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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!