Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Back to School - Classroom Decoration

I kept a lot of things in my classroom set up the same way this year because they have held up well and I really like the colors. HOWEVER, I did update a bulletin board, change old decor, and decorate a few empty spaces. Here's some of the "new and improved" decor for this school year :)

Updated "BE" board.

Before you ___, THINK!

Interactive math challenge questions (with answers) that are changed throughout the year.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Back To School - My Top 5

It is August 10th, and I am in FULL. SCHOOL. MODE. When August 1st hits, I am usually in full swing, but this year things started at the end of July much to my chagrin. Anywho, this starts a series of back to school posts :)

Things that I do to prepare for the start of school!

1. Start looking for deals.
Teachers understand what it means to spread out your money to get the most bang for your buck. I spend a LOT of money on my classroom, my own organization, and other supplies each year. Despite my desire to enjoy summer, I do have to say that I look for deals starting in June. I look through weekly ads and also watch for emails about upcoming deals. I keep a reusable bag in my house that I continually fill with goodies as I buy them. Some places that I buy from include: Target, Staples, Office Max, Lakeshore Learning, United Art & Education, IKEA, Meijer, and Costco.

2. Back-up files.
I do this throughout the year, but each summer I sit down and back up my computer to my external hard drive. My district provides high school teachers with laptops; however, they often need to be turned in over the summer for re-imaging or updates. Between the summer turn in and my utter paranoia that I am going to lose my files, I like to save things to multiple external hard drives. I recommend backing up files once a month or at least once a quarter. It can be cumbersome, but it is completely worth it if a technology catastrophe comes your way. I think backing up can sometimes jinx a mishap from happening ;)

3. Throw things away.
If you are like me, you tend to save everything. I typically follow the rule that I was told from my mentor teacher, save major assessments until the students graduate. Every summer that means I get to clean out a bunch of stuff. Over time, I have developed an organizing method of this "stuff" that makes it much easier to sort through. Basically, throughout the year, I keep student tests/exams/etc. in manila folders by course. I don't get too bogged down by the nitty gritty organization of these (i.e. I don't alphabetize or do additional sorting). These stay in a drawer at school and accumulate as the year goes on. Then, in May I devote a small tub or bin to each year where I will place all of these folders where they are only organized based on subject and nothing more. Depending on space, I like to keep these bins at school. Thus, I have four rotating bins each year.

4. Classroom Decorating
I like to change my classroom decor a little bit each year. Many of my ideas are adapted from Pinterest or created in my imagination ... haha! Most of what I find online are geared toward younger grades, so I put a lot of effort into tailoring something that will dress up my white walls while at the same time not look to "young" for my high school students. There will be an upcoming post on what I did to my classroom this year... stay tuned! :)

5. Get Rest.
Self explanatory, but SO SO SO important! A new year brings exciting things to look forward to, but it is very important to take care of yourself (I know that this can sometimes be easier said than done). Try to rest up and be energized for a great year ahead!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Article - What 4 Teachers Told Obama Over Lunch (Washington Post)

