How to Manage a Classroom of Apathetic Students [Episode 110]


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It’s officially the last week of 2023, so I wanted to end the year with the most listened to episode from the year. It was no surprise to me that my interview with Casey O’Hearn was the top episode because of his approach to teaching, his philosophies, and his outlook on how to interact and connect with his students. Adapting to teach in a post-pandemic world, Casey shares his approach to classroom management post-COVID and how you can implement his ideas.

Post-pandemic, a lot of teachers have had to adapt their management and increase student motivation. These times have presented many challenges for teachers and students, so how can you experience success? My conversation with Casey spans from reaching apathetic students, finding new ways to motivate students, and his effective no-hassle cell phone policy. 

There’s so much I personally took from our conversation, but the general theme was finding ways to meet students where they’re at in this post-pandemic world. Casey has a great perspective on teaching and classroom management, and I encourage you to reflect on your own philosophies as you jump into 2024!

Topics Discussed:

  • Post-pandemic classroom management procedures and strategies 
  • Different ways to reach apathetic students and increase their motivation
  • The importance of building relationships and the impact it can have on student work
  • How to use cellphones in class as an opportunity to educate instead of restrict their use

Resources Mentioned:

Meet Casey:

Casey is a 4th-year science teacher at Sumner-Fredericksburg High School. He teaches biology, anatomy and physiology, chemistry, earth science, and astronomy.

Connect with Casey:

Related Episodes and Blog Posts:

Connect with Rebecca:

More about Secondary Science Simplified: 

Secondary Science Simplified is a podcast specifically for high school science teachers that will help you to engage your students AND simplify your life as a secondary science educator. Each week Rebecca, from It’s Not Rocket Science, and her guests will share practical and easy-to-implement strategies for decreasing your workload so that you can stop working overtime and start focusing your energy doing what you love – actually teaching!

Teaching doesn’t have to be rocket science, and you’ll learn exactly what you need to do to simplify your secondary science teaching life so that you can enjoy your life outside of school even more. Head to itsnotrocketscienceclassroom.com/challenge to grab your FREE Classroom Reset Challenge.

Rebecca 0:01
Merry Christmas teacher friends, for all of you who celebrate I hope this has been a wonderful holiday season, and just a year for all of you overall. And I’m really excited to end out this year of the secondary science simplified podcast by Re sharing with you the most listened to podcast episode of 2023. And not surprisingly to me at all. It is the interview I did with Casey O’Hearn about classroom management in a post COVID teaching world. I have said it once and I will keep saying it. Casey is so wise and so different for me. And that will be incredibly obvious in this episode. I enjoy talking to him so much, because I just learned so much from our conversation, which is one of the reasons why I love talking to people different from me, and just hearing such different perspectives. And I hope you all feel the same when you listen to this episode as well. And really, most of all, I just hope it encourages you as you enter into a new year in the classroom and just another week or so. So let’s jump in to my interview with Casey O’Hearn on classroom management and post COVID teaching world. This is secondary science simplified a podcast for secondary science teachers who want to engage their students and simplify their lives. I’m Rebecca joiner from it’s not rocket science. As a high school science teacher turned curriculum writer, I am passionate about helping other science teachers love their jobs, serve their students, and do it all in only 40 hours a week. Are you ready to rock the time you spend in your classroom and actually have a life outside of it? You are in the right place teacher friend. Let’s get to today’s episode.

Rebecca 1:55
Hi, Casey, how are you?

Casey O’Hearn 1:57
Great. How are you?

Rebecca 1:58
I’m so good. And I’m so grateful for you joining me for everyone listening. I sent out a SOS on social media into my email list. And I was like I need someone to come on who has taught in the classroom in these pandemic and post pandemic times. And Casey is one of the people that responded and your experience is wild. And I can’t wait to get into that. But before we do, why don’t you just introduce yourself and tell listeners just kind of your background in education and your teaching experience and all of that?

Casey O’Hearn 2:27
Sure. So my name is Casey O’Hearn. I’m actually going into my fourth year in education. Throughout those first three years I’ve taught biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, earth science, environmental science, eighth grade science. And next spring, I’ll be teaching astronomy. So a lot of preps. I’ve taught at two different schools. Both of them were small public schools in Iowa. I have a Bachelor of Arts in biology teaching with endorsements in chemistry and Earth Science from the University of Northern Iowa. And next year, I will begin working on my Master’s in science education. Wow.

Rebecca 3:02
I mean, that is a lot of preps you’ve done in four years. And two schools. I thought for sure you were gonna say you’ve taught at a private school. But I guess I’m because normally when you have that many practices private that you said there’s lost

Casey O’Hearn 3:14
public schools. That is true. Yeah, public schools and iOS. Oh,

Rebecca 3:17
wow. Okay, so why did you want to be a secondary science teacher, I

Casey O’Hearn 3:21
always knew from probably about elementary school that I wanted to teach in some capacity. There’s just something about being able to pass on knowledge and skills to another person and watching as they become adept with those skills. As for why science Though, interestingly enough, I actually started off as a music teaching major. I wanted to be a high school choral director, but I kind of looked back at all my choir and band and orchestra directors from my past and just realized that they were all like miserable, balding, old men, and I did not want that to become me. So So I chased my other great

Rebecca 3:57
head of hair from what? So you’re not going down that path yet.

