Wednesday, July 27, 2016

10 Things You Never Knew About Your Teacher

Being a teacher most definitely has its ups and downs. It's tough, yet rewarding at the same time. Like many other professions, it's hard to understand until you're actually in it. As an experienced teacher, (yes, I can officially say that!) I've encountered a lot of emotions throughout the years. In those eight years of teaching, I've taught in five different schools, planned and taught too many different courses to count, completed my Master of Education degree, got married, had a the end of the day, this gal is wiped! I came up with this blog idea a long, long time ago, but like many things, I had so many things on the go that I never got a chance to officially get all of my thoughts down. Phew! It's done.

10 Things You Never Knew About Your Teacher - The Classroom Sparrow
Here are a few things that I bet you never knew about teachers:
  • We are workaholics: Our work day does not end when the clock strikes 3:30 p.m. Teachers continually log hours at home, in the evenings, during both the week and on the weekends. The next school days' plans are always on our minds. We work day and night at planning, designing, creating and ultimately reflecting. Our work never ends!
  • We have feelings: Teachers are caring by nature. We become attached to our students. We are happy for them when they share good news and we are sad for them when they share bad news. We worry about them when they are absent. We are concerned about them when they are sick. We truly care about them like they are our own. 
  • We lose sleep: Whether it's a problem that arose in class that day, a negative interactive with a colleague or parent, a lesson that didn't go as planned, a poor observation, or students in general, we have a tendency to replay these events at night, while trying to sleep. I lost the most sleep at night during the first few years of my career (teachers, I bet you can relate!) I came up with the best ideas....unfortunately, at 3:23 a.m.
  • We need to have a sense of humor: Classrooms are like a stage and we have to preform to an audience, every day. If we got hung up on every mistake or every blunder that were to occur, we would go insane. For this reason, teachers have to maintain a sense of humor. Laughing at ourselves is the best way to move on and try again. 
  • We have thought about quitting: Many teachers, in the first few years or even later, have thought about quitting their job. We have wanted to walk out that door and never return again. However, we love our job, we love our students and we don't want to give up on them. 
  • We break rules, sometimes: No food in the classroom? No cell phones allowed? Yeah, sometimes teacher break their own rules. It happens. These Classroom Meme Posters are a must for my classroom this year!
(I wish I was kidding!)
  • We are stressed: Teaching is a very stressful job. This may be hard to understand if you've never been in our shoes. We have demands from our administrators, students and students' parents. We have standardized testing that heavily reflects on our teaching abilities. We have professional development and evaluations that we have to worry about each year. It's more nerve-wracking than anyone can believe. If you're having one of "those days" (basically any job that has human interaction) you may enjoy some of the things that I have been pinning to my Words of Wisdom/Funny Stuff board.
  • We don't always LOVE our content: Many teachers do not feel warm and fuzzy about everything that we teach. But we understand that if we show that we are not interested, then we cannot expect our students to be interested. 
  • We are not in it for the money: Some school districts pay very well (enough to not have to live paycheck by paycheck that is), while others do not. So, while we are all doing the same job, some of us are being compensated more than others. It's those teachers in particular, the ones that are not making the money that they warrant,  truly deserve the award for loving their job. If they did not love it, they would NOT be there.
  • We are more than just teachers: Teachers have a variety of roles and wear many hats on a daily basis.We are role models. We are counselors. We are leaders, just to name a few. We are whatever that situation insists we be, on that particular day.
Regardless of your teaching experience, I can bet you can related to at least a few, if not all, of the above. Those who are not teachers, I hope this shed some light on your previous teachers or those you may know who are currently in the profession. Even the slightest kindhearted gesture can light up a teachers day, no matter how rough it may have been! Try it, you'll be remembered for it! :)

Teachers, what else can you add to this list?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Teachers: What They Actually Do on Their Summer Vacation

