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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Tips to Surviving Your First Year Teaching

Tips for Surviving Your First Year Teaching...And Your Second, And Your Third, And Your Fourth, Etc!

Hi, my name is Monica and I've been teaching for 10 years all around the world, and I still go home most days thinking I have NO idea what I'm doing!  Whew, it felt good to get that off my chest!  ;)

I got to thinking about all the hard times I have had as a teacher as I read this article titled, "Hey, New Teachers, It's OK To Cry In Your Car" from NPR.  If you're reading this I know you are aware of how tough teaching can be, but did you know 1 out of every 10 new teachers don't make it through their first year of teaching?!? October and November can be the hardest months because it's when enthusiastic optimism is beat down with so many long, unappreciated, and less than perfect days. I got to thinking about some of the things that have gotten me through all the hard times.  And just like you want to tell all of your students (especially my middle schoolers), IT GETS BETTER! Here a few things you might want to try!

Make a Happy Folder. You know you already have file folders for everything else, so make one for yourself.  Keep any pictures and notes from students, class photos, great Valentine and Christmas cards, and print out encouraging emails from parents/administrators/colleagues. No, not everything in your day went perfectly. But if you are going to let one bad thing in your day have such power over you, then let all of those good things have power too!  I guarantee you are doing more good than bad to these students.  Savor the good moments by keeping them on hand and pulling them out when you need a little emotional boost to help put things back in perspective.

Go Home.  Take care of tomorrow, and then go home. It took me quite awhile to realize that the more hours I put in at school, the worse I was for the students.  I just wasn't my bubbly, happy self who LOVED my job.  So I started scheduling in and prioritizing time for make me a better teacher!  Now you can find me running out the door at 3:45 several times a week to catch a much needed yoga class and spend some time with loved ones (there is the man I live with that I occasionally run into called my fiance!).  If you are so stressed you feel like crying in your car, you have probably already reached the point of diminishing returns with the hours you've worked. More hours in the class will not fix everything!  Do what you need to do for the next day and then make some time for yourself!  Feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the next day with a clear head can make a huge difference!

Work on one thing at a time. You will never attain perfection, and trying to attain it daily will drive you crazy.  However, getting better and better at ONE thing every day, that is possible. Choose one thing you want to work on that you know is a best practice and maybe a weakness of yours and do that one thing until it becomes a habit.  Then work on something new.  My one thing I've been working on this year is referencing our class objectives repeatedly throughout the lesson and making students take ownership of them.  Next on my list: getting good closure at the end of lessons and not just frantically wrapping up the activity when the clock alarmingly shows that the class is almost over (okay, I have an alarm that goes off on my phone to help me with my time management)!

Don't reinvent the wheel. Any problem you are encountering not only has a solution, but has a solution or two from a colleague (including colleagues on the internet!).  Ask for help and ask for advice!  In other words, to quote a cliche: Work smarter, not harder!  Oh and BUY things on Teachers Pay Teachers.  It took me years after using Teacher Pay Teachers to finally look past the freebies and spend my hard earned money on something...and it changed my life! My time was worth the money spent.  I recommend getting big units for social studies and science and year-long aids that can make a huge difference in your planning time and aid in continuity like year long spelling packets, bell ringers, etc.

Classroom Management.  This is the hardest part of teaching hands down.  It takes YEARS to get a system that works for you and your classroom.  I have recently started using Whole Brain Teaching in my 6th grade classroom and LOVE that it is one cohesive program that covers so many aspects of the classroom.  The point system I implemented got my rowdy classes under control in no time and keeps them motivated. (If I have more points at the end of the week they have weekend homework, if they have more points they don't! Works like a charm!)  I encourage you to check it out and see if it is right for you!

I hope that at least one of these helps you get through the days, months, and years ahead.  And in case no one has mentioned it lately, thank you for all your do for 'your' kids!  Please share any tips you have!  Happy teaching!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Worst Principal Ever?

I was shocked to read the news story about the principal, Donna Connelly, that ordered teachers in her Bronx school, in the presence of their students, to empty their desks and filing cabinets and push them into the hallway.  From there, the custodial staff were instructed to dump the desks outside of the school for all to see. All this because this principal forbid teachers to sit during class. 

