New Teacher Tips, Part II

Hatorade must have been on sale when I published Part I of my New Teacher Tips because a couple of Crabby Abbys attacked me after reading it. Because of this, I will start Part II with the following disclaimer:

I am the kind of person who values straight up, truthful advice. I am also a bit of a realist. If you fall into any of the categories below, please X out of this blog post immediately:
-sensitive
-easily offended
-detached from reality
-lacking the part of the brain that gets sarcasm

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New-Teacher-Tips
6. Stop Grading Everything
Just stop. Put your red pen down right now. It isn’t physically possible to correct everything without going utterly bonkers. There was a time when I thought that I just HAD TO correct everything. It got old really quick, so I made a better system.

I call it the Pick and Choose system.

The Pick and Choose system involves grading student work that is easy to correct, like my assessments below. There are 4 or 5 questions. Each question is either right or wrong. No blurry lines. No going bonkers. Yeehaw!
Common Core Math Assessments for Grade 1
Common Core Math Assessments for Grade 2
Common Core Math Assessments for Grade 3
Common Core Math Assessments for Grade 4
Common Core Math Assessments for Grade 5

If you choose to ignore this tip, that’s fine. Have fun going completely crackers as you find yourself mulling over how to grade one paper for the next 16 hours. Oh, and have fun with that helicopter parent who disagrees with how you graded the paper as well.

(I know you’re probably wondering how I grade writing. Please don’t. I can’t help you because I still don’t know how. I have been in the bonkers phase with this one for the last 3 years.)

7. Don’t Get Too Comfortable With Your Current Assignment
I’m going to tell you a little story. If you aren’t sitting down for this one, you probably should because it involves my biggest FAIL as a teacher to date:

It is a brutally hot week in the month of August. My current assignment is a 3rd Grade Academic Interventionist.

I am in great spirits considering I have just moved all of my classroom materials up and down 2 flights of stairs… for a 4th time… in the last 2 months. I find this completely acceptable though, since I overate this summer and can’t afford a gym membership anyway. To me, this is a gift.

Students arrive in 5 days and my classroom looks like this:New-Teacher-TipsThe best thing about those 5 days before student arrival is the great abundance of time you are given to prepare your classroom. I mean..I love professional development and I do appreciate the importance of number talks and inferring, but can’t this be summed up in less than 8 hours?

So I do what any sane teacher does in that week before school: Show up at 5am to work on my classroom for 3 hours before attending an 8 hour long PD session to let me know that I suck at guided reading.

It is at some point this week that I completely lose my shiitake mushrooms. My number 1 priority turns into painting this disgusting bookshelf, because I figure, “Hey, why set up a 4th classroom when I can make this bookcase pretty?”New-Teacher-Tip

Not only do I paint this bookcase, but I decide that it would be a magnificent idea to paint over every bulletin board in the room. I stay at school until 8pm every night sweating bullets in 90 degree heat. I manage to get it all done before the students arrive.

So, why was this such a fail?

Well, the principal entered my room with some wonderful news while I was cleaning up paintbrushes, folding up drop cloths, and admiring my masterpiece: “We have to open up another first grade classroom because the numbers are too high. Your new classroom will be downstairs.”

Moral of the story? Don’t get too comfortable in your classroom.

8. Have a Sub Tub Prepared/Take a Mental Health Day at Least Once This Year
Taking days off can be a nightmare for a teacher. This e-card sums it up pretty well:substitute-planningIf anyone needs a mental health day, it’s a first year teacher. There will be at least 1 day this year where you will completely question your sanity. If the 25 students in front of you start to look like a blurred carousel and/or you find yourself helplessly throwing your hands in the air, this is probably a good time to take a mental health day. Don’t fight it; just do it.

When I discovered the Sub Tub on Pinterest, I needed to make one. It took about 5 minutes to put it all together. I believe I got the white tub from Target for 3 bucks. (It’s actually a mini trash bin. Fancy, eh?)
sub-tubThe greatest thing about the sub tub is having everything set up for the sub weeks in advance. Say goodbye to those last-minute-planning-panic-attacks!

If you are confused about what you should put in your sub tub, don’t be! There are some amazing resources on Teachers Pay Teachers that will get you started. All you have to do is the following:

1) Go to teacherspayteachers.com
2) Type “sub plans” and your grade level in the search.
3) Immediately watch your blood pressure go down.

