Quote of the Week

Never say you are "just" a teacher. That's like saying Clark Kent is "just" Superman.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Effective Parent Teacher Conferences, by Christina Roman, 5th Grade Math Teacher, Watertown Elementary School

Parent teacher conferences (PTC) can be intimidating for new teachers. Here are some tips to help you survive Parent teacher conferences (and get the most out of it!):
Before PTC:
§  In the weeks prior to PTC Collect samples of student work, record impressions of student progress and behavior.
§  Contact parents (note, email, etc.) telling them you’re looking forward to meeting them to discuss their child’s progress.
§  Come up with a system for parents to easily schedule a time to see you. Send home a letter with times for them to sign up.  Older grades usually are first come, first serve basis.
§  A day before PTC, remind parents about the conference!
§  For parents who are unable to physically attend, arrange for a make-up conference or a phone conference.
§  Brainstorm questions parents might ask and plan your answers. Think about ways parents support their child’s learning outside the classroom. Create a list of educational resources (websites and apps, special programs, books, etc.), then highlight specific ones that are a good fit for each student.
§  If there’s a specific conference you’d like another staff member (your principal, special education teacher, school psychologist, translator, etc.) to be a part of, let them know ahead of time.
§  Look ahead in your schedule for times when you can meet/talk with parents who need additional time with you. Be prepared to suggest these times if a conference goes over time.
§  Bring a notebook or something to write down a post-PTC to-do list (things you’ll need to check on, things to implement with specific students, etc.)
§  Pack snacks for conference days! Bring plenty of water and a non-messy snack to help give you energy. PTC can go fast, but you’ve got a whole class to do, so be prepared!
During PTC:
§  Start and end on time. It shows respect for everyone and will help make sure you’re not there until crazy late.
§  Listen to parents! They usually know their kid really well and may have some valuable insight for you! Ask them for advice on how to help their child in the classroom.
§  Ask parents how they feel the school year is going and how they feel their child is doing.
§  Be positive. Share several specific examples of the child’s strengths, successful performance on projects and behavior.
§  Share true concerns. Choose one or two opportunities for improvement ties to age appropriate skills and standards. Seek feedback from the parent (and student, if present) to form a plan. 
§  Have resources available for skills/standards that students need help with.  If they do not know their multiplication facts.....give the parent some note cards to help their child make flashcards.
§  Don’t be afraid to ask questions! “Is there anything you think I should know that would help me serve your child better?”
§  Without being nosy, ask parents to keep you informed about home/family situations can affect their child’s learning and school work (e.g. family illness, divorce, job loss).
§  Invite parents to participate! Parents are a great resource with a wide range of experiences and skills. When parents participate in their child’s education, it shows their children that they value education (which helps lead to student success).  Plan ways for parents to participate both at school and from home.
§  Keep a count-down timer handy with a gentle alert 5 or 3 minutes prior to the conference end time.
§  Suggest a time to continue the conference if you start to go over time. Politely assure parents that you are very interested in discussing the issue further, but that you need to meet with the next family.
§  Thank parents for attending and be genuine about it. Without their support, students in their class would have a really tough time succeeding!
Give parents a small sheet with your contact information on it (and any other important resources, like school website, class blog, etc.). This will ensure continued communication.
After PTC:
§  Follow through on any action items you discussed with parents (check your to-do list). Let them know the outcome.
§  Tell your principal or administrator any concerns you have regarding the conference.

§  You made it through! Breath and pat yourself on the back! Maybe treat yourself to a special treat on the way home.

Keys to a Successful School Year...by Jen Graves, Kindergarten Teacher at Rutland Elementary School

Each day is a new day and you have the ability to make it a great one!
Greet your students as they arrive each day.
Know your students beyond their name.
Form positive relationships with your students' parents.

Remain focused on the positive even when things don't go as planned. Your
reaction remains your choice. You have the ability to turn a negative situation
into a positive.

As you plan, think about how you might personalize instruction to individual
student personalities, abilities, interests, and needs. Design thoughtful and
engaging lessons and overplan. If you don't have a plan for them,
they'll always have one for you.
Provide opportunities for your students to move around.
Keep students busy and engaged.
Play music.
Talk in a normal voice and most times you'll get the same calm
outcome from your students. Use hand signals and other nonverbal
forms of communication.
Implement a clear discipline plan with rewards and consequences.

Think about how you will organize the classroom to create interest, interaction,
and cooperation. Organize your teaching materials and keep needed supplies
within easy reach.
Teach your students how to get and stay organized.
Add personal touches and arrange your room with purpose and for functionality.
Reflect on your day by writing in a journal.
Have fun!