Casey O’Hearn 4:03
Thank goodness. But, ya know, my other passion though, was was science. So I changed my major to physics. And then while I was working on that degree, I took an introductory biodiversity course and just fell in love with biology. So I changed my major once more. And here I am. Still

Rebecca 4:17
graduating four years. I did not

Casey O’Hearn 4:21
it was it well is a five year program. And I actually graduated in seven because I changed my major a couple of times and was taking a bunch of other stuff. So it took a while.

Rebecca 4:29
Well had that all those changes that have helped you teach all those different preps,

Casey O’Hearn 4:33
they did help. It did help. Yes. Okay, so

Rebecca 4:35
what would you say your favorite has been to teach and what’s been your maybe not so favorite so far? My

Casey O’Hearn 4:42
favorite. I actually figured would be biology but turns out it’s chemistry. I really enjoy teaching chemistry, although anatomy and physiology is good too. But that kind of depends on the group I get either get students that are really excited about it or students that really don’t care and that that kind of changes From day two, I have to say my least favorite, though, would have to be earth science, not necessarily because of the content, because I actually love earth science, but because I’ve been kind of strapped for materials and kind of flying by the seat of my pants for that. But hopefully that’ll change coming up here, because I’m working on getting my curriculum together and more organized. So,

Rebecca 5:17
yeah, okay, so for your chemistry classes that are required course, and then is anatomy like an elective, because I think that definitely changes the dynamic of your students in your class.

Casey O’Hearn 5:27
Both are actually electives. Okay. But since it’s a small school, and it is me and one other science teacher, we don’t have a whole lot of options for electives. That’s why I’m teaching astronomy next spring, I want to kind of open that up, I foolishly volunteered to do that. You know, because even though they’re electives, it kind of turns them into required classes, because they don’t really have any other options. And it kind of sucks because, you know, chemistry is hard. And I got I got kids that are getting into chemistry that really, it’s not doing them any favors, you know, they they need to have something a little more their speed. So I’m hoping that that astronomy course will help open that up a little bit. Yeah, okay.

Rebecca 6:05
Well, I need to know too. Are you helping with any extracurriculars or doing any of the music stuff? Or how are you? Are you doing? What are you how can you do anything else besides teach all those preps?

Casey O’Hearn 6:14
Right. Yeah, I don’t actually help with any extracurriculars. I try to go to a lot of the show choir things if I can, and concerts, but But no, I really haven’t had any time to sign anytime something’s come up. I’ve been like, yeah, no, I’m gonna wait a couple of years until I have, you know, things leave

Rebecca 6:32
a relationship with your admin.

Casey O’Hearn 6:33
I do. I do. I think our principal, he started actually the same year that I did, like, right. And we’ve got a pretty good relationship. And he’s very supportive. So

Rebecca 6:43
okay, that’s awesome. All right. So you’re about to start your fourth year, or you just finished four.

Casey O’Hearn 6:48
I’m just now starting my fourth. Okay, so

Rebecca 6:50
your first year then was 2020. Yeah,

Casey O’Hearn 6:53
yeah. Okay. The 2019 to 2020. Area was when I was in my student teaching.

Rebecca 6:58
Okay, that was your student teaching your first full year is 2020 2021. Correct. Then year two is 2021 2022, which is like supposed to be adjusting to normal. And then this last year? Okay. So you really haven’t had a single normal year? Nope. Just tell us what that has been? Like. Like, you don’t even know what normal is.

Casey O’Hearn 7:18
Right? It’s so the interesting thing is, it really didn’t shake my world too much. Because I didn’t have a normal, right for it, you know? So essentially, what is basically end up being like there was no expectations, no routine to be broken. So if anything year after year, the restrictions on me have been decreasing. That’s true. Yeah. So it kind of feels like I’m getting more and more freedom. But during those that first year, when it was very, very restricted, I was also at a small school. I won’t say where, because, yeah, I’m not gonna mention the school. But it was definitely the worst year of my life. I never felt less self assured and more in need of validation that I had chosen the right career. I had no support for my colleagues or in my admin, the mentorship program, there was a joke, my predecessor left me almost nothing to work with. So there, I wasn’t being thrown into a new school. First job. COVID regulations, I had five preps, no support, no materials, and only half of student teaching experience, because I lost my second placement due to COVID. But yeah, and then in addition to that, half of our students were online and the other half were in person. So technically at 10 preps, because as we know, you know, except for admin, apparently, prepping for an online class is not the same as prepping for in person. Oh, true. Yeah. So and I literally stopped taking attendance after about the third week, because it was impossible to keep track of who was supposed to be there and who wasn’t camp parents sending kids in sprint, pulling them out. fundamental lack of discipline among the students. For a year. I thought that’s just how kids were. I don’t know what it is at that school. But yeah, it was rough. I had to social distance my classroom which meant seating students in the lab, which resulted in many broken drawers, broken sinks, half of my sinks were broken by the year one of the faucets was bent at like a 90 degree angle. I don’t know how they manage that. Well, not a day went by that wasn’t sworn at had something thrown at me. It was It was awful. If it weren’t for like literally two kids, I reached two kids. I remember their names like two kids that I reached. I probably would have quit that year. But yeah, then I’m then I went to 2021 2022, my first year at summer Fredericksburg where I’m at now. And here I got to experience overwhelming support from admin and my peers with a really good mentorship program. Still small school. I’ve got four preps this upcoming spring on five harm with astronomy. But yeah, it’s it’s been a little bit better. But the COVID restrictions being lifted, you could definitely tell there’s some there was some excitement about it. But in addition to be coming back to things going back to normal, this kids were still kind of in that COVID mode, and they’re used to being able to just go home whenever they want, and they’ll call their parents and their parents will call them out of school for In a no reason, which is kind of weird to me, you know, I mean, my