 July 10
President Obama sat down this week for lunch at the White House with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and four teachers to talk about education, teaching and school reform. What the teachers said to Obama is explained in the following post by Justin Minkel, the 2007 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, a board member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, and a member of the Center for Teaching Quality’s Collaboratory. He writes two blogs, Teaching for Triumph and Career Teacher. Follow him on Twitter:  @JustinMinkel
By Justin Minkel
President Obama has often been described as an eloquent speaker. I learned this week that he is an eloquent listener, too.
The table in the West Wing was set for six: the president, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and four teachers. The hour-long conversation was serious but relaxed. The four of us have each been teaching in high-poverty schools for over a decade, and the president asked us to respond to a few questions that were on his mind.
The president wanted to know: Why had we stayed in our schools? What could he and the secretary do to support teachers in high-need schools? What policies could ensure that students who need the strongest teachers receive them?
This is what we told him:
1. There’s nothing wrong with the kids.
I asked Dwight Davis, an African-American fifth grade teacher born and raised in Washington, D.C., why he has stayed with teaching. He didn’t hesitate: “The kids and the families.”
We told our students’ stories to the president. I talked about Cesar, a second grader who won $10 in a writing contest. When I asked what he planned to do with his winnings, he said, “I’m going to give it to my mom to help her buy food for our family.”
I told the president about Melissa, a second grader who became the only literate person in her family through a home library project and plenty of school-wide support. When we were reading together one day, Melissa told me, “Now when my mom and little sister and I are watching TV, they tell me, ‘Melissa, turn off the TV and read to us,’ so I do.”
Students like Melissa and Cesar, who walk into the classroom with greater challenges than more affluent students, are not the obstacle to attracting skilled teachers to high-poverty schools. They’re the motivation.
2. “Responsibility and delight can co-exist.”
The No Child Left Behind era still taints the system at every level. The creativity, curiosity, and sense of wonder that make students such a joy to teach have been stripped from students’ experience at school, particularly in low-income schools desperate to raise test scores.
In place of literature, science experiments, and engineering design challenges, students in these schools often receive scripted curricula, test prep booklets, and worksheets. Drudgery has been substituted for rigor.
The teachers I know are willing to work harder on behalf of kids like Cesar and Melissa. But they are unwilling to teach in sterile classrooms stripped of literature, the arts, and critical thinking in order to drill students on which one of four bubbles to pick. Given the low quality of many of those tests, it doesn’t matter what bubble they pick. Passing poorly designed tests will not give them greater knowledge, skills to succeed in college and careers, or the opportunity to lead a meaningful life.
The writer Philip Pullman said, “Responsibility and delight can co-exist.” If we want students to excel—and if we want skilled teachers to seek positions in high-poverty schools—we have to restore some of that delight.
3. It’s not about good and bad teachers. It’s about good and badteaching.
The teachers at my school are dramatically better than we were five or ten years ago. The reason is simple: we’ve worked with our principal to design a culture of collaboration, innovation, and peer observation, with time built into the school day for purposeful professional development to take place.
You never hear teachers say of a student, “She’s a bad learner—we need to get rid of her.” Yet that is often the go-to solution for reformers outside the system when it comes to “bad teachers.”
There are a handful of teachers who can’t or won’t get better—but they are a scant sliver of the profession. If we provide mentoring, collaboration time, and job-embedded professional development, the vast majority of teachers will continue to improve. Most people want to be effective at what they do. That is particularly true of professionals who have chosen to work with children.
I wasn’t good at teaching when I started, and I’m not where I want to be five years from now. I’ve gotten better the same way that everyone—from doctors to pilots to presidents—gets better at their job: through reflection, collaboration, and mentoring.
Yes, we want to recruit talented new teachers who walk in the door with high potential for perseverance, intelligence, and compassion. But we don’t need to swap out all the bad and mediocre teachers for better teachers, anymore than we should swap out our struggling students for more advanced students. We need to build systems that support every teacher willing to put in the work it takes to move from novice to competent, competent to excellent, and beyond.
4. If we want students to innovate, collaborate, and solve real-world problems, we need to make it possible for teachers to do those same things.
The systems we create for teachers have a profound impact on the classrooms we design for students. Teachers have long been seen asconsumers of policy, professional development, curriculum, and research, when we should be partners in creating it.
The working conditions that matter most to teachers in Generation X and Y have to do with intangibles like autonomy, collaboration time, and the potential for innovation. Scripted curricula, test prep, and micro-management are anathema to that kind of school culture, and they have a devastating effect on both teacher recruitment and retention.
The hopeful news is that we can create the conditions for excellence in lower-income schools. They exist where I teach: Jones Elementary, a school with 99% poverty and virtually 0 percent teacher turnover.
Every year, we receive students who come in angry, disrespectful, and ashamed of their struggle to learn. These same students become thoughtful scholars and compassionate human beings once their needs are met and their trust in teachers has been earned.
There’s nothing wrong with the kids. There is plenty wrong with the system—but none of it is inevitable. An invitation to classroom teachers from the holder of the highest office in the land won’t cure all that ails that system. But it’s a damn good place to start.
The last thing the president said to us was, “You all make me feel hopeful.” President Obama, you left us hopeful, too.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Article: Share This With All the Schools, Please

What teaching is all about with a touching message at the end...

TEACH ON, WARRIORS. You are the first responders, the front line, the disconnection detectives, and the best and ONLY hope we've got for a better world. What you do in those classrooms when no one is watching - it's our best hope. [ . . . ] We only care that you teach our children to be Brave and Kind. And we thank you. We thank you for saving lives."


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Article: A teacher's tough decision to leave the classroom

An interesting perspective about the teaching profession:

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Happy Summer!


Teachers continue to work extremely hard through the summer as they begin planning for the new year, participate in professional development and take courses of their own. BUT . . . cheers to another year!
I hope you get some time to recharge and relax because YOU DESERVE IT!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Thank You!

This is my THANK YOU to all teachers out there 
pouring their heart and soul into all that they do for the future.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Article - You think you know what teachers do. Right? Wrong.

