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You Can Be a Teacher, Too

Part 3: How Schools Are Run

You Can Be a Teacher, Too can be downloaded to your desktop!

Have you seen Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ?

Part 3 Table of Contents

How To Handle A Major Problem At School

Step One: Ask For A Parent-Teacher Conference
Step Two: Check With Other Parents

Step Three: Ask For Permission To Make An Observation
Step Four: Write A Letter Of Complaint
Step Five: Organize With Other Parents
Step Six: Circulate A Petition For Dismissal

Calling All Professional Educators

Attention Teachers
Attention Principals And Superintendents
Attention School Board Members

Attention College-Bound High School Seniors And College Students

G. Edwin Lint, MA
Educator and Author

1996, 1998, 2001, 2003 DiskBooks Electronic Publishing

All rights reserved.
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How To Handle A Major Problem At School

If your problem is coming from the way your child performs or behaves at school, I'm assuming you'll find out about that through the teacher.

However, if your problem is coming from the way your child is treated at school, you'll probably get that from the child.

And it may not be what he/she tells you, either.

You know what it's like when you ask him/her how things are at school:

"How was school today?"


"What'd you do today?"

"Oh, nuthin special."

"Do you like school? Do you like your teacher?"

"Guess so ."

Not too informative is it? If your child isn't telling you verbally about a problem at school, he/she may tell you with his/her stomach. Some young children respond to school problems with various stomach difficulties such as pain, vomiting and loose bowels. Adults can react to fear in the same way, incidentally. If you see these kinds of morning stomach problems on a regular basis, along with a tearful reluctance to get on the bus, start looking for trouble.

First, have your child checked by a physician to make sure there are no medical causes for the symptoms. If the doctor finds nothing, check into the school situation. The problem may not be the teacher's fault. Bigger children on the bus or an honest fear of being away from home all day- for younger children may cause it.

Regardless of the problem's cause, you should investigate.

If you're pretty sure your child's problem is directly connected with the teacher and the school, go through the following steps until the problem is solved. You may be satisfied after the first step or you may have to go on up the ladder.

Just don't stop until you are satisfied.

Step One: Ask For A Parent-Teacher Conference

If the teacher suspects you may be on your high horse about something, the principal may be there, too. Don't let that change anything. You re still the Number One Person at the meeting and don't forget it.

If you feel the problem wasn't solved at this first step, go to the next step.

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Step Two: Check With Other Parents

You may be surprised at the number of other parents who'll tell you about having the same kind of problem with the same teacher. But even if it looks like your child is the only one with such a problem, don't give up. Go on to the next step regardless.

Step Three: Ask For Permission To Make An Observation

Tell the teacher, and maybe the principal, that you want to visit the school for a whole day and watch your child in action in all his/her classes. You may get an argument but don't give in. He/she's your child. The school is run with your tax dollars. There's no reason why you can't go in and observe if you want to.

Plan to sit in the back of the room and keep a low profile. Tell your child ahead of time what you're planning to do and then decide between the two of you that you won't be talking to each other during the observation.

Be sure you have pencil and paper so you can write down things which you don't understand and which you will want to talk to the teacher about later.

Make a special point of watching how the teacher treats the other children and how they react to him/her. Especially watch how the children react to the teacher during the second half of the school day. By then, the fact that you're in the room may have worn off a little and the children will be acting more like themselves. The teacher may be able to convince you he/she's a great person-at least for one day. But if you watch the children, you may get closer to the truth of what's really going on in that classroom.

I know this idea of going to the school for a whole day and sitting in a classroom sounds scary. I also know that most of you will be strongly tempted to chicken out and skip this step in the process of solving your problem. Chances are your child will put up a fuss when he/she hears what you're planning to do because he/she thinks he/she will be embarrassed. However, there are certain school problems which you'll never understand until you spend some time in the classroom in the role of a concerned parent.

If you're happy with what you see during your day in school, make a special point of saying so to the teacher and principal. If you're not happy with what you see, don't say anything at all that day.

Make plans to go on to the next step.

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Step Four: Write A Letter Of Complaint

Don't write a crazy letter where you rant and rave and prove to the school people that you don't have good sense. Just state the facts as you feel they are and ask for a meeting to discuss the problem when both the teacher and the principal will be present.

Here's how to set up your letter:

1. Type your letter if you can or have someone else type it for you. If you can't get it typed, write it on white paper using black ink. Some photocopiers won't make good copies if you don't use black ink. Write on only one side of the paper. Print or write, whichever you do best.