Know your 's

Admit your mistakes and learn from them.
Be firm, but flexible and fair.
Communicate with your parents and your peers.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Check out the link below to the article "Classroom Culture vs. Classroom Management." There are some good video links with it, too! 


Monday, August 24, 2015

Leaving Work at Work, by Chad Atkinson, Spanish Teacher at Mt. Juliet High School

As a brand new teacher, there is a seemingly endless amount of information to process and an ever-growing list of tasks that need your immediate attention. (Skyward, teacher websites, PD requirements, department meetings, last year’s testing data, future projections, setting up the classroom, lesson planning, etc.) You may be feeling a bit overwhelmed, over burdened, confused, inadequate and already underpaid and underappreciated. Consolation or not, most veteran teachers probably feel the same. Teaching can be stressful, exhilarating, reflective, confusing, frustrating and a down right joyful experience all in the course of twenty-four hours. Therefore, it is important to learn some coping strategies to help you maintain your sanity and to foster your desire to continue in this truly amazing line of work.
           The intent of my blog is to share with you some coping strategies that have helped me a great deal throughout my 10-year teaching career (I am a high school Spanish teacher and that may be important to note as each discipline and grade level requires different approaches and strategies). As the title suggests, leaving work at work is an important concept to embrace. If you can find a way to stay on top of grading papers and not take work home, then you just might make it to the next year! Trust me, as soon as your survival is secured then you can focus on how to thrive in the classroom, and that’s when teaching gets really fun!                                                                                           
           Let’s consider the following statement taken from an article in the Huffington Post on 07/23/2014. “A new report, published by the Alliance in collaboration with the New Teacher Center (NTC), a non-profit that helps schools and policymakers develop training for new educators, found that about 13 percent of the nation’s 3.4 million teachers move schools or leave the profession every year, costing states up to $2 billion. Researchers estimate that over 1 million teachers move in and out of schools annually, and between 40 and 50 percent quit within five years.” That is an astonishing number and deserves a quick look into the reasons why teachers leave the profession so shortly after coming to it.          
            Here’s a short excerpt from reddit.com in which a frustrated teacher is venting. “Similar situation, part way through my third year and I feel like I'm reaching a breaking point. I'm just getting so tired of the same old stuff, data driven goals, writing reflections, and collecting evidence of learning. I just started three new preps in a new school and I'm just trying to stay one step ahead of my students in the curriculum, let alone genuinely differentiating daily work and tests. I just feel like it's all for naught. I'm supposed to do this for another 35 years?” In hopes that you do not become this teacher, let’s explore some options to help us avoid getting too far down this road.
           My philosophy is simple…Do not take work home! Establish a work/play boundary and do your best to adhere to it. I stay after school for at least an hour every day and Fridays for 2 hours in order to get all of my grades entered for the week. Although I do not think you should work at home on a consistent basis, I certainly would advocate for writing down the ideas that come to you in the car, shower or in the middle of the night. Those ideas should always be welcomed regardless of time or day because they are naturally a part of what makes people great educators. I’m talking specifically about grading papers and extensive lesson planning at home. If you let that stuff creep too far into your personal life you may slowly start losing focus on life outside the classroom. Friends, family and personal time all have value and merit are a crucial balance to any teacher’s world. So how do you find a balance? Those assignments keep piling up and your prep keeps getting filled with other duties and responsibilities, such as calling parents or subbing for another class. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time to get it all done. Well, here’s a quick look into the systems I have developed over the years that have helped me maintain a balance. Hopefully they can be modified to fit your style and discipline and save you some time and headache along the way.
#1 – Homework
            If you are constantly under a pile of papers to grade you are probably giving students too many assignments. Try to assign meaningful work and be realistic about how much needs to be assigned and graded. I do not give HW everyday nor do I collect individual assignments to enter as individual grades. Instead I use a HW Tracker and it is collected every 2 weeks. Grades are typically based on effort, not accuracy, and students are in charge of corrections while I closely monitor and interject as needed. I have found that entering one single grade for a 2 week period allows me more time to do other meaningful tasks such as lesson planning. Once again, I teach Spanish 1 and 2, and there are lots of mistakes everyday, so the last think I want to do is mark up a student’s paper to the point that they no longer want to participate in class. In reality, I want to lower the affective filter in my class so all students feel comfortable enough to continue to try. In time, they eventually figure things out and we get to where we need to be.
#2 – Bell Work
            If you assign bell work you may want to approach it in this manner. Do not collect it every day nor enter a grade every day. I collect BW every Friday and enter 1 grade for the entire week. We always correct it in class (student assumes the teacher role while I monitor progress). In this approach, the students are the ones who become the facilitators of learning. If you set up your class this way it empowers students to take ownership of the class and their learning, and I have found that there are some truly excellent “student” teachers in my classes.
#3 - Participation
            Daily participation is a must in my class. In general, participation is really the only way for students to earn extra credit. Here’s how I do it. My seating chart is made in such a way that I have 2 weeks worth of documentation available to me. I document everything, bathroom visits (B), talking (T), off task (OT), etc. but I also document their daily participation. Once the 2-week period is up, I simply tally up their marks and enter 1 participation grade for a two-week period. I keep all records in a Participation folder and if needed they are great to have in a parent teacher meeting.
#4 – Projects
This is a tough one. I do have to take projects home at times but I try to keep it to a minimum. Don’t assign a large project every week or even a month in my opinion. You will bury yourself in extra work and students will complain that they have other projects in other classes as well. If you can assign something that can be graded on the spot, that’s even better at times. Simply put, it’s important to recognize when you are assigning too much or too little.
  #5 – Absent Students
            Inevitably you will have students out and in order to save time, I suggest that you put a bin somewhere in your room that covers Monday-Friday. As you assign work, put the extra copies in the bin to correspond to the day of the week it was handed out, and when students return to class they are responsible for collecting the missed handouts. I have an extra space for last week’s work, where I put all of the old handouts. It saves time and it puts the responsibility on the student, not the teacher. Parents seem to like that idea as well!

