August 31, 2015

Teacher Week - 5 Fun Facts About Me!

I'm a little late tonight, but I'm still really excited to be joining in Teacher Week 2015!
Blog Hoppin' is hosting this fun, week long linky party.
I can't wait to get to know some new teacher bloggers.

 But first, here are 5 fun (and random) facts about me!
I have four kids of my own.
Jonathan (19) is a sophomore at Austin Peay State University majoring in Physics AND math!
Sammy (18) just started a special transition to work program for students with disabilities and is hoping to find full-time employment.
Derek (10) is in fifth grade - which means he has ME as his science teacher. What a challenge that is turning out to be - for both of us.
Abbie (7) is in second grade and is the reason I refused to marry my husband (at first). Hahaha!

I have 98 fifth grade students.
I teach science/STEM to four homeroom classes at my school and see all fifth grade students throughout the day.

I have an amazing husband (who acts about 12 most of the time) who I have been married to for four years.

And I hate kids.
I start every year introducing myself to my class and sharing this fact.
Every year I get the same response...
Students want to know WHY I'm a teacher.
They remind me I have kids of my own.
Then I clarify my statement.
I am NOT one of those awesomely cute and cheery kindergarten teachers who can be patient with kids as they learn the rules of school.
I like my kids older.
Fifth grade is perfect for me.
Once they hit age 10 I like kids.
So, Abbie has three years to go.

I get so nervous in a crowd.
I worry about what other people might think about me.
I hate parties because I never know what to say.
I avoid conversations with strangers like the plague.
BUT, when I stand in front of my fifth graders, I put on the best performance of my life.
They don't scare me - too much.
I have to make a conscious effort to push myself out of my comfort zone. (not easy)

My husband is a HUGE football fan.
I even bought him tickets to a Giants game last year.
Don't get me wrong, I had a great time with him.
But I didn't really understand what was going on and really I just liked wearing the cute hat and jersey and posing for pictures.
Our Superbowl parties are for HIM to watch the game and for ME to watch the commercials.

I used to like shopping. I'd go window shopping or actual shopping. I hung out at the mall even as an adult. Then something happened. I got tired. By the time I get home from school each day, it is all I can do to spend a little time with the family before passing out on the couch. Wearing real clothes and driving to a store? Not happening. If I want something now, I search Amazon. While laying on the couch. In my pajamas. And if I MUST go to the store? Let's just say luckily it's acceptable to shop in your pajamas at Walmart. I just hope I don't get caught on camera...

I set so many goals for myself about eating healthier and working out and losing weight.
I make excuses about how the medicines I take make it hard to lose weight and that I rarely have time to eat at regular intervals so I'm starving when I get home. But the truth is that I LOVE SWEETS so much and I can't seem to control myself around them. Especially baked goods. Has anyone ever eaten a Double Doozie from The American Cookie Company? Heaven!!!

And that's it, folks!
Five facts about me.
Now, tell me about YOU!

August 23, 2015

10 things I wish I had known before I started teaching...

When I graduated in 2006 and started looking for my first teaching job, I had no real understanding of what was required of a teacher. Oh, I could rattle off a bunch of buzz words and "talk a good game", but until I actually got into my first classroom and started teaching I had NO CLUE. 
10 things I wish I had known: I really wish someone had given me these words of advice before I started teaching. It wasn’t until I actually got into my first classroom and started teaching that I realized I had NO CLUE what it meant to be a teacher.
It seemed like all the other teachers had it together, and I was the only one scrambling day after day to stay above water. I felt like everything I had learned in college had been a waste of time. Great in theory, but totally useless in the real world!
Did anyone else feel this way? 
Surely I can't be the only one...
10 things I wish I had known: I really wish someone had given me these words of advice before I started teaching. It wasn’t until I actually got into my first classroom and started teaching that I realized I had NO CLUE what it meant to be a teacher.
So as I begin my 10th year of teaching,
(wow, I had to count it out on my fingers to be sure) 
I've been trying to think of all of the things I wish I had known my first year.