Last year, I kept my sub tub on a book shelf behind my desk. It was ready to go and I never had to worry about making plans last minute!sub-tubsub-tub

9. Be Gracious When Another Teacher Shares with You
I know there are schools out there where everyone is hunky-dory with each other and this would never be a problem, but I’m still throwing this tip out there. (Maybe it’s for my own venting purposes. Sue me.)

If another teacher in the building shares a resource with you, do not do either of the following:
1) Be a jerk.
2) Be a know-it-all.

When I was a K-5 intervention teacher 3 years ago, I had to make lesson plans for every grade in the building. Because of this, I had the opportunity to share resources with almost every teacher in my school. These resources were usually awesome printables that I found by utilizing my amazing Google skills.

What annoyed me about sharing resources was the general response I received from colleagues after I extended out this good gesture to them. It was…baffling, inconceivable even. I can only equate their response to someone showing up to my classroom and handing me a free coffee. Not only would I fail to say thank you, but I would also take a sip of the coffee, dump it all over their new Ann Taylor shirt, and tell them that the coffee sucks as they are heading out the door.

Sorry… sidetracked. How did they actually respond when I gave them free resources? Noses would turn up. Know-It-All comments such as “This is too easy”, “This isn’t rigorous enough”, and “My students are SO beyond this” would fly out of their mouths.

My response usually looked something like this:Teacher-tips

..but what I really wanted to say was, “Apparently you didn’t get the memo in kindergarten that sharing is caring….but hey, it’s okay. I appreciate the extra couple of minutes that I get to myself now because I don’t plan on ever sharing with you again.”

10. Let the Parent Speak First
I have always found communicating with parents to be one of the most frightening aspects of teaching. During my first year, I really struggled on days where I had a meeting with a parent. If the conference was in the afternoon, I would have crippling anxiety for the entire day because I was hung up on how each meeting would turn out.

I always reflected long and hard after each parent-teacher conference since I knew I wasn’t the best at them. What I can tell you is this: Talking to parents becomes much easier over time, even if you’re socially awkward like the best of us.

One of the biggest things I learned through reflection is that I needed to chill out when the conference started. As teachers, we have a lot to say about our students, but you’d be surprised at how well a conference goes when you let the parent speak first. My worst conferences were usually the ones where I was too eager to tell Mrs. Johnson about the 10 gray hairs I had developed that week because of her son.

So do yourself a favor and start the conference off by asking parents about THEIR questions and/or concerns. 9 times out of 10, they will have something they want to talk to you about. The moment I started doing this, conferences immediately became easier and less tense.

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New Teacher Tips, Part I

Dear New Teacher:

I see that you have recently completed an approved educator preparation program and are ready to embark on a great journey called the world of education. If you have already landed a job in this economy, please give yourself a pat on the back.

Most new teachers experience some degree of struggle in their first year. Some experience a minimal degree of struggle, while others face a crippling degree of struggle. My first year started off with a minimal degree of struggle, but slowly deteriorated into a crippling degree of struggle.

Now that I have 3 years of experience, it’s safe to say that I know everything about teaching. I’m not going to sugarcoat anything or hold your hand when you’re crying. No one did it for me and I won’t do it for you. I’m not that compassionate. The best I can do is offer these tips to you. If you don’t find them valuable, I’ll still sleep tonight.
New-Teacher-Tips—————–
1. You’re Not Mean Enough
The worst thing you can do is try to be friends with your students. This isn’t Billy Madison. You are not 30 years old and going back to skool. You are THE TEACHER. You are THE BOSS. Earn their R-E-S-P-E-C-T before you start asking Mary about her upcoming slumber party this weekend. Aretha hit “Respect” out of the park for a reason. It’s important.

If you think you’re too mean, believe me, you’re not. Some teachers say you shouldn’t smile until December if you want to have a good year. I never understood this. Now I do. It’s based in fact.

2. Make Rules That You are Going to Fully Enforce
Making rules is the easy part. Enforcing them is what separates the men from the boys.

For example, let’s pretend it’s the first week of school and you have been going over your rules constantly. One of the rules you’ve been gushing about is no talking during independent reading. There have been no offenders until one day…

You see Johnny chatting away with Danny in the library.

Time will stop in this moment because there will be 30 sets of eyes on you. Every single one of them is sizing YOU up. They want to see exactly how you handle this debacle for their own future reference. They want to know how firm you actually are when a couple of their knucklehead classmates are blatantly disregarding one of your rules. Are you all bark and no bite or do you actually mean business?

So you decide that you have 2 main options:
A) Ignore them.
B) Lay the smack down and take action right away.

If you choose option A, you might as well call up the cotton candy vendors now, because you just blew it. Your class is now a carnival.