Summer Vacation: Two of the sweetest words both a student and teacher can hear. Both need a break and while it may be for different reasons, the summer break helps all of us to refresh and recharge. Every school year has its ups and downs, its frustrating moments, and its rewards. We have to face new students, new colleagues, new administration, new school-wide initiatives (because last years weren't enough!) and new evaluations. A day in the life of a teacher, whether you are an elementary or high school teacher, is both exciting and stressful. No two days are the same and just when you think you've got it figured out and things are going smooth, BAM! The 3:30 bell couldn't come soon enough!
Most people think that teachers have the easiest job ever. We draw and color all day. We hang out and watch movies. We get days off for every holiday. Oh, and we get the entire summer off to do nothing, but sit around at the beach or at a pool, sipping on a refreshing beverage and basking in the sun rays, for a solid two months. Really? I wish! (Okay, maybe a few weeks of our holiday looks like that...)


1. Celebrate: It is essential that teachers celebrate the end of another successful school year. Whether it is lunch with friends, cocktails by the pool or BBQ's with our neighbors, we all need to take time to sit back, relax and enjoy life (necessary in every profession). Cheers!

2. Relax: Turn off the alarm and pull down the shades. Sleep past 6:00 a.m. It's okay! Now is the time to stay in bed a little longer, take afternoon naps, and just let your mind relax. Nobody understands the 24/7 working mind of a teacher, like a teacher. I can't count how many times I've woken up in the middle of the night with a new lesson idea for my students. I grab my phone, write down my idea, and (hopefully) fall right back asleep.

3. Organize: Think labels, seating charts, wall charts, planners, binders, bulletin boards, posters, etc. CLICK HERE for the link to some cute decorating ideas that I've been pinning!

4. Pinterest: Come the middle of summer, teachers find themselves browsing more frequently for new classroom organization ideas, new ways to incorporate technology into their lessons, new classroom management tips and tricks, and new lessons and activities for their classes (hello, Teachers Pay Teachers) Life saver! We could spend days browsing and pinning, while imagining all of the engaging things we can do with our students next year.

5. Lesson Planning: Teachers spend hours after hours perfecting their lessons from last year or coming up with new ones. What went wrong? How can I make it more successful? What new technology can I incorporate into my lessons?

6. Work: Many teachers do not get paid for 12 months of work, so they spend their summers working. So much for that relaxing!

7. Supplies: To a teacher, the Staples "Back to School Sale" is right up there with Winter and Spring Break. Freshly sharpened pencil crayons, colorful new notebooks and stickers galore! It truly is the most wonderful time of the year! While my aisle frolic would not be as jovial, in comparison to the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, it is pretty darn close for this time of year.

8. Socialize: It's hard being a working parent. I feel like I see my students more than my own child, which I unfortunately do, due to working full-time. That feeling isn't pleasant for anyone. Summer is the time to plan fun trips and spend time with family and friends that you normally wouldn't be able to during the school year. There is truly no better feeling than that!

9. Professional Development: Some teachers have the option to take professional development courses over the summer. Many do and most of them are not paid for by their respective schools. Just people wanting to make their classrooms a more engaging learning environment. This professional development is also a great way for teachers to network and share their ideas with others.

10. Read: Teachers use their time in the summer to not only read for their own pleasure, but also for their classroom. This is the time when we can actually take our time and pick out books that we feel our incoming students may be interested in (often suggested by students from the previous school year). Summer is when I tend create new novel studies for my classes. For example, I just finished reading Wonder, by R.J. Palacio! From that, (and taking a step back to #5) I started a Useful Resources Pinterest board, so that I can share ideas and teaching resources with other teachers.
 (Yes, this actually happens!)
I hope this post gave you a better idea, as to what teachers actually do on their summer break. The majority of teachers truly use their summer break to organize, plan and decide how they can incorporate new technology and trends into their classroom for the upcoming school year. 

It is, however, fair to say that some teachers have more downtime than others (sorry new teachers, you'll get there some day!) We do deserve some R&R after all that we experience in a school year. However, by the end of summer, most teachers are honestly ready to get back into a routine, enjoying the last few hours of the freshly-waxed floors and the pristine overall organization in their classroom. So long, classroom! See you in the fall! 