NUMBER 1
You can't do it all.
Period.
10 things I wish I had known: I really wish someone had given me these words of advice before I started teaching. It wasn’t until I actually got into my first classroom and started teaching that I realized I had NO CLUE what it meant to be a teacher.
You've GOT to take some time to prioritize what you can/want to accomplish. 
My first year I signed up for every volunteer event, helped on numerous committees, created most of my lessons from scratch, gave cute little gifts to my students for every national and obscure holiday, called parents daily, rearranged the seating charts every month, and NEVER SLEPT.
A person can't keep going like that.
Physically, mentally, or emotionally.

NUMBER 2
Your "planning time" isn't really yours.
It's really a time for meetings with administration, parents, and other teachers.
You're lucky if you get a few minutes to use the bathroom!
And on the rare occasion that you don't have something scheduled, something will come up making it impossible to get anything done on your to-do list.
10 things I wish I had known: I really wish someone had given me these words of advice before I started teaching. It wasn’t until I actually got into my first classroom and started teaching that I realized I had NO CLUE what it meant to be a teacher.

NUMBER 3
Student teaching is pretty much NOTHING like having your own classroom!
10 things I wish I had known: I really wish someone had given me these words of advice before I started teaching. It wasn’t until I actually got into my first classroom and started teaching that I realized I had NO CLUE what it meant to be a teacher.
Day one I welcomed my students into the room and felt panic rising to my chest as I realized that I had to figure out what to do with them for the entire day and had NO ONE ELSE to pick up the slack! Nobody gave me any guidelines for what to do and when. What worked in my student teaching placement didn't work with this new set of kids. 

NUMBER 4
Planning is important, but be prepared to change your your plans more often than not.
I was terrible at guessing how long an activity or lesson would take. I would end up with too much time left over or not nearly enough time to get what I needed done.
This takes practice and experience. There is no way around it. 
10 things I wish I had known: I really wish someone had given me these words of advice before I started teaching. It wasn’t until I actually got into my first classroom and started teaching that I realized I had NO CLUE what it meant to be a teacher.
It used to take me 8-10 hours to plan my week. Sometimes more.
I STILL over plan to be sure I use each and every possible teaching minute productively, but I also realize that most of my plans will be put off to the next day/week depending on how that first day goes.

NUMBER 5
Find other teachers who you admire and ask them for advice.
Someone once told me that the best way to make a friend is to ask a person for a small favor.
It breaks the ice and lets them feel helpful.
And who knows?
You just might learn a few useful tricks!
10 things I wish I had known: I really wish someone had given me these words of advice before I started teaching. It wasn’t until I actually got into my first classroom and started teaching that I realized I had NO CLUE what it meant to be a teacher.

But remember, YOU have ideas and experiences to share as well. Don't be afraid to share and collaborate with others.

NUMBER 6
Students do not instinctively know how to do things. 
It is VERY important to explicitly teach and model the routines and procedures you want in your classroom. This needs to include all those little things you don't often think about because they seem obvious to an adult.
TEACH THEM EVERYTHING.
I promise that it will save you time, energy, and your sanity.
10 things I wish I had known: I really wish someone had given me these words of advice before I started teaching. It wasn’t until I actually got into my first classroom and started teaching that I realized I had NO CLUE what it meant to be a teacher.

NUMBER 7
Talk less.
I still struggle with this one.
But kids need to express their ideas, collaborate and struggle a bit, think for themselves.
During a typical period, I try to keep my talking time to a minimum.
Yes, there are days when it's gonna be a straight lecture/take notes type of day.
But those are my least favorite lessons.
The kids are less engaged. And I get bored.
10 things I wish I had known: I really wish someone had given me these words of advice before I started teaching. It wasn’t until I actually got into my first classroom and started teaching that I realized I had NO CLUE what it meant to be a teacher.
Give your students a challenge or even the opportunity to construct knowledge on their own.
You should act as the facilitator as they work together to build their understanding during hands-on activities related to the content you want them to learn.
Let the students teach each other!

NUMBER 8
Be kind but firm.
I always wanted to make sure the students liked me. I would give chance after chance after chance until I was so frustrated that I lost my temper and started yelling.
10 things I wish I had known: I really wish someone had given me these words of advice before I started teaching. It wasn’t until I actually got into my first classroom and started teaching that I realized I had NO CLUE what it meant to be a teacher.
I really HATE being "that teacher".
I learned that setting clear expectations and having specific and consistent consequences led to much better behavior overall. And less yelling.