The moment you let 30 students watch you do NOTHING to the offenders is also the moment you immediately become a pushover. Every time you ignore rule breakers, you let 30 kids know that your rules are a joke.

If you choose option B, you have just become a hero by instilling a little bit of fear in all.

Always go with option B and your rules will slowly gain respect.

3. Don’t Be a Know-It-All
I’m sure you are familiar with that student from your college courses. He or she was the pretentious jerk who always had the audacity to raise their hand at the end of every class just to hear themselves talk. They usually asked something completely obnoxious and irrelevant, which prompted the professor to go off on a tangent when you were supposed to be at the pub 15 minutes ago.

Here’s a little secret: No one likes the Know-It-All. No one liked them in high school. No one liked them in college and guess what? No one likes the Know-It-All Teacher. The only thing worse than a Know-It-All-Teacher is the Know-It-All-Newbie-Teacher.

No one cares about your student teaching experience. No one cares about your ideas for using technology in the classroom and no one wants to hear your suggestions or comments on managing behavior when you have 0 years in the saddle.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then YOU are probably the Know-It-All Teacher. You can usually pick them out within 20 seconds at a staff meeting. They will usually show up at least 10 minutes late with a fresh Dunkin in hand and be the loudest drinker in the room. They comment on EVERYTHING because their ideas and opinions are extremely important. They also like to make up their tardiness by making everyone else stay 20 minutes late because they never shut up. (See the similarities with the pretentious jerk in college? These people never go away.)

Now, I’m not saying you’re going to be this person. Just don’t be ANYTHING like this person.New-Teacher-Tips

4. Avoid the Dog and Pony Show Classroom
We are elementary teachers. We have always dreamed of setting up the perfect cutesy classroom. We love cute décor and matching colors everywhere. We love dancing glittery unicorns splashed all over our room. We like cute. I get it.

If one of your most difficult decisions this year has been what theme to go with for your classroom, I worry for you. The teachers who have the dog and pony show classrooms usually have a few years of experience under their belt. Mrs. Johnson can spare a couple minutes to add silver sequins to Uma the Unicorn because she knows how to run a classroom. But you? You aint got time for that.

You need to avoid all of this cute nonsense until you figure out how to run a classroom without calling your therapist. Instead of focusing on whether you should go with a monster classroom theme or a polka dotted one, focus on how you are going to set up your essential materials so you don’t have 30 kids running around your classroom destroying them.

(I also suggest avoiding centers your first year, for all of the reasons stated in this post. The setup and management involved is completely ludicrous.)

5. Don’t Be a Staff Hero
Yes. Don’t be a staff hero. What do I mean by this? Well, let me start by saying that taking on extra, unnecessary responsibilities is almost never a good idea. Actually..it’s never a good idea. Don’t get sucked into running that Donut and Coffee Committee every Friday morning because you feel the need to be initiated into the school community. This isn’t a fraternity. You don’t get paid extra, and… guess what? Nobody cares that you just signed up for 16 different committees, so let’s just stop with the people-pleasing nonsense already.New-Teacher-Tips

When that staff meeting rolls around in October and the principal is urging everyone to sign up for ridiculous committees, remember to keep your composure. Don’t be a pushover. This is a great time to quietly walk out of the room to use the bathroom or roam the halls for an extended period of time.

Don’t feel guilty about this. You already have the biggest responsibility in the building: trying to make it through your first year without quitting. If anyone has a problem with this, they can go jump in a lake. Focus on yourself and survival. Your thighs will thank you for the lack of glazed donuts.

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I hope you enjoyed the first installment of my new teacher tips. Stay tuned for Part 2 very soon! 

(A big thanks to Glitter Meets Glue for the border and KG Fonts for the title fonts.)

Teacher Humor Pins for July

Since I spend more time pinning funny pictures than educational materials, I thought that I would share my favorite Teacher Humor pins for the month of July. Enjoy!

Teacher-Humor
Teacher-Humor
Teacher-Humor
Teacher-Humor
Teacher-Humor

What is the Deal with Panel Interviews?

I show up at 8:35am, 5 minutes early, because I’m slick like that. The secretary extends a big welcome and tells me it will be a couple minutes. As I take a seat and put my 26 pound portfolio on my lap, I notice an air conditioner in the window on full blast. This thoroughly impresses me, because I didn’t realize schools had funding for these things.

Guess I’m in the big leagues now.

As I sit in this cozy air conditioned office, a parent is signing her child up for Kindergarten. I pass the time by starting a nice little conversation with the Kindergartner-to-be. She is using blocks to build a house on the seat next to me. I convince her to build a cool playground instead.