To me, this seems to be designed to humiliate teachers and does not have one shred of productive and constructive problem-solving to what might be a legitimate problem of a handful of teachers perhaps not being super attentive in class (and that is me trying very hard to see what POSSIBLY could have caused such an egregious action!)  My heart goes out to these hard-working and dedicated professionals that are now told to grade papers in the cafeteria...because that seems like a quite place to get work done!  


What's so wrong with a desk again Donna Connelly?

Read the article HERE! and tell me what you think.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Math Activity for Middle School

One of the biggest challenges for 6th graders has to be....NO RECESS!

And, not surprisingly, one of the biggest challenges for 6th grade teachers is that the kids have no recess and get so antsy in class! Thinking about this problem, I've been working on my pacing and trying to find as many activities that get students up and moving around while learning!  During our last in-service day I had the pleasure (yes, I love the opportunity to learn something new and be a better teacher!) of attending some professional development classes hosted by fellow teachers in the district.  My favorite activity I learned about was something I now call "Famous Mathematicians."  

I pulled up some names and pictures of famous mathematicians and after a few tries was able to figure out how to orient them on the page so they printed and I could fold them not quite in half so there is about 2 inches at the bottom like so:

I made ten and taped them up around the room.  The students can start anywhere in the room.  On their answer page they write the name of where they start.  See blank page below.

 They then flip open the paper and read the questions.  Underneath each row on the answer page there is room for them to show their work.  After they've solved the problem they need to go around the room and look for that answer on a different famous mathematician's paper!  When they find it, they write the name of that person on the answer page where it says To:  ___________.  They then go to the second line and write that same mathematician;s name, solve the problem by showing the work on their page, and go around the room to find the answer on another mathematician's paper.  The last space will take them back to the first name they started with and they are done!   

Sorry, I don't have any student examples at home with me so I just wrote this up quickly so you could get the idea.

The students worked so hard and were so involved.  Even the kids I couldn't pay money to listen to me teach for ten minutes were running around the room excitedly!

I love this activity for so many reasons!

  1. Students can work at their own pace.  More than one group can be at any famous mathematicians page, no problem!
  2. They can not move on until until they understand the questions...they need the right answer and will need to come to teacher for help if they need it!
  3. The students are moving around and active.
  4. Allows for great intervention time with students who need it.
  5. It  allows students to learn a little about famous mathematicians!  I included lots of women...girl power! (I plan on adding more about each person-what they accomplished, fun facts, etc as we do this activity again/I find a few extra minutes in life to flesh it out!)
  6. It is east to grade!  Pick any name to start with and make sure students find that name on their page.  Ask them from ________ to?  Have the class respond.  2 minutes at the end of class you that's it! Such a breeze!

If you want to give it a go download this EDITABLE FREEBIE by clicking on the image below at it will redirect you to my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  If you are more spacial then I am feel free to add to them by typing up questions and answers, but I just hand-wrote them because I did not have an extra half an hour to figure out how to make them copy double sided correctly!  And this way, if you have a blank copy you can add questions for many different concepts...not just the ratio conversions and percent we were practicing this day!  

She is right-side up here, but the files pull up with the famous mathematicians upside-down so they will fold properly!

  • After explaining the activity I let kids start anywhere they wanted (in groups) and had them all write down their starting place.  Then I had them solve their problem as a group.  I held everyone at their starting point until everyone gave me the thumbs up they were ready to switch.  I had everyone switch at once, find their new station (for lack of a better word), and had them write down the 'to' part and their new 'from' part.  This will just be necessary the first time as the kids caught on no problem after that!
  • I only gave one group a recording paper but made them switch 'recorders' at each new station ensuring every group member was staying active and involved in the solving...I also only had to print about 30 papers instead of 95 :)  

Friday, October 9, 2015

How to Store Materials in a Middle School Classroom

First of all, let me just say that it is hard for me to adjust to calling JR. HIGH Middle School...but when in Rome!

After finish our first module on math fluency, it was time to bust out the calculators for my 6th graders! I spent a week frustratingly passing out calculators and collecting them at the end of class-being sure to count them all while the kids impatiently waited to be dismissed.  Then I rolled out my new interactive notebooks the next week and I knew I would not be able to pass out and collect all the scissors and glue bottles on a daily basis.  I spent the weekend thinking about how to store interactive notebook supplies in a middle school classroom with individual chairs and no desks to place caddies!  Out of necessity arose this:

The prettiest solution?  Not so much! But it's SUPER effective and cut my transition time down to mere seconds!  My wonderful fiance purchased these for under a dollar a piece at the Home Depot, a student helped secure them to the desks for me, and my 'pods' of three had everything they need right there at their desks, off the floor, and available in under 5 seconds.  It's given me so much instructional time back!