Rebecca 10:03
mom, like, I rode the bus home. So I’m like, I remember, I like you’d be at school unless you have like, 104 Fever. You were staying at school, right? Yeah,

Casey O’Hearn 10:11
my mom wouldn’t if I called my mom and asked her to let me go home, she would have laughed at me and hung up probably. So

Rebecca 10:17
I’m like, I just, I mean, I can’t even I remember missing school, like once in high school, and I think is when I had my wisdom teeth pulled like, it’s just crazy how things have changed. So the reason I wanted you is because I have not taught in this type of setting. And so people have asked for a classroom management series. And I’m going to do one, and I’m going to share what I think is kind of like universal strategies, regardless, but I’m like, I need someone to speak specifically, who has taught in this. And that’s why you’re here. So I would just love to know what you could share. I think they’re I mean, teachers are drained this, mainly because those apathetic students, like you were saying, If it hadn’t been for those two students, you may have quit. And it’s so hard to keep going when it feels like every student is just so not interested and just doesn’t care. And so, and first of all, I want to say, I’m so glad even it was just one student like that makes a difference in that student’s life. And so, I mean, we can all look back and think of one or two teachers that changed their lives, I’m so glad that you were there for them, and they were there for you. But what would be your advice is right off the bat, and we have a bunch of questions from our audience. So before we get to that, if you’re going to tell someone else coming in to education right now, what would you say? Like how do we manage those students who are just like so over it? So

Casey O’Hearn 11:30
I’ve actually found it very rare to have students who literally cannot be interested in the content, especially in science, like when I was in school science was everybody’s favorite subject. Now, I actually have people who say, I don’t like science, and it bothers me. But anyway, the main issue seems to be that there’s other things that they’d rather be doing. So I’ve found students would rather turn off their brains and literally do nothing, then do something that they’re unmotivated to do.

Rebecca 11:56
That’s a great point. It’s not that the science isn’t interesting. It’s exactly what you said, That’s they just would rather not use their brain at all, right.

Casey O’Hearn 12:04
But the thing is, like, finding that source of motivation, getting them to become motivated, can be a challenge, right? If you but if you can find their source of motivation, you can mitigate their apathy and get them to engage in the lesson, every student is motivated by different things like some are motivated by mastery, they have to know exactly what they have to do to get that 4.0. Some of them are motivated by discovery, you know, they’re really interested in learning new things, some of them more motivated by connection. So like, they need to know that you are invested in their success and that you care. And if you show them that, that will be enough to motivate them. But you know, finding each student’s source of motivation can be a challenge, it can take all your multiple years to get to every student like that. But my tip would be to find the biggest influencer or a group of influencers in the class, every class has them. Even the quiet classes, I’ve noticed there’s, there’s that one person or group of people who have everyone’s attention most of the time, if you can find that students or that group of students like a source of motivation, and motivate them, they’ll motivate the rest of the class for you. So you’ll still have a few outliers. But the thing is, is that when everyone else is working, you can focus on those outliers and find their source of motivation as well. I think that’s

Rebecca 13:17
a great strategy, because it can be really overwhelming when you’re looking at a class of like, 30. And you’re like, where do I begin, like you said, because you’re like, I know, it’s all about relationships. We all do. But like, where do you start? I think that’s so wise to be like, Okay, look for the ringleader or ringleaders and start there. And then like you said, if the mass follows them, then you have those other outliers that you can then kind of zoom in on I love that. That’s super practical.

Casey O’Hearn 13:40
It’s worked for me so far. Yeah. The other thing that I’d say, and I know, it just kind of comes naturally to me, and of course, any science teacher because if you teach science, you’re excite you like science, like No, I haven’t met somebody who teaches science who doesn’t enjoy it, but being visibly excited about it. And being it because I have found that when I get excited or hyped up about something like, when I start teaching about evolution, I get really into it. And that is contagious, your students will pick up on it, and then they will find themselves getting excited about it as well.

Rebecca 14:13
And so true. I mean, I used to always say I’m pretty introverted, but I can be outgoing. Like, I can be social, but then I just go home and like, have to go into like a sensory deprivation room for a little bit. But I’m like, so much of teaching is like, almost like being a cheerleader. I felt like like, amping myself up, especially for those classes, really, I’m thinking about like, when I was at a very large public school in this big city, and I had like 30 students in my, like, lowest level biology course. And they just like, don’t want to be there, but the bus brought them to school and they’re sitting there. So their motivation is just to get to the bell ringing, you know, it was like, okay, but if I’m like, up here, and I’m fired up, they all thought I was crazy, but then they paid attention. I was always looking for like the next thing to do. And this isn’t everyone’s personality, obviously, but I’m in I was standing on lab tables, I was, you know, skateboarding in a pencil skirt and physics, like doing whatever it took to get their attention. Because then they at least were like, she’s wild. I want to at least watch what she’s doing. Or, like you said, she’s excited. It totally makes a difference. So when you come in, you’re like, Okay, it’s macromolecule day, my least favorite, you know, whatever, like, you gotta rally that energy. And that’s where I love to, like, if there’s a topic, I don’t like teaching, I’m like, I’m gonna find a resource or something from someone else, or something that will make me excited to do it, so that they will be excited about it. Like, that’s where I love the hunt. I love obviously, I love writing resources, but I love like the hunt for resources, because it’s like, let’s make this fun for everybody. It’s a lot of work, though. When you’re doing for fight preps.

