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First-year teacher Andy Kwok , 22, (right) greets teacher Robbin Rae McCulloch in the hallway before class at Excel High School on Friday, Aug. 31, 2007, in Oakland, Calif. Kwok completed his first week of teaching on Friday. (Jane Tyska/The Oakland Tribune)
OAKLAND — At a training session for new public school teachers on Saturday, classroom management consultant Noah Salzman invited the group to describe student behavior that was making them crazy. He didn't need to ask twice.

"They hum or sing."

"They tease and fight with each other."

"They go, 'You doin' too much, teacher!'"

"They tell me no when I ask them to do something."

"They always want to go to the bathroom and get a drink — all day. They break stuff, they throw chairs, they yell at each other, they tell me no, they tell the principal no."

The last and longest lament came from a first-grade teacher.

Repeated day after day, some of those behaviors might reduce even the most stoic person to tears. But the exercise drew knowing looks and cathartic laughter. The teachers at the Oakland school district-sponsored workshop had probably cried enough. They had just survived the first two weeks of the school year.

And, as Salzman joked, they had only 182 days left.

Of the district's 300 new hires this year, roughly 200 are brand-new to teaching, said Laura Moran, the Oakland school district's chief services officer. The district staff wants to keep them around as they gain experience. But first, they need to make it through June.

Last year about 14 percent of Oakland's teachers left the district, a turnover rate that undermines stability and school reform efforts. Some of them left during the first semester.


Moran said she hoped Salzman's training, combined with other initiatives for which she is fundraising — such as team-teaching — will keep teachers from fleeing the city's most hard-to-staff schools.

"We're trying to do things to let teachers know we want them to stay, and we'll support them," Moran said. She added, "We don't want to lose the new ones."

Molly Shannon, a first-year English teacher at the Alternative Learning Community, a small, new middle school in East Oakland, scribbled furiously in her notebook during the session. She said she hoped to come away with more tricks to help her deal with disruptive behavior and a lack of concentration.

"Sometimes I'll maybe get 50 percent of the class on task and focused, but then you have the other 50 percent," she said.

Shannon says she has consulted mentors and colleagues about ways to build on the activities her students embrace, such as writing in personal journals at the beginning of class.

"Everyday I'm like, 'What was positive about today?'" she said.

During the workshop, Salzman used humor and role play to demonstrate the classroom management styles of ineffective, hostile and effective teachers. He showed the teachers how to diffuse a potential argument, how to convey that they mean business, and how to fairly mete out consequences for kids that refuse to comply with the rules and procedures.

"I don't want you to be bossy with your kids, but I want to you be the boss," Salzman said. "I want you to be friendly, but I don't want you to be friends."

Isabel Estrada, a new teacher at the high-performing and socioeconomically diverse Kaiser Elementary School, said she soaked up every word of advice. Her first two weeks were overwhelming at times, she said, despite her school's strong parent community and supportive administration.

Estrada said she has a really good group of kids, but that a few are extremely challenging. She knows she needs to address the children's behavior, but she doesn't want to be too harsh — or too wishy-washy.

"You kind of feel like a failure sometimes," she said. "You think you have the skills. You took your credentialing program, you took your behavioral management course. ... It's hard. It's really hard. You just have to keep telling yourself it's going to get better and you're going to make it though."