Happy teaching!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Getting Students Excited About STEM Careers

I am now several weeks into teaching 6th grade math!  I came into the school year a few weeks late and I feel like I haven't stopped running around frantically, but it has been worth every exhausting second!  One of my big focuses this year in math is WHY?  Ms. McNichols, WHY do we have to learn this?  I try to put every math term and equation into a real-life scenario for the students.  For example:  Why learn about greatest common factors (GCF) and least common multiples (LCM)?  So you don't end up like this guy!

However, beyond the every day examples, I want to start getting students excited about using math as a career and following a passion into a STEM  (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) career.  Enter my STEM board!

I found these educational posters at my local teacher supply store and decided to make them into one of my classroom themes. Every month I will focus on a new STEM career and try to incorporate a different project that directly relates to this career.  This month we started with Aerospace Engineers.  I simply searched Aerospace Engineers in google images and chose some visually stimulating photographs to peak my students' curiosity!  AND it just so happens that I know a couple fellas who used to work at NASA, so we are going to have a video conference with one of them at the end of the month to get the students excited about all the places math can take to the moon and beyond ;)

Stay tuned to see what we focus on next month :)

Happy teaching y'all!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

How to Get a Teaching Job from Substitute Teaching

Being a substitute teacher is hard work!  My fiance and I relocated to Knoxville just days before teachers here went back to school. Unfortunately, that means I was several months late for the education hiring season!  To be honest, I was slightly devastated that I wouldn't have my own classroom, but I was determined to make the most of the situation by substitute teaching!

Getting a teaching job a big district can often require getting a foot in the door somewhere.  For this reason I knew I would have to sub for the year, even though I could have made more money and had less stress if I pursued a different job for the year. I wanted to go into hiring season for the next school year knowing my way around town, having inside details on all the schools, and confident that I would land any job I wanted because of my hard-work, passion, and professionalism.

After just 2 1/2 weeks of subbing, I'm happy to report that I was offered a full-time teaching position at a school I had been subbing at!  So if you're like me, making the most out of subbing but wanting it to turn into something more, do this:

1.  Have business cards!  You can get business cards so cheaply nowadays... you must do it! Not only does handing out a business card set you apart professionally, it provides a direct line of communication between the school and yourself.

I opted for the more expensive back on my cards because I wanted to show my love, respect, and passion for education!

2.  Create materials and/or blog!  Last year I put my first item up on TeachersPayTeachers and was surprised by the positive feedback I received and how much additional income it provided.  This is a great option to do while substitute teaching on days off/downtime when you would otherwise be planning! Additionally, blogging is a great way to channel your love and passion for education.  I followed these pursuits for my own passions and reasons, but it was a great resource to put on my business cards and another way to represent myself to future employers.

3.  Meet the principal!  Often times when you arrive or leave the school the principal will be in the office. Take the opportunity to say hello, state why you are in the building, and compliment the school/students/staff that have helped you during the day. (The key is to be genuine though!) Send a short follow up email thanking them for the hospitality of the school.  Studies show that reaching out once more after an initial meeting will solidify the memory of you in that person's head. All email addresses should be available on the school's website! Remember there will be hundreds of subs in and out of the schools during the year, you want to set yourself apart.  I subbed in a school the first week of school and LOVED the school community.  I was fortunate enough to meet the principal on my first visit.  When I got home and was talking about what an amazing day I had and how much I loved the school, my fiance encouraged me to send a brief thank you/nice to meet you email.  I even received a lovely response back from the principal! Days later I was called (directly, thanks to my business cards!) to sub there again for a whole week for a vacant math position.  I never considered teaching 6th grade math, but after working with the amazing students and knowing how incredible the staff was, I knew it would be a great fit for me and I had to go after the position.  Fortunately, they thought I would be a perfect fit too!

4. Treat every day as an interview!  Being a substitute can be hard work and if you treat every single day as interview, it can be a lot more work!  Making sure you're dressed in business professional attire and hair done professionally adds time to your morning, but you only have one chance to make a first impression! You are being interviewed by the schools to see if they would call you again to sub, but it's so much more important if you want to get a job there the following year. If your hope is to sub for a year and then find a position in one of those schools the following year, it is also important to know you are interviewing the schools!  You have a unique opportunity to learn about how the school works, the staff happiness, and whether or not you could be happy there.  Take advantage of it, because those are things you can't learn about a school sitting in an interview! You have an opportunity to only go after jobs at schools you know you can make a happy home in for years to come.