NUMBER 9
You'll never be able to live on a teaching salary alone.
At least independently.
10 things I wish I had known: I really wish someone had given me these words of advice before I started teaching. It wasn’t until I actually got into my first classroom and started teaching that I realized I had NO CLUE what it meant to be a teacher.
Plan to have a second source of income.
You'll need it to support your growing addiction to school supplies and classroom decorations.
I used to work at summer camps until my own kids got older.
Now I teach pottery classes and sell on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Or marry someone rich. (I'm just sayin'.)

NUMBER 10
Give yourself a break.
Nobody is perfect.
10 things I wish I had known: I really wish someone had given me these words of advice before I started teaching. It wasn’t until I actually got into my first classroom and started teaching that I realized I had NO CLUE what it meant to be a teacher.
Teaching is really hard.
You will learn, grow and improve.
But there will always be another chance.
Another lesson.
Another student.

What else do you wish YOU had known when you first started teaching?

August 6, 2015

MY take on "The Best Teacher Tips"

I recently came across a blog post by Matt at Digital Divide & Conquer that gave some funny (yet insightful) tips for surviving another year of teaching. It inspired me, so I've decided to get caught up on blogging (I've been totally swamped with back to school preparation) and document my own goals based on his list. Here goes...

 Stay Out of the Teacher's Lounge
Why is this important? 
According to Matt, there's a gravitational pull dragging you toward the food.
At my school?

POTLUCKS
TEACHER APPRECIATION
PTO SWEETS WEEK
PARTNERS IN EDUCATION LUNCHES
EXTRAS FROM CLASS PARTIES
BIRTHDAY TREATS

Um, yeah. It's a problem.
I always have the best of intentions, but then I see the food and I'm sucked in.

Find Your Niche
Matt says it's important to find how you can help others to make yourself a valuable resource.
At my school, I have been asked to be the team leader for the third year in a row. I don't really mind, since I have THE MOST AWESOME fifth grade team EVER! Each of us has a set of unique skills that allows us to contribute to the group. We had a meeting the other day and before I really even had to delegate tasks to the group, each teacher already kind of knew what they would be best at.
 We have Theresa (A.K.A. The Power Point Wizard) - She  can throw together a fun PowerPoint in no time flat. It took me until two months ago to actually learn how to use PowerPoint. Seriously. She's currently working on our First Day Procedures Powerpoint. It's super cute and will really be a help as we review everything students need to know for fifth grade.
We have Paula (A.K.A. Newsletter Blurbs Editor) - She did such a great job putting together our monthly newsletters last year that it was a no brainer to ask her to do so again! She is awesome at remembering to type it up, get it printed, and file it in the office. I tend to forget it's even a new month! Hahahaha!
 
We have Cynthia (A.K.A. Field Trip Specialist) - She may not LIKE the hassle of organizing field trips, but she sees the value in taking kids on valuable learning experiences outside of the classroom. She already has an idea for visiting Fort Donelson in October. Whoo hoo!
 
And then there's me (A.K.A. Queen of Schedules) - Sure, I'm creative. 
I know how to "pretty things up" when it comes to making a nice handout. I can take decent pictures. 
I also have a lot of ideas to integrate technology. I'm helpful. I'm rather O.C.D. as well. 
Which leads to my most valuable contribution to our team.

I make schedules. 
Lots and lots and LOTS of schedules.

Because we rotate students through all of our rooms, anytime there is a delay, early release, assembly, special guest, pictures day, standardized testing, or change in temperature (kidding) I have to change our schedules around so no one completely loses instructional time with a class.

Be Switzerland
Matt says to stay out of workplace conflict.
My motto?
Not my circus, not my monkeys.
While I am certainly friendly at school, when someone wants to pull me into their negativity I try my best to stay out of it. This year I'm also going to try my best NOT to air my own frustrations.

Leave School Emails at School 
Last year I struggled with this. I had my emails sent to my phone and I would end up reading them all evening. This was especially bad when it was a complaint from a parent. It would upset me and I would be unable to relax. Finally I removed my work email from my phone. That helped. Doing it again this year.At the end of the day, I'm done. Until 6:00 the next morning.