            To conclude, I think it important to note that my first year teaching was a 10-12 hour day, whether I had projects assigned or not. I also worked on weekends. It was a constant chore to keep my head above water and my entire existence seemed to be dictated by my job. You have to invest a tremendous amount of time if you want to be anything better than good. Strive to be excellent. Build a trusting and safe classroom environment. Get to know your students as people and celebrate the wins and losses of your lessons. Reflect daily on what you could have differently to have made the lesson better and remember that your classes are full of people who are more than just math, science, history and Spanish students. They are people who are growing up, exploring the world, dealing with issues at home and they may not always care about what you teach as passionately as you do. Show your students that you care about them more than your subject and you will probably get from them in the end. Take some class time to laugh and joke around and remember, build strategies and systems that will enable you to be free of work once you leave the building. If you can leave work at work, you just might make it to retirement. Good luck! And please feel free to email me if you’d like a copy of anything or have a question!  

Monday, August 17, 2015

Maintaining the Grades, By Caroline Simpson, Health and Physical Education Teacher, Wilson Central High School

     During the first few weeks some of you will grade assignments and immediately place the grade into the gradebook but as time goes on the system you started seems to grow weak. IEP meetings, PLC meetings, parent meetings, etc. all begin to take up your time that you set aside for grading and it seems to fall on the back burner. I have heard so many teachers talk about the amount of grades they need to input right before report cards go out! I am thinking to myself… “You are just now doing that?!?” It is important to keep up with your grades, not only on your hard copy but also in the computer system. I always shoot for getting my grades in by the end of each week and that is something I stuck by that really helped me. It have also heard the same teachers discuss how a parents continues to contact them to discuss a grade but they haven’t been able to plug in the new grades or make up work that student has completed. This can cause more of a headache compared to just taking time out every week to input the grades. If you student has made up work then input the new grade immediately (if you are at your computer) to keep you from losing it and also to give the student credit for making up the work. I am a high school teacher and sometime students could care less about make up work. When I have students coming in to complete their missed work I am excited to give them credit. We all know those parents that watch their child’s grades like a hawk and email you at the slightest sight of distress on their grade. Eliminate some stress on your part by creating a detailed gradebook and keeping it updated weekly.

     Another area you should add to your everyday routine is attendance. I also keep a hard copy of my classes’ attendance and it really helps when I accidentally hit the wrong button or count someone absent to correct. Another way I help with this problem is giving a form of assessment every day. That allows me to look back on that day’s assignment and see if the person I counted absent completed the assignment. In high school, our attendance plays a role in the student’s exam exemptions. This can create a lot of stress on teachers towards the end of each semester but if you have kept up with attendance electronically and on paper then it takes a lot of that stress away.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Maintaining the Gradebook, by Tammy Gose, Business Education Teacher, Wilson Central High School

Grading can be overwhelming.  I usually find that about now is when I start getting behind.  I know that we are just two weeks into school.  All the information, paperwork and assignments at the start of school keep teachers so busy that we can get behind from the start.  I usually need an entire weekend in August to catch up and get a good system down to help me throughout the year.
Students can also be overwhelmed with homework, tests, and projects.  I will be the first to admit that my 10th grader came home after the first week a little overwhelmed with all the class information and the fact that he had a test the next Tuesday.  It will only get more rigorous as the school year progresses for all of us.

