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An Inspirational Professional Text + A Giveaway

The NEFC provided a review copy of this book.  Information about the giveaway they're sponsoring follows at the end of this post.When I was a classroom teacher I had my fair share of challenging students.  Through the years I taught had quite a few students with social-emotional issues, learning disabilities, and discipline problems.  I’ve had students hide underneath desks, crawl on the floor of the classroom, and who’ve screamed at classmates when things haven’t gone their way.  If only I had Caltha Crowe’s Sammy and His Behavior Problems: Stories and Strategies from a Teacher’s Year when I was teaching some of these kids.  I think I would’ve been better able to handle some of the tough situations that I had to refer to my principal or the school social worker.

Crowe’s book chronicles a year in her third grade classroom through short stories, anecdotes, and thoughtful reflections about the ways in which she worked with Sammy to help him deal with control his behavioral issues so that he, and all of the students in her classroom, could learn.  What makes Sammy and His Behavior Problems intriguing to me is that Crowe spends a lot of time talking about the ways in which she worked with Sammy to overcome his struggles with writing (both the physical act of writing, as well as expressing his ideas in written form).  Here’s a peek at something that happened on the day students were decorating writer’s notebooks early in the school year.

Today, week three of school, students are decorating their writers’ notebooks, special journals in which they will write about their interests and passions.

We’ve been getting ready for these writers’ notebooks since school started.  The students have learned we all have stories to tell.  They’ve practiced storytelling by relaying family stories to each other.  I’ve shared my writer’s notebook and invited colleagues into our room to share their noteboks.

Now, the children are interested in personalizing their notebooks.  Some are putting stickers on the covers and are sharing these treasures with their tablemates.  Others are drawing pictures of things they love and taping those to their covers.

Sammy has drawn a picture of George Washington, awkward and less evenly proportioned than classmates’ drawings but recognizable by the wooden false teeth.  Sammy struggles to use the scissors to cut out this portrait and then puts great globs of glue on the back of it.  I’m reminded of his big wobbly letters.  I make a mental note to work with him on small motor skills.

The next day, the children begin to list topics on the first page of their notebook.  Titled “Things Close to My Heart” and written inside an outline of a heart, these are topics they might write about throughout the year.

I’m surprised to discover that Sammy is struggling to get an idea down on the paper.  He has so many passions.  What’s this about.

“How about history, Sammy?” I ask.

“I hate to write,” he declares.  “I don’t want to have to write about history.”

I wonder if this is related to his difficulty with small motor skills.  Ill watch and see what I can learn.

I offer Sammy the computer.  “Do you want to create your heart-list on the computer?” I ask.

“Well, OK,” he agrees.  Five minutes later he’s changing fonts, playing with the space bar and doesn’t have a word on the screen yet.  At my insistence he writes “History.”  He has a one-word list.  I can see that there’s a puzzle for me to persue here.

(Crowe, 2010, pgs. 45-46)

Sound familiar?  I can think of a handful of children who I’ve taught that got stuck on a similar activity in the beginning of the school year.  It’s frustrating, to say the least.  Like Crowe, none of us can give up when we’re faced with a child who declares that s/he hates to write.

Crowe also includes entries from her reflective practice journal throughout the book.  Here’s what she wrote about about two and a half months into the school year.

From my journal, November 14:

Sammy never did finish his letter today.  “Dear Nick” was his maximum output, and when I printed that out, he balled it up and threw it away.  He was able to do math problems with absorption when sitting at the computer with earphones on.  But, under the same conditions, picking a topic from the class-brainstormed list and writing a few sentences was unsurmountable.

I’m guessing Sammy’s difficulty today with his letter home relates to his difficulty with writing about his math thinking.  In both cases, there is understanding and even an assigned topic, but composition is daunting.  Writing is tough for many children.  It involves using so many skills simultaneously: calling up your ideas, putting them in logical order, turning them into sentences, writing those sentences on paper, all the while remembering letter formation, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.  I don’t know what’s making writing so hard for Sammy in particular.  It could be any variety of causes or combination of causes, from a power struggling stemming from deep lack of confidence in this area to true language processing difficulties, with many other possibilities in between,  For now, I’m gathering information, trying strategies, hoping to build on strengths and successes.