 Read A Professional Development Book That Interests You
Matt says that CHOOSING a professional development book will interest you more than being forced to read one by an administrator. Last year at our school we did a book study on Explicit Direct Instruction. I admit to dreading having to read each chapter by a deadline. I'm planning to read something of my own choosing this year. Something that I think will specifically help ME in MY classroom. Now to find a good book...
In addition to reading something that will help me in my classroom, I plan to try to read at least one book each nine weeks FOR PLEASURE alone. Just something I'm interested in reading.

Join/Start An Online Group for Educators
 DONE!
Wow, it feels good to know I've already completed one thing on the list!
I spent the summer trying to connect with other teachers online through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It is AMAZING how much I have learned. And I feel like I have a place to go for help when I can't seem to figure something out. 

 Figure Out What Candy Your Teammates Like
 Again, DONE.
Theresa - Tootsie Rolls
Paula - Dark Chocolate
Cynthia - Skittles
Better yet, find out your colleagues' favorite beverage (non-alchoholic, of course). 
Theresa - Diet Coke
Paula - Coke
Cynthia - Sprite
Yeah, we aren't coffee drinkers. Crazy, right?
In addition, I also keep a bottle of TUMS in my drawer. 
Sometimes sugar and caffeine just can't solve the problem.

Put Together a Survival Kit
 Matt cautions us to prepare for "all those little things that you don't know when you'll need".
My survival kit has snacks, TUMS, Advil, chap-stick, facial powder, lotion, band-aids, contact solution, an extra set of shoes, a light jacket, feminine products, and a nail file.
I'm sure there will still be something else I need at one point, but at least I feel like I'm on the right track.

If You Wear White, Skip Coffee That Day
 Um, I avoid wearing white ALL days. 
I'm too clumsy and I end up with something on my clothes every day!
Well, at least it's not THAT bad.

Always Have a Set of Back-Up Clothes
 Matt suggests that an extra set of clothes is necessary. I've never done this. I have an extra sweater in case I get cold or I forget my jacket on a colder day. But I've never had enough of a problem that I required a complete change of clothes. BUT, I have a friend who LITERALLY split her pants at the beginning of the day and had to rush back home for a new pair during school. Not cool. So maybe there is something to this. One thing I always do is bring a set of comfortable flats on days I dare to wear a pair of cute high heels. Yeah, what am I thinking wearing heels to school?!? They may be cute, but they are NOT comfortable. But sometimes I can't help but wear them to complete my outfit!
No, I do NOT always dress as Ms. Frizzle. Just on Book Character Day.

Be Nice or Do Something Nice For Someone
It's the golden rule.
Treat others the way you'd like to be treated.
Who doesn't want to hear a nice compliment, get a little surprise, or have some help on a rough day?
Try it.
I tend to be pretty shy. It makes me seem stand-offish. When I walk into a room, I worry that I won't have someone to sit next to. Silly, I know. But I bet there are others who feel the same way. I'm planning to start more conversations. Offer more smiles. Show more kindness. And if someone asks for volunteers, I will do whatever I can.
As long as it doesn't involve singing. :)

Go Home
It seems simple, but we all know it isn't.
There is always one more quiz to grade. One more email to respond to. One more paper to file. One more lesson to plan. One more phone call to make.
Well, I am determined to do better this year. 
We have staff meetings on Thursday afternoons. Other than that day, I plan to head out the door within 30 minutes after dismissal. Even if I have to "sneak" passed a few rooms so I don't get pulled into a long discussion.

I really AM glad that I came across Matt's post. It made me reflect on how I can better survive the year without going crazy. His list of tips gave me a starting point. A way to help manage the many challenges of being a teacher. I really wish I had read it back when I started teaching 9 years ago. It would have saved me a lot of sleepless nights.

So, what tips do YOU have for surviving this school year without losing your mind?
I'd love to add them to my list. :)

P.S. I have to confess that Matt's blog post had the funniest animated GIFs with each of his tips, so I decided to try the same thing on my blog. It was fun! Hope you enjoyed them.