Creatively Starting the New School Year

On Monday, the new school year begins with a week of meetings, teacher prep, and personal development. The following Monday, the students arrive. As it is right now, I’ve got 25 students, which is the most students I’ve ever had in my class! Yesterday, I spent the day rearranging my classroom (no easy task) in anticipation of making more room for kids. All I can say is, “It’s a work-in-progress.”

As it goes with teachers, not only have I been working in my classroom this week, I’ve spent a lot of time working on things at home. From reading professional books to creating worksheets and classroom management materials, my thoughts have been filled with my work as a teacher. Some of my creations I have listed on my Teachers Pay Teachers website. The newest item listed for sale is a small poster set explaining the rules of a “love and logic” classroom. 

One of the freebies I have listed is a handout intended to help me get to know the students. Relationships are essential to student success and this is one way I can get information about what students like. This is SO IMPORTANT! I cannot emphasize that enough.

After the students complete the graphic, I will post them on a wall in my classroom. Plus, I will provide the students with a copy of their own to keep in their writing folders as a helper, when they “don’t know what to write about”. I will also have them update their information as they grow and change throughout the year.

I am ready to get on with this school year. I’ve been told this is a challenging group, and with the number of students on my class roster, it could be even more challenging. But, I am ready. I’m up for the challenge, and I am confident that many of those students are going to have the best year in school that they have ever had.

 

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Summer Freedom

All of a sudden, it’s August! How does summer travel at the speed of light, while winter travels as slow as molasses? I have had a fantastic summer, and I just don’t want it to end. Not because I don’t like my job, but because I LOVE being able to visit family on a whim, take spontaneous trips to spend time with friends, and get up in the morning and have a nice, relaxing cup of coffee. I have such a feeling of freedom in the summer. What other careers have this opportunity? Hardly any, I’d say. This is yet another reason why I am so glad to be back to school as a teacher. There really is a lot of autonomy and freedom in this career.

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Although I am in denial, I am looking at the calendar, and just like counting the days until the last day of school, I am now counting the days to the beginning of school. It isn’t that I don’t like my job, it’s just that I LOVE summer SO MUCH! The rigor of teaching is hard and the transition from summer to the school year is a difficult adjustment for me.  I often ask myself, “Am I the only one who has trouble with this?”

So, I decided to search online for tips on making transitions for teachers from summer to school. I’ve seen hundreds of posts online, which is good. Families need this support. But, I haven’t found very many for teachers.  I did find an article that I really like. and I think it really strikes home. I hope you find it helpful.

https://www.thoughtco.com/veteran-teachers-back-to-school-list-7694

 

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It’s been a busy week and a half. It’s crazy how quickly time goes by when a person is busy. Launching a home-based business with three different arms is a lot of work!

One of the pieces of my home-based business has to do with this page, Elementary Teacher Hacks. Not only do I want to provide teachers with free resources and information, I want to provide paid content as well. (Hey, we all want to earn a few more dollars to put in our pockets, right?) So, I’ve been working on content to put on this blog and website. For now though, because of the simplicity of doing it, I’ve begun posting my ideas and work on my website store with Teachers Pay Teachers. I am still learning about coding and maintaining an independent online store so I figured TPT is a great place to start.

Another piece of my business is driving for lyft. As a driver for this company, I am considered an independent contractor. This means I can work whenever I want and go wherever I want. I love the independence of that. We teachers are rather autonomous, aren’t we? I sure have met some interesting people!

The last piece of the business puzzle is the one I am MOST excited about. If you haven’t heard of the Helo, you will soon. It has just begun to make its debut in the United States. The technology in this very much SMARTER watch than all the others is the technology of the future. I have partnered with Wor(l)d Global Network and am an official distributor for this product. In all my years of being in the wellness industry (25 years to be exact) as a fitness instructor and personal trainer, I have never seen anything like it. This is going to help A LOT of people. If you want more information about this, send me a message or comment.

In between all of that, been doing a lot of reading, both professionally and personally. I’ve been making an effort to spend more time alone with God, which is making a big difference for me spiritually too. Man, and right around the corner is the beginning of a new school year. Yikes, time flies!

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One of the best classroom management strategies I have involves using the days of the week. When I explain it to my students and begin to use it, they agree that it is fair and easy. Students want things to be fair, so it works well.

At the beginning of the year, I assign students to groups labeled with the days of the week. I believe it is important to put some thought into these groupings, taking gender, behavior issues, special needs, etc. into consideration. Once the groups are established, these groups may be utilized in a multitude of ways. Listed below are a few of those ways:

  • Lining up – On Mondays, that group comes first, then Tues., Wed., etc. On Tuesdays, that group comes first, then Wed., Thurs., etc…
  • Cooperative Groups – Each day-labeled group works together.
  • Helpers – The members of each group are responsible for certain jobs on their assigned day.
  • Centers – For example, I have a puzzle in my classroom that students can work on when they are finished with their assignments, on their day of the week.
  • Requests – Sometimes a staff member will ask for a student or a few students to come help out in their classroom. An example of this is a request for older students to help younger students with projects. It’s an easy decision when you just use the day of the week to decide for you!
  • Day’s End – The day’s group makes sure the classroom is straightened up at the end of the day.