(Crowe, 2010, pgs. 70-71)

Thoughtful reflections, like the one I included above, are what probably led to Crowe’s ultimate success with Sammy.  While he may not have become a voracious writer by the end of third grade, he made marked progress.  Here’s one final excerpt that Crowe wrote about with regard to Sammy in the last six weeks of school:

Later, when I meet with Sammy to go over his portfolio, we talk about his academic work this year.  “You have become a writer, Sammy,” I say.  “Your Bubbles the Fish piece was funny and lively.  Your writing makes sense, and you add plenty of details.”

“It’s still not my favorite subject,” Sammy, in his ever-honest way, replies, “But I know that I’ve gotten to be a better writer,” he concedes.

(Crowe, 2010, pg. 156)

Sammy and His Behavior Problems: Stories and Strategies from a Teacher’s Year is one of the most readable and engaging professional texts I’ve read in recent months.  I read the book, all the while taking notes, in two days.  Crowe is a master teacher who takes you alongside her for the journey with Sammy.  You can feel her frustration as well as her elation when she reaches a turning point with Sammy.  The epilogue of Sammy made me feel hopeful that it’s possible for all teachers to work with all kinds of challenging students if they’re willing to be patient while waiting for change.

Are you feeling strained with the way your interactions are panning out with one particular child in your class?  If so, pick up Sammy over the winter recess and read it cover to cover.  I think you’ll find it will re-energize your teaching and will help you to aid a challenging student whose academic success lies with you this year.


  • The Northeast Foundation for Children is giving away one paperback copy and one audio book of Sammy and His Behavior Problems.
  • To win a copy of the book please leave a comment about this post, in the comments section of this post by Saturday, December 12th by 11:59 p.m. EST A random drawing will take place on Sunday, December 12th and the winner’s name will be announced in a blog post later that day.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address.  I will pass your mailing address on to my contact at NEFC who will ship the paperback and audio book out to the giveaway recipients.  Please note: Your e-mail address will not be published online.

Stacey Shubitz View All

I am a literacy consultant who has spent over a decade working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grade K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.

I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).

52 thoughts on “An Inspirational Professional Text + A Giveaway Leave a comment

  1. I think I’m too late for the drawing but this book as been on my wish list since it came out. I’ve had lots of “Sammys” in my classroom over the years that have challenged me and also warmed my heart like none other! I have one little guy in particular that comes to my mind that I had in kindergarten ten years ago. He taught me so much that year and I will always remember our daily “coffee chats” (we’d pretend to drink mugs of coffee as we discussed the daily happenings before dismissal.) He really was a sweet boy that needed some extra love & patience & understanding. He’d come back to say hi to me for many years after that!!

    btw – if the contest was extended, I’d love a copy of the book!! 😉


  2. I enjoyed reading your blog entry about Sammy and His Behavior Problems. I’ve had many Sammy’s over the course of my career. It’s reassuring for me to read about strategies that can help to get me through those challenging moments of the day when I need some additional support and ideas. Thank you!


  3. I’ve been wanting to read this book for awhile now. Thank you for the thoughtful review!

    Please disregard previous post – my email address was wrong.


  4. I had the pleasure to meet Ms. Crowe and hear her speak at the annual RC convention this summer, and picked up a copy of this book at that time.
    I’m reading it right now, as I am working to support our teachers are we work to become an RC school. The review is going to be very helpful to me, as I will share it to encourage more people to use this resource.


  5. This is an excellent book! It was inspirational and uplifting! It had great knowledge and insight! It is one we should all read every year!


  6. Every year brings a new “Sammy” that pulls out all the tricks in my bag! Always helpful to keep adding new ones and this book sounds like a must read. Thanks for the great review!


  7. I am eager to check this book out. Every year the school year brings new challenges. I think this book would provide me with some new insight into dealing with the challenges of teaching struggling students and those with behavioral issues. I am always looking for new tricks and ideas.


  8. I’m so grateful that seeing the notice on Responsive Classroom led me to this blog!
    Your review fits very much with my assumptions about what I thought the book would be like, though I never thought about it through the lens of a writing teacher. That sounds like an interesting way to read the book. My fear with reading this book is that it will highlight all my inadequacies–what I should be doing, if I were as good a teacher as Caltha Crowe. Still, it is on my list of books to read, and your review has moved it up a little higher on my list. Thanks!


  9. Thanks to RC for the link to this review. Sounds Like I book I need to add to my collection. Always wished I’d taken a yea rand kept a journal about the classroom life- both for humor and for reflection on practice.


  10. This book sounds amazing! I can’t wait to read it and absorb new ideas to help those kids who challenge us most. I truly believe EVERY child can see themself as a writer.


