Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ah, Junior High Kids...

A souvenir from my days of teaching junior high. This was an unprompted note:

My recollection is she was very sweet for about two days, then returned to her former ways. I'll always have those two days... and the memory of this note.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Specific Wrong Assumption

A couple weeks ago I wrote about a few of my first year mistakes, #1 being that I assumed my students knew more than they did. Flipping through some photos in an old folder, I came across one that reminded me of a big example of this. I assumed that my students knew the difference between dish towels and dish cloths. One is obviously much bigger, right? And would be a real pain in the neck to wash with, right? And a dish cloth would be way too small to dry with, right? Sigh. Every grade level, every school, every year, somehow these seemingly obviously details escaped a significant number of students in my classes. After a while I even began to point out "Look, one of these is much bigger than the other"...... made no difference. They still somehow got them backwards and used the wrong ones. Here's what finally solved that problem:

I started skipping dish cloths altogether and just went to Handi Wipes. Problem solved. Crazy, I know, but you gotta do what you gotta do! Never had a problem after I started using these. If you've never used them, they work just as well as regular dish cloths, and yes they are washable. And cheap, too! The only issue I ever ran into with them is if kids threw them in the wash with little clumps of yeast dough stuck to them - then they'd have to be thrown away, because they'd get all gnarled up in the wash. But cheap to replace! By the way, I highly recommend using bar mop towels. They're wonderfully absorbent and students won't need to use as many for each lab.

Related: for you newbies out there, you can NEVER have too many dish towels and dish cloths! If you have parents* who want to make donations, a little extra money in your budget (hahahahaha), or you're given a small WalMart or Target gift card and aren't sure what the best investment is, go for towels!

*Or fellow teachers/staff members. I worked with a lady once who asked what kind of supplies we needed for the kitchens because she loves to shop over the summer and doesn't really have people to buy for anymore now that her grandchildren are grown. Don't ask questions - just ask for towels!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Maintaining Teacher Balance

I'm taking the lead from Michelle over at Big Time Literacy and completing today's Big Time Blogging Challenge: Maintaining Teacher Balance.


One of the biggest things that helped me was rearranging where I completed certain tasks. Specifically, I tried to get as much grading as possible completed at school, and saved lesson planning and preparation for after grading or at-home work. For one, who enjoys grading? Forcing myself to do that first helped quite a bit - as they say, when you have a bucket of frogs to swallow, swallow the biggest one first and the rest go down nice and smooth. Two, that meant schlepping a whole lot less stuff back and forth between home and work (and let's be honest, how often does that grading bag go unopened in your home?). Three, you can do a lot of the lesson pre-planning in your head while making dinner, vacuuming, folding clothes, etc, rather than just staring at a screen at work or rummaging through TPT hoping for inspiration.

Nightly Routine

A scrambled morning leads to an off-kilter day. One way to make your mornings go much smoother is to prepare as much the night before as possible. Before turning in I made sure my clothes for the next day were laid out, lunch was packed, school bag was packed, breakfast dishes were out, running clothes were laid out if I planned to run in the morning (or I just slept in them - you get out the door much faster that way!), etc. That way if everything went according to plan, my morning was easy-peasy. If weird things came up (power outage, dropped glass - happened twice my last year of teaching - that had to be cleaned up, pets escaping into the garage, whatever) I was much better equipped to handle them and didn't get set as far behind. This goes even better if you can spend time on Sunday doing extra meal prep!


This is one of those things that we all know is super important but we tend to relegate it to the "if I have time" category. Probably the number one benefit I derive from exercise is better sleep - we all need better sleep! I'm also a morning runner, so it's a great start to the day: I get those endorphins going and feel like I've already accomplished something first thing. And it just makes me feel better about myself, which is going to make me a more pleasant person. I've also heard some rumors that it does something good for your heart, lungs, metabolism...

