Dan Henderson

Monday, January 25, 2016

Lunch Duty Food Fight

One warrior, Dan, was left alone in the cafeteria, an outlandish rebellion was stirring. An uprising of epic odds. Could one warrior tame the angry mob of 100 frustrated citizens? The citizens began to organize on the battlefield. Except this battlefield was a cafeteria and their weapons were mac and cheese, bananas, and mystery meat. 
The citizens, tired of the oppression by their evil lords and the ever expanding homework demands, organized a coup. In a rebellion there are two groups: Loyalist or colonists, the rebels or the empire, but there are always at least two groups . William Golding wrote the classic novel Lord of the Flies. The premise is a group of boys that are shipwrecked on a island. With the pilot dying and no adult supervision they separate into two factions. Ralph makes all the responsible choices to try and get the boys off the island. Jack forms a hunting party of warriors and a power struggle ensures on the island, leading to some intense battles. I was hoping there would be a Ralph or two that day, but Ralph must of been at the dentist.
Our school policy was there should be about five or six adults in a room of 100 students. Teachers, disgruntled by the problems in our school, often skipped lunch duty.
That day, it was just me, a small microphone and 100 students waiting to call my bluff on my threats. The ages ranged from7-10 year olds. 
Principal Laney was usually present during lunch to help tame the mob. Laney is feared among the student population. Over the PA, I heard him being summoned to a notoriously bad 5th grade classroom. 
With decreased parental supervision in the room, villainous behavior was bound to emerge. We will call our emerging culprit in this story, Jack. Aware that the principal was gone, he rallied his rebels.
Jack crawled on the lunchroom table, knocking over hot dogs and milk. With two feet firmly planted, Jack held his hands by his hips. He didn’t speak, he just smiled mischievously. Eight year old girls swoon over this rebel’s courage and proud stance.
“Jack sit down.” I commanded, speaking in to the microphone from across the room. 
Jack reluctantly jumped off, inadvertently kicking one student’s hot dog on a nearby girl shirt. 
The girls frowned at the evil laughter coming from this rambunctious tribe of boys, Jack's friends were egging him on to more mischief. Jack turned his back on me to avoid my eyes.When facing his crowd they spurred him onto more trouble.
Jack bends over to find an abandoned banana and throws it at the chubby kid. For copyright infringement purposes, we will call the chubby kid Wiggly. Wiggly teared up and threw the remains of his banana back at Jack in an attempt to hurt this bully.  
Jack mocks wiggly by saying, “Your slow and fat. The reason your probably don’t have any brothers or sister is because you ate them.” 
I run from the other corner of the cafeteria. The banana incident probably only lasted about ten seconds.
I yell, “ Get off the table Jack, go sit at the other corner of the cafeteria.” I am loosing control of the students and must issue a consequence! They reluctantly came over to the time out table, a table students are sent to when misbehaving.They sit at this isolated table to cool down.
One hundred pupils talk louder and louder as I am the sole person trying to subdue the excitement. We use levels 0-4 to monitor the volume in our classrooms. Zero means absolutely no audible voices. You could hear your friend’s heart beat from across the room kind of quiet. Level four is an outdoor voice, the occasional yell is tolerated. Since the yell is outside, the sounds dissipates. When you are in the cafeteria, it reverberates. Five more minutes went by without Principal Laney and the volume coming from the students was comparable to a playoff hockey game.
I put down squabbles as my voice became less terrifying as the noise overpowers. My table of isolation was growing. Four more bananas were thrown. Six students were at the isolation table which left it not so isolated. They would need to learn how to share resources to survive. I saw Harry, one of Jacks closest friends share his hot dog at the isolation table. I scratch my head in slight panic. Six of biggest trouble makers are ready to form a union. 
A fight broke out on the opposite side of the cafeteria from the isolation table. I leapt off a bench I was standing on towards Doug a third grader, he was punching Jon in the face for calling him stupid. 
I managed to stop the fight in that corner of the room, but my back was completely turned to my worst culprits. Children are fast, like new puppies, it only takes 30 seconds of my back being turned for them to start pulling enough food out of the trash cans to have enough ammo for the coming war.
Solidarity was a term used during the Occupy Wall street movement. It is when many stand in unison for a common set of ideals. Jack and his bandits have lost patience to continue to deal with our schools rules and consequences. They devise a plan: A food fight in solidarity. 
The attack was going to be against the 2nd graders. The 2nd graders did not adequately prepare for this food fight since their attention was on watching Mr. Henderson run around like a mad man. Jack has his warriors ready to take over Cafeteria Island. What I remember from that day can only be described as civilization lost and William Golding’s reality found.
“Food fight!” Jack yelled at the top of his lungs. 
I was still holding Doug by one arm, about sixty feet away from my worst culprits. Doug and my muscles relaxed as we watched food treys of previously disposed hot dogs and macaroni and cheese fly, not in mouths, but onto peoples’ faces. In disbelief we stood far away to avoid being smothered by mystery meat. It was complete chaos. 
