, but I will find out.”

So, of course, I heard about it that afternoon.  Before I could say a word in my defense, I was hearing phrases like, “I expect better things from you… Have you any idea how embarrassing that was… What were you thinking?” and more.  To which I protested, “You guys weren’t there.  I had to shout at that girl just to get a word in edgewise.  I was only following school policy but she refused listen.”  “So you had to shout?”  “Yes!”  And before the week was out, I was vindicated by the Principal’s own actions.

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Don’t Shout! Oh Yeah?


“Hey Man.  You don’t have to shout!

“Oh Yeah?”

What do you think?  The vast majority of books and teacher trainings tell us don’t shout.  Shouting teaches shouting, not quiet compliance.  That’s fine philosophy but there are times when it seems counterintuitive.

Back when I first started teaching, I was given a most excellent book called Teaching Children Self-Discipline At Home And At School by Thomas Gordon, Ph. D. (author of the best-selling Parent Effectiveness Training and Teacher Effectiveness Training).  In it, Gordon ‘shows why traditional disciplining doesn’t work at home or in the classroom, and how to change children’s behavior effectively using skills of cooperation instead.’  I agreed with everything he said until I got in front of a classroom and I crash landed on Planet Reality.  I still believe he is right.  I just believe there is more to it that is missing from his books – that’s one reason why I write.

Here’s what happened:

At home I’d read, ‘…children will use self-control to follow rules when they have been given the chance to join with adults in deciding what those rules should be.’  Then the next morning I’d get a call to substitute teach at some troubled school and wham!  Reality set in.

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Excessive Force

7.3.15 Newton's 2nd LawShocking video

“Next on the nightly news, a shocking video of excessive force used on a young, mentally handicapped child.  We warn you that the video you are about to see is disturbing.  It shows two adult males (a middle school administrator and a teacher) forcefully wrenching the arms of a much smaller 13 year old Special Ed. student as they slam him into a chair.”

Wow!  Is your righteous indignation heating up?  Are you ready to abandon due process and fire those vicious adults?   Or did you ask yourself, ‘Does the video really show the whole story?’

Questions regarding excessive force

Claims of excessive force have been in the news of late and it seems to me that not enough details are being discussed to give a genuinely clear picture of when force is necessary or what force is necessary.  I’m not talking about the clear cut cases where someone has submitted to authority and then suffered a beating – that is excessive.  I want to examine the cases where it is obvious that the suspect or child is not compliant.  I want to ask these questions of all those advocates out there, “How many fights have you ever broken up?  Have you ever been in a situation with a child where safety of the child or others was at stake and the child refuses to comply with your authority?  What did/do you do?”  I call this ‘Catch 22’ situation ‘extreme behavioral management’.

I don’t have the video of the situation I described in the first paragraph but I will tell you about it.  I was the teacher!

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