Here are some tips/ strategies that have worked for me.  I hope they help you have a more smooth start to the school year.
  • Develop a clear criteria for what you want the student to learn and focus the work on these few things.  It seems if I can target the skills I would like them to achieve then I can grade it easier and quicker.  This also saves me time if I have specific things written out that I am grading although it does take a little time on the front end of an assignment.
  • Using Rubrics helps to target the work or standards that you want your students to achieve.  It also is a great guideline to make the grading process easier for teachers.  Before you panic, like I usually do, look on Rubi star, Pinterest, or Google for a rubric that fits your needs or could be adjusted to fit your assignments. 
  • Don’t over comment on papers that you grade.  I have made a list of short to-the-point comments that I keep with me when I grade.  I have even taken pictures of the lists with my phone so I will have it with me wherever I need it.  This has helped minimize students and parent complaints.  I tend to write too much therefore it helps keep me on task and get to the point without adding confusion or negativity for the student.
  • At the first of school and in my syllabus, I state my grading policy, procedure, and standards as clearly as possible to eliminate confusion or comparisons on the grades of returned papers. 
  • Try not to modify your rules about grading late work or missing assignments, this creates more issues for you to deal with later.  

Monday, August 10, 2015

Ways to Create a Productive Climate, by Katie Speiser, Special Education Teacher at Lakeview Elementary School

Every day as millions of students go to school, their parents and caretakers hope these young people will be treated with care, valued, inspired, and educated. Students hope they will get along with their peers and teachers, have their work measure up, and enjoy the process of learning. These hopes define positive classrooms for parents and students.
Unfortunately, the accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind have created a different definition of positive classrooms for many educators. For them, positive classrooms have come to mean places where students arrive at school ready to learn; work diligently to master academic standards (particularly math and reading); go home and accurately complete homework; and return to school the next day eager to learn more. Often, teachers are so focused on ensuring that students pass achievement tests that they have little or no time to address students' social and emotional needs.

1. Make Learning Relevant
Students are more engaged in learning and retain knowledge better when they see that it is relevant and vital to their own success and happiness. By discovering students' talents, learning styles, and interests, teachers can adjust teaching methods and strategies. By giving students a say in how the classroom operates, teachers increase students' sense of ownership in the education process.

2. Create a Classroom Code of Conduct
A positive and productive classroom requires a common understanding of positive and negative behaviors. To establish this understanding, teachers ask students to identify the ways they like to be treated. This discussion elicits lists of behaviors that are respectful, fair, kind, and empathetic. Together, teacher and students conclude that treating others the way you want to be treated is the best code of conduct, and they agree that this code will dictate the behaviors that are appropriate for their classroom.
3. Teach Positive Actions 
We need to teach students positive behaviors in a thorough, consistent, systematic way; we cannot assume that students just know them. The Positive Action curriculum covers the following concepts.
§  The importance of doing positive actions to feel good about yourself.
§  Positive actions for a healthy body (such as nutrition, exercise, and sleep).
§  Positive actions for the intellect (such as thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving skills).
§  Positive actions for self-management (such as managing time, energy, emotions, and other personal resources).
§  Positive actions for getting along with others (such as treating others fairly, kindly, and respectfully).
§  Positive actions for being honest with yourself and others (such as taking responsibility, admitting mistakes, and not blaming others).
§  Positive actions for improving yourself continually (such as setting and achieving goals).

4. Instill Intrinsic Motivation
People need to feel good about themselves. In the Positive Action program, teachers help students understand that people are likely to feel good about themselves when they engage in positive actions. The program explains a three-step process for choosing positive actions: First, we have a thought; second, we act consistently with the thought; third, we experience a feeling about ourselves based on the action. That feeling leads to another thought, and the cycle starts again. With practice, students learn that if they have a negative thought, they can change it to a positive one that will lead to a positive action and a positive feeling about themselves—a powerful intrinsic motivator.
With repeated reinforcement by the teacher, this simple explanation helps students understand and improve their behavior in any situation.