I stood, taking a few deep breaths. Doug looked at me with a nonverbal expression to say, I am the least of your problems. What are you going to do, Mr. Henderson?
I composed myself. I stopped a banana from being stuffed down a girl’s back by grabbing the banana straight out of a culprits hand. I witnessed a gooey pasta dish being smeared all over the American flag. The last image I have in my mind is a banana knocking a picture of a former principal from the wall. Frustrated and tired, with red cheeks, I ran to the front of the cafeteria to grab the microphone.
“STOP! STOP IT! Anyone caught throwing another piece of food will stay in after school detention for the rest of the week!” I have never yelled louder in all my life. 
This causes 94% of the students to put down their projectiles except my boys from Lord of the Flies. They decided, since most of the food was gone, to jump in the trash cans. Why? Well to ride around the cafeteria of course. 
The trash cans are four feet high, with easy gliding wheels. 
Where the hell were the janitors and the other teachers? I could only find the damn lunch ladies, watching from behind the counters. They observed from a distance, fearful to leave the kitchen. I can't blame them, a minimum wage salary doesn’t pay enough to discipline these kids, does it?
Ninety out of the one hundred kids were laughing at the Circa De Soleil movements of my culprits in the trash cans. I grabbed two trash cans with kids in them and gave these children the teacher look of death. Thankfully, I scared them enough that they took their macaroni and cheese covered bodies back to the table of isolation.
Jack still in a trash can yelled,“Push me faster!” Jack had no intention of calming down as another classmate zig zagged around the cafeteria tables. Wiggly was close to the stage and was not participating in these shenanigans. I found any ally, who was also not a fan of Jack.
“Wiggly, go to the main office and have the receptionist call the principal to the cafeteria.” He jiggled gleefully, as he knew the principal would give Jack the sweet justice he deserved for throwing a banana earlier at his face.
Two minutes went by, no principal. I was slightly nervous that the calamity would start again. I wrangled the trash can from Jack’s friend.
“Jack get out of the trash can!” Jack enthusiastically stilled played in the remains of cafeteria trash can, openly defying my authority.
“Fine stay in there, see what happens.” My hope was that the principal would catch him in the act, so I let the little jerk play in the questionable, but USDA approved meat.
I was quite proud of myself that my clothes remained clean. Yes, maybe I could have done something differently, but the odds were not in my favor. Who was I suppose to be? Freakin Spartacus? Wait he lost…
“JACK!” My savior arrived. 
The Principal grabbed the trash can, bringing it to a violent halt. Laney took one look around the room. Seeing the broken principal’s portrait and oodles of noodles all over the floor, Laney became enraged. The principal picked Jack up by his shirt collar, lifting him straight out of the trash can. She held Jack there for five seconds with his feet dangling in the air. Looking him dead in the eye he proclaims.
“You’re mine.” With that statement, the cafeteria became dead silent as he put Jack down. I have seen that look on my principal’s face. We were no longer talking to Principal Laney, but to Samuel L. Jackson.
Giving everyone the death stare, he paced in the cafeteria before grabbing the mic from my hands. Then he put fear and order back into the school.
“Let me get this straight. You have the audacity- the audacity!- to start a food fight in my school?! Do I look like I am playing with you? Do you think I am going to get into trouble for your clothes being ruined? Oh, no, no, no. I will personally talk with each of your parents and let them know that you decided to throw food at your friends. That you, Jack!” Laney stops to point and shame Jack by raising his voice. “Where rolling around all over the cafeteria in a trash can. Guess what? It’s a sunny day. Too bad you won’t be seeing it.” This speech concluded with after school detention being given to everyone , along with a good dose of guilt for all. 
The teachers came back from their lunch break in shock, to see once formally clean white shirts stained with yellow processed cheese. The teachers added another layer of shame and cancelled recess. Which is now illegal. The students marched up the stairs with heads held low and frowns of fear on their faces. They were clearly worried about the phone call home from Principal Laney. 
Our six culprits were still seated at our isolation table, held in the cafeteria for Laney to give another verbal bashing.
Once all but six students are out of the cafeteria, I confront Principal Laney. 
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!” I began pleading with him. “ I was the only one in here and sent as many of the kids over to a table to be by themselves. I just had to break up a fight and my back was turned and…..”
“You mean you were here all alone the whole time?” Laney asked this rhetorical question as he scanned the room to confirm the other teachers were not present. 
“Yes, sir.” I say humbly.
“You did the best you can, Dan. I will have to have a word with those teachers.”
The next few weeks, the cafeteria was tame because of the increased supervision the principal put in place. Teachers were reprimanded for not showing up for duty. Children were given consequences and our culprits clean up the cafeteria for two weeks. Jack and his rebels were suspended for three days. 
When teachers are left with too many kids, and not enough help, all hell breaks loose. It is in some children’s nature to cause chaos, and schools should hire more people, or schedule better, so that teachers are never stuck in charge of an entire cafeteria.
This is NOT a story about WHY kids do things, but on poor administration management. 