I am positive that there are many other instances in which this strategy will be effective in managing your classroom. Please add a comment if you have one to share.

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5 Things To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

If you’re like me, classroom management is sometimes a challenge. Maybe the students are chattier than normal. Maybe you are feeling tired or run down. Maybe you just have a very challenging group, and you have to work extra hard at maintaining structure in the classroom. Whatever the case may be, some days are just plain difficult.

One tough year I particularly remember was when I was teaching first grade. The group of students that year was a handful! I had been doing everything I could to provide a structured classroom environment, maintain a predictable schedule, be consistent in dealing with behaviors, and provide effective learning experiences. Some days, I basically wanted to just sit down, cross my arms, and yell, “I don’t want to do this anymore!”

Throughout my years of teaching, I have learned that having a sense of humor and being patient makes a huge difference in how I feel about things and how my students respond to me. I have found that sometimes doing “nothing” is really doing “something”. Having trouble getting the attention of your students? Students not listening? Here are five things you could try:

  1. Cross your arms with one hand under your chin and look inquisitively at the ceiling. Eventually your students will stop and wonder what it is you are doing.
  2. Go to your desk, sit down, and start reading a book. A student is bound to notice, which will cause another to notice, and another, then another etc. It won’t be long before you have every student looking at you.
  3. Stand where most students can see you, grab a notepad and start writing. While you are writing, shield it and look suspiciously at your students. Students will begin to wonder what you are writing about, and it won’t be long before you have their attention.
  4. Start doing walking lunges across the classroom. I know this isn’t possible for everyone but you can insert any kind of physical movement for this strategy. Try to make it challenging because we all know that students are going to try it.
  5. In a loud voice, start singing a really silly song. I have had a lot of fun with this one. One of the songs I use is a silly song my dad used to sing to me. Seeing the students’ reactions are priceless!

These are just a few of the tricks I have up my sleeve for those times I need something different to grab my students’ attention. These strategies help me maintain a positive attitude at times when it’s really difficult to do so. Having a sense of humor helps build relationships with kids too. I hope you find these helpful.

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Tips for Protecting Your Voice

Do you have voice amplification systems available for use in the classroom? Do you use it?

According to researchers at the Voice Academy at the University of Iowa, 40% of teachers experience voice problems. Why is that?

We obviously know that teachers use their voices at work more than most other professions. But also, teachers typically don’t have voice training, which I think would be a great addition to the education requirements for teachers. It is possible to train your voice for teaching, just as it is for singing. If you are a person who consistently experiences hoarseness and other voice problems, formal voice training might be beneficial.

From personal experience, another contributing factor to voice problems in teachers is the environmental conditions of the school and/or the teacher’s classroom. Dust from books, carpets, ventilation systems, low humidity, or molds can all contribute to vocal tissue irritation, which will affect the function of the vocal cords and throat.

I previously taught in an older (50+ years) school building for 12 years. Over those 12 years, I got sinus infections and laryngitis regularly. And I wasn’t the only teacher who had problems. One year was particularly bad with seven significant infections in nine months!

The basement of that school had been flooded during a great flood in the spring of 1997. The entire school got cleaned and a facelift but I can’t help but wonder if there was mold still present in the basement. In addition to mold being suspect, the heating system was old and the vents were so dusty, deep inside. Without taking out the fans and electrical wires, there was no way they could be cleaned well.

So many of the factors that could be contributing to voice problems in teachers are out of our control. However, there are several things that a teacher can do to help protect their voice. Check out the tips below and see which you already do and if there are some you want to try.

  • Use non-verbal strategies, such as gestures, for classroom management.
  • Have a student get the students’ attention for you.
  • Post instructions or assignment procedures.
  • Position yourself closer to students so loud talking is not needed.
  • Establish classroom routines so continual instructions are not needed.
  • Wait for students to be quiet before speaking.
  • Keep directions and comments brief and to the point.
  • Use visual aids and handouts that reduce your voice use.
  • Give your voice a break by having quiet time and group projects.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink water.
  • If you are hoarse, avoid using your voice.
  • If you have a classroom amplification system, use it.
  • Get enough sleep: When you are tired, your voice is tired and can be hurt more easily.
  • And as always, learn to manage stress, because it can affect how you use your voice.

 

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Recognizing a Student’s Ability

At the beginning of a new school year, we usually don’t know our new students very well, if at all. We may have heard their names a few times or been given bits of information from their previous teachers. If a student is receiving special education services, we receive information pertaining to that student, such as behavior interventions, special accommodations and/or adaptations required in the classroom setting. To be honest, I usually don’t read that information thoroughly before those kids walk through the door that first week of school. I want to get to know my students by heart not by reputation.