Social Life

Who has time for a social life during the school year - at least one that doesn't involve basketball games, concession stands, or school dances? For me, I made Friday nights a "night off" - no grading, no lesson prep, no researching... just an evening with the husband. Then I'd try to get as much accomplished on Saturday as I could, to free up my Sundays for relaxation (ugh, Sunday night work is the WORST!). My closest girlfriends live in Chicago, about an hour's drive for me. A few years ago I made a commitment to myself to get up there once a month. It didn't work out every single month, but it made a huge difference in my stress level and overall happiness meter when I was able to spend at least a few hours up there for brunch and girl talk.

Looking Forward to...

Tying in with the last one, I found it's a huge help to plan things to look forward to. They don't have to be big events - even planning a coffee date with a friend a couple of weeks out is enough. By setting plans it forces you to break out of your teacher persona, forces you to leave the piles behind. And, when you're feeling overwhelmed by all that you have to do, it gives you a bright spot in the near future to look ahead to.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Docs Teach - a Great (Free!) Resource

Have you heard of Docs Teach? It's an online tool hosted by the National Archives that holds thousands of primary documents (and pictures, audio, video, maps, etc) along with a myriad of interactive lesson plans and activities based on those documents. You can even design your own activities based on documents of your choosing.

Think this could only work for history and government classes? Well, of course you don't, you know how interdisciplinary FACS is, but here's a random sample of items you could find:

  • An activity about the School Lunch Program and the Federal Government, including photos from the Great Depression, original advertisements for the school lunch program, school lunch recipes from 1946, letters from PTA presidents
  • Documents from an interview with a Montgomery Ward's executive as part of a Federal Trade Commission Home Furnishing Investigation on sewing machines
  • A letter to FDR from a recently unemployed woman arguing that married women with employed husbands are stealing jobs from desperate single women
  • Weekly family food supply plans published by the USDA in 1921
  • Resources on Civil Rights, child labor, drunk driving, food labels, unions, taxes, interior design, architecture, social security, environmentalism... and so on
There's even an app, for you 1:1/BYOD/Cart people! My brief blurb doesn't do it justice - take a few minutes to browse around Docs Teach, I'm sure you'll not only be impressed but will immediately be able to think of all sorts of ways to use it in your classroom. Below is a short video to give you an overview. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

First Year Mistakes

I've been thinking about some of the mistakes that I made as a first year teacher: partly inspired by a "Reflections" post I read over at Big Time Literacy (great blog, by the way, check it out!), partly due to an influx of emails I've recently received from FACS teachers preparing for their first year this fall. Why not share?  Here are three biggies that come to mind:

1. I assumed that students knew or knew how to __________.

The biggest mistake I made as a new teacher was overestimating what my students already knew or knew how to do; boy was this eye opening! Some examples:

  • Measuring spoons and eating spoons are different
  • How to tie a knot
  • How to use a microwave
  • 3/4 cup, teaspoon, tablespoon, etc = 1/2 + 1/4 
  • What "boiling" means
  • Trash goes IN the trash can, not in the near vicinity (okay, some snark in that one)
  • How to summarize (this planted the initial seed for eventually seeking a Reading Specialist degree)
  • What a textbook "index" is
  • How to properly open a container
  • How to wash dishes
  • Proper way to hold scissors
I could go on for quite some time, but you get the idea. Over time I learned to assume nothing - though I'd get the occasional "duh" or eye roll, it helped immensely in making lessons and activities go smoother.

2. I didn't think out/properly explain how exactly I wanted students to __________.

Alternatively titled "Woefully underprepared in the procedures department." This is huge in any classroom; in a FACS course it can absolutely be your undoing. Now we're all familiar with The First Days of School (really? You're not? Stop reading this and go order it from Amazon - I've even linked it for you), so I did have routines in place for the beginning of class, end of class, etc, etc. But when you're in the thick of things, you have to give directions for so many different activities during a single class period - again, especially in FACS - and you don't have lovely pre-made posters on the wall or previously practiced routines to refer to for everything. Think it through, boil it down to a few short clear steps, and repeat repeat repeat. Even if it seems like something is the most obvious common-sense thing in the world ("...put your trash in the trash can..."), include it in the directions. Incidentally, when I mastered this, I became a master at transitions, even on the fly.