Please post your thoughts?

Do teachers not report to mandatory duties in your school? How can we fix this problem?

What steps has your school used to increase PTA or volunteer support at your school for lunch duty, field trips, and extra curricular activities. 

You can find out more about Dan’s book at That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching or go on Dan’s website on thatspecial.co.

Email me at [ Dan ] [Henderson ] danhendersonthatsspecial@gmail.com

Reviews from That’s Special A Survival Guide To Teaching:

If you were considering a career in teaching special education students and read Dan’s stories, you might think twice. After reading about his tools, however, you should see how it can be a rewarding option thanks to his tools and your own hard work and caring.

-Dr. Doug Green

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Are You Really Checking For Understanding?

4 Tips For Using Check For Understanding Practices

As adults we often take for granted our wide range of vocabulary and the comprehension that comes with applying knowledge while writing. Too often in my younger years of teaching I left check for understand questions (CFU) out of my lesson. I would accept one answer from the brightest student then moved on assuming everyone absorbed one student's response. It was only until I asked my students to write a story about being thrifty did I realize how they really didn't comprehend the meaning of the word. The word thrifty was interpreted to steal.

With all great teaching you have an example or model an activity for your learners to re-produce. This story was about a young boy named Marco whose family had lost everything in the Great Depression. Before this time this affluent boy’s family had a family car and a butler probably named Jeeves. When the Great Depression hit, the family lost everything, even their beloved man servant. Jeeves would no longer clear the sidewalk of the dirty lower class off the New York Streets separating Marco from the commoners. Marco's family had to sell almost all their possession and his toys. Marco was left with a barren room, and they were barely able to continue living in their home.

