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My Ten Most Memorable Teaching Moments — 2009 (What Were Yours?)


I was driving back from school today as we enter our winter break, and began to think a bit over the past twelve months. As my mind tends to do, I began to think in terms of lists :).

So I decided to compile a list of My Most Memorable Teaching Moments for this year, and invite others to share their own in the comments section. You can use my categories, or come up with your own. I’ll probably put together a post sharing everybody’s later this month.

Here are My Most Memorable Teaching Moments in 2009:

COOLEST MOMENT: Having my Theory of Knowledge students watch the Ted Talk “The Raspyni Brothers juggle and jest” and have them first identify how the jugglers made what they did and the objects they used look “new” to viewers  and, secondly, discuss how mathematicians, historians, artists and scientists use those same techniques to study the world. Students shared some brilliant stuff — I love that class!

FUNNIEST MOMENT: In June, students presenting me with the “Zapatos Locos Award” (Crazy Shoes) because earlier in the year I got dressed in the dark at home and didn’t realize I had one brown and one blue shoe until I was at school and a colleague pointed it out to me. It was too late to go back, and I had students coming into my room all day just to see if it was true.

DUMBEST MOMENT: See “Funniest Moment”

MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT: I almost always teach until the bell rings. One day, however, I was really getting frustrated by trying to figure out how to get a PowerPoint presentation to go automatically. So, one minute before the bell was to ring for lunch, I told my students they could sit quietly and chat with a neighbor. I went to my computer and, seconds later, our new District Superintendent  and our principal walked into the room.

MOST TOUCHING MOMENT: At the end of a school year, I often have students write letters to the following year’s class. One student wrote, “Mr. Ferlazzo will never, ever let you fail.”

MOMENT WHEN I FELT MOST PROUD OF MY STUDENTS: Last school year, I had a very challenging mainstream ninth-grade English class (see Have You Ever Taught A Class That Got “Out Of Control”?). As I shared in that post, I instituted an extremely effective strategy to get a handle on what was going on. I used a system that had been an anathema to me — behavioral points. After an intensive six weeks, I began to wean the class off of it. Then, as I share in that post, when one student began acting out, I told him, “John, do I need to put you back on the point system?” He immediately replied, “No, I can control myself.” What had at first been an effective tool of positive reinforcement — giving behavioral points — was now seen by the same students as a sign that they could not control themselves, which they were embarrassed by. They went from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation in six weeks!

SADDEST MOMENT: I did a series of lessons on helping students see their brain as a muscle that could get stronger with “exercise,” instead of it being fixed (see “Now I Know My Brain Is Growing When I Read Every Night”). At the beginning of the lesson, practically all my students agreed with the statement that “Yes, I think the brain is like a muscle and the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.” It was very sad, however, when I saw that the only students who, instead, felt that “You are born with being however smart or dumb you are and that’s the way it is” were students who clearly had cognitive and academic challenges. It made me very sad to imagine how many times these students had been labeled “dumb” in overt and not-so-overt ways during their lives.

MOST POETIC MOMENT: Each year, as part of our Latin Studies unit, we learn about odes.  As part of that unit, students write their own.  Each year, as a model, students help me write an ode to “My Hair” (as you can see by the photo on my blog, I am definitely follically-challenged).  It’s amazing what they come up with.  In some future post, I may share some of the best lines from over the years.

MOST SURPRISING MOMENT: Jan, my extraordinary wife,  decided to color-code my extensive classroom library over the summer.  It was an experiment, and I figured it would either  end up being a complete waste of time or  a “time-suck” having to keep them in order.  Much to my surprise,  I soon realized it was neither — students have kept it all quite organized, and I’ve probably spent a total of fifteen minutes over the past four months keeping it tidy.  It looks great and it’s a lot easier for students to find books they want to read.

