Quote of the Week

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

Friday, May 13, 2016

Pictures to Inspire Your Summer!

Summer Break: Recharge, Reflect, Refine By Frankie Dunklin, History Teacher at Lebanon High School

Teachers probably look forward to summer break as much as, or more than, students. When I started teaching, my first summer break was an amazing experience. I found time to take up some new hobbies; I relaxed a lot and spent lots of time outside in the sunshine. But I soon realized that my summer was about more than just relaxation. I found myself reflecting on the previous school year. I thought about my students and wondered how they were spending their summer. I reflected on good lessons and on some that were not so perfect. I soon realized that my summer was about more than just me… it was about my future students. Yes, I needed to ‘recharge my batteries’ because that is also an important part of preparing for the new school year, but I also realized that I needed to get to work. I began thinking about things I could do that would make my life easier when school started back in the fall. Since that first summer break, I have always dedicated time in the summer to my classroom, my lessons, and my future students. It may sound crazy, but over the years this preparation has helped me prepare mentally as well as physically for the upcoming year. It helps me “get my game face on” and feel confident when school starts back. Listed below are some of the things I do over the summer to help prepare for the new school year:

·         At the end of the school year I typically take down bulletin boards (with student help) and redo them for the next year. It’s easier to do this with student help and students love to do it on those last few days near the end of the school year. I also typically get students to help me organize textbooks and take them to storage, so I don’t have to move 85-100 large textbooks by myself over the summer.

·         Also, before the end of the school year, I start getting paperwork (syllabus) ready for the upcoming year. It never fails that the copy machine is broken or mobbed by teachers at the start of a new year. The more copies I can make at the end of the year, the less stress I have at the beginning of the new school year. It’s also a great way to use any allotted copies you have left at the end of the year. If you are out of copies, ask other departments if they have any you can use. Most of the time they are willing to share.

·         I start by taking a few days over the summer to clean and organize my classroom. Usually, by the end of the school year, my classroom needs a good cleaning. It is best to do this AFTER the janitors have cleaned and waxed the floors. That way you can rearrange the furniture and put the student desks back the way you want them. I always feel sorry for the teachers who wait until the new school year to complete this task. Every teacher should know our first days back to work after summer break are filled with meetings, and you are rarely in your classroom. By getting my classroom cleaned and organized, that is one less thing I have to worry about when we officially report back to work. Plus, first impressions are important. If your classroom looks nice on the first day of class, your students will know you mean business in the classroom. If you do not work at a school where you are given keys to the building (or they are taken up over the summer), you can typically access the building during the weekday. I know my school generally has summer hours for teachers/staff/parents/students to gain access to the building. 

·         I always take home my teacher textbook or lesson planning materials. I like to use the summer to plan and perfect lessons. I typically get at least the lessons for the first week or two planned over the break, and then I spend some time polishing up lessons that maybe didn’t work so well during the year. This is a great time to compile additional materials, make PowerPoints, generate handouts, create graphic organizers, and plan group activities. It also helps keep your mind on your content area, and it helps you to focus on how you taught lessons throughout the year.

·         If you use technology a lot in your class you might want to invest in a flash drive or an external hard drive. It makes transporting your saved electronic copies much easier. You can also use Google Drive with your school Gmail account. I like having copies backed up to multiple places so I save my materials on an external hard drive.  I purchased mine from Best Buy, but you can probably find them on Amazon.com at Walmart.

·         I recommend dedicating some of your summer break to attending in-services. You are required to complete a certain amount of in-service hours each year. Summer is a great time to complete those mandatory hours. You should start thinking about what you want to attend in the spring of the year and make sure you sign up though My Benefits Channel. If you are not sure about how to do this, ask a neighboring teacher. Also, consider teaming up with a friend. In-services are more fun when you go with someone you know from your school. Plus, you can talk about how to implement what you learned at your school.

·         I also spend time in the summer gathering supplies that I know I will need for the new school year. Summer is a great time to pick up inexpensive school supplies or visit yard sales for unique classroom items. Over the years I have found inexpensive tables, rugs, classroom d├ęcor, and other items at thrift stores and yard sales for my classroom. Big chain stores typically start putting out school supplies after the July 4th holiday. I generally purchase pencils, color pencils, folders, loose paper, etc. during this time. Most stores have great deals and it saves me money in the long run. Some teachers only use their school-allotted BEP money to supply their classroom, and that is ok. I do too, but I can’t pass up a good deal. Most of the time you will find students who need a few extra supplies, and it is nice to have the supplies for when you need them.