What are you most excited to use in your classroom next year?

Monday, June 20, 2016

How to Get Your Classroom Ready for Next Year

How to Get Your Classroom Ready for Next Year-Teachers, starting prep early is key to maintaining your sanity! These tips will help you enjoy your summer and avoid the headache of back to school stress!

You might be wondering if I am totally crazy. After all, it is only June and summer has just begun, so WHY should I be thinking about getting my classroom ready for next year? Yes, we all need to take time to unwind, relax and enjoy our break, but if you want to have a smooth transition when it's time to go back to school, starting your preparations early is key! Instead of stressing out at the last minute, you can start doing little things now that will make your life so much easier come August!

This month, I wanted to write a round up post highlighting some of my favorite tips from other teachers to help us all have an easier time getting our classrooms ready for next year.

Jamie, from Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher, talks about how she prepares for next year BEFORE summer break! Her tip about parent volunteers is brilliant. Even if you don't have your class list yet, there's lots of things you can do now to prepare for fall!

Dorothy's post, from Prep In Your Step, is actually geared towards helping students prep for back to school, but a lot of her advice is helpful, and she covers the importance of not only physical preparations but also mental preparations. It's important that we remember self-care all year long!

Sometimes you just have to be realistic and know that not everything will be perfect, and some things may have to be put off in the short term. Teaching With a Mountain View shares a realistic look at what must be done and what can wait. A perfect post for dealing with overwhelm!

Jessica, from What I Have Learned, has some great tips on planning all the nitty gritty aspects of curriculum, units and even daily lesson plans. She makes it look so easy! Very well organized, and she has a great website she uses to make all those beautifully organized plans.

Last, but certainly not least, is my friend Jackie from Room 213. She goes a step further by talking about planning for the end of NEXT year. By planning way in advance, you gain the advantage of time. You'll know exactly what to expect next May, and you'll be sure you have all the crucial curriculum out of the way before the kids eyes start to gaze longingly out the window at the sunshine. Her suggestion of planning backwards is a great strategy that will help you not only at the beginning of next year, but the end as well!

What's your favorite tip to get your classroom ready for next year?

Friday, June 17, 2016

No Prep Whole-Class Novel Study Final Project

Are you tired of the same old paper and pencil tests at the end of a text? Are your students struggling with remembering the details from a novel or play that you've studied in class? Are you searching for a fun, collaborative alternative? Look no further, I have the solution for you - whole-class novel study

While this project is quite informal in its presentation, the final outcome is very fulfilling. 
Are you looking for a whole-class novel study project for your upper elementary, middle school, or high school students? Then you're going to love this idea! Choose ANY novel you're using in the classroom and have your students create a comic book-like outline, so that anyone gains understanding. It'll be a hit in your 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, or 12th grade classroom! Click through to see how easy this is to complete in the classroom. {Great technology integration!}
What is the whole-class novel study project?
The entire class will create a comic book-like outline of the text, so that anyone that has not yet read it, could read through it and gain an understanding of what took place in less than a few minutes.

The Process

1. Assign Teams: Assign your students into group or have them choose their own groups. I have found that 5-6 students per group has been an effective number, but it can definitely be done with more or less (there may just be more or less responsibilities for the team). In my classroom, I have found it to be helpful to create the groups myself; this helps to ensure that productive students are a part of each group, while giving everyone an opportunity to work together in a fun, creative way. 
Are you looking for a whole-class novel study project for your upper elementary, middle school, or high school students? Then you're going to love this idea! Choose ANY novel you're using in the classroom and have your students create a comic book-like outline, so that anyone gains understanding. It'll be a hit in your 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, or 12th grade classroom! Click through to see how easy this is to complete in the classroom. {Great technology integration!}
2. Create Sections: If you are using this for a whole-class novel study, divide your book into sections. I have found that 5 sections has been an efficient number. For example, when I have used this project for a Shakespearean play, I've divided the sections into the number of acts within the play. 