After getting to know my students, there have been times when I’ve been completely surprised by the student I got to know, and the student I read about in an IEP. This past year was one of those times.

I had skimmed “Billy’s” IEP, which indicated that this boy had a quick temper and a reputation for being very belligerent. His reading scores were very low, as well as his language arts standardized test scores. Included in his IEP were many accommodations for academic and behavioral areas. In a nutshell, I got the feeling that he was going to be a very challenging student.

The more I learned about Billy as the days continued, the more I recognized that his boy was one of the most emotionally-gifted students I had ever worked with. I mean this kid was deep! When working with a small guided reading group, Billy was the first to comment and answer comprehension questions. His level of understanding far surpassed the students in that group AND most of the students in the entire class! I was truly in awe of the depth of his understanding and connection to the stories we read. His ability to read the words on a page independently may have been lower than most of the other students, but his comprehension was higher and more complete than most of the other students. The discrepancy totally baffled me!

Another thing I learned about Billy was that he had an incredible sense of fairness and social justice. He needed to be addressed respectfully, and if he needed to be disciplined, it was important to talk with him quietly and privately. Thankfully, this is the way I typically interact with my students, so there wasn’t an issue. In fact, I didn’t learn how important this was with Billy until a few months in the year, when another teacher didn’t interact this way with him. Then it was very evident that there were behavioral issues that were difficult to deal with.

Prior to the day that I first observed Billy’s inappropriate behavior, his case manager and I would often visit about him. She hadn’t worked with Billy before so he was new to her too. We discussed how odd it was that his history was full of defiant, impulsive, and violent responses to both students and teachers, and that we hadn’t seen any of that. Even that first day when his behavior became evident to us, it wasn’t nearly as bad as one would’ve expected, and it didn’t last long.

At Billy’s first parent-teacher conference, I told his parents about everything I had learned about their son. I explained my thoughts about his emotional intelligence and his deep regard to social justice issues. I told them that their son was incredibly smart and that his future was full of possibility, and I meant it. I told Billy that too. Regularly. He would often say he was stupid, and I think he really believed it too. But I kept telling him I disagreed and always told him why.

Throughout the school year, Billy’s reading ability soared. All of his test scores in language arts jumped. I couldn’t have been happier for this boy! I am so thankful that Billy’s case manager and I were able to recognize his ability and build on it. He truly had an astounding year.

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Wisdom Teeth and Free Lesson Plans

My youngest son had his wisdom teeth surgically extracted this morning. Unfortunately for him, he had 6 of them. Everything went well, and he is now recovering. But this got me questioning why those teeth are called “wisdom teeth”, so I did a little research to find out.

According to deardoctor.com, they are actually 3rd molars, but they develop a lot later than the rest. Because they do appear when you are older, they are called wisdom teeth because one could assume that you are “wiser” at this age. (Note that his originated in the 17th Century.)

This also got me thinking about teeth in elementary school. Kids are losing teeth all the time, and every time it’s a really big deal! Students get so excited about it, don’t they?

I came across a website that offers FREE lesson plans about teeth. You can even sign up to have free toothbrushes delivered to your classroom. Go to Kool Smiles and check it out.

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“I Miss the Kids… Because That’s What It’s All About”

“I Miss the Kids… Because That’s What It’s All About”

This afternoon while I was shopping for my mother’s birthday present (She’ll be 83 this Saturday!), I saw a former coworker as I glanced across the top of the clothes racks I was investigating. He saw me too and when he saw me, our eyes met and for a few split seconds, time stood still as many thoughts went through my head. I had heard through other coworkers that he had had to quit working due to early onset Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia . Before today, it had been 5 years since I’d seen him so I didn’t know what to expect. Would he know me? How bad was it?

My questions were answered when his expression became that of recognition, happy to see me, and sadness all rolled up into one. I was happy to see him and as I said hi, I put my arms up to give him a hug. We hugged and he started to cry.

He had been the custodian at an elementary school where I had been a teacher. I got to know him quite well over the 12 years I spent teaching there. He and I had a great working relationship and had had many discussions over the years. I felt bad now though because he was crying, so I jokingly said something about being sorry I had made him cry.

He went on to explain that he had early Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia and he had to quit work because of it. He told me that when he saw me, it gave him happy memories, yet he was sad because he missed work. He said, “I miss the kids. To be honest, I don’t miss the teachers and staff, I miss the kids. Because that’s what it’s all about.” He said this with such sincerity and honesty, that it brought a tear to my eye as well. He was the custodian who made a really big difference in the lives of the students where he worked. He loved his job, because of the kids.

That’s what being a member of the educational community is all about, isn’t it? It’s about the kids.

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