·         Listed below are supplies/items I can’t live without in my classroom. You may already have these items. If you don’t I would suggest you consider getting them.

o   Duct Tape: Do I really need to explain this? It fixes a multitude of things. I have used it to repair backpacks, holes in jeans, book covers, and much more.
o   Clorox Wipes and/or Clorox Spray: I use this for cleaning desks and other classroom messes.
o   Paper Towels: Ask the janitor for a roll of paper towels.
o   Magic Eraser: They make great white-board erasers and clean anything!
o   Small Sewing Kit: It never fails that I use this at least once a year for buttons or tears in a child’s clothing.
o   Small Tool Kit: Place these items in a secure location because students certainly do not need access to them. You can place lots of useful items in your tool kit like zip ties (for computer cords), duct tape, pliers, and anything else you might need for basic classroom maintenance. I have a screw driver in my desk. I have used the screwdriver many times for putting together desk organizers, unjamming lockers, and repairing broken staplers and hole-punches. It’s almost as handy as duct tape!
o   Shout Wipes: They can be good to have around for you and your students. They once helped me avert a melt-down from a new student who had ketchup splattered all over his new shoes and back-pack. They certainly made a difference in his life that day. He was spared the teenage-induced embarrassment of wearing ketchup for the rest of the day.
o   Plastic Spoons and Forks: You never know when you or someone else might need a spoon or fork…. It can make or break your day.
o   Sharpie Markers: I have Sharpies in black ink and in silver ink. Use these to write your name on everything. Otherwise items may ‘walk off’ and end up in other classrooms.
o   Tissues: I have a personal stash and tissues for Students.
o   Feminine Hygiene Products: If you have Middle or High School students (and you are comfortable with dispensing them out), feminine hygiene products are usually needed at some point. I know some teachers might be uncomfortable with this, but I try to keep a stash for when my female students need them. The school nurse generally has some, but she runs out occasionally. Plus, it’s easier for students to get them from you. Walking to the nurse can waste class time, and the nurse isn’t always in her office.
o   Electrical Tape: I use this for dividing white boards into sections (bell work, objectives, etc.).
o   Plastic Bins: I use these for work to be returned and distributed back to students.
o   Command Strips and/or Magic Mounts: Sometimes I use command strips for hanging posters. They can be expensive, so I also use “Magic Removable Mounts”. I find them at Office Max and they are wonderful. They do not tear your posters, and they do not remove paint or harm the walls when you take down posters.
o   Command Strip Hooks: I use them to hang my coat in the winter, and I use the smaller ones for hanging hall passes and clip boards (seating chart) near my desk. Hanging your seating chart by your desk makes it easy for substitutes to find it when you are absent from work.
o   Wrapping Paper: You can use inexpensive gift-wrapping paper for bulletin boards. It’s easy to store and easy to put on the bulletin board because it’s on a roll. I prefer it to using fabric because you can just take it down at the end of the year and throw it away or recycle the paper. Some people use fabric, but I have found that fabric can be expensive. You can find wrapping paper at the Dollar Store for a few dollars a roll.
o   Storage Cubes: I have used storage cubes to house classroom folders. They are inexpensive, and students like being able to leave their folders in the classroom. I have used school funds to buy student folders, so every student has an assigned and numbered folder. It keeps papers from getting lost and is a great portfolio to track student growth. You can use the folders at Parent-Teacher Conferences to show examples of student work.  If you decide to have students keep a ‘notebook’, they would be much easier to take home and grade.
o   Hanging Shoe Storage: I use these for cell phone storage during class. I give extra credit to students who place their phones in their assigned and numbered pocket. You can email me if you want further details on how I do this in class.
o   Milk Crates: I have used these to house a class set of textbooks.
o   Sandals: In the past I have also kept sandals under my desk. This might sound silly, but after being on your feet all day it can be nice to have something comfortable to put on your feet while you work at your desk. This is especially useful after wearing new shoes or heals to work.
Finally, take time over the summer for yourself. Take a vacation, get a massage, go to the beach… do something just for you because you deserve it! Pat yourself on the back because you survived another year in the classroom! If you don’t ‘recharge your batteries’ you are not only hurting yourself, but you are also doing your students an injustice. They deserve to have you at your best, so take time over the summer to make sure you can give them your best.  

