by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
“Keep your mouths shut.”
“Sit perfectly still.”
“And if you misbehave, you’ll be sorry!”
These unforgiving words—spoken like “a real witch” by Miss Viola Swamp, who takes over the “worst-behaved class” in Room 207 after Miss Nelson goes missing—inspired us to ask some of the teachers in our community how they handle unruly classes.
My Scholastic Book Clubs colleagues Stella Castilla and Lizzie Powers—former teachers themselves—reached out to several teachers and asked how they handle a virtual or physical room full of misbehavers like those little darlings in Miss Nelson’s class. What do they do when students start acting out: Throwing paper airplanes and spitballs, whispering, squirming, giggling, refusing to settle down—and, probably worst of all, being rude during story hour.
It will not surprise you that not one single teacher we spoke with said they “go missing” and then come back to school the next day dressed in ugly clothes as a “real witch,” ready to strike fear in the hearts of their students by loading them down with homework, telling them to keep their mouths shut, and canceling story hour.
Instead, the Scholastic Book Clubs teachers we spoke with—who I am sure reflect the general population of dedicated and passionate classroom teachers everywhere who pour their hearts and souls into teaching and supporting their students in every way—offered strategies filled with empathy, kindness, and a professional understanding of how kids learn and what struggles may be behind their bad behavior.
Here’s what we heard:
• Meet kids at their level: Find something that interests your students and try to connect. If you’re meeting in person, sit or crouch so that you are at the same eye level. Pass the student a note (digital or physical) to ask how they’re doing and invite them to write back.
• Offer healthy outlets: In person, offer fidget toys, Play-Doh, books, a special job, or a calm song. Virtually, offer digital articles to read or a sudoku puzzle to help switch gears.
• Add excitement to lessons: When the majority of students are unruly, it means they aren’t engaged. Work in movement, different materials, group work, and opportunities for voice, choice, and arts integration.
• Build strong relationships: Develop classroom norms and expectations together. Avoid a power struggle by bringing students into the conversation with empathy and understanding.
• When in doubt, use humor: Memes are especially effective when used in interactive presentations to define safety drills, class expectations, etc. and engage kids in a friendly way.
There are some days when, like Miss Nelson, I feel like throwing off the Banana Republic cardigan that is part of my work “uniform” and a badge of my professionalism and coming back to the office (or joining a Zoom call) the next day dressed as a wicked witch. It would be an interesting new approach—no more Ms. Nice Guy!
But like the teachers we spoke with—and the thousands of teachers we work with every day who are so professional and dedicated and concerned and who try never to abandon their kiddos—I will control myself, keep the witch’s hat in our props closet, and be more than satisfied to get a vicarious thrill through the Book of the Week, Miss Nelson Is Missing! by the inimitable team of Harry Allard and James Marshall.
“Oh, that clever Miss Nelson. She certainly fooled me, and I read this book countless times in childhood trying to figure out just how she pulled it off. Miss Viola Swamp is the best alter ego ever.” —Katie Ahearn, School Library Journal
Knowing my friend and colleague David Vozar as I do, I doubt he would ever come to work as a mean and frightening alter ego, and I am sure that, as a kid, he was not the instigator of trouble when a substitute teacher came to his class. But things were definitely not the same when his regular teachers weren’t in school. David remembers it like this:
This week, we all got together remotely and assembled some fun class activities and videos to help your students engage with Miss Nelson Is Missing!
• The Book Boys give a rundown of all the materials available on the blog and swap stories about their favorite substitute teachers in a kid-friendly video.
• Second grade teacher Denise Ortiz shares how she uses Miss Nelson Is Missing! to practice reading-comprehension skills in Book Talks.
• We came up with an activity in Cooked Up from a Book that encourages your students to practice critical-thinking skills by writing about what creative steps they’d take if their teacher went missing.
• Blog contributor Alexie Basil presents the fun and super-interesting story of Harry Allard and James Marshall’s collaboration in Behind the Scenes for your whole class to read and share.
Miss Nelson Is Missing! is the perfect book for story hour for students of all ages. I urge you to read this Book of the Week from Scholastic Book Clubs and share it with your class!
Happy reading, and good luck with everything this fall. Our hearts are with you!
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs