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.)

My Data Wall

Data-Walls
I thought I would share some bulletin board decor today. If you aren’t familiar with Glitter Meets Glue, you need to be. Her work is responsible for the glittery goodness that you see on the letters. I am obsessed with glitter and I think first graders love it just as much as I do!

I’m not sure how other districts and states show their data, but our students take pre-assessments, mid-years, and final assessments for ELA in Math. We have to display the data once they are scored. Each student has a number and his/her score will fall into 1 of 4
categories:

Warning (Red)
Yellow (Needs Improvement)
Blue (Proficient)
Green (Advanced)
Math-Data-Wall
My data is displayed here for the pre-assessment in math. I got the silver sticker circles on Amazon here:
Silver Foil 2″ Round Labels

I love my data wall! Some teachers get extremely fancy with theirs, but I wanted to keep it simple because I don’t consider myself too creative of a creature.
 

No Yell Bell sm

No Yell Bell

Every week, I am going to try to do a Saturday Fail/Success piece. I will show pictures and write about my biggest success and biggest fail of the week. It could be about a product I have been using or a classroom management technique I use in the classroom. I hope you enjoy!

I will start off with my first Saturday Success story.
no-yell-bell

I introduce to you… the No Yell Bell. I saw it on Pinterest over the summer and needed to have it. I bought it off of Amazon for 20 bucks. (The reviews are pretty awesome for it as well.)

I have been using it since the beginning of the year. There are 7 sounds. When we are doing centers, I give a 1 minute warning to clean up, then I use one of my bell sounds and the kids know they have to transition to the next center!

I have only used one sound so far and my first graders absolutely LOVE it! They keep bugging me to introduce the other sounds. Even other teachers have commented on how cool it is as well.
no-yell-bell
If you hate raising your voice like I do, this product is a winner!

Starting A Website and Balancing Your Boyfriends

starting-a-website
It’s 5:00 PM on a Monday. My human boyfriend comes home and asks me the usual question that a teacher is subjected to in the summer. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s the one your significant other asks you EVERY day in the months of June, July, and August..but not so much in the months of September-May:

“What Did YOU Do Today?”

My response: “I added my Logo next to my blog title on my website.”

He looks at me and waits, as if I am suppose to tell him about more accomplishments from my day.. like saving a group of 20 deranged penguins in Antarctica.

I respond, “Nope..that was a whole day project.”

His reaction:Where was I going with this? Oh yes… I wanted to share my experience with building up a website/blog from scratch and balancing your boyfriends—Pinterest, Facebook, and a blog.

I am a member of “Generation Y” AKA “The Internet Generation”. This means I have 20+ years of “internet experience” on my resume. Could there be a better candidate for starting a website? Let’s not answer that yet.

I started off the intense, rigorous process the right way…with a confident boost that any 20 something should have from an internet savvy background. Quality posts? I will be pumping those out in no time. Followers and subscribers? They will be flocking to me like the salmon of Capistrano (Dumb and Dumber reference..anyone?)

Fast forward about 3 days: My confidence is out the window as I spend the better part of my day growling at my laptop screen. “Why is it taking 4 hours to align an image in a post and another 4 hours to change the paragraph font-size? WHY DID MY WEBSITE JUST TURN INTO A BLANK WHITE SCREEN OF DEATH?”

After 3 days, I conclude that Website boyfriend is taking up too much of my time because he keeps bringing HTML into our relationship.. a topic I have absolutely NO CLUE about. Meanwhile, I’ve got Pinterest waiting for me in the parking lot and I’ve stood Facebook up 2 nights in a row already. I start to wonder if it’s possible to juggle all of my boys.
Social-Media

Are you thinking about starting a website or blog from scratch? Here are a couple things I’ve learned:

      1. Be prepared to devote A LOT of time in the beginning to learning. I suggest starting one when you have at least a week or more off from work. I’m not kidding. HTML can be a real…ah nevermind.
      2. Be ready to neglect your other boyfriends–Pinterest, Facebook, and others for a little while. (Did I mention that I just signed up for a Twitter? God help me, I now have a Twitter.)
      3. Once you get past the learning curve, it starts to become enjoyable. You will love seeing your finished posts and comments from other people. If you are a math nerd like myself, you will love seeing site statistics on your page like visits per day.
      4. Gaining followers and subscribers isn’t as easy as Pinterest or Facebook, so don’t be discouraged with the numbers.
      5. It takes awhile to find your balance among the social media explosion. The evolution of social media has become bigger than 1 human can handle. It’s impossible to become a shark at all of them.
      6. In those first few weeks of establishing your website, it’s probably best to just ignore your other boyfriends. Tell them you’ve gone to Portugal for 2 weeks and contact won’t be possible.

*Please note: The movie star of this blog post is my 4 year old cat, Roxy.