5. Reinforce Positive Behaviors
Teachers can strengthen intrinsic motivation by recognizing and positively reinforcing positive actions when they see them. Recognition activities and items—such as tokens, stickers, and certificates—can be effective. But when teachers or other staff use this strategy, it's important that they recognize the positive behavior, ask how it made the student feel, and tell the student the extrinsic reward is a reminder of that good feeling. When students make the connection between their performance and feeling good about themselves, intrinsic motivation is enhanced and positive behaviors continue.

6. Engage Positive Role Models
Families and community members are concerned about their children's welfare, often want to be engaged in their children's education, and have resources to offer. Educators can integrate them into many classroom and school activities, such as curriculum activities, assemblies, committees, after-school events, and homework.

 7. Always Be Positive
Perhaps the most important strategy, yet often the most difficult to carry out, is to be positive—from classrooms to playgrounds, during school and after. There is always a positive way to respond to a situation. A positive attitude is the change agent that will create positive classrooms and schools that produce happy and successful students.

A Research-Based Program
It is challenging to implement all of these seven strategies continuously and well. For schools looking for a tool, the Positive Action program is one proven approach. The program provides an easy-to-use curriculum for teachers at

each grade level; a principal component for developing school climate; and kits to facilitate the involvement of counselors, families, and communities.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Don't Sabotage Your Classroom Management

This article has some great pointers.  It's worth a read as you establish rules, procedures, and expectations for the new year!

10 Ways to Sabotage Your Classroom Management

Sunday, August 2, 2015

What's Your Story?

The day you decide to become a teacher, the story begins.  Each day is a new page in the chapters of your life as a teacher.  You'll have wonderful memories, deal with heartbreaking situations, and come home with plenty of funny and crazy stories.  Over the course of your career, you'll grow, learn, and reach milestones.  Much of this you'll forget, as one story replaces another and pages of the calendar tear away.

I encourage every teacher, whether this is your first year or your 15th, to start a diary.  Keep the notes of affirmation.  Write down the funny stories.  Record the memories while they are fresh.  When people say, "You could write a book with all those stories," you really can!!

So, in a nutshell, here's my story....

When did I know I wanted to be a teacher?  Truthfully, I can't remember a time I didn't want to!  I was THAT kid...the one who played school with my dolls, who made a grade book out of a baseball score book, who took extra mimeograph sheets out of the trashcan, and who begged to take home discarded books and workbooks.  Being a teacher was in my blood since the day I first walked into a classroom.

After high school, I headed to MTSU and sat with the group of freshmen who didn't know what to major in.  An adviser took me aside and asked me what I wanted to do with my life.  "I want to be a teacher!" I exclaimed.  When he asked me what I wanted to teach, I said "I don't know; math I guess."  And so I became a math major, while also picking up a major in English.

After college, I married and moved to Fort Campbell.  My first year of teaching consisted of substituting, a month-long math interim in a classroom that was multiple rooms of a converted hospital.  I literally could not see the kids from one end to the other because of the protruding walls, and the students had to come to the 3rd room to watch examples, because it was the only room with a chalkboard.  After that interim, I taught a kindergarten class for a semester.  We had a double shift, with one group from 9-12 and another from 1-4.  No discipline problems existed on the base.  If a child misbehaved, the teacher would call the daddy's BOSS.  Kids who kept getting in trouble were kicked out and sent to public schools off base.

A year after my introduction into the profession, circumstances brought me back to my hometown and Alma mater of Mt. Juliet.  I was hired to teach senior English, Algebra 1, and Algebra 2 on a 6-period day.  I was handed 4 teachers' editions, shown to my room, and left to figure it out.  Seniors were allowed to leave after 5th period back then, and my 5th period happened to be a class of 28 senior boys.  I was 21, and I had a student who was 20!  Another interesting thing is that we had a smoking area for students.  A few years into my career, I taught the Drama class.  One of my students was doing a soliloquy of  a soldier, and the principal allowed him to bring his rifle as a prop, as long as he left it in my classroom all day and didn't carry it around in the hallway.  Boy, times have changed, haven't they?!!

A short time later....I realized I'd been teaching for THIRTY years!  Where did the time go?  And why didn't I start that journal my first year?  I sure wish I had, and I hope YOU will.

I hope everyone reading this has a WONDERFUL year this year.  If you are a first-year teacher, you will not be given books and then left alone in a room.  You'll have a strong support system to help make your first year amazing.  Reach out for help if you need it, and accept any help that's offered to you.  This will be a GREAT year!

Candis Angle

P.S.  If you've read this far....what's YOUR story?  Comment and tell us about your journey, whether it's and oldie-but-goodie or whether it has just begun.