  11. I agree with Ali – this would be an enouragement to read over winter break as we recharge to come back to all the necessary reteaching that comes in January. There are so many factors to consider when looking at behavior – I hope to find nuggets to tuck away in my brain for future use!


  12. This sounds like a great read for the winter break. Its always necessary to rejuvenate with new ideas and shared experiences. I would love to read this book with some of my colleagues in order to start trying to get some helpful collaboration going on!


  13. Wow…sounds like a great read! Here at our elementary school, we are starting a book club after the holidays. I think this would be the perfect book to start with. I think we can all benefit from tips & advise in dealing with the hard to reach students.


  14. I’m an elementary school librarian and will definitely be purchasing this for our professional collection AND doing a little book talk about it at a faculty meeting. It’s a teacher’s ‘must read’!


  15. I was reading your site to find some information for a teacher in fifth grade to help her students in writing. I am a literacy coach and often visit your site when looking for new books and writing ideas. I love this article. I will be getting this book to use in my work with teachers!


  16. After a draining day with challenging students, I open facebook to find this link. What a great reminder that I am not alone as I strive to meet each student’s unique needs. As I read the excerpt, I am encouraged and inspired to persevere.


  17. This sounds like a helpful book. Your excerpts from the author’s journal remind me that I should do the same. I would love to be the lucky winner, but nonetheless I will add it to my shopping list. Thanks!


  18. @Betsy: I think that’s what makes this book such a great learning tool for all educators. I recall spending a lot of time writing anecdotal reports about my challenging students. Perhaps I would’ve done less of that if I had kept a reflective journal about the students who were struggling to fit in emotionally and academically.


  19. I read this post with a sense of anticipation as I have a “Sammy” this year – a bright little guy with a tough life who has some serious social/emotional issues. This looks like a must read for me and my colleagues.


  20. This sounds like a wonderful book! I have more than my share od Sammy’s” (and Samatha’s) this year. I”d love to read how these writers dealt with the unique problems each child brings to the classroom.


  21. Sounds like a great professional resource book that I’d love to add to my library and share with my colleagues. Thanks for another good pick!


  22. This sounds like a very good read. I like how you shared the writer’s reflections. So may children come to school with lots of challenges. I am always looking for new tools to add to my toolbox. –

    I had the opportunity a few years ago to attend a s’cool moves workshop.

    She shared some physical moves that can help students calm down and done over time help the brain rewire itself. For some students their behavior problems stem from developmental issues.

    Books like the one you shared with us gives me hope, that these kids can succeed. I often turn to the inspiration shared by other teachers when my toolbox feels empty.


  23. I would love to give a copy of this book to a new teacher who I am mentoring. I think this would be a key to his success as a teacher.


  24. I’ve had several “Sammy”‘s in my career. Some of them have had emotional issues, some behavioral, and some family issues, but the theme they all had in common was the need for a loving, patient, and caring teacher. There were tough moments for sure, but when I reminded myself of what these children needed from me- love, reassurance, validation, and trust- I had the strength to keep going. These special children will forever hold a place in my heart. I would love to read about Crowe’s strategies for Sammy. Thanks for the post! 🙂


  25. I teach special ed English at a large urban high school that has recently gone through HUGE changes in staff, students, and administration. This book sounds like a great inspiration to positively reconnect me with me teaching and students.


  26. Hiding underneath desks? Crawling on the floor? Inability to hold a pencil correctly because of small motor issues? I have all that AND at least 8 students who are in the beginning levels of English acquisition and can barely say a sentence aloud, much less write one … all in my 1-2 grade class this year. Writing, once my favorite subject to teach, has become my most challenging. I look to your site for inspiration and sanity, and I like the idea of keeping a journal myself to perhaps learn something from this very tough year! And it sounds like the book about Sammy might also help.


  27. I also have a special affection for the teaching of writing and am always searching for ways to help and motivate kids, especially those that find it so difficult. This sounds like a must read! Thanks for sharing the excerpt.


  28. Thank you for sharing. This is a topic that interests teachers of all ages and subjects. A wonderful reminder that we need to think deeply about each child.


  29. This sounds like a great book to read for my two ‘hats’ – one, as a fairly new teacher (two years so far since career chanching from kids publishing) and two, as a mom of a special needs child. So glad to have real life to relate and model from.


  30. This book has been on my “hope to purchase” list for awhile. I have found many Responsive Classroom books written in an easy and practical manner. This would be a jewel in anyone’s professional library.


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