2. Plan to send three copies: one to the teacher at his/her home address, one to the principal and one to the school superintendent.

3. Use plain English and say what's bothering you. Talk about how you first found out about the problem. Tell about your conference with the teacher. Tell about your observation and what you feel you saw on that day. Again-be calm and courteous in the way you say what you have to say. It's not time to rant and rave yet.

4. Find a place where you can get photocopies made. Make three copies of your letter: one each for the teacher, principal and superintendent. Your library, post office, or courthouse may have a photocopies. When you mail your letters, keep the original and send the photocopies. You may need more copies later and that's why you should never give up your original letter.

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Step Five: Organize With Other Parents

You know there is strength in numbers so get organized. Ask other parents whose children have had the same kind of problem as yours to write letters of complaint, also. Make four copies of these letters, including yours, to be sent to these persons:

1. The school superintendent. He/she already knows about the problem because he/she got a copy of your letter.

2. The president of the school board. He/she should know about the problem but perhaps doesn't.

3. The president of your local teachers' union. He/she should know about the problem at this time in case disciplinary action becomes necessary.

4. Your state's chief school administrator. He/she will not know about the problem yet but it doesn't hurt to send him/her your material anyway. To get the name and address, get the area code for your state capital and then call information for that area. Ask the information operator for the number at the state department of education where you can get information. You will probably get a receptionist's number and she will be able to give you what you need to know. Don't try to call the chief school administrator directly- yet.

Sending this kind of information to your local and state school officials should be enough prodding to get things moving in the direction of improving the situation. The principal and superintendent should sit down with the problem teacher and show him/her just exactly what he/she needs to do to improve his/her classroom technique. Even if your problem teacher is a little slow when it comes to knowing about good education, he/she can probably figure out which side his/her bread is buttered on.

However, if things don't get better, and you have proof, it's time to move on to the next step.

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Step Six: Circulate A Petition For Dismissal

If it's now past the middle of the school year, you have a great temptation to grin and bear it, hoping Johnny will get a better teacher next year. The chances are good that your child will get a better teacher next year since I hope we still have more good teachers than poor ones. But what about all the kids who'll have this teacher next year. You really can't forget about them, can you? Maybe next year's parents won't include someone like you who's willing to stand up and be counted for what is right. That means the situation may drag on another year and the cycle will repeat itself. Children get upset. Parents get upset. Not too much learning takes place. And the incompetent teacher keeps his/her job and fails to improve.

Perhaps you're thinking about the poor teacher and the fact you may be helping to take away his/her means of earning a living. Actually, you should have been thinking about the teacher all along. Thinking about him/her and making sure each step of the way that you have the facts and that things are just as bad as you think they are. If you're convinced that he/she is hurting children, educationally as well as emotionally, you must go on.

Here are some things you should be considering as you prepare a petition for dismissal:

First, not everyone who has a teaching certificate and a contract with a school district should be teaching children. Some people just aren't suited to cope with children in a learning environment day after day.

Second, the teacher may be unhappier about the way his/her teaching career is going than you are. This may be the push he/she needs to resign and find a job he/she really likes.

Third, when the teacher realizes you're asking for dismissal, he/she just may fight hard to keep his/her job. Now it's time to get on with the petition. Have it typed up in final form and make as many photocopies as you'll have persons going out to recruit signatures. Also make four more copies of your letters of complaint since you'll want fresh copies to send along with the petition.

Next, type up a single signature page and then have enough copies made to handle all the signatures you expect to get. Tell your recruiters to fill up one page with signatures before going on to the next page. This is important: Make sure each person who signs your petition is 18 years of age or older and is a relative of a student the teacher has taught. If this teacher has been teaching long enough, you may find some of his/her former students who are willing to sign your petition.

Again, make sure that everyone signs in BLACK INK. Each recruiter should carry a black pen. The Ultra-Fine Flair pen is excellent for making a bold signature that still looks neat.

What happens if nothing happens? Good question. I'm not sure I know the answer. I do believe that you will get results if you go as far as a petition for dismissal. Either the teacher will get the message and shape up or he/she will be removed from the classroom.

If nothing does happen and it looks like the teacher is getting set to start teaching again next year, I would arrange a meeting between a delegation of parents and the top state school officials in my state capital. I would also, at the same time, send copies of all letters and the petition to the state legislators for my area and try to bring pressure to bear that way.