You think you know what teachers do. Right? Wrong.
February 22 at 11:30 am

You went to school so you think you know what teachers do, right? You are wrong. Here’s a piece explaining all of this from Sarah Blaine, a mom, former teacher and full-time practicing attorney in New Jersey who writes at her parentingthecore blog, where this first appeared.

By Sarah Blaine

We all know what teachers do, right? After all, we were all students. Each one of us, each product of public education, we each sat through class after class for thirteen years. We encountered dozens of teachers. We had our kindergarten teachers and our first grade teachers and our fifth grade teachers and our gym teachers and our art teachers and our music teachers. We had our science teachers and our social studies teachers and our English teachers and our math teachers. If we were lucky, we might even have had our Latin teachers or our Spanish teachers or our physics teachers or our psychology teachers. Heck, I even had a seventh grade “Communications Skills” teacher. We had our guidance counselors and our principals and some of us had our special education teachers and our study hall monitors.

So we know teachers. We get teachers. We know what happens in classrooms, and we know what teachers do. We know which teachers are effective, we know which teachers left lasting impressions, we know which teachers changed our lives, and we know which teachers sucked.

We know. We know which teachers changed lives for the better. We know which teachers changed lives for the worse.
Teaching as a profession has no mystery. It has no mystique. It has no respect.
We were students, and therefore we know teachers. We denigrate teachers. We criticize teachers. We can do better than teachers. After all: We do. They teach.

We are wrong.

We need to honor teachers. We need to respect teachers. We need to listen to teachers. We need to stop reducing teachers to arbitrary measurements of student growth on so-called objective exams.

Most of all, we need to stop thinking that we know anything about teaching merely by virtue of having once been students.
We don’t know.

I spent a little over a year earning a master of arts in teaching degree. Then I spent two years teaching English Language Arts in a rural public high school. And I learned that my 13 years as a public school student, my 4 years as a college student at a highly selective college, and even a great deal of my year as a masters degree student in the education school of a flagship public university hadn’t taught me how to manage a classroom, how to reach students, how to inspire a love of learning, how to teach. Eighteen years as a student (and a year of preschool before that), and I didn’t know shit about teaching. Only years of practicing my skills and honing my skills would have rendered me a true professional. An expert. Someone who knows about the business of inspiring children. Of reaching students. Of making a difference. Of teaching.

I didn’t stay. I copped out. I left. I went home to suburban New Jersey, and a year later I enrolled in law school.
I passed the bar. I began to practice law at a prestigious large law firm. Three years as a law student had no more prepared me for the practice of law than 18 years of experience as a student had previously prepared me to teach. But even in my first year as a practicing attorney, I earned five times what a first year teacher made in the district where I’d taught.
I worked hard in my first year of practicing law. But I didn’t work five times harder than I’d worked in my first year of teaching. In fact, I didn’t work any harder. Maybe I worked a little less.

But I continued to practice. I continued to learn. Nine years after my law school graduation, I think I have some idea of how to litigate a case. But I am not a perfect lawyer. There is still more I could learn, more I could do, better legal instincts I could develop over time. I could hone my strategic sense. I could do better, be better. Learn more law. Learn more procedure. But law is a practice, law is a profession. Lawyers are expected to evolve over the course of their careers. Lawyers are given more responsibility as they earn it.

New teachers take on full responsibility the day they set foot in their first classrooms.

The people I encounter out in the world now respect me as a lawyer, as a professional, in part because the vast majority of them have absolutely no idea what I really do.

All of you former students who are not teachers and not lawyers, you have no more idea of what it is to teach than you do of what it is to practice law.

All of you former students: you did not design curricula, plan lessons, attend faculty meetings, assess papers, design rubrics, create exams, prepare report cards, and monitor attendance. You did not tutor students, review rough drafts, and create study questions. You did not assign homework. You did not write daily lesson objectives on the white board. You did not write poems of the week on the white board. You did not write homework on the white board. You did not learn to write legibly on the white board while simultaneously making sure that none of your students threw a chair out a window.

You did not design lessons that succeeded. You did not design lessons that failed.

You did not learn to keep your students quiet during lock down drills.

You did not learn that your 15 year old students were pregnant from their answers to vocabulary quizzes. You did not learn how to teach functionally illiterate high school students to appreciate Shakespeare. You did not design lessons to teach students close reading skills by starting with the lyrics to pop songs. You did not miserably fail your honors level students at least in part because you had no books to give them. You did not struggle to teach your students how to develop a thesis for their essays, and bask in the joy of having taught a successful lesson, of having gotten through to them, even for five minutes. You did not struggle with trying to make SAT-level vocabulary relevant to students who did not have a single college in their county. You did not laugh — because you so desperately wanted to cry — when you read some of the absurdities on their final exams. You did not struggle to reach students who proudly announced that they only came to school so that their mom’s food stamps didn’t get reduced.
You did not spend all of New Years’ Day crying five years after you’d left the classroom because you reviewed the New York Times’ graphic of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and learned that one of your very favorite students had been killed in Iraq two years before. And you didn’t know. Because you copped out and left. So you cried, helplessly, and the next day you returned to the practice of law.