5.  Be positive.  Every one has tough days.  Sometimes people need to vent.  However, if someone at a school starts to vent to you about the school, the other staff, the profession, the admin, the students etc., be a supportive listener but DO NOT partake in the venting!  Not only does this keep you out of schoolhouse drama, but it's so important on a personal level.  If you look for the bad, you will find it!  But if you look for the good, you will find that instead!  And everybody (okay, almost everybody) wants to work with positive, uplifting people.

These are the rules I lived by and after 2 1/2 weeks I landed a DREAM job!  I wish you all the luck and happiness in your teaching adventures.  Happy teaching :)

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Tips for Substitute Teaching: Part 2!

Here in Knoxville we have just finished the 3rd week of school!  It's been a whirlwind! I have learned so much and along the way and I've come up with a few more Tips for Substitute Teaching!  (See my previous list of tips here.)

1.  Have business cards!  You can get business cards so cheaply nowadays...and you must do it! Having business cards will ASSUREDLY improve your livelihood. Not only does it set you apart professionally, it provides a direct line of communication between the school and yourself.  After just a few days of subbing I was being referred for positions and receiving calls directly from the school to take a position instead of being called for/searching through random available positions. If you love the school and want to sub there again, leave a business card with the sub coordinator, with your notes to the classroom teacher you subbed for, any other teachers you meet or compliment your subbing skills, and the principal if you get a chance to meet her or him. 

I purchased mine through Vistaprint with a pre-designed template.

I splurged for a back (albiet b&w).  I wanted to show my passion for education!

2.  Utilize on-line resources!  More often than not, I walked into classrooms with no lesson plans.  If this happens to you, don't let the class devolve into chaos!  Come up with a plan by searching the web.  Pinterest is a MUST-HAVE for teachers.  A quick search of grade level and subject will give you hundreds of ideas!  Also check out TeachersPayTeachers! Enter any subject into the search bar and then you can filter responses on the left-hand part of the screen for grade level and price...there are plenty of FREE resources!  If there are no sub plans the school should be happy to make copies for you!

3.  Dress business professional.  This is particularly important while substitute teaching in Jr. High and High School.  Dress professionally and you will be taken more seriously and given more respect.  Take yourself seriously and the students will follow suit! This will also set you apart in the eyes of administrators and get you more jobs. Caveat...I wear business professional with tennis shoes because being on my feet all day for years has given me planter fasciitis and you need to...  

4.  Circle the room like a vulture.  Constant movement around the room will keep the students on their toes and on task.  Linger next to the student(s) that are goofing off and they will be instantly calmer.  Another great option is to use those goofy students (I do love me a class clown! As long as there is no disrespect...) as your helper.  They want attention so give them positive attention and a place to channel their energy.  

5.  Reflect.  Before I started subbing I knew there were going to be some tough days and I would need to figure out what I could learn from these tough days in order to be a better teacher. For this reason, I made sure to have a dedicated reflection journal ready to go and with me at all times! Before, during, and after my sub jobs I reflected habitually. Don't just run out of the building after a tough day and never think about it again!  Reflect and think about what you would do differently next time.  When next time rolls around you WILL have a better day.  This journal is also a great place to write down the names of all the teachers and staff that you meet for when you come back to that school next time!  

6. Don't complain.  There are going to be tough days.  Even if you've had a nightmare day, DON'T take to social media to vent your frustrations. DON'T partake in complaining about the students even if it's another teacher who started the conversation!  And DON'T spend all night complaining to those around you.  If you can't help but do one or all of the above, DON'T take a job at that school again!  It's not worth your frustration and will not help you get more jobs if you are miserable and have nothing nice to say about the experience. Staying positive will help you prepare for whatever comes next.  You can do it!

7.  Keep an excel sheets of your jobs.  Accounting departments make mistakes.  Make sure you keep track of the days you work, where you work, and the pay for that day so that you have all the info you need to make sure your paychecks are coming out correctly!

Well, I had plans to make lots of installments of my tips for subbing, but this will be my last blog on the topic because one of my subbing positions turned into a full time teaching position!  Check out my blog on How To Get a Teaching Job from Subbing next!

Happy teaching :)