The principal walks in as I am teaching a lesson on shapes to a 5 year old. Jackpot. I am stoked that she observes me teaching, smiling, and connecting with a 5 year old.

Perfect timing. Just beautiful.

We greet each other and walk down the hall to another room, which will presumably be her office. As we are walking, I express a great enthusiasm for the size of the school and tell her how great it looks. She responds with a small smile, “Yeah, it does feel like a maze at times.”

It is at this point that I am thinking we are off to a REALLY great start. I mean, gosh, our rapport is already fantastic and we haven’t even reached her office door yet. I can’t wait for the Triscuits and warm milk that are probably awaiting me on her desk.

As she opens the door in front of me, I look down and notice a little cat hair on my dress pants. I remove it stealthily and proceed. When I look up, I take in a sight that I am NOT prepared for:
Panel-Interview

An emotionless panel of 10 stone cold faced women.

These aren’t just any women though. Many of them look at me as if I were their husbands’ last mistress.

So I do what I would do in any other uncomfortable situation. I switch into complete jackass mode. I smile at everyone and say, “WOW! A 10 person panel? Yiiikes!”

I also manage to let out another “WoW!” before taking a seat.

Since I know that I am already screwed at this point, my priorities shift into looking for my Triscuits and warm milk. Unfortunately all I am seeing on this obnoxious rectangle table is a cute little 8oz. Poland Spring bottle that is just for me. You know what though? You can keep this one.
Panel-InterviewsThe interview starts with the principal telling me that I will receive a call that night if I am chosen for a 2nd interview. She also talks about some other important things that I am not quite sure of, because I am too concerned about the ridiculous situation I am currently in.

After that, every woman on the panel introduces themselves.

“Nancy Jones: Math and Numeracy Leadership Specialist, Linda Smith: Kindergarten Teacher, Deborah Jenkins: 1st Grade Teacher” (To be honest, I couldn’t really tell you their names if I wanted to. I am still too concerned with the ridiculous situation I am currently in.)

After everyone on the panel introduces themselves and it gets back around to me, I take it upon myself to give an introduction, “Beth Ann: Interviewee”.

I get a couple sneers and snickers for that one.

Now it is time for the interrogation from hell.

(If you aren’t familiar with the panel interview, you’re lucky. You sit at the head of a rectangular shaped table and each person on the panel asks at least 1 question. The great part about a panel interview is once you finish answering a question, you don’t get a moment to breathe because the next interrogator is way too eager to ask her question. In my case, it was done at a rapid fast pace, similar to this:

The process begins with all of the ladies clicking on their finest $10.00 Bic pens. Question #1 comes from the woman to my immediate left. We will call her “Blondie on My Left”.

Blondie on My Left: “In terms of the elementary classroom, how do you approach the balanced workshop model in the teaching of literacy, writing, and math throughout the course of a day?”

Oh great, it’s going to be one of those interviews where a bunch of unnecessary educational jargon is tacked onto simple, straight forward questions.

Me: “Are you asking how I run a reading block?”

Blondie on My Left: “Yes.”
Panel-InterviewSo after I hit that question out of the park, I observe all 10 women writing furiously on their interview question sheets. Meanwhile, the second woman to my left, Curly Q, has already started asking her question about my classroom management style.

At this point, I decide to whip open my professional portfolio and let the pictures do the talking.

No one is impressed by my amazing graphics or my flawless classroom management techniques.

Whatever. No one here even knows what a clip chart is. I’m over it.

This cycle of question/answer/furious writing continues on for what seems like an eternity, so I will cease the play by play.
Panel-Interview
If I had to do it again, I would answer all of these generic questions the same way. So without further adieu, I leave you with the phone call I received later that day:

Principal: “We have decided to move you forward to the next round.”
Me: “That’s great! Thanks!”
Principal: “No, I’m sorry. We decided to NOT move you forward…and see this is what I don’t understand. You seem more enthusiastic now than you were this morning. Were you feeling okay?”
Me: “Gee, bummer. My lack of enthusiasm could be due to the fact that I was caught off guard when I walked into a panel of 10 women.”
Principal: “Well, now you will be better prepared when the same situation happens again in the future.”
Me: “You’re right. If I walk into that same situation again, I will know to leave IMMEDIATELY.”
Panel-Interview

I Hate Desk Pods

It’s 1995. I’m in 4th grade. I sit in row 2, seat 3. My behavior is pretty good, not Student of the Year good, but top 10% good. The nuns only reprimand me once or twice a week for whispering to a neighbor.