I sincerely hope your family is never faced with a problem teacher. But if you are, follow the steps in this section. Be as fair as possible and as tough as necessary.

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Calling All Professional Educators

Attention Teachers:

I'm not sure why you're reading this section but read on because I feel it can really help you, too. As you already know I'm a teacher by profession and proud of it. Although I've been out of the classroom since 1964 I still respond "teacher" when called upon to state my profession. But, I'm also a parent of two girls and two boys, and a grandparent of a boy and two girls. While my kids were in public school I was a parent who fiercely and protectively loved his children and wanted the very best for them in all aspects of life. If called upon to select the highest "calling", it would be parent every time.

Therefore, I will not pull any punches where the welfare of children is concerned. You and I both know many teachers just aren't suited to work with children and should be out of the profession as far as classroom work is concerned. For too long we have sheltered the incompetent, the sarcastic, the lazy teachers among us and it's time to come down on the side of the rights of the students. When you see physical abuse, psychological abuse or educational malpractice among your peers, do something! File an incident report with the administration. Speak forcefully with the offender. Apply group pressure. But do something! Be especially vigilant where young children are involved who will be less inclined to speak up for their own rights.

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Attention Principals And Superintendents:

My charge to you is threefold: observe, investigate and discipline (teachers, that is). Get into the classrooms and see what's happening to our children in the name of education. I guarantee you'll be surprised, both positively and negatively. Many teachers are seldom formally observed after they have achieved tenure. This is a crime in two ways. Good teachers never get the recognition they deserve and their ideas are not formally shared among other teachers in the system. And, poor teachers are never seen for what they are-- a menace to the well being of children and a blight on our profession.

Oh, I know what you're saying. You're so busy with the administrative demands of your job you don't have time to get into the classroom for formal observations. And when I say "observation", I mean no less than 60 minutes and no less often than twice each school year, complete with review of instructional materials and follow-up counseling session(s). The truth is, you don't observe teachers because you haven't given this facet of your job a proper priority. A high school-trained administrative assistant with a quick mind can learn to do much of what now dominates your time, leaving you free to spend more time in the classroom.

Observation is important and so is investigation. Most parents I talk to feel that the average principal or superintendent will side with the teacher in a parent-complaint situation regardless of the facts. I don't have data to prove it but my gut-level reaction tells me they're right. Even if you don't observe teachers on a regular basis, in the face of a complaint, get out there and investigate. Tenure or not! Observe the teacher. Examine the classroom materials. Talk with the students. Talk with the other teachers. Find out what's really going on. And when you have the facts, stand up for WHAT is right regardless of WHO is involved.

If an investigation exposes malpractice on the part of the teacher, don't be afraid to discipline that teacher formally. We both know the score when it comes to unions and tenure. Therefore, it is imperative that you accumulate proper justification and documentation for any action you contemplate.

Another important consideration is the proper breaking in of new teachers. Four years of college, student teaching and a first-level certificate do not automatically produce fully qualified educators of the nation's children. Get to know that first-year teacher and extend some personal as well as professional warmth. Visit his/her classroom often, during teaching and non-teaching time. Be there to answer all those questions with the right answers. Encourage compassion, good communication, good content, and good control. Reinforce good techniques, point out areas for improvement and smile more often than you frown. Don't abandon the orientation and on-the-job training of your first-year teachers in favor of administrative busy work. It's much easier to guide that teacher during his/her first year or so than to discipline him/her 10 years later.

If you have head teachers or instructional advisers, make sure they understand and mirror your devotion to quality education. Don't dilute the effectiveness of your training and experience by careless delegation of your powers.

Since I've already served notice that this book will step on toes, I'm not going to apologize for anything I've said in the preceding paragraphs. Just know that I've been through the mill of irate parents and union-backed teachers-and I still believe what I've said. I also believe that middle management is one of the toughest and most thankless jobs in the world, Mr. Principal.

Good luck!

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Attention School Board Members:

Most school board members I've had contact with know more about politics than education. That won't be all that bad if you'll listen to a little straight-out advice about how to do your job from someone who knows absolutely nothing about politics but a fair amount about education.

Here's what I suggest:

1. Put your political skill to work and get the consumers involved in the management of your district's education program.

2. Establish committees made up of parents, teachers, high school students and administrators. Encourage these committees to advise you on a variety of matters including such things as teacher selection, parent complaints, curriculum and administrative appointments.