Learning to be deprived of material possessions did not come naturally for Marco. Marco devises a plan to obtain what was lost. His favorite toy train made of gold and red trim was located in a shop on 57th street. Marco steals the train by placing it in a bread basket secretly hidden under a towel. Marco's momentary joy is regained when playing with the train alone in his room. Suddenly a loneliness strikes his heart, and he cries for he misses his only friend, Jeeves. 

Marco searches for friendship on the busy streets of New York. Marco sees a group of boys playing and pauses to see if he will be accepted. From the reflection on a busy street corner window, he realizes he is the riff raff Jeeves used to kick to clear a path. The children playing in the ally have used tires and a random collection of toys. Marco gives the boys the bright new train, and he is instantly accepted into their social circle.Marco realizes all he ever wanted was friends. 

Marco goes to his barren home and finds odds and ends in the basement to make toys. The text uses the word thrifty to describe Marco. Marco takes his thrifty self to showcase his new toy to the ally boys. Moral of the story is friends are more important than money. Cue white shining light breaking in from clouds as the main idea that friendship is more important than money takes root in all of my students consciousness. My students must take this lesson and give me an example of how they can be thrifty at home.

My homework assignment is for my students to find something they can reuse with a friend to be thrifty. They must find an object in their home to create a two paragraph persuasive argument about how they would benefit from reusing an item. I do not ask any follow up or CFU ( Check For Understand ) questions about what students believe the word thrifty means. The next day we review the assignment as a whole group. Hoping my lesson hits a home run I ask Daniel MacFarland a CFU question the following morning.  

"Daniel, can you define thrifty and describe how you found something in your house to re-use?"

"Sure." Daniel says with a pause to compose himself. "Thrifty mean to take something without getting caught to make friends."

I pause tilting my head at an angle to give Daniel the benefit of the doubt. 

"When you mean take something, do you mean reuse something that you own?"

"No, I mean taking something that someone else has and hiding it in an ally with the other boys so you don't get caught," Daniel says proudly.

"What, no, no, no Marco or the boys in the ally did not steal, they were poor and made do with what they had in the ally. Marco was punished for stealing the toy train. The word thrifty means to be sparing or creatively reuse what you have, not to take from someone else and certainly not as a bribe to make friends."

"Ohhh," Daniel says with a long pause as his once firm hold on his paper in two hands now is let loose to float carelessly to his desk. Daniel sits on his hands and looks away, a downfall of shame overtakes him. I feel I also have let him down as a teacher. I crouch by his desk and whisper softly, "Daniel, it is ok. What did you do?"

"Well I wanted to make friends with the older boys that play by my house in the ally. They seemed to have less than my family so I wanted to take something to make friends like Marco."

"Daniel, what did you take?" I whisper sternly. Daniel looks away again, "Look at my eyes what did you take?"

"I took my dad’s gold watch and gave it to the boys in the ally. I was trying to make friends like Marco."

"What! Do your parents know? Marco got punished by the shopkeeper. The point of the story was not to steal and not about not getting caught. The point of the story is money can't buy happiness and friends are better than material possessions. Don't you know stealing is wrong?" I said this statement a little too harshly.

"I wasn't stealing; I was thrifting, Mr. Henderson. Taking something for someone else to make friends." Oh God, this is going to come back on me. Forget lesson planning; I would have to call Daniel’s dad to explain the situation. Hopefully, the gold watch would turn out to not be a Rolex but a Folex.

Lunch time arrives, and I escort the class to the cafeteria. I take Daniel into the conference room to call Daniel's dad in private. Calling dad was going to be different than usual. Instead of the typical scenario where I either call to give a positive or scolding performance review of my pupils, I might be facing no video games or TV for weeks alongside Daniel depending on how Mr. MaFarland reacts. He might ground us both.

I cough a few times and pick up the phone cautiously planning my excuse. Daniel stands next to the phone thinking about how he is going to phrase the incident to blame the teacher. We are no longer teacher and student; we are brothers confessing to a parent. The dial tone lingers and I re-think this conversation. I hang up the phone, and I cough again so that Daniel will look in my direction.