Casey O’Hearn 15:44
Yeah, it doesn’t, you know, you kind of kind of pick the ones to focus on and other ones kind of fall on the wayside. You know? 100%

Rebecca 15:50
Okay. So some of the specific questions from our audience, one was like, cheating, I feel like cheating is rampant now, especially with like moving to online stuff, and then coming back, like, and they’re all just so industrious, and so, so much access to everything. So what would kind of be your advice about how to deal with cheating, and all that now,

Casey O’Hearn 16:13
one of the biggest things is, we live in a world now where everybody has a device in their pockets, that they can look up anything. So we kind of have to change how we design our lesson plans. Instead of having a focus on things like vocabulary, or things that someone can find with a simple Google search, we need to focus more on making them scientifically literate, making sure that we’re working their critical thinking muscles, right things that they can’t just look up. And just and not, I’m not saying that there’s that we shouldn’t do vocab or anything like that anymore, there’s a place for it. But it I just think that the focus needs to be shifted off of it. Because memorization isn’t something that we need to be teaching these kids anymore. When it comes to things like tests, because I noticed that there’s definitely a lot of cheating on tests, I kind of ended up getting away from that, because I actually don’t really give tests anymore. Main reason is we have a pathetic 40 minutes of class, oh, my gosh, very short class periods. So I would only have three or four students finish, like a summative assessment in time. And I’d have to like bring them in later and like haven’t finished which was, which was just crazy. So for some of the lessons, I give projects, typically that takes multiple days or, or weeks to complete, and you can’t really cheat on a project, if you design it correctly. If I do have to give a test, I usually give it in the form of frequent short quizzes throughout the unit. So like, I’ll take if I have a big test I use, I’ll just chunk it out into into those quizzes. And what I found is that it vastly decreases test anxiety. And if there’s less test anxiety, there’s less need to cheat. Yeah, because you’re not so worried about it. You know, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure kind of thing. Now, if I actually have a student who does cheat on an assessment, I do make it a big deal. I’m you know, I tell it, it says it’s a zero for now, parents are contacted, they will be given the opportunity to reassess because I think the important thing is not punishing them, but making sure that we are assessing mixtures to they’re meeting the standards. So they will be given the opportunity reassess. But for me, they have to have everything that they were missing turned in. Yeah. So that’s what I point to it like, Well, yeah, it’s like you had to cheat. But did you notice also that you didn’t turn in all of these assignments? That’s probably why. And I also usually give them some form of extra work that helped can tell me that they’re ready to reassess instead of just winging it.

Rebecca 18:31
Yeah, I think that’s great. I love the idea of projects. I remember encouraging a lot of teachers who had emailed me during COVID, and especially even 2021, like that year after and being like, you know, will you put your tests, you know, in Google Forms? And I was like, no, because I don’t think you should be doing tests, especially with virtual classes. There’s literally no point that you cannot make sure it’s authentic and authentic assessment. And so I’m like, I don’t really like to grade anything for accuracy, unless it’s done in the classroom. Like, I’m not I don’t even really like to do homework, which that’s a tangent for another day. But I love the idea of like, eliminating tests if you can, but then if you have them like Chris Kessler, I don’t know if you know him. He’s a curriculum writer, and a former middle school science teacher, but he like wrote a blog years ago, all about how he’s always an open note tests. And I thought that was insane. But nowadays, I’m like, I get it like, not like, if you can’t beat them, join them. But kind of like, if you’re so tempted to cheat, then let’s make an open note for everybody. Especially with your 40 minutes, you’re not gonna have time to like, read every single thing. But it also his whole point was like, it motivates kids to really like, do their work, because then they can use all of it on a test, which I love that strategy, too. So I think there’s lots of different ways people can handle it. One

Casey O’Hearn 19:41
with open note tests, too, because I’ve done those before. There’s ups and downs to it, but a big, big plus side to it is that yeah, one they focus more on their notes, which is good. And two, it gives you the opportunity to write deeper test questions, things that aren’t so much recall where they can just flip through the notes and find the answer. But where they have to use their notes as a knowledge base? And answer a new problem, right? Oh, it kind of opens up the way that you can write tests, it does make grading a little more difficult because multiple choice with an open, right, it’s just kind of pointless, but you know, but totally.

Rebecca 20:15
Okay. So another question is, how do you manage teaching students who need to challenge but then you’re also like mediating those loud attention getters, like how do you balance all these different personalities in your classroom. So

Casey O’Hearn 20:28
this, this kind of ties back into my tip for teaching the apathetic students pinpoint those loud, loud attention getters early and make them your buddy, they will manage the class for you, because they’re usually the instigators that cause all the problems, and all the behavior problems in the class. So if you become their buddy, they will kind of manage the class for you. And that frees you up to provide deeper challenges for the more dedicated students that are just trying to work, and might need a bigger challenge. And the biggest thing that I can say with this is that I learned very quickly at my first year, that horrible, horrible, please don’t get into a power struggle. Like if you get into a power struggle, not only will it make your life miserable, but all other classroom management goes out the window, because it’s just you’re focused on just you and that student, and you’re gonna lose, regardless, even if you win, you lose in that situation. You’re so right.