3. I didn't have a plan for ALL THE PAPER.

I thought a few file folders would do it: a grading folder for each class, a handout folder for each class, then maybe a couple more for school documents and other things. Right? hahahahahahahahahaha. Seriously, that obviously didn't work. if you've spent time looking through this blog, you know that I became a paper Nazi. What worked most brilliantly for me was never physically accepting an assignment from students or utilizing trays/baskets/etc - once I moved to having them keep everything in their binders or folders life became much more sunshine and rainbow filled. This came in especially handy with those students who accuse teachers of losing their work. First of all, I've known a LOT of teachers who do frequently lose work (if this is you, some tough love: GET IT TOGETHER! Once you establish this reputation, you can never dispute a student who says you've lost something, even when everyone knows they're lying through their teeth! Also, you make life harder for the rest of us). But even though I don't believe I have ever actually lost an assignment, when you have paper everywhere (even if you somehow "know" your system) it does not inspire confidence, and kids can/will take advantage. When students have to submit all work in a folder or binder, this argument is null. An actual conversation from last year:

Boy #1: I turned it in, you must have lost it!
Me: (looking him straight in the eye, unflinching)   I.     Don't.     Lose.     Things.
Boy #2: She's got you dude. This one doesn't lose stuff.
Girl: No lie, look at this place. you know she's not like {other teacher} or {other teacher}.
Boy #1: (hanging head and sighing) Yeah, you're right. What did I do with that thing?

You can't pull that line off unless you have a seriously established reputation for organization.

There are plenty of other mistakes I made that year and in subsequent years, but fixing those made a huge impact on both my quality of teaching and quality of life. How about the rest of you - first year mistakes to warn the newbies about?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Don't You Miss Having Summers Off?

One of the first questions I'm always asked related to my former teaching career is "Don't you miss having summers off?" The answer is a resounding NO. Why? Pay very close attention...


That is crazy talk that can only pass through the lips of people who have no idea what they're talking about. Summers off, p-shaw. Yeah, sure, except for:

  • All of the professional development we need that schools won't provide subs for during the school year (or registration fees, travel costs, etc)
  • Redesigning previous curriculum
  • Planning new curriculum
  • Studying up on new techniques, technologies, and standards
  • Coaching summer camps, leagues and tournaments (school coaches are tied up year-round, not just the regular season) - not to mention fundraising!
  • Packing/moving classrooms when you're unlucky
  • Deep-cleaning/re-organizing classrooms when you get to stay
  • Working summer jobs to make ends meet (some districts may offer to spread it out over a year, but remember teachers only get paid for ten months)
  • Getting in as much "quality" family and friend time as possible, because you won't see them much August-May
  • Mentoring new teachers
  • Reading, researching, repeating............
This is my second summer "working," and I'm telling you, it is not a big deal. I have no pressure to cram everything in before I lose all of my free time again. I am not constantly thinking about all of the prep work for the next year that I still have to do and am running out of time for. And, I don't have well-intentioned (and often very ill-intentioned) people saying ridiculous things to me like "It must be so nice to have summers off."
For all of you teachers out there, I hope you are fitting in some fun along with all of the work you have to accomplish this summer. You deserve it after all of the hard work and sacrifice of the school year!

For all of you non-teachers out there, stop saying stupid things about having summers off.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

PARCC, Social Media, AFT, and "Privacy"

So I'm taking a break from this (rather slow) description of my transition from teaching to the "other side" to ask this question: Why do people still believe that they have an expectation of privacy on social media???!!!! Perhaps like me you recently received this email from the AFT:

Warning: Rant headed right for you.

Now let me say straight up I am no big fan of Pearson or the PARCC, defending them is not my objective here. However, it makes complete sense to me that they would contract employees specifically to monitor social media for public posts regarding the test. This email (which conveniently provides no link to the original article by the way, including that hyperlink you see in the reference - it just leads to AFT's petition) defends the student by saying it "was nothing more than a tweet." It was upon reading that phrase that my brain began to bleed - TWITTER IS PUBLIC! 