The most exciting part of my day involves the interaction I have with John. He is the boy in front of me with the perfect, brown mushroom haircut. He sits in row 2, seat 2.

When I see Mrs. Booker grab a set of worksheets off of her desk, it’s show-time. In just moments, she will be releasing 6 worksheets to the first person in each row. This means John will be turning around to pass me those worksheets. The potential for eye contact here is huge.

Ohp, here we go. Mrs. Booker is currently licking her thumbs as she counts off 6 papers to the first person in each row.

I wait eagerly and patiently for our row to receive our set of papers.

Kevin, who sits in row 2, seat 1, just turned around to pass John the papers. Smooth transaction.

John then turns his body around and I flash my pearly whites. We engage in 3 seconds of solid eye-contact as he hands the papers off to me.

Butterflies awaken in my esophagus. A beautiful transfer was made and I think our pinkies just touched. Oh My God, our pinkies touched.

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Why did I share this nostalgic flashback? I thought it would be a nice segue into a topic in education that baffles me more than Kim Kardashian’s everlasting and unexplainable fame status.

Ladies and gentleman, what am I talking about? It’s Classroom Desk Arrangement.
Desk-Pods
Not familiar with desk pods? They can be seen in most elementary classrooms across America. It is that ugly clump of 4-6 desks squished together to form a group. As you can see from above, this desk arrangement has no flaws. It promotes cooperative and collaborative learning at its finest!

I find myself completely fascinated by this setup, because traditional rows are all I ever knew growing up.

Ah, Heck. I guess I’ll just put on my big girl sneakers and share a little secret with you:

I hate the glorification of desk pods almost as much as I Hate Centers.
Desk-Pods
Unfortunately, I am completely guilty of having the clumpy dumpy pod setup in my classroom. My excuse? I teach in a closet and couldn’t arrange them any other way.

Some days I teach a new concept when the students are sitting in their clumpy dumpy pods. Some of those days I see attention wander quickly, and some of those days I get frustrated with how distracted some of them seem.

Then I take a step back to reflect. I gotta put myself in their shoes. How can I possibly get upset at my students for being distracted? If desks were arranged in groups when I was their age, I would probably have a heart attack sitting across from John.
Desk-Pods
If it’s 1995 and the desks are in groups, my complete and undivided attention is on a getting a glance from Johnny. Sorry, Mrs. Booker. I could care less about what you have to say about changing a fraction to a percent. There are bigger concerns when I have this fine specimen sitting across of me.

To solve the situation, I think you should put Justin Timberlake’s assigned seat across from me too. Oh, and while we are at it, make sure Leonardo Dicaprio is assigned to my right, so we can play footsies. I think that might make me less distracted.
Desks-in-Rows
When I took over a chatty 3rd grade classroom last year, I wanted to switch up the desk arrangement. When I expressed my grand plan of putting the desks in rows to a veteran teacher, she laughed at me.

Yep. Laughed at me.

Have I gone completely off the deep end for wanting to spice it up with a traditional setup? Are traditional rows so bad that we can’t even talk about the option, let alone actually have that setup in our classrooms?

Do I think traditional rows are perfect? No. Does it annoy me how much people praise the clumpy dumpy pod? Yes. I don’t understand how we praise cooperative learning all day, then turn around in the same blink to complain about students not becoming independent enough. Uhm, Hello? Am I the only one seeing a correlation here?

If my class was big enough, you would probably see rows of desks. They wouldn’t be traditional desks though. These desks would be based off of grandma’s old extendable dinner table. When it’s time for group work, the middle desk will extend and only chairs will be moved!
Desk-Flaps

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(If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy some of my other rants. Just click on the “Rants and Funnies” tab at the top of this page.)

Top 10 Grouchy Teacher Phrases

Just for laughs. I compiled a list of some of my grouchiest teacher phrases.

Enjoy. Teacher-Phrases

What are some of yours?

(A big thanks to Glitter Meets Glue for the border and KG Fonts for the font. :))

Check out some of my other grouchy teacher blog posts:
I Hate Centers
Three Kinds of Fridays That All Teachers Experience

Shoe Tying

Dear Parents and Future Parents of America,

Before enrolling your children in school, please do the whole world of elementary education a favor and teach them how to tie their shoes. Wanting a teacher’s head on a platter because she doesn’t tie shoes is completely senseless.

If this is too much to ask, please bypass the $200 Jordan sneakers and invest in some Velcro.

Sincerely,
Miss Common Core Galore and More