3. Be very careful when you hire a new superintendent of schools. Pick a special committee to help with that job. Make sure a high-level professional educator whose philosophy you understand and trust chairs the committee. This chairperson can be a college professor, a consultant from your state department of education or an experienced superintendent from a non-adjacent school district. If you make a mistake in hiring your superintendent, a lot of people may suffer including your own children, grandchildren and friends.

4. Make sure your administrators are following through on OBSERVE, INVESTIGATE and DISCIPLINE. Let the parents and students of your district know that you're on their side. After all, your job is to guarantee that each child in your district gets an appropriate program of education and training in return for the tax dollars invested by the parents. This posture makes sense from a political as well as an educational point of view.

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Attention College-Bound High School Seniors And College Students:

Not everyone who wants to be a teacher can or should be one. Unfortunately too many young people go through four years of college, including student teaching, and then find out they don't like teaching after all. Even worse is the fact that some of these unhappy college graduates go on and try to work at the job of being a teacher anyway.

That's a crime if it happens to you. Life is too short to spend it doing something you really don't enjoy. It's a worse crime for the children you'll teach. They and their taxpaying parents deserve something better.

Tell you what. Since you're thinking college anyway, take this little test I've prepared. Score yourself and if your score is a little on the low side, perhaps you should change your mind about teaching and head for a profession you can really enjoy. As a matter of fact, we certainly don't need another misfit in the profession.

Here's the test.

Score yourself from 1 to 10 on each item. Absolutely Yes is a "10" and Absolutely No is a "1". The in-between numbers are for in-between feelings.

Have fun!

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1Do I really like people enough to spend all my working time with them?

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1Do I really like children of all ages well enough to be face to face with them up to 30 hours each week?

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1Am I willing to work in a profession which holds no hopes of big money, especially if I stay in the classroom, regardless of how much seniority, experience or education I have?

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1Am I willing to go home each night mentally and emotionally exhausted as well as physically tired-and still have papers to grade, tests to write, PTA meetings to attend and additional college courses to work on?

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1Am I willing to face parents in a conference with the knowledge that I did make a mistake in dealing with their child? Am I willing to admit that mistake with a promise to myself and the parents that I'll go back to that classroom and give that child the best possible education regardless of how obnoxious he/she is?

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1Am I willing to treat all my students with equal affection even though some will be more appealing than others?

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1Am I willing to appear pleasant even when I feel rotten? Mentally and physically?

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1Am I willing to be supervised by a boss who seldom comes in the room when I'm teaching but who still evaluates my performance as a teacher?

That's the test.

How'd you do? Still think you want to be a teacher? Maybe before you make a "final" decision, we should go back and talk about that business of how much money you can expect to make. And parents, please tune in to this, too. There are too many people running off at the mouth about how much teachers get paid and how little they work and it's about time we all get the facts straight.

Here's the way it is in many school districts:

School is in session for 180 days between September 1 and June 30. Teachers are paid an additional number of days, usually no more than 10, for professional duties such as setting up at the beginning of the year, attending conferences, holding meetings with parents. Therefore, the teacher works a maximum of 190 days per school year.

If his/her teaching contract is for $30,000 per year, the daily rate of earning for 190 days will be $157.90.

Any teacher worth his/her salt will put in at least 8 hours per working day and this comes out to an hourly rate of $19.74. Not high by professional standards.

Forget about all that "paid vacation" at Christmas, Easter and during the summer. The annual gross salary ($30,000) is divided up into a certain number of pay periods, often 20. This makes two pays per month for the 10 months school is in session. This comes out to a GROSS PAY twice a month of $1500, with NOTHING coming in during July and August. If the school district gives the option of being paid every two weeks for the whole year, 26 pays including the summer, the GROSS PAY will be $1153.85. Again, not high by professional standards.

If you think an annual starting salary of $30,000 is low, check the teachers' salary scale in your local district. Unless you're reading this many years after it's written you'll find that a 190-day contract at $30,000 is not bad at all for a first-year teacher, as teachers' salaries go. But let's say that by the time you read this, a teacher makes $60,000 a year to start. You do the math.

And remember, by the time you read this and recalculate my figures, the cost of living will have gone up, also.

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This product is an excellent tool for creating IEPs and curricula. It consists of the following components:

  • 16 Subject Areas
  • 105 Goal Areas under the Subject Areas
  • 4,830 Objectives under the Goal Areas
  • 2,719 Suggested Activities for achieving the objectives.