Why do we keep waffling back and forth between telling students they need to careful about what they post on social media yet constantly defend their "right" to privacy? If you put something out there for everyone to read, then you have no control over who reads it. Period. You're "worried about a generation of kids growing up without a moment of privacy"? Teach them that social media is NOT PRIVATE! 

Really, how hard is this to understand, people? So no, AFT, I will not be signing this petition. Doing so would be agreeing that students don't need to think before they post, that they have a right to privacy in a completely public environment, that they need not be at all concerned about potential consequences of their actions. It would contradict everything I have tried to teach them about their online safety, which will just make them more vulnerable in the future.

And I realize that people will disagree with me on this, perhaps vehemently. I realize I may even get some angry responses. Why do I realize this? Because I understand that posting this in a public forum means that it is not private.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Job Description that Led to Quitting Teaching

This entry is part of a series explaining my departure from teaching. In previous entries I discussed my primary personal and professional reasons for leaving.

As I've mentioned before, last year was THE BEST teaching year for me ever. I was really happy with my school and my great kids, and was working hard to not only continue the awesome year but to make the following year even smoother by polishing up every lesson immediately afterward. You know, things like rather than make the quick notes about what to add/change/etc, I revised the lesson plans to include whatever spur-of-the-moment improvements I came up with, added the ideas I thought of later, and made sure whatever supplemental materials I created were edited/enhanced/laminated/color-coded/whatever and packaged conveniently for use next time.

So when my husband emailed a link to a job description to me asking "Is this something you'd be interested in?" I was really annoyed. Really, really annoyed. 

But during my lunch that day I had time to pull up the description and look it over, and had to begrudgingly admit that okay, maybe I was a little interested. The job was in the Instructional Technology dept at the local community college (the same one my husband works at) - essentially, teaching teachers how to use technology to enhance their classes. After looking it over and later drilling my husband for what additional details he had, I figured what's the harm in applying?

While I was definitely enjoying the year, I still knew that being a classroom teacher was probably not going to be my long-term plan (for all of the reasons that I discussed in my previous posts plus more); I was thinking maybe another two years, then it would be time to start seeking a support position, most likely related to my Reading Specialist degree. That this opportunity was coming a little earlier than expected, well, we plan and God laughs, right?

I received an invitation to interview shortly after applying. I actually enjoy interviews regardless (which I understand is somewhat of an oddity), but this one was extra fun because while I was truly interested in the job by the time it came around, I had nothing to lose - if it was offered to someone else and I had to continue teaching at my current school, I was perfectly fine with that.

Coincidentally, that interview was exactly a year ago. Today we conducted a training for dual credit instructors from the local high schools (including two districts that I have worked for), which has given me plenty of prompts for thinking about the differences between my teaching life and my current life. Tune in next time...

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Best Year of My Teaching Career

First, note the difference between January 3rd of this year, and that of last year:

A difference of 51 degrees - holy cow!

Now let's look at an even bigger difference between this year and last year...

Last year (2013-2014) was hands down the best year of my teaching career. After the horrid year I'd had before, I fell in love with teaching all over again. My kids were fantastic, the school I was working at was great, the kids were amazing, I felt renewed confidence and energy... and did I mention the kids?

On June 2nd I turned in my signout sheet, my gradebook, my lesson plan book, my summer maintenance requests, my keys. That day I walked out with the wonderful feeling that I'd had the best year possible. And that wonderful feeling of freedom - not the one of being done with the grading, the planning, the paperwork, the phone calls, the test scores, the data. I had the one of simply being done. That day I quit teaching.

We all know how high the turnover rate is for the teaching profession, and chances are many of you are either seriously considering or beginning to consider leaving teaching yourself. Over the next few days I'll share my personal and professional reasons for my decision, and what life on "the other side" has been like for me.