3. Prioritize Scenes: Once students are with their assigned teams and the sections are in order, students are then to review their specific sections (or chapters) and identify the key scenes. Their goal is to choose the scenes with the greatest importance (including those that lead up to it). 

Once they have their list of most importance scenes, they will organize them in consecutive order from least important to most important. I have found that a list of 6 scenes has been a sufficient number, but that can definitely be changed to suit the needs of the class size and/or age of the students. 
Are you looking for a whole-class novel study project for your upper elementary, middle school, or high school students? Then you're going to love this idea! Choose ANY novel you're using in the classroom and have your students create a comic book-like outline, so that anyone gains understanding. It'll be a hit in your 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, or 12th grade classroom! Click through to see how easy this is to complete in the classroom. {Great technology integration!}
4. Pick Lines: Once the scenes are in order, the group members will come up with two or three lines that best illustrate that scene. Students may need to review a page or two, in order to fully grasp what they are wanting to capture. 

5. Paraphrase: This is where the students will truly need to understand what they are reading! If they are using a play by Shakespeare, students will need to identify the meaning of the original text and put it into "modern language". 

6. Create Scene: Once students have a good idea of what they have read and want to capture for their scenes, then the real fun can begin!
  • First, students need to brainstorm ideas on how they want to physically capture the scene.
  • Next, they can plan out where they might like to take their pictures. If you have the flexibility of extra supervision for the whole-class novel study groups, you can send along someone to monitor the students, while they take their photos.   
  • Finally, take the photos! Cameras will be required to take the photos, which will capture a variety of characters, emotions and thoughts.  
7. Incorporate Text: Once the students have taken their photos, students can use a variety of editing apps and software to enhance their images (although, this is really not necessary). I suppose it depends on how much time you have and the availability of the technology, but I honestly prefer when students incorporate a few of their own props with images that have not been enhanced. It adds to the authenticity of the final product. Students can add their descriptions that they brainstormed (Step 4) and their respective speech and thought bubbles. 

Example from Act 4 of Macbeth
Are you looking for a whole-class novel study project for your upper elementary, middle school, or high school students? Then you're going to love this idea! Choose ANY novel you're using in the classroom and have your students create a comic book-like outline, so that anyone gains understanding. It'll be a hit in your 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, or 12th grade classroom! Click through to see how easy this is to complete in the classroom. {Great technology integration!}
 Example from Act 3 of A Midsummer Night's Dream
Are you looking for a whole-class novel study project for your upper elementary, middle school, or high school students? Then you're going to love this idea! Choose ANY novel you're using in the classroom and have your students create a comic book-like outline, so that anyone gains understanding. It'll be a hit in your 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, or 12th grade classroom! Click through to see how easy this is to complete in the classroom. {Great technology integration!}
Why this whole-class novel study project works:
This whole-class novel study project is successful because students are held responsible for knowing and understanding the facts and information from a text that they just studied. 

In addition, they have an opportunity to work collaboratively with their classmates, they get to use technology to re-create the scenes and they will likely develop a better understanding of the text through this group process. 

Lastly, I print out colored images on their group scenes for each student to include in their final portfolio at the end of the semester!
Are you looking for a whole-class novel study project for your upper elementary, middle school, or high school students? Then you're going to love this idea! Choose ANY novel you're using in the classroom and have your students create a comic book-like outline, so that anyone gains understanding. It'll be a hit in your 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, or 12th grade classroom! Click through to see how easy this is to complete in the classroom. {Great technology integration!}
What alternative final assignments have you tried?

Want even more great whole-class novel study activities? 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

How to Better Prepare Students for Life After High School

Graduation season is upon us, how exciting! Graduation day is such a memorable day, but it can also be a very intimidating time for many students. As educators, are we doing enough to prepare our students for the day after graduation, when they will no longer have support from their teachers to fall back on? Are we truly preparing our students to be responsible, independent, hard-working individuals?

How to Better Prepare Students for Life After High School
What can we incorporate into our school day that can better prepare all students for their first day in the real world?

