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The Well-Behaved Teacher: Avoiding Santa's "Naughty" List

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For Your Eyes Only

It is a little known fact that Santa has an entire division of elves who focus on educators. They are known as ELFS (Elves Love Following Schoolteachers). These ELFS spend their days tracking down educators to make sure they are being nice. When a teacher is naughty or nice, they make note of it and send it to the ELFS database for the computers to sort out. Another little known fact: Google’s algorithm for searches is based on the ELFS computer system at the North Pole.

ELFS works very hard each year to observe and evaluate teachers. They can't get to everyone every year, thanks to cutbacks in education funding from the North Pole Congress, but it could be your turn to be evaluated on the Naughty/Nice scale. So it's important to know the types of behavior that will get you on the naughty hard drive. The following five points summarize intelligence I received from a friend with inside information, a white beard and a red-nosed reindeer.

1. Calling on a Student That You Know Doesn't Have the Answer

This is a very serious offense. Calling on a student who doesn't know the answer to "prove a point" is an excellent way to shut that student down for the rest of the class period, and possibly the rest of the school year. This type of action is an immediate mark on the permanent ELFS file of any teacher. ELFS suggests that teachers do not focus on the fact that a student doesn't know the answer, but instead on why he or she doesn't know the answer. Solving this problem could lead to a better understanding between the teacher and the student -- and a clean record with the ELFS.

2. Moving to the Next Lesson Whether or Not All Students Understood the Previous One

This offense has be on the increase as more teachers deal with the stress of state and local testing. Getting through the curriculum is the goal for most of these teachers. Hopefully, some of the data will stick to some of the students, and the others can make lucky guesses on the exams. ELFS hates to see teachers who are rushing through their curriculum to get it done in time. This red flag in the ELFS system can easily be removed by focusing more on understanding and less on the finish line. Dedicating time for understanding will allow the student to be comfortable with the pacing of the lesson and obtain a better understanding of the content. Once a student is left behind, he or she is lost for the year -- and that is not what ELFS likes to see in the classroom.

3. A Rigid Teacher is a Naughty Teacher

This is something that is on page one of the ELFS handbook. All too many teachers think that having rock-solid rules will teach students the value of following directions, which in turn will teach them real-world values. If only most teachers understood that flexibility is what ELFS wants to see more than anything! Each student goes back to a different world after school, and they might not be able to meet the standards established by the teacher due to forces outside of their control. ELFS looks to see that a teacher is willing to work with every student to ensure that he or she has the best chance to be successful.

4. Connections Equal Candy Canes

One way to boost your overall Naughty/Nice score is to make connections with students. Candy Canes (checkmarks in the Nice register of the Naughty/Nice scale) are given to those that take the time to connect with the students in their classroom and building. It's easy for a teacher to come to school, teach and go home, but it takes a special teacher to spend time getting to know his or her students. This simple act can make all of the difference in the world to a student, and ELFS loves to reward teachers that put forward this effort. Failing to make connections will not hurt your ranking, but it won't help it, either.

5. Apologize When It's Needed

ELFS understands that teachers have a very difficult job and that mistakes will happen. One time, a member of ELFS accidentally gave Ms. Rhee a Candy Cane mark. It happens to the best of us. The true mark of a Nice teacher is the effort they make to right a wrong. Did a teacher's bad day get taken out on the children? Take a moment to tell the students that you're sorry and that you'll be fine. Students understand that people have bad moments, and it is a wonderful teaching moment to apologize and move forward. Claiming infallibility in the classroom is not going to win any favors from ELFS.


These are just five of the big ones that I wanted to share with all of you this coming holiday season. Take these to heart the next time you are in the classroom, and keep an eye out for the ELFS as winter break gets closer. You just might be up for evaluation this year.

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George Peternel's picture
George Peternel
Retired Principal

A guiding principle for all of these nuggets of wisdom is that a "nice" teacher overtly respects the dignity of each of his/her students. And when a student doesn't know the correct answer, give some "partial" credit. Like "close, very close." Or, "No, but that would be the correct answer to ______ (and pose a related question) but not to the question. Do you want to try again?"

zep's picture
Education Specialist

3 rules to insure inclusion on the nice list:
1. No grades.
2. No tests.
3. No compulsory courses.

Heidi Butkus's picture
Heidi Butkus
Kindergarten Teacher and Owner & Founder of

I agree with George Peternel's comment above.
In addition, I have issues with Rule Number 2. The problem with the rule number 2, "Moving to the Next Lesson Whether or Not All Students Understood the Previous One," is that often teachers are not actually given the choices about when and if they can begin and end a unit of study. (First, let me make it clear that I am not referring to my own Kindergarten classroom or even my own district!) But having spoken with many teachers nationwide, I know that many are told to follow certain programs and must cover a certain amount of material in a certain amount of time, no matter what. Some are told to "keep their expectations high," and it doesn't matter that they can see that their students are not ready for certain tasks. Yet they must ask their students to do them anyway.
These days, it is often the administrators that are calling the shots on what teachers teach and when they teach it. The teachers are left accountable for the results, but are often making very few of the instructional decisions that produce the test scores. For example, some teachers are told to teach by following a script, but the script doesn't meet the needs of their students they know it. However, they are powerless to change the lesson because deviating from the research based, scripted program is not allowed. This is the policy set in place by the administrators. (Again, I am not referring to anything happening in my own school or district, but to conversations that I have had with teachers nationwide.)
The ELFS need to put those administrators on the Naughty list, not the teachers. It's not their decision, and it's not their fault.

David Ginsburg's picture
David Ginsburg
Instructional Coach, Leadership Coach, Math Specialist

Awesome list, Nick! In fact, I've written a few posts on Ed Week that support some of your points. I especially encourage you and your readers to check out Great Teachers: Perfectly Imperfect for two true stories that speak to the power of educators apologizing--or, in one case, NOT apologizing--when we hurt kids.

Barbara Vogt's picture
Barbara Vogt
ESL/English teacher from Manteo, North Carolina

This is the best list that I have seen for some period of time. I use this list in my own classroom; however, I have never shared it with anyone. Thank you for sharing this list with others within education.

Richard A. Watt's picture

George: On the first day of each school year I would tell all of my students that I was going to respect them first, and then I expected it back from them. When my students wanted to try to answer but hesitated because they were unsure of themselves, my standard line delivered in a laid back manor was "oh., just spit it out and we'll fix it." I was a high school social studies teacher in Connecticut for 15 years before being bullied so badly by my principal that I resigned two years ago and have not taught since. I was diagnosed with ADHD about 10 years ago but had no issues once my neurologist and I settled on the correct medication and dosage. When the harassment started it totally negated the affect of the medication and by the time I left I had most major symptoms of PTSD. I hold a Masters in Teaching and a Sixth Year in Administration and am certified to teach and hold a principal's position. Sadly, the trauma I experienced was so great that I will never teach again. Fortunately, my education and personal drive allowed me to amass an impressive array of skill sets upon which to fall back on.
Thanks for posting your nuggets of wisdom.

Shakevia Hines's picture
Shakevia Hines
Preservice Teacher

This was an awesome list. When you call out a student that you know doesn't know the answer, you are kind of embarrassing the child in front of their classmates. Also relating this towards Christmas is an amazing idea. Loved it overall.

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