HAPPIEST MOMENT: The day in August when I received my Document Camera and Computer Projector, and realized that I would never, ever, have to make or clean a transparency again…

Feel free to share your own — one or two is fine, or more if you want.  If you write a post on your own blog using this idea, please leave a link to it in the comments section.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Larry, tell me more about your color coding! I teach an elective called Reading for Pleasure, and probably have 2000 books in my room at any one time…we’re frustrated by the randomness of it all, and I’m frustrated by the number of books I lose because I can’t come up with a system to keep track of who’s borrowed what. Considering the number of books I lose every year, I probably own 3000 more that have never been returned. Words of wisdom??

    • Claudia,

      My book check-out system is very simple. I have a binder on one of the bookcases with a form where students write the date, their name, and the book’s title. When they return it, they cross their name out. I don’t keep track of it at all, but I really don’t lose many books with this “honor” system. Writing it down, and knowing it’s there, seems to do the trick.


      • That’s pretty much how I do my library too – but what is the color-coding piece that your wife did this summer?

      • The books are divided into these categories, with each one in separate sections or shelves. Each category has a colored circle on its spine, except for the largest category, which has no circle. I have a sign in the front with the code. The categories are:

        Most Popular Books (I’ve pulled out the 100 or so books that over the years have seemed to be the most popular among students)

        ARW Fiction (our ninth grade English classes are called Academic Reading and Writing — ARW, and this is my largest category)

        ARW Non-Fiction

        Intermediate English Non-Fiction

        Intermediate English Fiction

        Beginning English Language Learners

        Bilingual Books

        I also have separate sections for Goosebumps books and American Girls, but they don’t need color-coding.

        I make it very clear to my ELL’s that the categorization is only to help keep the books organized, and that they should pick any book they want, even if it’s in the ARW sections. I certainly don’t want it to be limiting, which is what I understand often happens in an Accelerated Reader type of program. That message is clearly heard, and ELL’s will often check-out higher-level reading.

        All students, including mainstream ones, can get extra credit by checking out the Beginning ELL books and reading them to a younger sibling or cousin. I’m going to turn this reply into a post and include a form students have to complete if they do this.

        Hope this is helpful.


  2. “Mr. Ferlazzo will never, ever let you fail.” That is all I need to hear to know that you are a great teacher! What a great compliment from a student.

  3. Thanks for asking, Larry. Last summer, I taught reading for the first time at my “main” ESL teaching job (a community college). I’ve taught reading elsewhere. Anyhow, on one of my student evaluations, a student said “I never knew learning English could be so fun!” or words to that effect. I’m still happy about this.

  4. This is so nice. As I was reading I remembered all these great moments I experienced during the year as a teacher, thank you for sharing.

  5. Pingback: Lo más del 2009 | A Means of Innovation

  6. “Mr. Ferlazzo will never, ever let you fail.” you’ve made me a wanna-be in one sentence… I wanna-be a teacher just like you!

  7. My most memorable moment was also my most unfortunate.

    Last April I was called down to the office and told that my position as an elementary ESL specialist would no longer be funded. It was like an amputation or a death in the family. I landed a new position at the district office, but it’s not the same.

    I fear that my former students are being under-served. I’m dealing with a lot of stress and an identity crisis.

  8. My significant moment
    When I finished my primary level, my parents thought it was important for their children to learn English. For that reason, they decided to send my elder brother to take English classes in Harmon Hall in Tuxtla (less than an hour travel time away). A couple of years later, at age of 11 they sent me too. My language school was nothing close to my daily school. My English language classes were hundred percent in English. In general, my classes were fine, but I have to admit that at the beginning of my English classes I was not completely happy. This probably because I may suffer from shyness and some fear at radical changes. Firstly because every weekend I had to wake up at 5 am to get ready and travel to Tuxtla. Secondly, It was too hard for me to catch all that information at age of twelve when my other partners were around 15 to 20 years old. The age difference and my lack of motivation discouraged me in my learning process. This situation also arose negative feelings of myself being unprepared for the level I was running. I consider what happened to me is what Lightbown and Spada (1993) mentioned about lack of motivation which impacts on the development in learning English. At that time, since I was starting the secondary level, I was studying the language just as an abstract undertaking required for academic purposes.

    I consider this experience one of my significant moments because besides living a hard moment, I believed it was a wise decision not to quit. At that age I did not know I would become an English teacher in the future.

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