Rebecca 21:23
I’ll never forget someone telling me those power struggles are like a game of tug of war of the student. And your job is to drop the rope. And this is so hard for me because I am like, very black and white. I like I have a extremely strong like justice meter. And like things need to be fair, and I need to be bright. And I need to like convince this student. But it’s like, once you get that student who’s like in that power show, like you said, like you like you said, you can’t win, you cannot win with that student. And so it’s about someone told me the other day, this is parenting advice. But it really applies students like sometimes Rebecca, you need to choose the relationship over being right. And I think that’s the same in this situation, those power struggles, like, retain the relationship with that innovator student, but also with the class and just show like, I’m not going to engage, because a lot of those kids are just like picking a fight, you know, and I think you’re so wise to say that. But then also like, take them under your wing, give them a job, like if they want attention, give them attention, like get them up, get them to help you with the demo, get them to, you know, wipe off the whiteboard or whatever. I think that’s a really, really wise advice, Casey, I would say to with the synth Anita challenge, I loved because especially I feel like if you’re at a large school, and you’re listening, a lot of times, like you’ll just have like General Biology and honors and that General is anywhere from like, a kid who might be honored Social Studies English, but not really great at math and science, but they’re just in this general class to like, kids who are in credit recovery, you know, so like, the range is crazy. I love getting the students in need to challenge in their finishing faster to help me like, hey, there’s 28 people in here, I literally can’t help everybody. If you finish early. I’m going to send you over to this table and like you start helping them and we kind of work together. I think you’re so right. Like, utilize them. You’re only one person, like utilize your students to help you. I always tell even my kids, I’m like, There’s one mommy and there’s three of you. So I need you to help our family. Because I can’t do it all. That’s

Casey O’Hearn 23:19
good. Ya know how often you use it with my own kids?

Rebecca 23:21
Yeah. It’s always it all the time. Like, I’ll hear my five year old now I’d be like, there’s one, mommy and there’s three of us. So we have to help. All right. Hey, go. It’s so funny. Okay, another question I got for you was, again, like this, you know, kind of you mentioned but anything else on how to get students to find meaning in school and not just skip class?

Casey O’Hearn 23:43
Right? The age old question, right? That’s one you get every single year from from students, you know, what is the point of this whenever we’re gonna use this? Well, it’s becoming more and more difficult due to parent apathy. I found because I’ve got parents who will just call their students out of school and give them excused absences just because their student asked them to, I literally have students call or text their parents during school to say, Hey, Mom, can you call me out? And like, Yeah, sure. And then they just call them out like what why the Yeah, like we’re talking about for my mom would have meant she would have been so mad. My best advice would be just form connections when you can, the more positive a relationship you can form with a student, the easier it’s going to be to motivate them to show up the easiest to find with and especially those students who are skipping like some, sometimes they’re skipping because they really feel completely lost, and they might not have anybody else. If you form that connection, that might be the motivation that they need to get there to get to school.

Rebecca 24:38
It’s so true. And I would say to you, like you need a foreign partnership then like your vice principal, your counselor, whatever to like, get these kids at school because like it can become a truancy issue and and that’s where I think it’s like this doesn’t have to all be on teachers to bus partner with them. Like it’s the counselors job to to make sure these kids get the credits to graduate and so it’s like, they gotta be You there in order to do it. So I think, yeah, like you said, it’s all about the relationship. But at the same time, you don’t have to, like force this on your own. Get some help, because it’s like you said it’s a parent issue. And you can’t, you can’t change all of them, too. So, all right, another thing is cell phones. Like this is like the age old question. I feel like since probably like, 2012, when people really started having smartphones. So what would you say? Like, what’s your best advice? Or how do you personally, I think, I think sometimes it just helps for people to hear like a lot of different ways that people are doing it just to see like if something lands, so how do you handle cell phones?

Casey O’Hearn 25:32
So cell phones are actually, I feel like one of my biggest triumphs out here, then. And it’s it’s kind of the opposite of what people think. So cell phones are kind of the biggest pet peeve among my colleagues, they cannot stand them. And as such, they have intense policies and procedures centered around cell phone confiscation. So it seems to have been become more of a vendetta against technology than a way to actually mitigate the distractions. And I believe that it’s having the opposite effect. Immediately, when you impose these strict harsh policies, students are put at odds with their teachers. And this inhibits your ability to form those positive relationships. So cell phones, like you said, but it doesn’t well, when smartphones really became a thing. And before then even like, when I was in school, like middle school, you know, every once in a while, you’d have a few students who had the flip phone. And like, if you had a phone was like, Oh, my gosh, you have your own phone. Wow. The razor? Yeah, you’re right. Yeah, the razor. But now cellphones are a part of everyday life, it’s hard to imagine somebody without one almost to the point where they’re a part of our identity. So trying to fight their presence is futile. Like it’s it you’re you’re you’re fighting a losing battle, you’re trying to change the flow of a river, you can redirect it, you could read, you could dam it up, but eventually give enough time that river is going to win. So my solution is don’t make it such a big deal. Don’t put yourself at odds against your students, because the cell phones right away, I have believe it. And I actually have I don’t have a cell phone confiscation policy in my classroom. I don’t have one. And we often use them in class for labs and activities. But my students do know, it’s my expectation that they’re not on them while I’m providing instruction, things like that. So far, in the I’m not counting that first year, because those students were a nightmare. But my my two years that I’ve been at at summer, I have not had to confiscate a single phone, I have never had to get more than a gentle reminder. So I’ve given them a reminder to put it away. And I’ve never had to remind the same student twice in the same class. So I think trying to outright ban cellphones is is a mistake, in my opinion. So instead of leading the war on phones, what we should be doing is teaching good Cell phone etiquette, you know, teach students not to look at it when someone’s talking to you or while walking, are not answering it during a conversation or during class, things like that. Because it makes it less of a battle and more of a just educating them, then

Rebecca 27:51
that’s a really unique perspective, I’d never thought about like teaching them proper etiquette, because I even like I was thinking the other day, I was talking to a friend. And then while we were talking, she looked down at her watch. And I could tell she was reading messages while we were talking. And I was like, wow, that was pretty rude. But like, that’s interesting, because it’s just like, but we’re so used to it. And we’re so easily distracted. That’s an interesting idea to think let me teach you how to use this. So what do you say then? Because I’m already thinking, Well, I can already see myself being like so enraged by like going over a lab. And then I send them out and someone was on their phone. They weren’t listening. And then they’re like, Well, I’m confused. What do I do? How would you handle that? Then if you’re, if you are like, I know you are distracted by your phone, this is your fault. Do you see my justice meter? Yeah. I’m getting like angry about a hypothetical.

Casey O’Hearn 28:39
So I actually have had that happen. Once it’s in it usually happens in the first, like when the within the first couple weeks or first couple of labs or something. And it’s actually pretty much that exact situation. She was looking at her phone, she wasn’t paying attention. She didn’t get any of the lab information. And she was just like, What am I supposed to do? And I was like, I don’t know, figure it out. And she was just asking everybody else. Like everyone was like doing their best to kind of help her without telling her exactly, I was so proud of them. Because I was like, Oh my gosh, just like you guys aren’t just giving her the answers. And she never did it again. She made sure anytime I was talking boom, her phone was facedown on her desk, like away from her. So you will have a few things that crop up like that I’ve noticed. But after they get into the routine of knowing when they it’s okay to use their phones, when not, it’s fine. So like, when they’re doing independent work time and stuff in my room, I let them say listen to music or something like that. And if they’re working on something, you know, and they like take out their phone and change a song, whatever. But I make sure to pay attention to the students who like if they do take out their phone and it stays out. And they keep looking at it and they keep looking at it. That’s when I go over and give them that reminder. And instead of making it a confrontation and being like hey, put your phone away you know like that because that again, is putting you at odds with the student. I turn into a redirection, like, Hey, do you need help with this problem like what’s What’s going on here? What’s your thinking on this and then make them explain something to you. And then the phones away, they’re talking to you and there’s no confrontation.

Rebecca 30:07
They say, you seem so patient to me. I’m like, can I just like absorb some of your patients through the computer? I try to be. That’s amazing. I’m like, they’re impressive. I think that’s really interesting. I, I will say, when I was last in the classroom full time, I had a strict policy. But I would say it was effective, because it was a school wide policy. And that was what made it effective, like, so I wasn’t the only person, it was a school wide thing. They had a certain amount of things, and they had to get the phone taken. And it was like, so that made it easier. I think I would not be I would probably do what you did if it was not a school wide thing. So I like that. Because I think you’re right, it’s like hard to be the only one like enforcing something if it’s not like, or it’s hard for kids to have every class is different. I don’t know, that could actually

Casey O’Hearn 30:51
you know, it kind of makes up their expectations. Like oh, wait, this is, you know, visit this class, I can’t I can’t my phone out at all? Or? Or is this classes, teachers a little more lenient and stuff like that? Well, my principal says, like, with some school wide policies are, are good and effective. Because if you don’t have at school wide, you know, if you’re not the jerk, everybody else is, right. So that’s kind of that’s actually kind of my situation right now. Because since we have autonomy in our classrooms, and we can choose what our cell phone policy is, since mine is easily the most lacks, everyone else is a jerk. And so I feel kind of bad sometimes. Yeah.

Rebecca 31:26
I was, I was on the only teachers that didn’t do homework. I didn’t assign homework. But my whole point was, it motivated them to be really present in my class, because they knew I was going to give them enough time to do it. If they paid attention, but if they didn’t, they’d have to have homework. And so I feel like it’s like, you build some like, Hey, you respect my time in the class, I’ll respect yours outside of class, you know, obviously, that wasn’t for like AP Bio, but like for the other ones, and I felt like it was really effective. Kind of like a follow up question. You mentioned 40 minute classes. Do you have like a bathroom policy? Or how do you navigate that with such a short class, I’m like, Y’all, you don’t have time, because

Casey O’Hearn 32:04
it’s definitely rough. I don’t really have a bathroom policy to like, prevent them from going to the bathroom. Yeah. Because, you know, sometimes, you just gotta go and like, so but I do have a way because one of the biggest problems at our school is the flocks of girls going to the bathroom at the same time. So I have two passes, boys pass girl pass, and they can only go if there’s a pass away, they don’t have to tell me they just get up and go. So there’s, it mitigates interruptions, because they don’t have to be, you know, raising their hand, they just have to go but they have to take the pass with them. And if the pass is there, they gotta wait for it to come back. So that way they can go and groups occasionally I’ll have one that’s like, oh, it’s like I was like a really, really have to go and try to slip them past me and I but I stand by it. And then magically, when the past comes back, they don’t have to go anymore,