"Daniel, this could go one of two ways. A: you could tell you dad you thought the story was about stealing toys or watches to make friends. This would get us both in trouble because your dad would think the public education system has let him down. Since he will believe stealing is a moral value we teach in public school. Thus, he will also be disappointed in you and his parenting for you not having the common sense to not steal from your own family. Or we could do B, admit that all you really wanted was friends and Mr. Henderson will confess he did not do a superb job of explaining what thrifty meant as long as you acknowledge to your dad that you did not ask me any follow up questions to the definition of our vocabulary."

After my exasperated explanation of the plan, Daniel sits down to think. Should I defend my teacher or should I save my own skin? Daniel can't seem to deliberate the outcome so I give one more comment.

"Do you really want to go through life making excuses, or we can confess our errors as a team to stand together? I promise you, Daniel, I will check to make sure you understand the assignments before you leave school."

"Ok, we will do B. I am afraid I will get grounded." He says shaking his right leg anxiously while looking at the floor.

"I am afraid your dad is going to ground me, too." Daniel gives me a big grin as I steadily pick up the phone. I ask Daniel to dial his dad's number.

To sum up the conversation with Mr. Macfarland it went something like this, “What! This is what your teaching in school. Did any of the other kids steal because of you.” Add in a little shame, “Did you go to school to be a teacher Mr. Henderson? Whatever, how are you two going to pay for my watch.” Alas, I was spoken to as a child by a parent. Oh the joy, not only am I shamed but I have to come up $200 dollars because I did not ask a freakin CFU question!

We learn that is was not a Rolex but a really expensive 14k gold watch. Mr. MacFarland listens patiently to his son relay his message that all he really wanted was friends and that he was confused about being thrifty. Daniel apologies profusely and Mr. MacFarland asks to speak to me in private.

Mr. MacFarland was upset, but the phone call ended with a joke. His last comment will always stick with me, "I appreciate all you do for my son, but if I could give away gold watches, I would send my child to private school." My administrator was not impressed with my vocabulary lessons and I forever learned to put check for understanding questions in my lesson plans.

4 Tips For Using Check For Understanding Practices

  1. Start a lesson by going in depth with vocabulary: Write the definition, create a sentence, then draw a picture of the sentence you are describing.
  2. Set up a Check For Understanding habit: Create a routine by using exit tickets, or quizzes to discover what concepts your pupils are missing. I use every Friday to have a CFU quiz to gather data. Then use the data to re-teach or create new steps. 
  3. What if my students still aren't getting the concept? Break it down! Boggie with your bad self. Just kidding, just break down the steps into new sub-steps. Other groups of students may even need a whole new set of steps or a review on a prior skills.
  4. Use vocabulary or terms they will use: The Collins Cobuild Learner’s Dictionary will help you find the most commonly use words used in the English language. What words will they really use, bourgeois or middle class. My guess is they need to know the term middle class.

The real key in using Checks For Understanding activities is making sure students have fluently mastered a prior skill before moving on. Think of learning as a foundation. If the foundation is not solid, the whole building will collapse. CFU questions are your lessons’ building inspector.  

You can find out more about Dan’s book at That’s Special: A Survival Guide To Teaching or go on Dan’s website on thatspecial.co.

Email me at [ Dan ] [Henderson ] danhendersonthatsspecial@gmail.com

Reviews from That’s Special A Survival Guide To Teaching:

If you were considering a career in teaching special education students and read Dan’s stories, you might think twice. After reading about his tools, however, you should see how it can be a rewarding option thanks to his tools and your own hard work and caring.

-Dr. Doug Green

Like the Facebook page at 

*Disclaimer: All names have been changed to protect their identity.  All specific geographic indicators have been removed from these stories. Additionally, these stories are written about incidents that happened one year or longer from this date. @ That’s Special January 2016