1. Post-Secondary Education: Whether they are off to university, trade, a vocational college/training or a branch of the military, students should conduct research on the various paths they can take upon graduation to further their education. Even if students should choose to take some time off before continuing, it is imperative that students be aware of the different choices available to them, as well as where to look for assistance to each.

2. Money/Credit Smarts: All students should have to take a course on personal finance or financial literacy. Students need to learn how to be responsible with money, how to save, how to pay bills (and the importance of paying them on time), as well as the correct usage of credit. To do this, I created a project to reinforce money skills, while teaching the budget process in a fun and interesting way. Students learned the differences between 'need' and 'want' items and gave them their first real look into what it's like to live on their own!

Personal Finance, Budgeting, Monthly Project
3. Effective Communication: Kids talk with text messaging, Facebook and Twitter slang all day. They answer questions in 'one-word' responses. Students need to be taught the correct/appropriate way to speak to a boss/manager, how to compose a professional e-mail and how to answer/respond to phone calls. No matter their career path, learning to communicate is essential to being successful.

4. Basic Life Skills: Can your students cook? Clean? Sew? Do they know basic first-aid? These basic life skills will come in handy when living on their own, during a time when they may not have support close by. These are skills that everyone should be able to master (on some level) for survival.

5. Work/Life Balance: Being able to balance your work life with your social/home life is something that can prevent a great deal of stress in newly-graduating students. Students need to be taught a healthy way to balance their responsibilities at work, while at the same time, being able to enjoy their personal lives.

6. Time Management: This reinforces the importance of why teachers provide (and need to be consistent with) deadlines in school. Students need to be taught how to create timelines of when upcoming work is due, while setting small, achievable goals along the way. Timely arrivals are also an important part of management. I wrote a blog post about how I encourage my students to arrive on time, which you can find here.

7. Learning from our Failures: Not everyone will be the best at everything and that's okay! That's how we all learn. Students that have an awareness of this concept early on, will have more of a positive mindset and this energy will help to keep them trudging forward.

8. How to Survive Without Technology: Gasp! I know, it's unheard of that students/society might have to be without technology for more than a few moments. But guess what, it happens often! Students, as well as adults, need to learn how to do basic, everyday things without the help and ease of technology. It's rewarding to know something without 'asking Siri' or 'Googling it' first!

9. Self-Care: Although this is not to be school-related, it is important for students who are finally on their own and beginning to feel the stress and anxiety of what it means to be an adult, to know how to take care of themselves and seek help when needed. Your well-being comes first and learning to stay healthy and happy (this is where the 'freshman fifteen' conversation may come in handy) is the key to a successful life.

10. Career Planning: Job hunting, resumes, cover letters, interviews and thank-you's. These are the necessities that our students need to master in order to be successful. The great part about this essential tool for students to have, is to give them the opportunity to practice and be aware of what each of these important employment documents entail. How can this be incorporated into a curriculum? I complete a Career/Job Exploration Project in my English class every year, this ensures that students leave the class with some sort of career awareness, especially if they have not had the opportunity to take a career preparation course.

These are just a few things that schools can incorporate into their curriculum to help our graduating students become more prepared to take on the 'real-world'. Many high schools offer business and career-related class that help to prepare students for life after high school, so hopefully students are aware of what these courses can offer. What else can you suggest?

Monday, May 16, 2016

End of the Year Survival Kit for Teachers

End of the Year Survival Kit for Teachers

WE MADE IT! The end of the year is finally here. Almost. This time of year is often stressful for teachers, and tedious for students. There is so much to do and the clock is ticking! Teachers all over the country are scrambling to complete their requirements, and find filler activities when there's extra time or trying desperately to keep their students attention during the last few days of school. I wanted to do a round up of some of the best posts I've seen with ideas on how to survive the end of the year!

First off, 2 Peas and a Dog has a great post about survival tips for teachers for the end of the year. Kristy has tips for students of all ages in this post so there is something for teachers of all grades! The ideas here are sure to keep students' attention even in the last couple days of school.