Best of luck!!!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Congratulations to All First Year Teachers! By Rachel Walton, 3rd grade teacher at W.A. Wright Elementary

You did it! You have completed your first year of educating young minds. Congratulations! I hope you can look back at your first year and find lots of positives and shining moments. It is far too easy to dwell on the things that didn’t go quite so well, but it is important you give yourself credit for the things you did well.  I don’t know many of you, most in fact, but I know YOU made a difference in a child’s life this year. That is an amazing feeling, isn’t it?

I bet you learned a lot this year… probably some things you didn’t expect to learn. For instance, you might have learned that many students can’t remember much of what they learned prior to coming to your classroom, lots of acronyms used for various things in the teaching profession, how long you can go without taking a restroom break, or even how to keep a straight face in a serious situation when you really want to laugh. Above all, I hope you learned that teaching is a profession where you don’t start out knowing it all. It is a profession that is constantly evolving… we get better at it and know more about it the longer we do it.

I hope you were able to ask lots of questions this year and continue to do so. It shows your dedication and your interest in improving as a teacher. I’d like to think my mentee has learned a lot from me this year, but I would be willing to bet I have learned just as much from her. I was able to use ideas that I “borrowed” while observing her in my own classroom. Keep searching for the ideas and strategies that work for you and your classroom. There isn’t “one way” to be a great teacher. Explore the cool strategies and techniques you are interested in; try a few each year, but don’t feel that you have to do it all at once! Keep asking questions, keep searching for the best methods for you.

I would like to take this opportunity to share a quick story with you: At the end of my first year (before we started the current evaluation system…), my assistant principal asked me to reflect on the year and write down a few ideas of what I would like to improve upon the following year. I had a few days before we had to meet and I worked hard on my list giving it a lot of time and effort. I showed up to the meeting as confident as possible. I handed her my list and she sat for a moment staring at the paper… she looked up at me with tears rolling down her cheeks as she laughed uncontrollably. I was SO nervous I started to panic… what had I done wrong? Well, as it turns out, she wasn’t looking for my list of 37 things I wanted to do better, she was looking for ONE thing I could really focus on. How embarrassing, right? It was one of the MOST valuable lessons I learned that year. Choose one (or two) things to work on each year. I chose parent communication and am proud to say it is one of my strong areas at this point in my career. It took me a few years to get there, but I am finally there with the help of my fellow teachers and administrators.

Enjoy your time off this summer, but also spend some time reflecting! What was great this year that you definitely want to repeat next year? What didn’t work that you want to improve upon? (Ask other teachers for ideas!) What cool technology did you hear about but never had time to implement? Did you find a good balance between professional/personal times? Look for professional development that you are truly interested in. Read a book about an area of teaching you want to learn more about.

Great teachers are always learning and finding ways to improve their craft. Just remember you are not alone; even seasoned teachers have to work on and refine their skills each year.

Make it a goal to be a better teacher next year, and the year after that, and so on!

Again, congratulations on completing your first year of teaching. See you next year!

Monday, May 2, 2016

When it’s Your Time to Lead, by Juanita Howell, Math Teacher at Carroll Oakland

You have worked so hard to get to this point.  You have dreamed of having your own classroom and it is finally here. Then you suddenly realize…..What am I supposed to do now?  What have I gotten myself into?   We have all been there and no one said it was going to be easy.  Three things that have helped me were to plan, practice, and remember to have fun.  This is your dream and you can do this!

When it’s your time to lead, plan and over plan your lessons.  There is nothing worse than a classroom full of students staring at you with nothing to do. This can lead to behavior problems because of extra time. Make sure you have planned your lesson out in which you have plenty of activities to keep the students engaged and plenty of practice to evaluate the students.  Even have a backup plan for “just in case”. Things will happen and you have to be prepared.   Technology may not work, the copy machine may be down, or students are just grasping the concept easily and are ready to move on.  You never know and you have to make sure you are prepared for anything!

I have always heard that ‘practice makes perfect’ and I truly believe that.  After planning a great lesson, practice what you are going to say or do.  As you practice what the lesson will be like, this will helps you identify problems that will occur during the lesson. Make sure that there is variety of ways to present your lesson to accommodate the diverse learners.  Variation in your tone will help keep the students engaged.

When it is your time to lead, remember to have fun.  If you are having fun teaching the lesson, then there is a good chance that the students are having fun while learning.  Just because the students are having fun does not mean that the students are not learning.  This shows the students that you enjoy what you do.  I am not saying that it will always be all sunshine and rainbows.  I am saying that if you have a passion for what you do, then it will keep the bad days to a minimum.

Just remember, Love your students above all else and remember they are the reason we do what we do every day.  If we make the learning meaningful and fun for them then they will have the passion to keep going and not give up.