You did not. And you don’t know. You observed. Maybe you learned. But you didn’t teach.
The problem with teaching as a profession is that every single adult citizen of this country thinks that they know what teachers do. And they don’t. So they prescribe solutions, and they develop public policy, and they editorialize, and they politicize. And they don’t listen to those who do know. Those who could teach. The teachers.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Believing in people before they have proved themselves is the key to motivating people to reach their potential. 
-John C Maxwell 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Great Read!

What Students Remember Most About Teachers

Dear Young Teacher Down the Hall,
I saw you as you rushed passed me in the lunch room. Urgent. In a hurry to catch a bite before the final bell would ring calling all the students back inside. I noticed that your eyes showed tension. There were faint creases in your forehead. And I asked you how your day was going and you sighed.
"Oh, fine," you replied.
But I knew it was anything but fine. I noticed that the stress was getting to you. I could tell that the pressure was rising. And I looked at you and made an intentional decision to stop you right then and there. To ask you how things were really going. Was it that I saw in you a glimpse of myself that made me take the moment?
You told me how busy you were, how much there was to do. How little time there was to get it all done. I listened. And then I told you this:
I told you to remember that at the end of the day, it's not about the lesson plan. It's not about the fancy stuff we teachers make -- the crafts we do, the stories we read, the papers we laminate. No, that's not really it. That's not what matters most.
And as I looked at you there wearing all that worry under all that strain, I said it's aboutbeing there for your kids. Because at the end of the day, most students won't remember what amazing lesson plans you've created. They won't remember how organized your bulletin boards are. How straight and neat are the desk rows.
No, they'll not remember that amazing decor you've designed.
But they will remember you.
Your kindness. Your empathy. Your care and concern. They'll remember that you took the time to listen. That you stopped to ask them how they were. How they really were. They'll remember the personal stories you tell about your life: your home, your pets, your kids. They'll remember your laugh. They'll remember that you sat and talked with them while they ate their lunch.
Because at the end of the day, what really matters is YOU. What matters to those kids that sit before you in those little chairs, legs pressed up tight under tables oft too small- what matters to them is you.
You are that difference in their lives.
And when I looked at you then with tears in your eyes, emotions rising to the surface and I told you gently to stop trying so hard- I also reminded you that your own expectations were partly where the stress stemmed. For we who truly care are often far harder on ourselves than our students are willing to be. Because we who truly care are often our own worst enemy. We mentally beat ourselves up for trivial failures. We tell ourselves we're not enough. We compare ourselves to others. We work ourselves to the bone in the hopes of achieving the perfect lesson plan. The most dynamic activities. The most engaging lecture. The brightest, fanciest furnishings.
Because we want our students to think we're the very best at what we do and we believe that this status of excellence is achieved merely by doing. But we forget- and often. Excellence is more readily attained by being.
Being available.
Being kind.
Being compassionate.
Being transparent.
Being real.
Being thoughtful.
Being ourselves.
And of all the students I know who have lauded teachers with the laurels of the highest acclaim, those students have said of those teachers that they cared.
You see, kids can see through to the truth of the matter. And while the flashy stuff can entertain them for a while, it's the steady constance of empathy that keeps them connected to us. It's the relationships we build with them. It's the time we invest. It's all the little ways we stop and show concern. It's the love we share with them: of learning. Of life. And most importantly, of people.
And while we continually strive for excellence in our profession as these days of fiscal restraint and heavy top-down demands keep coming at us- relentless and quick. We need to stay the course. For ourselves and for our students. Because it's the human touch that really matters.
It's you, their teacher, that really matters.
So go back to your class and really take a look. See passed the behaviors, the issues and the concerns, pressing as they might be. Look beyond the stack of papers on your desk, the line of emails in your queue. Look further than the classrooms of seasoned teachers down the hall. Look. And you will see that it's there- right inside you. The ability to make an impact. The chance of a lifetime to make a difference in a child's life. And you can do this now.
Right where you are, just as you are.
Because all you are right now is all you ever need to be for them today. And who you are tomorrow will depend much on who and what you decide to be today.
It's in you. I know it is.

That Other Teacher Down the Hall
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Monday, January 6, 2014