Laura from Corkboard Connections shared an amazing post last year featuring 20 Creative Ways to Encourage Good Behavior at the End of the Year. These tips can be catered to nearly any grade level. She collected some awesome ideas from a large variety of teachers from all over. Definitely some awesome ideas here that I would not have thought of. You'll certainly want to check that one out!

Upper Elementary Snapshots featured a post from Kristin at One Stop Teacher Shop and she shared the 5 things teachers must do at the end of the school year. Often we get so caught up in the whirlwind of activity that we forget to pause and reflect. She touches a little on preparing for next year which is a great segue into the next article I wanted to share...

Jamie also covered 5 things teachers should prep before summer break, but she did hers from a slightly different angle. Her post is geared a little towards elementary teachers; saying that, a lot of the suggestions carry over to middle and high school classrooms as well!

Finally, Managing and Motivating Math Minds shared 8 Mistakes Teachers Make at the End of the Year. This post is chock full of good stuff! Sometimes we become lax in our final days of the school year, but Kacie shares why it is important to stay strong and don't let the students take over! Her tip about having students do their part to help pack up is genius! Help them burn off all that extra energy! :)

Of course, there's also my post from last year from the Secondary ELA Blog Hop. In it, I talk about looking ahead to next year. A little planning ahead can make your back-to school season so much easier. At the bottom of that post, you'll find a link up with some other great secondary ELA teachers who share their ideas about looking ahead to the new year!

What other end of the year teacher tips do you have to share?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

High School Student Rewards That Won't Cost You a Penny

Motivation. What motivates you as a teacher? What types of positive reinforcement would we, as teachers, love and appreciate in our school day? While it is simple for us to think about what would make us work to our highest ability as teachers, it is often more difficult to recognize some rewards and/or positive reinforcements for our high school students in our classrooms. Oh, and did I mention that these motivators had to be free? That's even more difficult! It's so easy to say to your students "Pizza party!" or "Gift cards for everyone!" or something else of monetary value. But honestly, who has that kind of money for each and every student? Nobody I know!

In order to find out what would make my students more motivated (and in order to save teachers a little extra $$$) I conducted a survey of approximately 130 high school students, ranging from grades 9 to 12. I asked them to provide two suggestions of rewards and motivators that they would love to receive from a teacher (keeping in mind it had to be free for everybody). I have compiled a list of the most popular ideas among the students. 

This is what they came up with:
  1. Movies: Kids love movie days! They will do anything to just sit back and watch a movie for a class period. 
  2. Games: The students suggested playing team-style games where the winning team receives extra points on an upcoming assignment or test. 
  3. Music: More than movies, kids LOVE music! Using their own headphones, they can listen to their favorite music, while working on an independent assignment or the class, as a whole, can make requests and listen to songs as they complete their work.
  4. Extra credit: You can determine how many points and on what assignment they can receive the extra credit. They will be grateful for anything!
  5. Homework pass: Provide students with a pass to skip a homework assignment. 
  6. Personal time: Give students 10-15 minutes at the end of a class to socialize, catch up on other homework or just to relax. 
  7. Drop the lowest test/quiz grade: Either for the marking period, semester or the year.
  8.  Test/quiz re-take: This one will surely be a motivator for anyone, especially those high-achievers!
  9.  Late assignment pass: Provide students with the opportunity to turn in one assignment late, but make sure it's ONE assignment and maybe only ONE day late! It's important that students continue to meet deadlines :) 
  10. Positive note to parents: A few of the students said seeking their parents' approval and showing them they are hard workers meant to much to them. I have definitely taken note to do this more often!
Well, there you go! A list of the most popular FREE rewards that you can give your students. They are absolutely doable and I hope you were able to take a few ideas away from the list. If you choose to implement these free rewards in your classroom, it's important to keep in mind to not over-do it! If you give reward after reward, pretty soon these special privileges will lose their value. Be mindful of the frequency you give out the rewards and of course, provide them to those students who truly deserve and have worked hard to earn the reward. As we come towards the end of the school year, I plan to test the rewards and see how the student's respond. I am excited to see their reactions! 

Can you think of any other free rewards that have worked well for your students? Post them in the comments!