Rebecca 32:49
right? Yeah, I did something similar to her. I just had one. And it was right at the front. It was like, cuz my whiteboards like on the way out the door is in the corner. So it wasn’t like super disruptive. But it was obvious everyone could see it, that I actually would have them just like, jot their name on the whiteboard, just so I would know who was out of the room. Because like you said, I just don’t want you asking like you’re in or you’re out. And I can only but I just did one out at a time because it was easier for me to keep up with them. And I found that really effective. But I think the easiest thing is bathroom too is like if you keep the class going enough, they don’t want to leave, right? Like they know stuff going on. I feel like it’s when they get bored that they’re just like, Okay, I want to like go the bathroom or whatever. But like, you know, things are moving. They’re like, I don’t want to leave because I don’t want to miss something. Right, you know, okay, another one was someone asked what are your go to effective policies or procedures? Or do you have any, like classroom maybe rules that you’re like, these are a couple things like we always do? Well,

Casey O’Hearn 33:42
I mean, my very lacks cellphone policy would be would be my most effective one, because I haven’t had any any issues with phones. Other than that, I mean, we do bell ringers prime times, so to speak. So that way they know that’s, that’s policy, they come in, they sit down, they start working before the bell rings. Because of the 40 minute periods, I know I’m gonna use the time as effectively as possible. So there’s a policy that they will be counted as tardy if they’re not actually sitting down and ready to go when the bell rings that gets them in and ready to go immediately. Gives us a little bit of time there. Other than that, I don’t really have a whole lot of rules in my classroom. Again, I feel like rules are very restrictive. And again, puts you at odds with the students other than you know, the obvious rules. No bullying, no talking on teachers talking things like that.

Rebecca 34:33
Don’t hurt someone.

Casey O’Hearn 34:33
Don’t hurt anybody don’t eat things in the lab.

Rebecca 34:37

Casey O’Hearn 34:37
Most common question I get Can I eat this? No, no you?

Rebecca 34:42
Do you let them eat in your class at all. Like up at the desk? It

Casey O’Hearn 34:46
depends. If it’s a distraction, no, but most of the time it’s not. And I tell them that it’s like I’m fine with you eating but if you’re like coming in and like opening up a bag of chips and all I hear is crunching like that’s going to be really annoying. So please don’t do that. Or like if you bring in like a full plate Eat of spaghetti or something like that. You can eat but as long as it’s not a distraction. No, it’d be like a tuna melt. Yeah, yeah. And they have to be in the classroom area. I don’t allow any eating or drinking in the lab. Right?

Rebecca 35:11
Of course, I never let food just because most of my time teaching, our lab space was our desks, you know, right. Except for my AP bowel class. But I had them first periods. It was like they were older kids are just coming in with like, coffees and stuff. But they were great, too, because they always knew to like, clean their table before and after. And they were easy. But yeah, I think food can be a tricky one. Okay. Two more questions. And then I have my final question for you. Someone asked, What do you do about students who just flat out like refuse to do any work?

Casey O’Hearn 35:39
Yeah, so actually a few of those. And I’ve tried multiple things, the one thing I found works best, I try to give them smaller tasks within their assignment. Because I like to provide time in class to work because same I don’t, I don’t I also don’t give homework, I give them time in class to work on things so that they can ask questions. And then I’m there to answer them. So often, I’ll have a student who sits there and just doesn’t work. So what I’ll do is I’ll frequently visit them and give them a smaller goals. Like it’s like, let’s see if we can get one through three, done before the bell rings, right? Often when I do that, and I’m basically redirecting them and essentially forcing them to do something. They that’s when they bring up the questions. That’s when they have these questions that they have that they were too nervous or too embarrassed to ask earlier. Very rarely have I seen a student that’s just lazy, more often, they’re just lost, or they’re confused. And they’re afraid to ask for help. So if you can coax out their questions, and help them to understand it, that can typically get them working, because they to them, it’s just easier to just give up and just sit there and do nothing, then have to ask these questions that they might think are stupid questions.

Rebecca 36:44
Yeah, I think that’s great. I love grading for completion, just to be like 10 points, do this. And just to even get them because I think even a little bit of points. I hate grading for accuracy, honestly. But I feel like if you’re able to get because that will help some of those students that are just like, like you said, you just don’t want to do anything, just to get going. And then like you said, I love the barbering. I love like a pro I love like doing a private deal with a kid, like, hey, just give me the odds. And I’ll like on the spot, either 10 points, like, come on, because you know, some of those kids, like you said, like some of them, and then it’s, I find it easier to because then those kids, you know, who do have like an IEP or five before who need double time, I just give them half the work half the problem. So then they get double time, essentially. And I think doing this on a one on one basis is really helpful. Okay, last one from the audience was just dealing with those shortened attention spans. Now that kids have tech, they’re always like, every five seconds, they want to do something else. Or, like you said, They’ll zone out and then all of a sudden, they’re on their phone, and you’re like, What are you doing? So how do you keep their attention?

Casey O’Hearn 37:43
Well, feed into those short attention spans, right, mix it up, mix up the sequence of the class, like I said, in our 40 minute period, I never lecture for 40 minutes, oh my gosh, the only time we spend 40 minutes on one activity is if we’re doing a lab or something along those lines. And those are interesting enough to keep them to keep them busy. But like, I just like to keep them busy with various tasks and activities and get them up and moving like so they’re not sitting in one spot for 40 minutes. Yes. So and no one wants to do that. Yeah, yeah, I find that that helps the most just to keep them engaged and keep him from getting distracted.

Rebecca 38:19
Yeah, I think that’s great. I have a little like, freebie, I’ll link it in the show notes. For anyone listening. It’s like I call it like the anatomy of a class period. But it’s basically how I like divide up a 50 minute class period. And then the second page is like 90, because I’ve taught both and I do the same thing. I’m like, You got to switch it up. Like it’s got to be moving. And I think the hard thing is then then people are like, well, then you waste time in the transitions. But it’s like, well, you can train them to transition more quickly. Because like you said, that’s, I think like the theme of this episode that you’ve articulated so well. It’s just like, don’t fight them. Go with them or like meet them where they are. Don’t fight the phones don’t fight the attention span, like, work with it. I think that’s really wise. Okay, thank you. Last but not least, I like to ask all my guests and I feel like I haven’t had a guest in a while. So I haven’t gotten asked anyone this in a while. But I would love for you to share one way you simplified your life recently. And it could literally be anything it could be school related or just like summer Mason or you’re doing at home with your family or anything or maybe something you’ve not you stopped doing. What’s one way though, that you’ve been simplifying your life, Casey? Well,

Casey O’Hearn 39:18
back in college I used I used to run all the time. And when I started teaching, I kind of stopped. But it doesn’t really seem like a way to simplify my life because I’m adding something writing something back. But I started running again. And it really does simplify my life because of the amount of stress relief. I get out of it while I’m running. Like nothing else really exists. You know, I’m focused on my breathing and focused on my pace, and all the tension and the stress and everything from the day just kind of disappears. Right now I’m actually doing a challenge run to run the distance from the Shire to Mordor from Lord of the Rings.

Rebecca 39:51
That’s awesome. As far as that

Casey O’Hearn 39:54
there’s five segments to it. I’m actually not entirely sure what the total so far I’ve made it as far as brie, which is about 230 kilometers, so my next step is to get to the, the doors of Duerden. Another that’s awesome kilometers there. So,

Rebecca 40:08
okay, so what what are you running in your day? I think a lot of teachers are like, I know I need to exercise but like, how do I fit it in?

Casey O’Hearn 40:14
You know, honestly, depends on the day I prefer to run in the morning. But sometimes I’m not a morning person. So it really just depends. I just try to squeeze in when I can. If I’ve had a particularly stressful day at work immediately when I get home from work. I run you know, it helps that my I mean, it can be tough, especially with kids.

Rebecca 40:31
When they’re in a stroller Do you have are this small as being a stroller? So yeah,

Casey O’Hearn 40:36
I do have I do have a running stroller. But man that adds the lads a lot makes it very difficult. But I do not have a double running store. So I’d only be able to bring one of them. Luckily for us, my wife works weekend package as a nurse. So she’s always home during the week. So it’s easy for me to go for a run that time, but then over the on the weekends. I can’t because it’s just me and the kids. No daycare, but you know, parenting kind of sucks. But it makes it tough to schedule things sometimes. Yeah.

Rebecca 41:05
My there’s pros and cons. Like it’s great, because you don’t have to worry about daycare, but hard because, yeah, you’re all on or all off. I think that was great, too. You just idea of like sometimes adding something is simplifying, like you said, because it’s creating space to like quiet your brain or, yeah, I mean, moving your body helps so much for stress relief. I always do a lot of exercise postpartum for my brain. And I remember my oldest of the last day, he was like, Mommy guide your exercise today for your brain. I’m like, I know, I gotta get my brain cells back. Because it’s like, centering. And it’s nice to like, at least when you have a newborn, you know, check something off the list like, Oh, I did something besides keep humans alive today.

Casey O’Hearn 41:43
Right? You know, that’s

Rebecca 41:45
a big accomplishment. Yeah, that

Casey O’Hearn 41:47
is a big acknowledgement.

Rebecca 41:47
Well, I’m super grateful for you coming on here. I think this is a really helpful episode. I don’t know if you want my listeners to stay connected with you how?

Casey O’Hearn 41:59
Yeah, I guess if you just want to throw my email into the, into the show notes, that’d be that’d be great. I’d be happy to answer any questions people have you or just bounce ideas off each other.

Rebecca 42:08
Great. I’ll do that. I’ll link that in the show notes. Well, thank you so much, Casey, I really appreciate it. Perfect. Thank you, Rebecca. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for listening to today’s episode, and for listening all year long to the secondary science simplified podcast. As always, shownotes can be found at it’s not rocket science classroom.com/episode 110 And I hope you will tune back in next week as we kick off a new year with brand new episodes to hopefully simplify your life because teaching doesn’t have to be rocket science. All right, teacher friends. That wraps up today’s episode. If you’re looking for an easy way to start simplifying your life as a secondary science teacher, head to It’s not rocket science classroom.com/challenge to grab your classroom reset challenge. And guess what? It’s totally free. Thanks so much for tuning in, and I’ll see you here next week. Until then, I’ll be rooting for you teacher friend.


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